Friday, October 30, 2009

New Voice: R. J. Anderson on Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter

R. J. Anderson is the first-time author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (HarperCollins, 2009)(read R. J.'s LJ). From the promotional copy:

There are humans at the bottom of the garden, and a glimpse inside their forbidden House convinces the fierce young faery hunter known as Knife that they have knowledge that could help her dying people.

But if the human world has so much to offer, why is the faery Queen determined to keep her people away from it? Is there a connection between the House and the faeries' loss of magic? And why is Knife so drawn to the young Paul McCormick — that strangest of creatures, a human male?


What inspired you to choose the particular point of view – first, second, third (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play?

I've made many changes to Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter over the years, but I always knew it had to be written in the third person– I never even bothered trying anything else.

I think first person can be great and I'm not afraid to write it, but for this book it would have been all wrong: Knife is not a chatty character, she's not emotionally self-aware, and since she's a faery, her perspective on the world is so different from the reader's that a first-person narrative would be confusing or even incomprehensible.

Knife is also a very physical character and gets involved in a lot of action scenes where there isn't time for her to think about what's happening, let alone describe it. So it was good to be able to pull back a little when necessary and use the third-person "camera," so to speak.

But at the same time, I didn't want readers to get too distant from Knife. I wanted them to see the world through Knife's eyes, identify with her, and follow her steps as she tries to solve the book's central mystery.

And I especially wanted readers to imagine how certain aspects of human life we take for granted--not just our technology, but our creativity, and the way we relate to each other--might appear startling and amazing to a faery who'd never encountered those things before.

So in order to do that, I had to immerse the reader in Knife's point of view and never leave it, even once I had other significant characters on the scene. Which meant using a very strictly limited third person POV--no omniscience, no head-hopping, no shortcuts. It's all Knife, all the time.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

I knew from the beginning that my story was going to take place in the real, modern world and not on some invented planet or magical fairyland, so in a way that made things simpler.

But I still had a lot to figure out about how to make the very isolated society in which the faeries live seem plausible. Since the faeries in my book have lost nearly all their magic and can no longer cast spells at will, they can't just conjure up food and clothing--they have to forage and hunt for everything. And since they are small faeries, it's only natural that they'd be at constant risk from predators.

So I had to do a lot of research about plants and herbs, pioneer methods for making soap and candles and tanning hides, what kind of weapons you could make if you didn't have metal...and also the habits of carnivorous birds and animals who could pose a threat to the faeries if they weren't careful.

I also had to think about ways in which the faery world might be different from the human one, not only in terms of technology but in terms of social interaction.

A lot of faery folklore implies that the faeries are lacking in some way, that the beauties of faeryland are an illusion and that if you look at the faeries themselves you may find them hollow inside. And that made me think about ways in which my faeries might also be "hollow" in terms of lacking emotional awareness and connection to each other, and how that would affect the way they relate on a day-to-day basis.

Once I'd figured out that they bargained for everything (faeries in folklore are also said to be fond of bargaining) and really had no concept of friendship or family, it helped me a lot in defining the differences between the human and faery worlds and also gave the developing relationship between Knife and Paul more impact.

None of this was easy. It took me many years and a lot of savvy editorial criticism to make my imagined faery society internally consistent and logistically plausible. But I learned a lot from the process, and I'm glad I went through it. Especially now that I'm hearing readers tell me the world-building's one of their favorite aspects of the book.

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.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Debbie points to a PDF file of resources provided to parents and educators by the National Museum of the American Indian as well as recommended books for young readers.

Teacher and Librarian Resources for Children's and YA Books with Native Themes from Children's Book Author Cynthia Leitich Smith. A collection of educator links and guide books. See also Native American Youth Literature Widget from JacketFlap. Add this widget to your blog to raise awareness of books by Native children's authors and illustrators!

Aladdin M!X: official imprint website. Peek: "So you're too old for kids' books, but your mom will freak out if you come home with anything scandalous. Aladdin M!X is the perfect fit."

Backinprint.com Reprints Out-of-Print Titles by Guild Members from the Authors Guild. Peek: "The Guild's Backinprint.com service makes out-of-print works available through online bookstores and the nation's largest book wholesaler. There is no charge for members to participate, for most titles."

Indie Bookseller Interview: Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy by Cindy Pon from the Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "What's most rewarding is probably the reader who comes back and expresses appreciation for a recommendation, when I successfully tell someone about a book I enjoy that I think is a good match for their tastes."

Reading beyond reality: Interview with Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix, by Stacy Whitman at Tu Publishing. Peek: "I've read beyond my comfort zone and favorite genres since deciding to become a writer--and I would encourage all readers to do the same. If you only read romance, try some mystery. If you only read high fantasy, try contemporary or urban fantasy, etc." Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy.

The Loft Literary Center: "Incorporated in 1975 in a space above a Minneapolis bookstore, The Loft Literary Center has grown to become the nation’s largest and most comprehensive literary center. It is located in the award-winning Open Book literary arts building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at the heart of one of the most literate and book-friendly regions in the country." Note: offerings include classes in writing for young readers.

The Myth of Reading Up by Megan Frazer at Crowe's Nest. Peek: "In my job as a high school librarian, I help teens to make their reading choices every day. For the most part, they want to read about other teenagers. When I look at the fiction on my return cart, I do not see a row of adult novels. Instead I see mostly YA, with a few Jodi Picoult and Stephen King thrown in – authors, it should be noted, who often feature teen characters." Read a Cynsations interview with Megan Frazer.

Peaches & Messy First Drafts by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing. Peek: "I have to say that too much mess isn’t good. If your manuscript keeps breaking off into big lumpy sections and has no unifying forces holding it together, then you could end up with a draft that can’t be made to fit no matter how many times you revise it." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

2009 Debut Library Giveaway from the 2009 Debutantes. Peek: "To celebrate Teens Read Week, the YA and MG authors of Debut 2009 are giving away a 46 book set of their debut novels to one lucky library, anywhere in the world! From Oct. 18 until Dec. 31, we'll be taking entries from librarians only- public and school libraries are eligible."

The Acquisition Process by the Buried Editor at Buried in the Slush Pile. Peek: "I created a flowchart of the acquisition process." Note: context is acquisitions at Blooming Tree Press and CBAY.

Re-Agented! (or It's a Small World After All*) by Deena Lipomi at Author2Author. Peek: "After my agent left the agenting business this summer and I was left floating on my own in a world of editor research, I am now re-agented! And let me tell you, the way this went down was nothing but serendipity (and a little bit of talent, right?)."

Writer Beware from Lucienne Diver at Authorial, Agently and Personal Ramblings. Advice on how to avoid scams and find a reputable agent. Read a Cynsations interview with Lucienne.

100 Best Book Blogs for Kids, Tweens, and Teens from Online School. Peek: "Whether you are interested in literature for the very young, teen and young adult literature, or specialized genres such as multicultural literature, poetry, or comics and graphic novels, these blogs will help you find the best books available–leaving you more time for reading and enjoying this literature." Note: I'm honored to see Cynsations on the list.

2009 Co-Winners Tomás Rivera Children's Book Award from Texas State University are: The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans by Carmen Tafolla (Wings, 2008) and He Forgot to Say Goodbye by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

Rejecting Rejection and Embracing Revision from Tabitha Olson at Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page. Peek: "Even the word, re-jec-ted, sounds so harsh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it into a good thing."

Young Adult Novel Discovery Contest: "Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers' Workshop, is hosting its first Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation with one of New York's leading YA literary agents!" See details.

Jessica Leader: official site of the debut author of Nice and Mean (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X, 2010). Peek: "Jessica Leader grew up in New York City. Like the characters in Nice and Mean, she had many important conversations in the stairwells of her school and on the cross-town bus. In high school, she won a playwriting contest that led to her play being produced all over the country. She earned her undergraduate degree from Brown University and her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In between those two events, she taught English and drama, first in New York and then in Louisville, Kentucky."

Cynsational Tip: if you have a don't-miss link for the Friday round-up, please feel free to suggest it. I'm looking for substantial interviews, writer resources, articles on the writing life and craft, children's-YA book giveaways, and other posts/resources of interest to teens, writers, illustrators, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and other industry pros/community members.

Thanksgiving Giveaway: Giving Thanks to Public and School Librarians from the Class of 2k9: Middle Grade and YA Debut Authors. Peek: "Between now and Thanksgiving weekend, the Class of 2K9 will be celebrating the many wonderful librarians who've supported us throughout the year by offering...three sets of books." These include a full set for public libraries and a set for an elementary/middle school and high school respectively.

Gothic Fantasy and Suspense for Teens and 'Tweens from from Children's Book Author Cynthia Leitich Smith. An annotated bibliography of spooky reads, links to author interviews, and writing resource links.

Editing: How To Avoid Staring Into The Great Black Abyss by Elana Johnson at QueryTracker.net. Peek: "I'm going to give you some pointers that have helped me tackle my 320-page manuscript, edit it, polish it, get it to betas and then out the door in less than 30 days."

Win a Signed Copy of Operation Yes! by Sara Lewis Holmes (Arthur A. Levine, 2009) from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "...we're giving away two signed, personalized copies. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment at this post, telling us who your favorite teacher was/is (real or fictional), and why." Deadline: midnight EST Nov. 5. See more information.

A Touch of Grace: Grace Lin's new novel is a tribute to her late husband--and a reminder of what really matters by Madeleine Blais from School Library Journal. Peek: "'Basically, I spent two years contributing to the world’s landfills,' she says. An unusual tone of self-satisfaction creeps into her voice: 'And then, a wonderful thing happened. I lost my job.'" Read a Cynsations interview with Grace.

The Reverse Snobbery of Low Literary Aspirations by Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "...there is definitely something that is lost in the over-celebration of mass appeal and the lowest common denominator and the dismissal of experts, and I really think it can be taken too far. What about aspiring to create something that is great, rather than merely popular." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Twitter Chats for Writers by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com: Daily Diversions for Writers. Peek: "If you want to say something in the chat, just post your comment to Twitter, but make sure the hashtag is included somewhere in your post so other people in the chat will see it. That’s the simplest way to participate in a chat so if you’re in a hurry, there’s no need to read further." Source: Jessica Lee Anderson.

More Personally

Around the kitlitosphere, I loved this peek into a Liz Garton Scanlon preschool event. Gorgeous photography! You can almost see the fairy dust! I also enjoyed Jody Feldman's report on P.J. Hoover and Jessica Lee Anderson's signing party!

Cynsations: a recommendation from Elizabeth Burns (Liz B) at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: All I want: like Buffy, I want a chair. A fireplace. A tea cozy. And to talk about stories. Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea. Peek: "If you're reading children's and young adult books; writing them; reviewing them; or just want to know more about what is going on this part of the book world? Read Cynsations." Note: this post means a lot to me.

Round-up of Quotes from my Tantalize Interviews from Jo Ann Hernandez at BronzeWorld: Latino Authors. Peek: "Tantalizing tidbits abound as Cynthia dishes on writing, Gothic lit, favorite things and her latest novel."

Halloween Review: Eternal by Miss Attitude from Reading in Color. Peek: "This book will stay with me for close to eternity I'm sure! It was funny, sweet and thought-provoking in a very subtle way. Oh and I now officially love vampires. I understand the craze, because even though vampires are evil in Eternal, there is just something about them that draws you in." Note: enter to win copies of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and Asleep by Wendy Raven McNair (CreateSpace, 2009) from Reading in Color. Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 31; see more information.

Highlights of the week included the Austin Teen Book Festival. My fan girl moment? Meeting Heather Brewer, pictured here with Austin authors Bethany Hegedus and Shana Burg.

Another thrill? Seeing rock-star YA author Carrie Jones (behind the book).

Varian Johnson with a yellow rose from the Texas Sweethearts.

Sweethearts Jo Whittemore and Jessica Lee Anderson.

The Westlake (TX) High dance team performing "Thriller" for the authors at lunch.

My gift bag! I especially loved the original art card. The vampire-mouth candies were fun too!

It was an amazing line-up--also including keynoter Libba Bray, Daniel Waters, Jennifer Ziegler, Justine Larbalestier, Rick Yancey, Lisa McMann, Matt de la Pena, Deb Caletti, and Terra Elan McVoy--sorry for the lack of pics! As I was still coughing (just a cold), I kept my distance to the extent practical from my fellow speakers (for their own protection).

Thanks so much to the speakers, teens, parents, BookPeople staff (especially my moderator Emily), and librarians who made this debut event such a success! Special thanks to the YA readers who drove in all the way from Houston to see me! Wow!

Last Call 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!

Cynsational Events

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. Hope to see y'all there!

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

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)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Voice: Megan Crewe on Give Up the Ghost

Megan Crewe is the first-time author of Give Up the Ghost (Henry Holt, 2009)(see Megan's blog). From the promotional copy:

Cass McKenna much prefers the company of ghosts over "breathers." Ghosts are uncomplicated and dependable, and they know the dirt on everybody... and Cass loves dirt. She's on a mission to expose the dirty secrets of the poseurs in her school.

But when the vice president of the student council discovers her secret, Cass's whole scheme hangs in the balance. Tim wants her to help him contact his recently deceased mother, and Cass reluctantly agrees.

As Cass becomes increasingly entwined in Tim's life, she's surprised to realize he's not so bad--and he needs help more desperately than anyone else suspects. Maybe it's time to give the living another chance...


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

I consider myself lucky to have had many fabulous sources of support throughout my writing career so far. Most of them have been online, and I think that's one of the best things about the Internet--the way it allows us to connect with so many like-minded people we might never have gotten to know otherwise.

When I was first starting out with short stories, I got most of my critiques at the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. It's full of amazing critiquers who helped me identify the strengths and weaknesses in my stories. Ultimately I found it didn't work quite as well for me when it came to novels, but I ended up meeting a couple of critique partners through the workshop I continue to exchange manuscripts with to this day.

In the last several years, I've gotten most of my feedback from one-on-one critiquers, met through workshops and writing communities. They've been invaluable. There's nothing like getting a reader's eye view of an entire novel, and my books have gotten much stronger for it. And a few of my critique partners have also been close friends, people I can turn to and who can turn to me when we need reassurance or guidance.

As well, I have an in-person writers group that I meet with once every two weeks. It's wonderful being able to hash out everything from the details in one scene to the plot line of an entire book face-to-face. And we also do a yearly writing retreat with all of the same plus lots of writing, swimming, canoeing, and roasting marshmallows!

Since selling my first novel, I've also had the pleasure of joining a couple of amazing groups of writers: the 2009 Debutantes and the Class of 2K9. I don't know how I could have made it through the last year and a half without them! We share tips on everything from writing and revising to submitting and promoting, and if anyone's ever feeling down or stuck, we're always there for each other to cheer on or find a solution.

Really, I've only had good experiences when it comes to the children's and YA writing community. I think we all recognize that it can be a long and difficult journey, and we're happy to help each other along the way.

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

I've always enjoyed reading stories that go at least a little beyond the boundaries of "reality as we know it." There's so much room for surprises, for the unexpected. And there's something thrilling about seeing a character faced with a problem they never thought could exist. What do people do when faced with the (supposedly) impossible?

Naturally, I enjoy writing those sort of stories, too. Making my characters face the unexpected. Pondering the many "what ifs" that open up when you allow for the existence of things like ghosts. It's those sorts of "what ifs" that get me excited about a story. I love realistic fiction as well as speculative as a reader, but when it comes to writing, the ideas that grab me and won't let me go always have a paranormal or fantastical element.

Two of my favorite authors growing up were Roald Dahl and Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Dahl's books are almost always fantastic, but what's so wonderful about them is that he rarely lingers on the "wow, that's so fantastic" part of the story. He gets straight to the consequences and how the characters deal with them. Okay, there are witches, there are giants, we know this now, let's get on with the story.

That always appealed to me, because it's the story of what happens after you've discovered the magic that I find truly interesting--not so much the story of the discovering itself. Which is probably why I tend to skip the discovering in my books.

Give Up the Ghost begins four years after Cass saw her first ghost; it's about someone for whom the supernatural has become almost natural and what that means for her.

Zilpha Keatley Snyder writes some fantasy (like the Green-Sky trilogy (Atheneum, 1975-1977), but most of her books are realistic with just a touch of something magical--often something that's only imagination.

I say "only," but that's inaccurate, because Snyder presents imagination as a very powerful force. It's the intricate worlds that Martha and Ivy make up that gradually help Martha come into her own as a young woman in The Changeling, my favorite of Snyder's books, for example.

Reading those stories, I think, inspired me to try to have a balance of the realistic with the paranormal in my books. To show that everyday concerns like bullying and sibling rivalries are just as affecting as something supernatural.

Give Up the Ghost may be a paranormal novel, but the most important element is how Cass ends up dealing with the real life troubles she's experienced.

Maybe this is a funny thing for a paranormal author to admit, but really, what I like most about writing the fantastical is finding the realism inside it.

[Watch this book trailer for Give Up the Ghost by Megan Crewe.]



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 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Uma Krishnaswami/ys

Children's literature is blessed with an author named Uma Krishnaswami and an illustrator named Uma Krishnaswamy.

So, as a "Smith," I know something about common names. But I'd never put "Uma Krishnaswami/y" in that category! Is it true that there are two of you?

Uma Krishnaswami: Yes, although the OU (Other Uma) spells her last name with a Y on the end--"Krishnaswamy," not "Krishnaswami."

Still, I admit, I was surprised. Not so much that there was someone else in the world with my name--it's not a "Smith" exactly, but it's maybe more common than--um, "Leitich"! But someone else in the world of children's publishing? How likely is that?

How did you come to connect with one another?

Uma Krishnaswami: That's a funny story.

I got an e-mail message from a reader in France who said he adored my books.

Well, that's always nice to hear, but I noticed that I hadn't written some of the books he listed. I wrote back pointing this out.

He replied, insisting, "I know that. You illustrated them," and went on to tell me what he loved about my art.

Since I can't draw to save my life, I astutely concluded I must have a namesake.

Google led me to her via one of her publishers, who, it turns out, is right around the corner from my parents' house in Chennai, India. Just another example of the small-and-shrinking world in action.

What are the challenges of having the same byline?

Uma Krishnaswami: Well, I suppose reader confusion is one. I just got invited to a conference in Singapore and decided I'd better check and make sure I'm the one they really want. (It turns out that I am, but it's best to clarify).

Another is that I sometimes get author copies intended for her, and once she nearly got a check meant for me. (Or was it the other way around? I can't remember.)

What about it charms you?

Uma Krishnaswami: I love her artwork--it's luscious and smart, combines a folk feel with a modern sensibility. I'd love to do a whole book with Uma doing the art--then we'd really stump everyone!

As it is, the name we share has taken on the quality of an extended joke. When Cicada magazine published a poem of mine titled "Lifeline," they didn't tell me they were hiring Uma to do the art. They added a little footnote to the effect that they were sometimes confused too.

Cynsational Note: switching Umas--text and art!

What did you think when you found out about Uma Krishnaswami, who's also a children's book creator (though an author, not illustrator)?

Uma Krishnaswamy: I go this call one afternoon out of the blue, and the voice on the other end introduced herself as well...yours truly!

Oh, Oh! I thought a huge joke was being played on me, or that postprandial wooziness was playing tricks with my hearing. Until, of course, the voice launched into this rather complicated story full of twists and turns that ended up throwing the two Uma's together.

We got chatting, and I was delighted that I got a chance to speak and meet Uma Krishnaswami. The added bonus, her being a children's author. So much more to share and discuss.

What about sharing the same name charms you?

Uma Krishnaswamy: Absolute fun. When Uma's book got reviewed (minus her pic) I was asked (with a touch of reverence) if I'd taken to writing as well. Very tempting to add that to my resume as my namesake does such a fabulous job of it.

And as Uma mentioned, Cricket Magazine Group has sent my copies and cheque to her while I anxiously waited at the gate for the magazine!

And that irreverent little aside from the editors of Cicada, when I did the artwork for her poem, would never happen in the normal course.

Apart from the fun factor of having our names together, Uma's poem that I got to illustrate was something that really struck a chord, as it speaks of the same place that I come from. More coincidences.

Hopefully, in the near future, the two of us will get to do a book together to drive a few more people crazy!

Cynsational Notes

Uma Krishnaswamy's art images are used with permission.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Voice: Cyn Balog on Fairy Tale

Cyn Balog is the first-time author of Fairy Tale (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Morgan Sparks and Cam Browne are a match made in heaven. They've been best friends since birth, they tell each other everything, and oh yeah--they’re totally hot for each other.

But a week before their joint Sweet Sixteen bash, everything changes. Cam's awkward cousin Pip comes to stay, and Morgan is stunned when her formerly perfect boyfriend seems to be drifting away.

When Morgan demands answers, she's shocked to discover the source of Cam's distance isn't another girl--it's another world. Pip claims that Cam is a fairy. No, seriously. A fairy. And now his people want Cam to return to their world and take his rightful place as Fairy King.

Determined to keep Cam with her, Morgan plots to fool the fairies. But as Cam continues to change, she has to decide once and for all if he really is her destiny, and if their "perfect" love can weather an uncertain future.


In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

When I started writing this book, the first thing that popped into my mind was the title—"Fairy Lust." I kept thinking to myself, what could a book with that title be about?

I thought that to live up to the title, it would have to be steamy, and I wasn't sure I was the person who could pull that kind of thing off.

After all, I'm a good, churchgoing girl. I could just see members of my congregation shaking their heads in disgust. And I have young children, and I live in fear of them one day reading my book and saying, "Mommy, why did you write about ---?"

But as I wrote, I became more comfortable because the relationships are much more about longing than the actual, physical act. I think that by letting readers fill in the details with their own imaginations, it’s much more effective. Furthermore, it lets me off the hook; I might still get into heaven after all!

Afterward, my editor changed the title of the book to Fairy Tale, which, though difficult for me to get used to since I'd been using "Fairy Lust" as a working title for so long, is probably the right decision. Moms everywhere are cheering, I am sure.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

It's not very easy. I have a full-time job that requires me to be in physical shape. I am the primary caretaker of a two-year old, and I have a baby on the way, due in July. [Cyn Note: July 2008; the interview has been in the queue for a while].

I always make time to write on my lunch half-hour, which really isn’t much time, but when you make an appointment and carve out the time for yourself, you tend to stick with it better than if you have a whole day free and just plan to write, say, sometime within those 24 hours.

But if this was just about writing, my career would be easy. Many writers tend to think that getting the first book published is the hard part and it's all peaches and cream after that.

I know, believe me, I know, that it's really difficult to get a book published, but it's just as difficult to maintain that career. Immediately after a sale, writers tend to go a little crazy—"hey! I can write and sell a couple more books! I can fit in a bunch of appearances and a stint as creative writing teacher at my local college! Why not?"

But then suddenly you realize how much "hidden" work there is, apart from just writing your next book. It's what you'd call a welcome nuisance.

Sure, you'll probably be able to sell a bit easier as a published author. But that doesn't cut down on the amount of work you'll have to do. Did that first book take you years to write and perfect? Don't expect to have that much time with your second—you will likely be on deadline, and there will be pressure from your editor and agent.

And the great thing about trying to find a home for your first book is that you had a wide-open field of numerous publishers that you could take your book to, so if one doesn't like it, chances are, another will. However, if you are working on a second book from a two-book deal, your book is going to go in front of one publisher—and if they don’t like it, you'll have to go back to the drawing board to fulfill your commitment.

You'll probably go through the whole, "Maybe I am a one-book wonder" confidence crisis that 95% of writers experience. You may have rounds of edits upon edits from your editorial team to contend with. Plus, you'll also be promoting your first book as even if you did get a heavy advance, you can't ever rely completely on your publisher to do that for you.

It can be very stressful to fit all that in, especially if you, like me, only have a half-hour of "me"-time every day. But really, all the headaches are so worthwhile-- I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

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.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Esther Hershenhorn

Learn about Esther Hershenhorn. Visit her team blog, Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing.

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

I know, I know. We fiction writers hear that writing nonfiction can't possibly be "fun." But I am living proof now: it simply isn't so.

In fact, I can honestly say I had the most fun I've ever had working on a book while writing my newest book, S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009).

I've been thinking on this truth the past few weeks as I readied a fall talk for children's book writers – "N is for 'Never-too-late-to-learn-something-new:' One Fiction Writer's (A-to-Z) Journey Through a Nonfiction World."

S is for Story grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go, as did my picture books and middle grade fiction.

It required the very best telling of a very good story, as did my fictional titles.

My emotional connection to the story was every bit as essential as it was when telling my fictional tales.

And that, I see now, is why my fun grew exponentially.

S is for Story celebrates the all-important reader-writer connection.

It's an A-to-Z journey through a writer's life and process.

It just so happens I live and breathe my entries. My writing, teaching, and coaching informed every single sidebar.

While writing this book, I immersed myself daily in the real truths and facts of my beloved and treasured children's book world, the one in which I've lived now for some thirty-two years.

The fun began once Sleeping Bear Press accepted my proposal. I brainstormed my twenty-six letter assignments with Ms. Jenny Vincent's talented 2008 fifth graders at Chicago's Louisa May Alcott School, where I've worked with young writers the past five years. It was they who gave me the perfect M word, to sit smack dab in the middle of my book. (Hint: think wands and top hats and bunnies with long ears.)

I envisioned my book as a gift-wrapped school visit, folded and packaged and tied up with a bow.

The contents, when opened, would shout "Writers are readers!"

I was writing to inform, affirm and ready. What better "show, don't tell" than to use children's authors and their titles and characters to support my text?

Once I chose my A-through-Z words, books of all sizes soon covered my apartment's every room--piled high, stacked by subject, seemingly multiplying while I slept at night.

There were children's books, of course, as well as those of Ralph Fletcher, E.B. White, Marion Dane Bauer, Betsy Hearne, Leonard S. Marcus, Anita Silvey, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Charlotte Huck. The Horn Book. Book Links. Children's literature anthologies. Plus Lucy Calkins texts and writing teachers' manuals.

I was a child at play, making my way over and around and through and beside, bookmarking pages, turning down corners, discovering delicious telling details. And when I wasn’t reading? I was Googling non-stop, then tracking down morsels at my Chicago Public Library.

I've always likened writing a novel or picture book to solving an acrostic. The back-and-forth-and-all-around flow of the discovery process as one follows the clues is much like the flow of discovering one's story. And the same is true for a nonfiction story.

For instance, the Egyptian origins of the alphabet led me to the creation of vowels and Braille, then Sequoyah and Pig Latin and Lewis Carroll's words to start at the beginning and go on until the end. B found me lost in the Dewey Decimal system and Gutenberg's printing press, then on to swim in waters with an assortment of characters. Fairy tales led to genres, which led to Heroes and Heroines, which lead to ideas an journals, to letters and notebooks.

I was living and breathing children's books and writing.

I earnestly subscribe to noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Theory of Flow. The former University of Chicago professor has spent his life's work studying what makes people--truly--happy, and "truly" is the operative word. His definition of "flow," as in "in the flow," is the experience of optimal fulfillment and engagement.

"Flow," he wrote, "whether in creative arts, athletic competition, engaging work, or spiritual practice, is a deep and unique human motivation to excel, exceed, and triumph over limitation."

Believers note that when flow is occurring, the ego drops off, time flies, actions, movements, and thoughts follow inevitably from previous ones.

I am an "in the flow" person, whether writing a book about a 19th century limner or readying a manuscript or a lesson on plot or shaping a teachers' writing workshop or a young authors visit or cooking up chicken soup or an interview answer.

I was--truly--in the flow, though, while writing S is for Story.

I was writing the book I live and breathe.

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

The key word in the above question? "Thrive."

I often tell students and writers and the public at large: there are all sorts of currencies in this world of ours.

Were dollars and cents the only determinant of one's life's work's success, I'd unfortunately be in a whole lot of trouble.

Uncovering my voice, telling my story, connecting with young readers and especially fellow writers: this is the Stuff of my ongoing writer's journey and its inevitable yet surprising satisfactory endings.

I learned early and often there were no guarantees--think of the books that had Sept. 11, 2001 publication dates. As for competition, I'm continually amazed by and choose to focus on the generous spirit that pervades my children's book world.

Which is not to say that it wouldn't be nice if the capital S in Stuff referenced above were a $. Because it would be nice. It's simply that I knew from the get-go that writing children's books would not provide a true means of support. I was always prepared, if push came to shove, to earn my keep in other ways.

The trick, for me, was to make sure those "other ways" were somehow connected to the children's book world.

I happen to live inside concentric circles, each a neighborhood in its own right, but part and parcel of, as well as connected to, the grander world of children's books.

The children's book writing community. SCBWI. The world of children's literature. The publishing world. The Kidlitosphere. Librarians. Teachers. Booksellers. Reviewers. Readers. Students. Schools.

I move in and out of these circles daily, weekly, sometimes even hourly, learning and growing, receiving and giving, paying kindnesses forward, creating in many ways that wondrous "flow" of which I spoke in an earlier answer.

To earn my keep I've written an abecedarian telling of Illinois' story, language arts exercises, Christian Sunday school materials, stories for interchangeable characters, teacher guidelines, book reviews, writing programs, literacy book lists.

Some days I'm in the schools, visiting classrooms, facilitating young-writer workshops, teaching teachers about writing. Some nights I teach adults how to write for children--picture books, novels, and nonfiction, too.

In between, I coach children's book writers, wherever they are in the writing process, helping them discover and tell their stories. The common denominator: children and children's books.

I recently joined five fellow children's book authors who also teach writing to create the group blog Teaching Authors. I'm an author who teaches; I'm a teacher who authors books. Each ensures, at any given moment, I'm in the flow, alive and thriving.

Cynsational Notes

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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