Friday, December 11, 2009

Author Interview: K.L. Going on Writing & Selling the YA Novel

From Writer's Digest: "K.L. Going is a full-time writer and award-winning YA author; former assistant to literary agents at Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York; and former manager of an independent bookstore..." Her debut novel, Fat Kid Rules the World (Putnam, 2003), was a 2004 Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Read her previous Cynsations interview.

What's new?

Since I last visited with you, Saint Iggy (Harcourt, 2006) has been published, along with a second middle grade novel called The Garden of Eve (Harcourt, 2007). I've had two short stories published in anthologies, and I also have a new teen novel out called King of the Screwups (Harcourt, 2009) about a drop-dead gorgeous guy who desperately wants to be a nerd. The book is full of fashion, glam rock, and mayhem. What could be more fun than that?

Congratulations on the success of Writing & Selling the YA Novel (Writer's Digest, 2008)(excerpt)! In your own words, could you tell us what readers might expect from the book?

Writing & Selling the YA Novel is a primer for those who want to publish novels for teens. The book covers all the basics of good writing and also delves into issues that are specific to the young adult field such as the history of YA, tips for targeting the teen audience, and dealing with hot-button issues like bad language, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

Okay, I just added rock and roll for fun, but the rest is all in there!

What makes it different from other craft and/or manuscript marketing resource books?

First, it's YA specific. Most craft books are more general, lumping YA into the category of children's book writing, which is very broad.

Second, this is the only craft book I know of that includes a teen panel where writers have a chance to hear from actual teens about what they like and dislike about YA books and what they want to read more about.

How did you come to write the book?

I was approached by Writer's Digest. My editor, Alice Pope, was familiar with my writing for teens and knew that I had worked for five years at a literary agency.

Since I've also managed an independent bookstore, taught adult literacy, and grew up as the daughter of a librarian, I truly know books from every angle. This gave me a unique platform to approach the writing of this book.

What were the challenges?

My biggest challenge was convincing myself it was okay to take a chance and try my hand at writing non-fiction. It's so different!

What did you love about it?

I loved having the opportunity to use a different part of my brain. It was such a varied writing process from the one I was used to that it was refreshing. I also loved the fact that my editor gave me license to make the book fun. I don't think a book has to be stodgy just because it's non-fiction, so it was great to be able to be a little whimsical about the topic.

The book is arranged like a school schedule so that each chapter represents a different period in the school day. I also loved gathering the information for the teen panel. It was so much fun to draw up the questionnaire and then see what kids had to say.

More than anything, what do you want your readers to take away?

I hope there's something different for every writer. For the beginner, I hope they take away the basic tips about writing that can improve their work. For the more advanced student, I hope they enjoy the chapters that shed light on what they may not know as much about, such as the history of YA or the business/marketing aspects of getting published.

What are you doing when you're not writing?

I just had a baby boy, so I am ultra busy being in love and not sleeping.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on a new middle grade novel that I hope to have edited soon, and I've also got a couple picture books in the works. They won't be out for a while yet, but they should make it onto the market in time for my son's toddler years.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I hope readers will check out my website-- specifically two features that I love to highlight. The GiveitAwayNow page has ideas for how you can give back to your community, and the Very Cool Person of the Month page highlights some special people who have excelled at doing that very thing. I love to receive new nominations, so please visit the site, and then send me an e-mail about someone you know who is just plain awesome.

Cynsational Notes

Watch a book trailer for The Garden of Eve:

Cynsational News & Giveaways

National Book Awards Report by finalist Laini Taylor from Grow Wings. Peek: "It's nice, in the Young Person's category of the NBAs, there are extra events so we get to know each other a little. I don't think the 'grownup' finalists do this--and that kind of exemplifies what it's like writing for young readers. There really is a community--a community of the kinds of people I want to be friends with. It rocks." See also a recent report on the event by [Laini's fellow finalist] Rita Williams-Garcia from Cynsations.

Agenting Picture Books v. Agenting Novels: Part One of Two by Michael Stearns from Upstart Crow Literary. Peek: "I look for writers who put their strongest stuff forward first. If she feels her picture books are her strongest material, then she should start there. If she feels she is primarily a novelist, then she should start with a novel." Source: Lynne Kelly. Note: see an opportunity to bid on a critique by Michael at the Bridget Zinn auction, listed below!

What Can I Expect of My Agent? by Moonrat from Editorial Ass. Peek: "You are an author whose property is making your agent money (however much or little it may be). That means that if you ask for a financial record of your account--how much your royalties have earned out, what fees have been deducted from your earnings--your agent should furnish said account with little to no dilly-dallying." See also What Do You Expect? by KT Literary.

Q&A Literary Agent Ginger Clark by Maria Schneider from Editor Unleashed. Peek: "On the children's side of my list, I represent middle grade and YA fiction, all kinds."

The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Nathan Bransford from The Writer's [Inner] Journey. Peek: "...particularly when the traditional selling tools at publishers' disposal (such as front bookstore placement, reviews, marketing, etc.) are waning in effectiveness, there's even more of a premium for the authors who are able to deliver an audience."

Why do authors charge fees to visit schools? by children's author Kim Norman. Peek: "Except for the rare bestseller or 'living legend,' children's book writing is not known to be a lucrative profession.... Speaking fees help keep us solvent so we can do the thing we truly love: writing books for children." Note: authors may want to feature this link on the speaker-information pages of their websites. Read a Cynsations interview with Kim.

Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Library or Librarian by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #144: Featuring Neil Numberman and Aaron Reynolds from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Numberman uses blues, sepia tones, and some yellow to illustrate this noir-tale spoof of a fly detective, living in a city of insects, and his new assistant, a rather clumsy scorpion named Sammy Stingtail. A beautiful butterfly, named Delilah, hires them to solve a crime involving a magic pencil box, friendship, and a little bit of jealousy." Read a recent Cynsations interview with Aaron and Neil.

Reminder: Bridget Zinn Kicks Cancer Auction! Bid to Win Art, Signed Books, Editor/Agent/Author Critiques & More! Peek: "Bridget is a 32-year-old YA author and librarian who is currently being treated for stage 4 colon cancer – and her 'healthy young person between jobs' health insurance does not cover many of her expenses. Read Bridget's blog for more information." See more information. Auction I.D.: bridget Password: rules Auction closes Dec. 11. Hot new items include One Critique of a Query Plus the first Ten Pages of Your Middle-Grade or Young Adult Novel by Michael Stearns, Upstart Crow Literary, LLC.!

A Visit to DayGlo Color Corporation with Chris Barton, author of The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors, illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge, 2009). Peek: "...as much fun as it had been getting to know the Switzer brothers on paper, through their original notes on their early experiments, there's a lot to be said for getting a firsthand look at what continues to this day to result from that experimentation." Read a related Cynsations interview with Chris.

Free Agents: Libraries have a place in a gift economy by Christopher Harris from School Library Journal. Peek: "Though we should not mistake libraries themselves as being free—the cost of which is deferred as taxes—we can still create our own gift economies. Some school libraries in my system, for example, hold book swaps at year's end, where students bring in books to exchange with each other for new summer reading material."

E-Books Made E-asy by H.L. Dyer, M.D. from QueryTracker.net. Peek: "Don't get me wrong, I love a flesh-and-blood book as much as the next bibliophile. But this is pretty durned [sic] cool, too."

Writers and Rejection: Don't Give Up! by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com: Daily Diversions for Writers. Peek: "Ellen Jackson's Cinder Edna [illustrated by Kevin O'Malley] (HarperCollins, 1998) was rejected more than 40 times before it was accepted for publication. Since then, it has won many awards and sold more than 150,000 hardcover copies." Source: Jill Cocoran.

Marvelous Marketer: Author Maggie Stiefvater by Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "I have a handful of blogs in my blog reader that I read all the time. They’re all either: a) intensely informative on the industry, b) extremely hilarious, c) extremely snarky about the industry, d) involve strange photographs of animals doing strange things to tourists, or e) all of these things."

The 6th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of the Fine Arts in Montpelier will be March 19-2. Faculty include author Uma Krishnaswami, author E. Lockhart, and Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press. For more information, email Sarah Aronson at sarah@saraharonson.com. Source: Through the Tollbooth. Read Cynsations interviews with Uma, E., Nancy, and Sarah.

Interview with Steven L. Layne by Diane Chen from School Library Journal. Peek: "I'm going to lead kids in studying an author–I'm going for whole thing. I'm going to pick someone with a wide range of books to explore. There's nothing wrong with selecting an author who write basically the same genre, same age group all the time, but I find Candace Fleming’s (for example) range to be inspiring and I'd want kids to see that."

Building Your Author Platform Even If You're Not Published Yet (part one and two) by Justine Lee Musk from Tribal Writer. Peek: "It's not about push: pushing your book in front of as many readers as possible. It's about pull: pulling the right readers to you." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

31 Blogs You May Not Know: recommendations from children's author Susan Taylor Brown. Note: I especially second her recommendations of Devas Rants and Raves from author-illustrator Don Tate, Simple Saturday from author-educator Debbie Gonzales, jamma rattigan's alphabet soup from author Jamma Rattigan, Anneographies from author-educator Anne Bustard, Gotta Book from author-librarian-screenwriter Greg Pincus and more.

Won't Someone Please Think of the Children? by Carrie Ryan at Carrie's Procrastinatory Outlet. Peek: "...not talking about the difficult issues in this world doesn't make them not exist. Not letting teens read about them doesn't mean teens are somehow not going to face them." Note: authors may want to feature this link on certain book-information pages of their websites.

How To Interview an Agent by Cynthea Liu from Writing for Children and Teens. Peek: "An agent has let you know they would like to speak with you further about your work. You talk to them, answer his questions, and he offers representation." See also Going On An Agent Hunt by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth and Literary Agent Offers: Don't Settle! by Sarah Ockler at Sarah Ockler: Making Stuff Up. Writing It Down. Source: Alison Dellenbaugh.

IndeDebut2010: "Inde-Debut 2010 books are being published by a spectrum of Small Presses across America and range from Picture Books to Middle Grade to Young Adult. Inde-Debut 2010 is proud to support these small presses that are championing new voices, focusing on niche markets, creating whole businesses by reissuing out-of-print classics, and maintaining the tradition of printing literary fiction."

Soup's On: Ellen Potter in the Kitchen Interview! by Jama Rattigan from jama rattigan's alphabet soup: a children's writer offers food for thought & fine whining. Peek: "...I would love my readers to entertain the possibility of Audrey’s unusual situation. One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare is 'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' I say it to my son all the time and it really annoys him."

Be Bold by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "Everything that goes into a first draft will have to be scrutinized in later drafts, but I think it's better to push on many times and just be aware that you worried about the scene a little in the first draft. It's better to make those bold choices and see where they take you."

Erin Murphy Literary Agency: "...a leading U.S. children's book agency headquartered in Flagstaff, Arizona. We focus on connections—between writer and editor, story and reader—as well as on helping our clients build their careers and grow as artists."

Envisioning the Coming Year by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "Today...we're going to talk about a different kind of activity—a highly inward-facing one: collages and vision boards. Now before you roll your eyes and think you left all that back in grade school, let me gently point out that collages and vision boards are a highly effective tool in helping focus your creative energies—either in a personal direction or in a project-related one."

Reminder: bid to win manuscript critiques with authors, editors, and agents as well as limited edition, signed letterpress broadsides from the Vermont College of Fine Arts' Hunger Mountain Holiday Fundraising Auction. The auction features a 250-page manuscript critique with editor Stephen Roxburgh (interview); a 250-page manuscript critique with author Tim Wynne-Jones (interview); and the chance to name a character in Nancy Werlin's next novel. Items also include partial critiques by author Susan Fletcher and Micol Ostow (interview) as well as full-manuscript middle grade or young adult novel critiques by authors Carrie Jones (interview) and An Na (interview). In addition, a 50-page critique or full picture-book critique is offered by agent-author Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (interview). All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain’s non-profit mission to cultivate engagement with and conversation about the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for interactivity and discourse. Visit The Hunger Mountain Store. Bidding ends at noon EST Dec. 12.

Screening Room

The Multicultural Minute: Holidays from Around the World by Renee Ting at Shen's Books.



More Personally

Kyra Interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith by Kyra from Throwing Up Words: Sometimes It's Your Only Option. Peek: "Once you have a whole draft, all of the answers to the novel are already hinted at in your manuscript. Your subconscious is always a step ahead of your conscious mind, so it’s important to learn how to read your own writing carefully. Over the years, I've heard any number of folks say this in different ways, most recently author Tim Wynne-Jones." Note: Throwing Up Words is a new team blog from Kyra and authors Ann Dee Ellis and Carol Lynch Williams. Please surf by and welcome them to the kidlitosphere!

What are your favorite authors giving this holiday season? by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Emily at The BookKids Blog from the Crazy Folks at BookPeople. Peek: "Of course, Cyn sent me a very comprehensive list of great gifts for all your holiday shopping needs..." Note: check out my shopping suggestions! Recommended authors/illustrators include: Ellen Jensen Abbott (interview); Marla Frazee; Robin Friedman; Michael Hemphill (interview); David Lubar (interview); John Abbott Nez (interview); Neil Numberman (interview); Aaron Reynolds (interview); Sam Riddleburger (interview); Liz Garton Scanlon; Anita Silvey (interview); and Carol Lynch Williams (interview).

Favorite Middle Grade, Tween & YA Books of 2009: a list from Greg Leitich Smith. Recommended authors include: Eduardo F. Calcines (interview); David Macinnis Gill (interview); Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger (see above); Eric Luper; Jenny Moss (interview); Micol and David Ostow (interview); Carol Lynch Williams (see above); Suzanne Morgan Williams (interview); and Rita Williams-Garcia (interview).

When Twilight author Stephenie Meyer visited my class; Why Edward Cullen & other vampires attract readers; What the next big thing is in adolescent lit by James Blasingame at The Answer Sheet: A School Survival Guide for Parents (and Everyone Else) from The Washington Post. Regarding Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), he writes: "My favorite read of the past year has been Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Eternal, which revolves around 18-year-old Miranda, and her guardian angel, Zachary. ...Cynthia has paid homage not only to various vampire classics, from Bram Stoker to 'Nosferatu,' but also to Chicago lore (Dracula is a Cubs fan, and Zachary comments in 'Blues Brothers' fashion that he is 'on a mission from God')." Note: James is an associate professor of English Education at Arizona State University, and the 2010 president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English.

December Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), one of three copies of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009), and/or one of three signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Watersmeet" and/or "The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein" and/or "Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo" 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 write you for contact information, if you win). Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; those eligible in these categories should indicate their affiliations in the body of their entry messages. The other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 31.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Voice: K.A. Holt on Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel

K.A. Holt is the debut author of Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Blast off to deep-space adventure and hijinks!

Things are not so stellar for Mike Stellar. He is stunned when his parents inform him that he has only eight hours to pack before they move to Mars.

Despite the fact that he suspects his parents are involved in a major sabotage plot; that the only person who believes him is a girl who won’t shut up; and that his mother’s assistant seems to be spying on Mike’s every move, Mike is dealing with the same things that every eleven-year-old deals with: bad cafeteria food, a strict limitation on his electronic use, and a teacher who is so old-fashioned she must be from the year 2099.

With great humor and lots of action, K. A. Holt’s first novel is set to give summer reading an out-of-this-world blast of fun.


K.A. makes her home in Austin. Check out K.A. Holt's Online Disaster.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

As a youngster, I was a voracious reader. I rushed through schoolwork so that I could read at my desk. I stole my parents' books so that I could test out "reading like a grown-up" (verdict: boring, if not interestingly racy at times).

I volunteered in the library while I was in elementary school so that I could get dibs on the new books that came in.

And though I didn't read under the covers with a flashlight, I would perch myself at the foot of my bed so that, even though my room was dark, I could catch the shine of the hall light to facilitate late-night reading. This was my biggest coup because, if I could do it and not get caught, I could read almost all night long.

My dad is a newspaper editor, and at that time he worked until 2 or 3 in the morning. The hall light stayed on until he was home and getting ready for bed. If I could last until Daddy got home, I could get in some serious reading.

I've never been a particularly fast reader, and I found this really vexing as a child. I like to loll the words around in my mouth, stop and imagine scenes, replay conversations in my head, marvel at vocabulary. But because I read all the time, I felt like I should be faster.

Even now, I worry that being a slow reader is a fault, though I know that being a careful reader who glories in the details shouldn't be something to be embarrassed about.

The types of books I enjoyed as a youngster varied a great deal. I loved Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. I devoured Paula Danziger and early Lois Lowry (three cheers for Anastasia Krupnik (Yearling))!.

I read all of the Choose Your Own Adventure books (Bantam, 1979-1998), and puzzled over Encyclopedia Brown (1963-). I fully stole my dad's book of collected Ogden Nash poems, and I broke the spines of my Shel Silverstein books by reading them so much.

For some reason, I resisted a lot of prize-winning literature, and this is something I'm still trying to remedy. At the time, I was pretty sure that if a book had a metallic medal on the front, it was either going to be boring or sad, and I didn't want to read anything like that. This means–even though I probably shouldn’t admit it–I'm still catching up on the classics.

My all-time favorite books, though, out of everything I read, were written by Roald Dahl. The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983), The Twits (1980), James and the Giant Peach (1961). They were adventurous and scary. They took place in the real world–but not.


Would you categorize Roald Dahl as fantasy? Maybe so. I loved how they introduced me to a kind of alternate reality–a world that I was absolutely convinced existed in real life; I just hadn’t been able to find it yet.

Surely there was a place somewhere where frobscottle was real. Right?

And so I think Roald Dahl is one of my biggest influences. He didn’t write sci-fi or speculative fiction really. No spaceships or aliens. But his worlds had that fantastical quality to them, and that's what I love. That’s what I try to write.

Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel may take place mostly on a spaceship, but, to me, it's about a regular kid, with regular problems, trying to figure things out in a not-quite-regular world.

When I was writing Mike Stellar, I tried to be careful to not make his world too alien, too futuristic. I wanted the future to seem attainable, organic, like something that would seem familiar, but fascinating.

I also tried to add a lot of "easter eggs"–little surprises for the careful reader. I absolutely loved to make discoveries when I read as a child, and I still do.

For example, Mike's teacher is named after a comet. The two major spaceships in the book are named after real ships sent to (or roving on) Mars. And so much more.

I love the idea of a kiddo accidentally coming across something while he or she is studying science or space or NASA or whatever that makes him or her sit up and say, "Hey! I know that name!" or "Hey! I read about plasma propulsion in that book!"

Those kinds of connections are amazing. They’re educational without being didactic. I'm not sure kids get enough of that these days.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, 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?

I have three children. My oldest son is seven, my daughter is three, and my youngest son just turned one. I know it sounds impossible to get any writing done with a house full of children, and some days, believe me, it is. But the crazy thing is that I have done my best writing and my most organized writing after having children.

Is it because I’m more mature now? More focused? Maybe.

I think a lot of it, though, is that I have learned, for me, writing is a basic tenet of life.

Food, water, love, writing.

So it's not that I have to make time for writing, it's that I have to allow myself to not feel guilty because I have to write.

The kids might have to watch more TV one day while I'm meeting a deadline. They might get some "just a minute's" and "I'll be right there's" while I hammer out a scene that has just come to me. And, as a mom, I have to be okay with that. Or okay-ish.

I try to be careful to not write much while I'm with the kids, though. For me, writing can be very all-encompassing; I lose track of time and space. I have been known to forget to eat or forget to sleep. So I try to take notes when I'm with the kids, but do most of my writing when they're asleep.

Writing at night has always been my style, though. It makes early mornings difficult, for sure, but those mornings are pretty satisfying when I wake up knowing that I got several chapters written the night before.

I think if you're the primary caregiver in your house and you're trying to make a go of it as a writer, you have to pick your battles. It's just like everything else.

Is it okay to let the kids watch an extra round of TV shows so that you can finish writing out a conversation between your two main characters? Are you able to sneak away for a few hours when your partner comes home from work? Will finding a mother's helper or a part-time pre-school help you be more productive? Will you sacrifice sleep for chapters?

The answers to these questions all depend on who you are as a mama and who you are as a writer.

The great thing about being a writer is that you can write anywhere on anything. I have been known to take notes on my arm while I wait in the car to pick my son up at school.

You just have to find what works. I know that's cheesy, but it's true.

Only you know how you write best.

Cynsational Notes

Watch the book trailer for Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel:



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, December 09, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Heather Vogel Frederick

Learn about Heather Vogel Frederick, and Set Sail for Adventure. Her latest release is Dear Pen Pal (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

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

The very best part for me is the moment I surrender completely to the story. I call it "entering the slipstream." Real life falls away; time stands still. You’re transported. You live the story, exhilarated, and when you finally emerge, it's as if surfacing from deep underwater. You blink, momentarily disoriented, and discover in amazement that hours have passed, hours that to you seemed like minutes.

I’ve talked with artists across the creative spectrum about this – painters, poets, dancers, musicians, sculptors, and so on – and am intrigued to find that it's a common experience. It’s where the magic happens, where art is born. It's the point at which you know beyond a doubt, this is what I was put on this earth to do.

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

Ah, that’s the trick, isn’t it? Getting to that slipstream can be tough. There are days when I’m instantly in the groove and it’s no effort at all, and others when I would rather do anything but write. You know it’s bad when you'd rather clean the fridge than work on a story! And then there are days when you're raring to go and nothing comes out the end of your pen but ink.

I have found that in many cases, the greater my resistance to writing, the greater the reward when I finally manage it. There's an excellent book on this subject, one I highly recommend to all writers. It’s called The War of Art (Grand Central, 2003), and in it author Steven Pressfield deconstructs this resistance brilliantly.

For me, when the muse balks, I go into what I call "Golden Retriever mode." I’m like that dog who circles and circles in front of the hearth before finally settling down for a nap. Only in my case I'm settling myself down to write.

I might tidy a bit, take a walk, putter in the garden, fix myself a cup of tea. That sort of thing. Eventually, these stealth tactics lull the muse, and I can sneak up on her and make her get back to work.

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

I write mostly in my office here at home, sitting in a comfortable armchair. I rarely write at my desk. I often start out longhand before switching to my laptop. It's a bit like priming the pump, I suppose. I'm a morning person, and am up early. I'm always in my office by nine at the latest. This is my job, and I'm disciplined about showing up on time for it.

I've been writing for a living for over 25 years, first as a journalist shortly after college, then as a freelance writer and now as a novelist. I have a well-honed work ethic, which I think is half the battle in just about anything we undertake in life.

Occasionally I'll write in a coffee shop, just for a change of pace. If the weather is nice, in the afternoons I head for the back yard. There’s a quiet, sheltered corner under our cherry tree that serves as my satellite office. I like to sit there and read, answer mail, maybe blog a bit – work on the business side of things.

So far, as a reader, what is your favorite children's-YA book of 2009 and why?

There are several, but leading the pack is unquestionably Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (Random House, 2009). It's an absolutely stunning debut novel about war and its impact on family – in this case, a ranching family in Eastern Oregon. It will break your heart.

How do you define professional success?

Longevity. I look at writers like Susan Cooper and Avi, Jane Yolen and Walter Dean Myers and Richard Peck (I'm currently madly in love with his books) and others I admire, writers who have been in the game for decades and are still going strong. That's who I want to be when I grow up.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have a couple more Mother-Daughter Book Club (Simon & Schuster, 2007-) tales up my sleeve, and there are also several picture books in the pipeline that I’m really excited about. I’m eager to see how the artists involved envision the stories. Illustration is just a complete mystery to me. I’m in awe of anyone with artistic talent – I can’t even draw a stick figure!

After that, as far as novels go I'm looking forward to working on something a little different. Still middle-grade, as that's the shoe that fits most comfortably and the voice that always seems to emerge whenever I sit down to write fiction, but the story I have in mind at the moment is a departure from contemporary realism into more of the fairy tale/fantasy realm. I'm holding it close at the moment, because it's still a newborn, so that's all I’m able to share just now.

Cynsational Notes

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

New Voice: Kristina Springer on The Espressologist

Kristina Springer is the debut author of The Espressologist (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)(read her LJ). From the promotional copy:

What's your drink of choice? Is it a small pumpkin spice latte? Then you're lots of fun and a bit sassy. Or a medium americano? You prefer simplicity in life. Or perhaps it's a small decaf soy sugar-free hazelnut caffe latte? Some might call you a yuppie.

Seventeen-year-old barista Jane Turner has this theory that you can tell a lot about a person by their regular coffee drink. She scribbles it all down in a notebook and calls it Espressology.

So it's not a totally crazy idea when Jane starts hooking up some of her friends based on their coffee orders. Like her best friend, Em, a medium hot chocolate, and Cam, a toffee nut latte.

But when her boss, Derek, gets wind of Jane's Espressology, he makes it an in-store holiday promotion, promising customers their perfect matches for the price of their favorite coffee.

Things are going better than Derek could ever have hoped, so why is Jane so freaked out? Does it have anything to do with Em dating Cam? She's the one who set them up! She should be happy for them, right?

With overtones of Jane Austen's Emma [1815] and brimming with humor and heart, this sweet, frothy debut will be savored by readers.


Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react?

For me, "the call" happened in a blur. I had been querying for an agent for my first book for a long time. I had always had the number 100 in mind for when I'd stop querying agents. And I was getting really close to that.

Then I started querying the second book I wrote (The Espressologist) at the same time, and within the first ten queries, suddenly I had two offers of representation.

I talked to both agents, chose one, and she submitted my book that same night. Wow right?

Next thing I know we have an offer within the week. I was ecstatic! But then it didn't stop there.

My agent notified the other editors looking at the book that we were moving toward a close, and the next thing I knew there was an auction with four publishers. Four really great, I’d love to go with any of them, publishers!

It was completely unbelievable to me. I kept thinking how the heck is this happening so fast? This is really weird right? I was home with my kids the day of my auction (at that time there were only three of them, and they were ages four, two, and one). My agent was forwarding me offers and calling me throughout the day to talk about each one. It was pretty wild.

We narrowed it down to the two best offers, and then I talked to both editors on the phone to see what their vision for the book was and whom I clicked with the best. It was a small miracle that my children were letting me get away with all this talking on the phone that day.

I think I was letting them have a movie marathon and filling them with treats to keep the commotion down to a low roar.

I really liked the two top editors and their publishers, and I struggled for the next several hours, trying to decide who to go with. I felt bad that I was taking so long to decide and that people were waiting on me and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.

It was actually pretty tough. I kept wishing my husband or another person over the age of four was there to help me decide what to do. I paced my living room a lot. I talked to my agent of course, but she didn't want to sway me one way or the other.

I finally just went with my gut and chose Farrar, Straus and Giroux for my publisher for a two-book hardcover with paperback follow-up deal. This was two and a half years ago, so while the sale happened in a blur, the process of bringing it to a book took awhile.

I couldn’t be happier with the final product, though, and working with my editor and FSG has been absolutely wonderful.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, 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?

I started writing fiction after I had my second child, about four years ago. At that point, I had a two year old and an infant and I was teaching technical writing at DePaul University in the evenings (I had been a technical writer prior to having kids, and I received my Masters in Writing from DePaul). I was also writing freelance articles for magazines and Web sites and doing online tutoring. So I guess I was the sort that liked to be busy.

I had an idea for a young adult book, but I had never written a book and also had no confidence in my fiction writing abilities whatsoever so I was leery of trying.

I told my husband my idea one day when we were in the car, and he said, "you have to write this."

I did the whole no, no, I have no time to write. I have two kids, I'm busy, etc.

But he insisted and said just do it, take time for yourself.

So I guess I started looking at writing like that. One or two nights a week after my husband got home from work, I'd pack up my laptop and head for Starbucks. And it was a total de-stresser. It was like my yoga, my relaxation. These sessions only lasted two or three hours, but in four months, I had my first manuscript completed. So I did it again. And again. And it just became routine.

I’m working on my seventh manuscript now (the first two being published are the second and sixth ones that I wrote). And I have four kids (ages six, four, three, and one). Even though things are more hectic with school and activities and play dates now, I still go to Starbucks to write one or two times a week.

I’ve never been the kind of writer that wrote every single day. And I find this works out better for me actually. Because the days I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing. And jotting down a few notes here and there. So when I have time to get out and write again I’m really plowing through some pages.

I've been through many rounds of edits with my first and second book, and while there have been deadlines, I’ve never found them to be tough to make.

If I know there are going to be some tight ones, then I just go out to write every night that I can for awhile. This has only happened to me a couple of times.

I have to also add, after I sold my books I did drop the other evening jobs (teaching, freelancing, tutoring) to concentrate more on writing.

Really, I find being an author to be a fantastic career while raising children. I get to spend the days with my kids and then do my thing when my husband gets home. I would tell other authors trying to do the same thing to accept help from a support system (husband, grandma etc.) and don't feel badly if you need to take a Saturday afternoon here and there to go write.

Cynsational Notes

Kristina's next release will be My Fake Boyfriend Is Better Than Yours (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010).

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.

Bid to Win Children's-YA Book Agent, Author & Editor Critiques to Benefit Hunger Mountain - VCFA Journal of the Arts

Bid to win manuscript critiques with authors, editors, and agents as well as limited edition, signed letterpress broadsides from the Vermont College of Fine Arts' Hunger Mountain Holiday Fundraising Auction.

This auction features a 250-page manuscript critique with editor Stephen Roxburgh (interview); a 250-page manuscript critique with children's-YA author Tim Wynne-Jones (interview); and the chance to name a character in YA author Nancy Werlin’s next novel.

Items also include partial critiques by children's-YA author Susan Fletcher and YA author Micol Ostow (interview) as well as full-manuscript middle grade or young adult novel critiques by YA authors Carrie Jones (interview) and An Na (interview).

In addition, a 50-page critique or full picture-book critique is offered by agent-author Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (interview).

All purchases are charitable in support of Hunger Mountain’s non-profit mission to cultivate engagement with and conversation about the arts by publishing high-quality, innovative literary and visual art by both established and emerging artists, and by offering opportunities for interactivity and discourse.

Again, all items are available at The Hunger Mountain Store. Bidding ends at noon EST Dec. 12.

About the Auction

Author and editor critiques of poetry, play, and fiction manuscripts for adults also are available.

About Hunger Mountain

Hunger Mountain is both a print and online journal of the arts. The journal publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, visual art, children’s and YA writing, writing for stage and screen, interviews, reviews, and craft essays. The print issue comes out annually in the fall, and online content changes on a regular basis.

The Hunger Mountain editorial offices are located at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in historical Montpelier, Vermont

About Vermont College of Fine Arts

"Vermont College of Fine Arts is the first college devoted entirely to low-residency, graduate fine arts programs, offering an MFA in Writing, MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults and MFA in Visual Arts."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Mary Hershey

Learn more about Mary Hershey.

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

I've had the prodigious privilege of working with Wendy Lamb at Random House on my last three novels, all with excruciatingly long titles (Writing Tip #1: Be careful what you start): My Big Sister Is So Bossy She Says You Can't Read This Book (2005), Ten Lucky Things that Have Happened to Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning (2008), Love and Pollywogs from Camp Calamity (2010)(all Wendy Lamb/Random House).

Wendy Lamb is incredibly smart, artistically deft, both an intuitive and pragmatic editor-- and completely glamorous in that New York-ish way that makes me swoon. I suspect she wears tailored, monogrammed jammies and has a special spoon just for her morning marmalade.

When I first queried her years ago about a manuscript that she eventually bought, it was near Halloween. Her reply to my query was a brief note in perfect penmanship that read, "Yes, please send it!" followed by a smiley face pumpkin. It was so perfectly corny and human. I knew at that moment that we were destined to work together.

Shortly after the publication of our first book, I traveled to New York and met with her at Random House, which rivaled St. Patrick's Cathedral in its grandeur for me. I needed a bib for drool catching as she walked me through the different departments and made introductions.

Afterward, we went to a Fancy Nancy-ish Greek restaurant with blinding white table linens and silver utensils with the heft of tiny barbells.

Sometime after salads, but before dessert, she proceeded to turn down my second book as nimbly as she'd acquired the first. I consider it one of the great feats in my life that I managed not to crack until I got in the cab to the hotel. Then I yowled all the way back as if I'd been shot in the gut sometime during lunch.

This was serious buzz kill on my Big Day in New York. Yet, it is exactly what the writing life looks like. I just was too new to know it.

Months later, I sold Wendy a different project, and then later, another.

She is an editor who clearly knows what she wants and will gently but firmly wait until she gets it. I am awed by her ability to intelligently navigate the diverse worlds of business, art and relationships. Watching how she maneuvers this course has inspired me in my work at the VA where I am employed.

All that I love and admire about Wendy Lamb converged one unforgettable summer night when we were finishing our work on Ten Lucky Things. I had actually thought we had already finished, but she emailed to say she had just a "few more things" she wanted to fix before it went to copy editing. We made a phone date for later that evening.

She was on vacation in Pebble Beach with her husband, and I was traveling for work, lodged in a hotbox of a hotel with no WiFi in my room.

I holed up in the hotel's euphemistically named "Business Office" sans air conditioning, knee to knee with teenagers playing games on the other PC.

Wendy was in her hotel parking lot in a rental car with my manuscript on her lap. Her husband was sleeping in the room, and she didn't want to disturb him. It was dark outside so she was reading by flashlight.

We worked over an hour that night doing line edits. I had sweat running down both legs, and while she didn't complain, I'm quite certain working by the light of Duracell leaves a bit to be desired.

This is absolutely why she is the fabulous editor she is. Wendy is all in. There is nothing that escapes her attention, nothing too small for consideration. She makes my work infinitely better, smoother, deeper. And she is still drawing smiley faces on my work!

What do you love most about being an author?

1. I love getting emails from kids in all their raw, unfiltered, delicious honesty.

2. I love going to the library and pulling my book from the shelf and experiencing that momentary gasp that this author life really isn't just a dream. I'm especially delighted if the copy has a lot of food stains in it and looks like the reader had a heckuva great time.

3. I love signing books for kids and the way they always try to read upside down what you're inscribing because they can't wait to see. Adults won't hardly ever let you catch them doing that.

4. I love the thrill of receiving big padded envelopes from my editor or agent which might be a manuscript, contracts, galleys, catalogs, or a big stash of royalty cash (Okay, I'm still waiting on item #5).

5. I love that I can feel madly jealous and heart-soaringly happy for another author all in the span of a single heartbeat. And often do.

6. I love copy editors that have taught me to consider that plates don't have corners, and you can't hiss a word that doesn't have any S's in it.

7. I love that my mother often has a copy of my book in her purse or car and is ready at any given moment to promote my work. To absolutely anyone.

8. I love the irony that for a ginormous introvert, I am cracking open my chest wide and spilling my secrets out into the world.

9. I love being with a pre-published writer and doing whatever I can to inoculate them with hope, stamina and drive.

10. I love not knowing what my future holds--five more books--twenty--a movie option--a teaching position--or, finally meeting Anne Lamott and agreeing to do a book project with her. Or Liz Gilbert. Or, both.

Well, and if we could get Stephen King in on it, I'd be good with that, too....

Cynsational Notes

In the video below, "Mary Hershey on The Creative Community," Mary talks to host Santa Barbara TV's Channel 21 David Starkey about writing for children.



Don't miss Mary's excellent blog, co-offered by R.L. LaFevers, Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts.

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

Eternal Is Now Available from Walker Books (UK)

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available in paperback from Walker Books (UK). See more information from Walker. The companion book Tantalize also is available from Walker. See more information about that too. Note: that the type style is much more elaborate than on the Candlewick (US) hardcover.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the Eternal blog buzz, interviews, reviews, and readers' guide. Note: recent interviews may be found at Tu Publishing (Cynthia Leitich Smith on Living in a Multicultural World) and HipWriterMama (Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith). Don't miss Cover Art Stories: Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa Walker.

Note: the Dec. 7 publication date is found on the publisher website. If the book hasn't reached your local store or library yet, please follow up there for more information. The bookseller or librarian should be able to look it up for you.
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