Friday, October 09, 2009

Co-authors Interview: Sarah Kinney and Stefan Petrucha on Nancy Drew: Girl Detective

Learn more about Sarah Kinney and Stefan Petrucha. Read a previous Cynsations interview with Stefan.

In your own words, could you tell us about Nancy Drew: Girl Detective (Papercutz, 2005-)? And, wait, I'm confused. Is Papercutz somehow connected to Simon & Schuster?

SK: Young mystery buffs have loved the brilliantly curious Nancy Drew since 1930 when she was created by the Stratemeyer Syndicate to fill a need for their growing female readership.

Stefan took part in the updating of this ageless character and wrote the first ever Nancy Drew Graphic novels for Papercutz in 2005. If that wasn't cool enough, he got his actual name on the cover--the books have been ghost-written for decades by a variety of authors using the name Carolyn Keane.

SP: Papercutz, founded by my pal Jim Salicrup and Terry Nantier, is a completely separate entity, focusing on graphic novels for tweens. Simon & Schuster bought the rights to all the Stratemeyer Syndicate characters in 1984. A few years back, Papercutz licensed the rights to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys from S&S. Long walk, but there you have it!

While the prose books continue to be published under the house name Carolyn Keene, the folks who've written the movies and the TV series in the seventies were always credited, so it was argued that Sarah and I could use our names on the graphic novels.

Sarah actually started co-writing the graphic novels with me around book five in the series, The Fake Heir, but isn't credited until the tenth, The Disoriented Express.

What is at the heart of the timeless appeal of Nancy Drew?

SK: Nancy speaks to something in the teenage heart which never changes – the fearless quest to know more.

SP: Ed Stratemeyer and the early writers he worked with (notably Mildred Benson) really hit the nail on the head. She’s the original girl-power figure, popular for decades, enjoyed by new readers daily and fondly recalled by such prominent figures as new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She’s also the basis for more recent characters like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Veronica Mars."

Why was this character a great fit for a graphic-novel series?

SK: Nancy Drew, while living in a small town, gives us the opportunity to engage a real variety of characters and backdrops. Comics are a great venue for bringing the reader closer to those characters, settings, and tense moments in which Nancy faces danger. Her first-person narrative is a perfect fit for a graphic medium.

SP: I was shocked to learn that this was the first comic series for Nancy! She’d been in just about every other media. The graphic novel is a very intimate, inviting media, especially for reluctant readers. It seemed a natural place for such an iconic character.

What are the particular challenges in writing such an established character?

SK: As with any licensed character, there are times when we have to hold back an impulse to change the character. Story arcs can't become character arcs in quite the same way.

Though she can learn lessons along the way, Nancy has to emerge from every story with her values, beliefs, friends, family, and reputation in tact.

SP: There’ve also been hundreds of Nancy Drew stories, so it’s a fun challenge to try to come up with ideas that haven’t been done before. I’m very proud of what we’ve come up with so far, including vanishing lakes, stolen computer chips, edgy magicians and even an entire town that went missing. Our latest features Nancy hanging from a cliff for the entire story, trying to figure out who pushed her! It’s our nineteenth, called Cliffhanger (get it?) and it's out in October.

What did you love about it?

SK: Nancy's character presents us with a lot of possibilities. Her insatiable curiosity, willingness to try anything, and variety of expertise (she's a real know it all) opens up a whole world of possible mysteries to solve and ways that she can solve them.

SP: She has the same appeal as any detective character--her obsessive attitude toward mysteries can take you anywhere, really. Add to that that she’s a young, self-possessed girl, and things can really click in cool and exciting ways.

As a young reader, were you a Nancy fan?

SK: No. My sister had the entire collection, and I loved the little blue books with the outline of Nancy with her magnifying glass embossed on the cover, but I never read more than a few. I was an Ed McBain fan -- gritty stuff.

SP: Again, nope. My mother had a few on her shelf, so I likewise remember the covers very clearly, and I may have thumbed through one or two, but I was more into Encyclopedia Brown (1963-) by Donald J. Sobol and superhero comics. I like her now, though!

How did you learn to write in a graphic format?

SK: I've been writing Mickey Mouse and other Disney character comics for many years. I had-on-the-job training for that.

SP: My grandfather taught me to read by sitting me on his lap and reading comic books to me. I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I attempted my own comics for the first time around age eight or nine. It’s been a lifelong love.

How is it different than writing a prose novel?

SK: Completely. I can describe something simply and the artist takes it to the next level of creativity. Often when I see the final work, it's like reading something new. It's very cool to be able to inject an image with very sparse and intimate narrative to create incredibly rich and pivotal "moments" in a story. It's more like directing a movie.

SP: Yes, it’s very much more of a collaborative process than a novel. You give up some control, but inviting someone else's sensitivities in makes for a really nice experience.

The big trick writing-wise is to make sure that, in scripting, you really use the pictures to tell the story as much as possible.

What advice do you have for other writers interested in writing graphics?

SK: Don't do it! You'll starve. Get a real job.

SP: It's the same advice for any kind of writing, really. Develop great taste, by reading and studying absolutely everything, and then write what you like. I'd also read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1993) – the seminal book on the subject.

So, what's it like being writers and married to each other and also devoted to Miss Drew?

SK: Really fun.

SP: Totally cool. As I said it's already a collaborative process. It’s nice to sit down with Sarah and hash out a plot together.

We'll break it into three chapters, and usually one of use will write the full script, then we pass it back and forth until it’s done.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

SK: Buy Nancy Drew!

SP: While you’re at it, check out the newest issue of Tales from the Crypt, also from Papercutz! It features a satire of Twilight [by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown, 2005)] co-written by myself and our daughter Maia. We’re keeping it all in the family!

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Babylonne by Catherine Jinks (Candlewick, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLS Blog. Peek: " intense and exciting adventure and provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of the early thirteenth century."

Jacket Knack: Thoughts on the Covers of Children's Books from Julie Larios and Carol Brendler. Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Reminder: 2009 Nominations are now open for the Cybils 2009: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. Peek: "All kids books published in English between Oct. 16, 2008 and the close of this year's nominations are eligible. Nominations close at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 15."

Owning Up To Your Mistakes by Elana Johnson from QueryTracker. Peek: "Okay, not really your mistakes. But those your characters make. By the end of the novel, do they need to own up to their mistakes?"

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff (Egmont, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLS Blog. Peek:"...will resonate with everyone who's ever been on the outside looking in and everyone on the inside looking to get out."

PAYA: Bringing (More) YA to PA: "PAYA is a coalition of Pennsylvania's young adult authors, bloggers, librarians, readers, and other book-lovers. Our mission is two-fold: 1. To share the love we have for young adult literature with others in our state; 2. To raise money to support Pennsylvania's libraries, with a focus on helping build young adult library collections and young adult services." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Inner Critics and Time Wasters by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Our inner editor sometimes keeps us from seeing what’s in front of us. We are constantly 'revising' the facts. So what’s the problem with that? You can’t accept–and get peace about–what you can’t honestly see or face. You stay stirred up–a condition rarely suited to being creative."

Pleased to meet you--fully exploiting a character's first scene by Marianna Baer from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "From the moment a new character enters a book, the reader consciously and subconsciously picks up on clues about his nature and quickly forms an opinion. If details are not thoughtfully chosen, a character's first scene can be a missed opportunity or, more negatively, disruptively misleading."

Holding Out for a Super Heroine from Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray. Peek: "One of the reasons I enjoy Justice Society of America (as opposed to Justice League) is that there are a ton of female characters and the group is also more multi-ethnic than about any other book." Note: I'm a particular fan of Birds of Prey, led by Oracle AKA the original Batgirl (who is also a librarian).

Your Morning Dose of Publishing Optimism from Ron Hogan at MediaBistro's GalleyCat. Peek (quoting independent literary publicist Scott Manning): "I liken it to the introduction of mass market paperbacks. At the time, everyone said it was going to mean the end of hardcovers. Hardly." Source: Alice Pope.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: fights censorship and defends First Amendment rights of comic book professionals.

Writers Against Racism: Paula Chase-Hyman from Amy Bowllan at Bowllan's Blog at School Library Journal. Peek: "I don't sit and think, Oh, this person will be Black. This one White. This one Asian. I just naturally see the world in color. If anything, my characters all suffer from terminal suburbanism, which often leads them to a wake-up call of sorts when they realize there's a different life beyond their sheltered space or view." Read a Cynsations interview with Paula.

Trick-or-Treat: 20 Halloween Books for Kids by Bianca Schulze from The Children's Book Review. A first-rate round-up of spooky titles for the elementary set.

So Your Book Has Been Challenged: Ellen Hopkins, E.Lockhart, Jo Knowles, Jacqui Robbins, Sarah Brannen and Frank Portman Tell It Like It Is! (part 1) from Lee Wind at I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? Don't miss part 2. Peek from Jo: "What saddens me the most is thinking about how the kids in that district who are gay, or who've been abused, must feel when they find out books in their school are being challenged because a group of people think it’s inappropriate to read about or discuss these very topics. What kind of message does that send them? That they should keep quiet? Be ashamed? Blame themselves?" Source: The Spectacle.

Spooky Cynsational Giveaway

Reminder: In celebration of the "Read Beyond Reality" theme of Teen Read Week, which is scheduled for Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, and the spooky season now upon us, I'm offering the biggest, winner-take-all Cynsational giveaway ever, with an emphasis on Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and spectacular read-alikes! You can enter to win: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Read Beyond Reality" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I'll contact you if you win).

You will get an extra chance to win for each of the following: (1) you blog about the giveaway and link to my related announcement posts at Cynsations at Blogger, LiveJournal, JacketFlap, MySpace or Spookycyn (send me the URL to your post with your entry); (2) you post the link to your Facebook page or tweet it (find me at Twitter and Facebook and CC me on those systems so I can take a look); (3) you are a YA teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (indicate school/library with your entry); (4) you are a book blogger (teen or grown-up)(include the URL to your blog with your entry message). Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 30. Good luck and stay spooky!

More Giveaways

Trick or Treat 2009: Saundra Mitchell is hosting a ghost story every day of October from YA and MG authors, screenwriters, and reviewers. You can win a prize pack that includes nine haunting novels as well as CDs, toys, and other treats! Just stop by and say Trick or Treat to enter, and stick around to read ghost stories from Maggie Stiefvater, Carrie Jones, Lisa Schroeder, Cyn Balog, and many, many more! Deadline: Oct. 31.

October Giveaways from TeensReadToo. Featured titles include Alma Alexander's Worldweavers: Cybermage (HarperCollins, 2009), Lara Zielin's Donut Days (Putnam, 2009), and Jessica Verday's The Hollow (Simon Pulse, 2009).

Reminder: enter to win the Reading is Fundamental/Super Contest sponsored by Lee A Verday at Lee A. Verday's Book/Writing Blog. Winner-take-all prize package includes: a signed copy of The Hollow by Jessica Verday (Simon Pulse, September 2009); a "R.U.H2?" T-shirt (R-U-H-Squared?)(Stands for aRe yoU Haunted by the Hollow?); Ruined: A Ghost Story by Paula Morris (Point, 2009); The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central, 2009); The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day (Grand Central, 2009); Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); and an "I HEART My Guardian Angel" T-shirt (which ties into Eternal)! New followers of Lee's blog can also enter to win a signed ARC of Darklight by Lesley Livingston (HarperCollins, December 2009)! Deadline: midnight PST Oct. 12. See more information.

More Personally

Cheers to lovely librarian Kat Werner, shown here modeling her Sanguini's T-shirt!

Sanguini's is the fictional vampire-themed restaurant that appears in Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Blessed (Candlewick, spring 2011).

The Sanguini's logo with fang marks to dot each "i" was designed by writer-illustrator Gene Brenek. You can see all of his designs (as well as Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) designs) at CafePress. I've had great fun using these for giveaways. Read a Cynsations interview with Gene.

Huge thanks to the students and librarian at Bammel Middle School in Houston for their hospitality during yesterday's virtual visit!

Last weekend students, faculty, alumni, and honored guests came together in Austin for Vermont College of Fine Arts Day in the Lone Star State. Participating faculty in attendance (including speakers) were Kathi Appelt, Sharon Darrow, Uma Krishnaswami, and myself. Note: our novels are displayed on my fireplace mantle above.

Here's a peek at the buffet from Central Market. I believe that's grad Varian Johnson in the far background. Congratulations to Varian on the sale of his untitled companion book to Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010)!

Heaping amounts of credit goes to grad Debbie Gonzales, pictured in turquoise, who was the on-site coordinator. See a full report with more photos from Debbie.

Cynsational Events

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 Cynsations interviews with Jessica and P.J.

"Beyond Daily Life" readergirlz Chat will feature Cynthia Leitich Smith (Eternal), rgz diva Holly Cupala (Tell Me a Secret), and Lisa McMann (Wake) on Oct. 21. "It all happens at the rgz forum ( beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific Time (7 p.m. Mountain Time, 8 p.m. Central Standard Time, 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time)." See the whole readergirlz "Read Beyond Reality" chat schedule for Oct. 19 to Oct. 23. See also more information. Note: "Anyone who loves YALSA's Teen Read Week is encouraged to let it out on their blog through a post or vlog, then send the link to readergirlz AT (subject line: entrant's name, TRW Tribute). readergirlz will collect all contributions and post them at the rgz blog in a tribute that will run Oct. 23."

The Texas Book Festival take place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in Austin. Featured children's-YA authors include: Jessica Lee Anderson, Libba Bray, Janie Bynum, Kristin Cast, P.C. Cast, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Keith Graves, Heather Hepler, K.A. Holt, Jacqueline Kelly, Rick Riordan, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Rene Saldana, Jr., Tammi Sauer, Liz Garton Scanlon, Anita Silvey, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Samantha R. Vamos, Rosemary Wells, Kathy Whitehead, Mo Willems, and Sara Zarr. See the whole list! Note: I'll be speaking on a panel "Deals with the Devil: Writing about Faustian Bargains" with Daniel and Dina Nayeri from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Texas State Capitol Building, signing to immediately follow.

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)! Note: all editor and agent critiques are sold out, author critiques with Liz and Jacqueline are sold out, the Friday night reception at my house is sold out! Register ASAP before the whole event is sold out and to secure one of the few remaining author critique spots!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

New Voice: Jennifer Brown on Hate List

Jennifer Brown is the first-time author of Hate List (Little, Brown, Sept. 2009). From the promotional copy:

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create. A list of people and things they hated. The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

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

The short answer, of course, is everywhere and all the time, because I think I do most of my writing work in my head, before I ever sit down and put my fingers on the keyboard. I've heard a lot of writers say they spend most of their time studying the ceilings above their desks, staring blankly while trying to "conjure up" a scene or story idea, but that's not really my style. I would be much more likely to be distracted by the cobwebs up there.

Instead, I find my inspiration while doing mundane tasks, such as laundry or cleaning the bathrooms, making the beds. I get my real writing done then, so when I get to my desk, it's more a matter of dictation than creation.

I never had an actual "office" before I sold Hate List. My computer was on the kitchen table, where I could watch my kids and write at the same time. For almost a decade, one end of the kitchen table was "off-limits," and my work was condensed to a single chair. I had to learn to be super-organized, to keep my files and books in a space apart from where I'd be working, and to tune out peripheral noises.

After Hate List sold, I finally felt it was time to get an office, and converted one end of our finished basement into my writing space. It felt big and frightening, honestly, and I spent a lot of time making the space very me, so I could feel comfortable in it.

I bought an old desk that I found tucked up in a corner of the top floor of a flea market/antique mall. It's large and sturdy and slightly beat-up...sort of like the furniture equivalent of me! I immediately began taping cartoons and photos that I've collected over the years all over it, and also slapped a John Lennon bumper sticker across one corner and sprinkled the middle of it with tons of colorful craft jewels. A few other "props"--a giant 3-ft. pencil, a collection of Dr. Seuss Christmas ornaments, a mylar balloon that reads, "Try to act mature," and a metal folding chair still bearing its $4.00 estate sale price tag--and I was set.

When I actually sit down to write depends on what I'm working on and what else is going on in my life. I'm a stay-at-home mom of three, so I'm pretty much forced to work my writing schedule around their schedules. This might mean I get one eight-hour day of writing and not much else one week, and three three-hour days of writing the next week.

If I'm really concerned about a deadline, I'll put on the coffee and either stay up till all hours of the night or wake up before dawn in the mornings.

A few months ago, I finally broke down and bought a laptop, and that turned out to be one of the best things I've ever invested in. With the laptop, I can hang wherever the kids are hanging and get tons of online work done, so when I get a chance for peace and quiet, I can just concentrate on writing without worrying that emails are piling up or I haven't tweeted in a while or my Facebook page is getting out of control.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

My connection with Cori Deyoe (3 Seas Literary Agency) was a good lesson for me about following my gut and never giving up on the dream.

I connected with Cori in November 2006. I was a blind "slush pile" submission. We had never met in person; we did not connect at a writer's conference or through a mutual writing connection. I had simply submitted to 3 Seas blindly, having read up on them and thinking they might be open to representing my women's fiction novel. (Yep, I said "women's fiction.")

Almost a year after I submitted, Cori emailed me, asking to see the first three chapters. I sent them, and right away she asked to see the full manuscript. The day after Thanksgiving, she called me to tell me she wanted to represent me and my novel.

About ten seconds on the phone with Cori and I knew she was the perfect agent for me. I never hesitated in signing. I'd already done my research up front, reading about them online and in Writer's Market, checking out some of the books they've represented, checking them out on P&E.

The fact that Cori was so sweet (and calm, which is a helpful counter-balance to my wired-up personality) and that she was so passionate about the book and showed an interest in helping me build a career (not just sell a book) was just icing.

While Cori worked on selling that novel (which hasn't sold... yet), I followed a gut instinct and wrote Hate List. Totally out-of-genre for me.

When I finished Hate List, I was afraid to show it to Cori. Afraid she'd hate it and, worse, would be unhappy with me for writing something so very different than the work she took me on for.

But she, thank goodness, loved it and began trying to sell it immediately. Turned out, my gut instinct that Cori was a perfect match for me paid off in the end -- she not only sold Hate List, but sold it to a "perfect match" editor (T.S. Ferguson at Little, Brown).

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect scenario for my first book sale. Cori is always my biggest cheerleader and confidence-booster, yet she doesn't hesitate to tell me when I've written something that just isn't working (lovingly, of course).

My biggest piece of advice, then, is to just follow your gut and never give up. I had given myself a "100 Rejections" goal, meaning I would not stop submitting that first novel until 100 agents had rejected it. Fortunately, I found Cori before I hit that 100 mark. And I followed my gut in writing Hate List... and it turned out to be the perfect path for me to follow, even though it was different and scary and I felt like I was putting everything on the line.

Do your research, yes. But let your instinct be just as much of an expert when it comes to searching for an agent.

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.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Booking Agent Interview: Jean Dayton of Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions

Learn more about Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions.

Could you offer a brief professional bio?

My experience working with books began in the Geneva, Illinois Public Library where I worked from middle school on through college. I began by typing (typing!) catalog cards. I particularly loved being in the children's section where I often hosted story hour. Over the years, I worked in academic libraries and book stores.

After having three boys, I took a decade off from working outside the house. When my boys were all settled in elementary school, I took a job as Community Relations Manager at a Barnes & Noble in Shreveport, Louisiana.

As a result of connections made through that job, I started my agency in 1999.

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

I have always loved children's books, but I confess that when I began my agency, I specialized in children's authors largely because I wanted my work year to reflect my boys' school year.

I have enjoyed many of the same benefits as teachers because my work load tends to be much lighter during the summer months. Now, even though my children are grown, I still enjoy the low volume of work during summertime!

Could you give us a brief history of Dayton Bookings: Literary Tours and Promotions?

As mentioned in the biography section, I began the agency in 1999 with one client (Kimberly Willis Holt). To this day, I am so grateful to Kimberly for offering me a start in what has become a wonderful career.

Through word of mouth, my client roster has grown to over 35 talented authors. I've made connections with teachers and librarians around the world as I have booked my authors into various venues. I celebrated the agency's 10th anniversary in January 2009.

What makes Dayton Bookings unique among event agencies?

The most important thing to me in accepting a client is their ability to speak eloquently and to connect with their audience. As all of us know, not all fine authors are equally fine speakers. So I work hard to ensure that all of the folks that I represent are both!

What was the inspiration for founding the agency?

I have always enjoyed the process of planning and organization and was able to combine that with my love of books and reading.

A lot of authors enjoy the opportunity to speak to students and readers, but really don't like the time that it takes to work through all of the details of a visit. I was happy to find a niche for my talents by assisting authors with the business and marketing so that they could use their time more effectively.

What is the scope of its activities?

I consider Dayton Bookings to be a "full service" agency. I take care of the initial contact, the contracting, the travel and itinerary details, and help to guide the contracting organization with book orders and anything else that they might need.

I try to make sure that both the author and the booking school or library have a positive experience by hyper-planning an event and trouble-shooting ahead of time.

Occasionally, I get involved in travel snafus (stormy weather, flight delays and cancellations), and then I just fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best!

How would you describe your client base? Could you list some of the folks you're working with now?

I work with talented authors and wonderful people. My client roster is the best! I can provide schools with speakers who specialize in pre-K picture books clear up to speakers who can present to college students.

I work with a number of incredibly talented illustrators (Derek Anderson, Wendy Halperin, Loren Long, Ard Hoyt, Dan Yaccarino, Daniel Kirk) who can discuss process and draw on the spot for their audiences.

One of my clients, Jeff Stone, is a black-belt in kung fu and can bring students up on stage to learn and illustrate various fighting techniques.

Jane Kurtz brings international experience into the mix; she has lived in Africa and is active in a not-for-profit organization that continues to bring books to students in Ethiopia.

Many of my clients can do wonderful writing projects with students during their school visits.

I hate to mention just a few of my authors because each of them are unique and talented. I think that's why many people come back each year to book another Dayton Bookings author!

What do you consider in taking on a new client?

The main thing that I focus on is an individual's ability to speak eloquently and interestingly and to inspire students and adults.

How do you work? Do you field requests, make arrangements, negotiate contracts, follow-up, etc.?

Almost all of my authors have active websites and list me as the contact person for school, library and conference visits. I work the visit from contracting to completion and follow-up as necessary. It has been a happy occurrence that many of the schools and agencies that book one of my authors come back to inquire about visits from other clients. I feel like we're all part of a sharing community and each benefit from and help the others.

Do you actively seek out speaking opportunities, and if so, how?

I really haven't had to seek out speaking opportunities because word-of-mouth has kept both me and my authors quite busy.

Could you give us some idea of your rates and fee structure?

I charge a percentage of the author's speaking honorarium as my fee for taking care of the business of a visit. The authors are paid directly by the booking entity for their work, and I bill them quarterly for my services.

What sorts of event planners do you work with? Folks coordinating school visits, public library visits, conferences, etc.?

Every school seems to have their own unique set-up for booking author visits. Sometimes I work with volunteers from the PTA. Other times, an experienced school librarian will take charge of the visit.

One of the things that I like best about what I do is that I have developed wonderful friendships with a number of the folks that I have met around the country as I work with them to bring authors into their communities.

Why is there a need for such services?

I think that a well-organized and planned visit makes all the difference when it comes to a good experience for both the author and the students. Most authors don't have the time or inclination to spend the necessary time, so the services of a good booking agent can really help.

Also, it seems to be difficult for a lot of people to talk about money without feeling embarrassed. I have no problem whatsoever telling people what my authors charge and why they're more than worth it!

Given the downturn in the economy, have you seen a decrease in speaking opportunities? Why or why not?

I have actually seen somewhat of an upturn in speaking opportunities for a number of my authors. I hope that this keeps up, but I have considered the possibility that a number of the schools want to use existing funds while they still have them.

At any rate, the recession has been kind so far to my agency.

What are your thoughts on the rise of online author events?

I do help to facilitate some online author events, but I continue to believe that a personal contact has more impact on students than an online visit.

There are some obvious cost benefits to an online visit and, just like the Kindle fills some reader's needs in book procurement, I think that online visits will continue to fill some school and store needs in terms of author visits.

What should a prospective speaker consider in signing with a booking agency?

I think it's important to look at the other clients represented by any agency. You are judged by the company that you keep, so you'll want to be sure that the agency represents quality speakers in a professional manner before signing on.

Why does it make sense for event planners to work with booking agencies?

Event planners get the benefit of professional services and experience at no additional cost. Also, I think it's a little easier to communicate with booking agents than it is to try to track down authors.

Recently, a planner told me she'd be reluctant to work with a "represented" author on the theory that there would be an extra charge. Is her assumption valid or not?

I can't speak to the way that other agencies charge, but there is no extra charge for working with my agency. Actually, it's a wonderful benefit for the groups that book my authors because the booking comes with built-in service and assistance from my agency.

What, in your opinion, is the number one key to a successful author event and why?

I think that the key to a truly successful event is planning and preparation. If the students have read the books and studied the author ahead of time, it feels as though they are being re-introduced to a good friend when an author arrives at a school.

There is also a lot to be said for building excitement and anticipation prior to the visit.

Some of my authors have visited schools that have done art projects and writing projects based on their books. The sense of enthusiasm is palpable, and they know that they're in for a wonderful experience.

Cynsational Notes

See Tips for Planning a Great Visit from Dayton Bookings. See also Dayton's author list, information on booking an author, and information for prospective clients.

Cynthia Leitich Smith is available for 2010-2011 non-publisher-sponsored events through Dayton Bookings.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Kerry Madden

Learn about Kerry Madden, and read her LJ. Kerry's books include Harper Lee (Viking, 2009).

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

I attended the first meeting of my writing group in spring of 1991. My son Flannery was two-and-a-half, and my daughter Lucy was six-months-old. It was a Thursday evening, and I felt like I was sneaking out of the house with illicit behavior in mind. After all, who would put the babies to bed? Their father, my husband, would, of course (and did), but could I really be gone from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a group of women I hardly knew? Wasn't I being just a little selfish to go out on a weeknight to a writing group when I was hardly a writer?

Two little ones, and I had published nothing. I was teaching ESL in East Los Angeles everyday at Garfield Adult School. My only produced work had been bad, static plays at college with winning titles like "Tea Time," "All You Can," "Make Me A Sacrifice," and most evocative of all - "Colors." I'd never been published in anything except the "Daily Beacon" newspaper at the University of Tennessee.

I would be among "real" writers who knew so much more than I did, and maybe it would be better for everyone if I turned around and went back home to help get the kids in bed and cleaned the kitchen. But I didn't turn around. I found the address on a winding Silver Lake street in the days before MapQuest or Google. I went to that group.

I found an impressively clean bathroom with candles, an equally impressive clean kitchen with tea and coffee, a huge dog named Atticus, and a room of women writers.

It's 2009, and I am still going to that writers' group. Only a few of us were published back then, and now we've all published in our different genres. But more than publishing and more than the honest and incredibly insightful reads and critiques they have given me over the years, I found my best friends.

I found a place to bring work in when it was a mess, and I found a place to share work when it was finding its legs. I learned so much about writing and teaching by listening to these smart women who left their kids at home for one night every two weeks to workshop stories.

I wrote Offsides (Morrow, 1996), my first novel, with the help of this group. My Maggie Valley characters (Viking, 2005-2008) were first tried out in living rooms of the different writers in my writing group.

I would tell any new writer, full of doubt, full of fear, to silence all the naysayers and find a writing group that works for you.

Find one that "gets" you and your work even when it's raw and new. Find a group where the members rejoice in your success and you rejoice in theirs too. Show up at their readings and buy their books.

I almost turned around that night in 1991. There were a million reasons not to go. But I am so glad I didn't.

I needed the support of a group and deadlines and focus in the chaos of raising babies and teaching. I felt like a writer again that night, and maybe it was the first time I knew I was in it for the long haul no matter what.

If you were writing your recipe for success, how would you proportion out the time and effort you spend researching, writing, marketing manuscripts, dealing with business correspondence, doing online promotion, doing real-space publicity, speaking at events, and/or teaching/critiquing? What about this combination works for you?

This is the hardest of all for me, especially as of late. I think I have the reputation of doing it well. I blog, I post kids' stories on my blog, and I love doing so. I set up my readings as writing workshops for kids. I love the connection with young writers and getting them to write stories.

But I am going to be honest here: In the world of publicity and promotion, I have, at times, felt like an Appalachian Willy Loman, hawking books at the Pancake House or reading over the loudspeaker to drum up sales at bookstores or sharing the stage with Clifford, the Big Red Dog and/or the Care Bears.

If I were to be completely honest, I would have to say that I have reached a screeching roadblock with PR and book promotion. My agent tells me that very few of her authors work as hard as I do in promotion. The publicity people at my publishing house said they needed to take a nap after reading one of my tour schedules. They have asked me to write up promotion tips for their new authors, and I have done so. I have hired booking people for schools visits (Winding Oak, and honestly, they've been a big help) and I have hired freelance publicists, too, who are also terrific. I have financed my own book tours, bookmarks, postcards, and done many free school visits.

The reason I've been so gung-ho is that in 1998, I watched my first book, Offsides, go out of print, and I vowed I wouldn't let it happen again. I thought if I did it all myself and proved I could do it all myself without whining or being difficult, then I could keep my books in print and begin to make a living as a writer.

And after five years of the dance of promotion and writing, I'm stepping back. I've told my editor, and I have her full support. I don't know how far exactly I'm stepping back, but I know my energy needs to be about writing first, and second, connecting with the kids, teachers, and librarians. If I don't do the first, then the second isn't necessary. That is what makes the most sense to me.

I think what I've learned and what every author needs to learn is that we need to find a balance and to be comfortable doing what we can reasonably expect of ourselves, and every writer has his or her own threshold. So with that in mind, this is what I feel I can do and not lose my mind in the publicity blitz.

a. I will continue to do a few free school visits with kids who would otherwise never get to meet an author.

b. I will send out postcards, give out bookmarks, donate books, and keep my website updated.

c. I will continue to keep posting stories from children who want to be "Writers of the Day."

d. I will continue to support other writers, because I have been so incredibly and lovingly supported in this writing community, and it's vital to do so.

e. I will carve out time at least once a week to do PR and updates, but I will not let it take over my life, which it has threatened to do in the past.

f. I will continue to do all my readings and workshops at indie bookstores because they are the reason my books are still alive--the indie booksellers rock, and I will be forever grateful to them.

And I am sure I will do other things...but what I won't do?

I won't read on stage with Clifford or the Care Bears or the Wolf Man (a mountain man who does a show with live wolves at "Ghost Town in the Sky" in Maggie Valley--okay maybe I'll read with the Wolf Man, but definitely not Clifford or The Care Bears). I probably won't do a book trailer, though, I know I should, and I am in awe of those who do such beautiful book trailers. I won't do PR and book promotion before I work on my new novel.

PR and book promotion must come after the writing, never before. With PR and book promotion, it will never ever be enough, so as writers, we have to define what exactly is our "enough" and accept it and get back to the business of writing our stories.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I wanted to do something completely different from the Maggie Valley Trilogy, and the Harper Lee biography, so I'm having a great time working on a new novel called The Fifth Grade Life of Jack Gettlefinger. I began working on it in earnest at Kindling Words West in 2008 and received terrific feedback.

My son Flannery gave me his journal from that time, so it's a valentine to my own kids. Jack is a boy who loves costumes and characters and wants to produce "The Werewolf Hamlet" at his school in order to leave a legacy in the 5th grade. This is a brief section from chapter one:

My mom is mad because I missed the first day of fifth grade. Hello, I am sick! Very sick! But my little sister Sidney still brought me my school journal, and I have been commanded from Fifth Grade Headquarters to think of a name for it.

And so right in the middle of watching the classic 1941 "The Wolf Man," starring Lon Chaney Junior, all the sudden this journal gets shoved right in my face. I hate it already.

Why are teachers always forcing kids to write?
I have nothing to write about, but I do have a name in mind for this school journal. I am going to call it: "The Fifth Grade Life of Jack Gettlefinger."

I could add the following words: "Forced against his will to keep a school journal." It's very tempting. But I don’t think my teacher, Mrs. Tucker, would like it so much.

Cynsational Notes

The Complete List of Links to the Penguin Blog of Harper Lee Research..500 word stories of Monroeville and Gee's Bend. See also Monday, Miss Alice Lee; Tuesday, Mr. George Thomas Jones; Wednesday, Jennings Carter; Thursday, A.B. Blass and the Christmas Parade; and Friday, Gee's Bend, Two Alabama Girls.

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

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite Now Available at Stores Throughout the U.S.

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009) has been re-released to bookstores nation-wide!

This edition includes a new short story by Rachel Vincent. This vampire-themed YA anthology also includes short stories by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine, Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, Rachel Vincent, and Claudia Gray.

Read a PDF excerpt which highlights my short story, "Haunted Love." The story is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and features new characters.

Look for a Cynsational giveaway of this book later this month during YALSA's Teen Read Week!

Cynsational Notes

The anthology was previously available exclusively through Borders/Waldenbooks, but now, readers should be able to find/order it anywhere!

Monday, October 05, 2009

2009 WLT Teddy Award Finalists: Kathi Appelt, Dotti Enderle, Xavier Garza & Jennifer Ziegler

Congratulations to the 2009 finalists for the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Book Award: The Underneath (Atheneum) by Kathi Appelt of College Station, Texas; Man in the Moon (Delacorte) by Dotti Enderle of Richmond, Texas; Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid (Cinco Puntos) by Xavier Garza of San Antonio, Texas; and How Not to Be Popular (Delacorte) by Jennifer Ziegler of Austin, Texas.

From the promotional copy of The Underneath:

There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then abandoned on the side of the road.

A calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up hound deep in the backwaters of the bayou. She dares to find him in the forest, and the hound dares to befriend this cat, this feline, this creature he is supposed to hate. They are an unlikely pair, about to become an unlikely family. Ranger urges the cat to hide underneath the porch, to raise her kittens there because Gar-Face, the man living inside the house, will surely use them as alligator bait should he find them. But they are safe in the long as they stay in the Underneath.

Kittens, however, are notoriously curious creatures. And one kitten's one moment of curiosity sets off a chain of events that is astonishing, remarkable, and enormous in its meaning. For everyone who loves Sounder, Shiloh, and The Yearling, for everyone who loves the haunting beauty of writers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Flannery O'Connor, and Carson McCullers, Kathi Appelt spins a harrowing yet keenly sweet tale about the power of love -- and its opposite, hate -- the fragility of happiness and the importance of making good on your promises.

See the book trailer for The Underneath with music by Cooper Appelt:

In the video below from Simon & Schuster, Kathi talks about her motto:

From the promotional copy for Man in the Moon:

Janine is prepared for a sticky, boring summer on her family's land in the middle of nowhere. Far from town and with only her ailing brother Ricky for company, Janine spends half her time stuck inside with him, wishing that their mother would let them out to play.

But when Mr. Lunas--a mysterious man who saved Janine's father's life in the war--arrives through the cornfields, strange things begin happening. Mr. Lunas eats them out of house and home, then suddenly stops eating at all. And then Ricky's health takes a turn for the worse, and it looks like Janine's world is about to spin out of control.

Mr. Lunas comes to her rescue, encouraging her to break Ricky free--and then giving them both an enormous gift.

See a book trailer for Man in the Moon.

From the promotional copy of Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid:

Let's welcome Santa's newest helper: his cousin Pancho, a farmer living down in South Texas who is so smart he speaks Spanish and English. Back in the day, Pancho was a mariachi singer with a whole lot of style and a fancy sombrero. But as the years passed, Pancho got, well, a little older and a little wider all around. Then one night his primo Santa Claus showed up. Santa needed some help! Pancho volunteered. And then, poof, Santa transformed Pancho into the resplendent Charro Claus with his incredibly Flying Burritos. And Charro Claus, it turns out, even had his own surprise elf—his nephew Vincente!

All Christmas Eve, Vincente and Pancho deliver toys to the boys and girls on the border. Neither rain, cloudy skies, wire fences nor concrete walls keep them from covering every inch of their newly assigned territory. And they don’t forget a single town or city. How could they? The border is their home.

From the promotional copy of How Not to be Popular:

Maggie Dempsey is tired of moving all over the country. Her parents are blowin’-in-the-wind hippies who uproot her every few months to go to a new city. When Maggie was younger, she thought their life was fun and adventurous. Now that she’s a teenager, she hates it.

Each time she moved, she left behind good friends, a great school, and a real feeling of belonging. But this last time she moved it was even worse: she left behind a boyfriend, too.

Now that they’re moving to Austin, Texas, Maggie knows better. She’s not going to make friends. She’s not going to fit in. And she’s definitely not going to fall for the alpha hottie who won’t leave her alone—no matter how gorgeous he is.

Instead, she will dress like a mental patient, in muumuus and flowered swim caps. She will say and do the wrong things at the wrong times. She will have a bad hair day every day. Anything to prevent her from liking this new place—and prevent the new people from liking her. That way it won’t hurt at all when she has to leave.

Only...things don’t go exactly as planned. A misfit won’t take the hint and becomes Maggie’s friend anyway. And as wrecked as she is over the boyfriend she left behind, Maggie feels...something...for the last person she would have imagined. Who knew not being popular could be so hard?

The winners will be announced at the Texas Book Festival at 3 p.m. Oct. 31, at the State Capitol in Austin. "This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and by a grant from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art." See the finalists in all the Writers' League award categories.

New Voice: Lauren Bjorkman on My Invented Life

Lauren Bjorkman is the first-time author of My Invented Life (Henry Holt, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Roz and Eva are sisters, friends, and rivals. Roz fantasizes about snagging the lead in the school play and landing sexy skate god Bryan as her boyfriend.

Sadly, a few obstacles stand between her and her dream. For one, Eva is the more talented actress. And Bryan happens to be Eva's boyfriend. But does Eva have a secret life with her cheerleading partner? Inquiring minds need to know.

Roz, who prides herself on random acts of insanity, hatches a scheme to get Eva to open up. The plan backfires, and Eva is furious. Roz finds herself neck deep in her invented life.

When Roz meets a mercurial boy with a big problem, she begins to understand the complex feelings beneath the labels. And she gets a second chance to earn Eva’s trust.

My Invented Life is a YA novel set in a small California town during the rehearsal of "As You Like It" by William Shakespeare

How did you approach the research process for your story?

My story is about sisters, which didn't require much research. But I chose to write about sexual orientation, too, because of events around my high school reunion, and this was less familiar territory. In the beginning, the experiences my friends and classmates shared with me were not enough to go on. I started by reading a stack of novels for adults and teens–both classic and modern—written by and for the LGBT community, and a few for the community at large.

But I wanted to write for the whole LGBTQSU (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, questioning, straight, and unlabeled) community, and there weren't many books that did this, especially books written by a more or less straight person. To go deeper, I read dozens (maybe hundreds) of coming out stories online. Which I loved! These stories break your heart and lift your spirits, all in a few paragraphs. And I read piles of support literature to understand the issues better.

The breakthrough happened when I told my friends and family about my work-in-progress. The diversity of reactions would fill a novel. Many of my presumably straight friends shared about themselves--one had a lesbian phase in collage, one was bisexual, one had crushes on women, etc. This caught my attention, and made me to consider a more ambiguous sexual orientation for several of my characters.

Then the movie "Kinsey" came out. I read a lot about him, and his 0-6 scale of sexual orientation. Kinsey's scale and a conversation with a friend about how we label each other and ourselves sparked a sub-plot in my novel.

Besides researching issues around sexual orientation, I investigated the setting--a school production of a Shakespeare play--by attending my local high school's rehearsals for a "Midsummer's Night Rave." This helped me add authentic details to many scenes.

And I revised my book so many times. Between the library, the Internet, and my friends and family, my novel evolved into something entirely different from where it started.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what’s funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

E.B. White said, "Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."

When I write the funny parts of my story, I turn off my analytical mind and get into the "zone." If I'm feeling anxious or self-critical, I don’t bother writing humor at all. Instead I focus on advancing the plot. After I've written a humorous bit, I hone it with my editing brain.

When revising humor, I pay a good deal of attention to word order. Timing is everything. Word choice is important, too.

To get a true sense of what's funny about my material, I subject myself to critique. There's no way around this. I find it best to read my work aloud to a group of four or more. What cracks one person up, may elicit a blank stare in others. Once I discover an angle that works, I write more in that vein. But I don’t always go with the majority opinion. Sometimes the obscure jokes are the real gems.

A book on humor writing has helped me--The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (Silman-James Press, 1994). One particular bit of advice stayed with me. Choose a character trait for your main character that propels the humor. For instance, Roz, the main character in My Invented Life (Henry Holt, 2009), has fantasy moments that gave me countless opportunities to add humor and to show character development.

Once I write a funny bit, I use a related joke a second and third time, but often with a twist. Some readers dislike it when a writer does variations of a certain joke to death. To avoid this pitfall, I play with over a dozen running jokes in my story, usually relying on each one only a few times.

Another problem can arise from making one character funny, and writing everyone else as the "straight men." I try to give each character their own sense of humor.

One last word of advice. Write what you think is funny. Are there ridiculous moments that crop up in your own life? Use them. For instance, my husband is a pyromaniac, which makes me laugh. So I found a way to work his crazy antics into my novel.

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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