Friday, February 19, 2010

New Voice: Lauren Kate on Fallen

Lauren Kate is the first-time author of Fallen (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

There's something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price's attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He's the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce--and goes out of his way to make that very clear--she can't let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her.

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, Fallen is a page turning thriller and the ultimate love story.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

Is it possible to be both a plotter and a plunger? Or a plunger who’s working on plotting? And sometimes a plotter who’s dying to plunge? I have struggled with plot for my whole writing career, and I’m still looking for the perfect mix of meticulousness and mystery.

Character is easy for me. Dialogue? Bring it on. Descriptions sometimes have to be pulled out of me like teeth, but I’ll give ‘em up eventually.

But plot? Most of the time I don’t have a clue. I’m the writer who spent six years working on a love story between a teen girl and her uncle—whose plot still needs a major kick in the pants to come to any sort of resolution.

I’m also the writer who kicked out four pseudonymous novels in two years with fun but very straightforward plots. You could say I was looking for a middle ground.

The two novels I have published on my own are getting closer to that. The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove (Razorbill, 2009) and Fallen were both meticulously plotted out before I wrote them. Character descriptions, paragraph-long synopses for each chapter, “big” endings, the whole deal.

Both outlines (along with a few chapters) were shared with writer-friends, agents and/or editors at very early stages.

And because the stories were larger and more complicated than I’d first realized, I actually did revisions on the outlines. Way more plotting than I’d ever done before.

At the end of plotting, when I was ready to plunge, it was comforting to sit down every day and know I had to write a chapter where X happened, followed by Y, and then Z.

But sometimes, it was also uninspiring. Suddenly, Y bored me, and Z felt really predictable. But it was in the outline, which fit together like a puzzle! What to do?

Eventually, I realized there were days when I would have to loosen my leash from my outlines, to let the story adapt and change organically as I went along. This was a very good decision, one that took me too long to make.

Right now, I’m in the middle of revising Torment (Fallen’s sequel). And honestly, the experience writing the first book and the second book has been night and day. Maybe it’s because much of the structure and world-building (see below) is already in place from the first book. Maybe it’s because I know the characters better.

But I know part of it is because I’m constantly refining my plotter-to-plunger ratio: freeing myself to stray when inspiration strikes, returning to my outline when I want to feel more grounded.

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

When I started writing Fallen, I wasn’t really aware that I was building a world. Looking back, I wonder how that was possible. Because world-building seems like Step One in how to write paranormal fiction, doesn’t it?

I used to work in YA publishing and got to edit many paranormal and fantasy authors. Working with them, I was always very conscious of the ways in which they built and experimented with their worlds.

I even enjoyed being a task-master if they broke the rules they’d set up. "But you said a wizard could only come back from the dead eleven times! This makes twelve." That kind of thing.

But when it came to writing my own story, Fallen really began with the character. I had Lucinda and I had her conflict: she was looking for an escape from her past and a connection to something that felt real. That was where Daniel came in—bringing with him the beginnings of what I guess is called “the world.”

Suddenly, angels, demons, millennium-old curses, scores of reincarnations, and dueling forces of good and evil were all battling for a piece of the action in my little romance story. So it—the world, I mean—had to get bigger. Yank us into the world of Sword and Cross, my agent demanded when I sent him the first few chapters. Make it oppressive and inescapable and all-encompassing.

Oppressive? I had never written paranormal fiction in my life, and suddenly I wondered: could I do it?

Writers talk frequently about the worlds of fantasy and paranormal fiction, but of course, every novel has a world. A world is really just a setting, isn’t it? A setting whose bricks and mortar are really just description and imagination.

Even though, technically, Long Island already existed, Fitzgerald still had to build the world in The Great Gatsby (1925), didn’t he? You could say it’s just description, but the kind of description that informs everything else in the book—the protagonist, the conflicts, the emotional arcs of every character—that’s when description becomes world-building.

Turns out, it’s much less scary to think about world-building as imaginative description. The biggest difference between writing the worlds of straightforward contemporary fiction and paranormal fiction is that you get to make up fun new rules and dialect. I can’t say where most of these terms or rules come from. They just pop out of my mind onto the screen of my computer, and then I spend the rest of the series working through (and sometimes paying the price for) that little bit of impulsiveness.

For example, at the end of Fallen, I made an offhanded reference to a truce that is to last for eighteen days. Didn’t think too much about it, kind of just made it up. I had no idea that that one line would dictate the entire structure of the sequel, Torment. But once it went to the printer and I sat down to plot out Torment, eighteen days was what I had to work with, so eighteen days it was!

I’m not complaining, but I’ve learned to keep a notebook with a list of rules and terms for when I forget what I’ve tossed into Luce’s world. And I love the fact that I have three more books to work though, to let the world grow bigger, denser, and more complicated over the course of the series.

As you can see, building the world of my books is something I’m still figuring out, but I’m learning how to make the most of it, and sometimes even to enjoy it.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

28 Days Later: Tonya Hegamin by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "I'm a storyteller. In teaching fiction and in teaching poetry I want to get my students to the same underbelly of human beauty that strikes a chord in the reader." Note: 28 Days Later is a month-long series; be sure to check out the other interviews/features.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2009 Cybils! And special cheers to my two nominees, All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane) and The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani (Charlesbridge). Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Guest Post: Ask Agent Jennifer Laughran from Justine Larbalestier. Peek: "So you want an agent. First of all—is your book finished? Not just 'I have enough pages to basically make a book...sorta,' but seriously finished, polished, like you could see it on the shelves of a store?" Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Deception by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "Writers aren't like musicians. A lot of musicians can be very good when they're very young. Most writers who've published have written a bad novel or two or three or four before they write a good novel." See also Process by Brian. Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

The Showdown by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: "Every good showdown is either physical, emotional, or mental. Sometimes, it can be a combination of the three. " Note: features a list of elements to consider. Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Author Authenticity and the Right to Write by Renee Ting from Shen's Books. Peek: "Who should have the right to tell a story? Can people outside of a group write authentically about members of the group?"

AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books 2010 SB&F Prize Winners from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Source: @mitaliperkins.

Let It Rain! by Emma Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: "...the very best stories—in books and in life—are those in which the characters make it through whatever happens, coming out the other side soiled or bruised or worse, but all the more strong and wise."

Q&A with Dana Goldberg of Children's Book Press from papertigers. Peek: "Founded in 1975, Children’s Book Press is a nonprofit independent publisher of multicultural and bilingual literature by and about people from the Latino, African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Native American communities." Read an interview with Dana from Cynsations.

World Building by Anna Staniszewski from Alisa M. Libby: a ghost queen, a bloody countess, and me. Peek: "Not only does magic have to adhere to strict rules, it needs to come with a price, e.g. every time the boy has a vision, it drains him of his strength."

Character Checklist by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: focuses on 17 character qualities. Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Book List: Nerd Alert and Geek Pride by Little Willow from Bildungsroman. Peek: "Someone online asked for a list of YA novels that included a lot of nerdy references. The request specifically asked for realistic fiction, nothing fantasy. I, a self-proclaimed geek and nerd, had many suggestions, including..."

Congratulations to Marion Dane Bauer on the release of The Very Little Princess, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy: "Regina is only 3-1/4 inches tall, but she knows from the moment she wakes up in her dollhouse bed that she is a princess. Why else would she have such a lovely pink gown? Why else would she have such golden hair and flawless skin? And why else would she have a four-foot, curly-haired human creature to wait on her? Meanwhile Zoey, that four-foot, curly-haired creature, has always dreamed that someday one of her dolls would come alive. But in her dreams, the doll never ordered her around. The doll didn’t call her a servant. And the doll was a whole lot nicer! In a classic storyteller’s voice, Marion Dane Bauer tells an exquisite tale of friendship, family, and loss, laced with humor and joy." Read a Cynsations interview with Marion.

Print On Demand Does Not Equal Instant Bookstore by Tracy Marchini from My VerboCity. Peek: "If the publisher retains print-on-demand rights, how many books does an author have to sell in order to make it worthwhile for the author?" Read a Cynsations interview with Tracy.

Ethiopia in Her Heart: an interview with Jane Kurtz by LeAnne Hardy from International Christian Fiction Writers. Peek: "It does bother me when we Christians only talk with each other or others like us: one of the legacies of my childhood, no doubt. So one big advantage of my choice is having a voice in a wide and varied community of readers." Read a Cynsations interview with Jane.

Peace Study Center: "Our mission is to build a more peaceful world, one book at a time. By sharing quality literature with children, we will inspire them to resolve differences without violence and learn to appreciate diversity through educational experiences."

Win An Advance Copy of The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt from Kimberly. Deadline: noon CST Feb. 22. Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

When the Rubber Meets the Road by Rachelle Gardner from Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent. Peek: "...I want you to tell yourself, "Okay, this is what I signed up for. They said it would be difficult, and this is what difficult looks like. I can do this." Source: QueryTracker.

Austin SCBWI: official website -- expanded with more community and member news.

Austin SCBWI 2010: a conference report by Donna Bowman Bratton from Simply Donna. See also Good News from the Austin's Children's-YA Writing Community from Simply Donna and Austin Scene Sparkles by Shana Burg from A Thousand Never Evers.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Bell's Star (Horse Diaries 2) by Alison Hart, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Vermont, 1850s

Bell’s Star is a brown Morgan colt with a white star and two white stockings. He was bred for hard work, yet he longs to run free with his human friend, Katie, on his back. But when Star helps rescue a runaway slave girl, his ideas about freedom may change forever. Here is Star’s story . . . in his own words.

With exciting and knowledgeable text and lovely black-and-white art throughout—both by real horse owners—Horse Diaries are the perfect fit for all lovers of horses and history!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Bell's Star" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28.

Read "Writing About Horses" by Alison Hart from Cynsations.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Book of Samuel by Erik Raschke (St. Martin's, 2009). To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "The Book of Samuel" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this round-up; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: Feb. 28. Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; the other will go to any Cynsations reader!

Cynsational Screening Room

A video interview with Jerry Pinkney from Reading Rockets. Peek: "Jerry Pinkney talks about growing up as a slow reader and the early encouragement he received as a young artist."

More Personally

Visit with Cynthia Leitich Smith from TRT Book Club. From those who missed it, a new Q&A author interview went live yesterday. Peek: "I’m a Capricorn of the mountain-goat variety, always try to push myself to greater heights and having to make a special effort to play once in a while."

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a review from Book Chic. Peek: "The climax was really fun to read and had me on the edge of my seat and turning pages as quickly as I could to see what happened next."

It was my pleasure to provide a blurb for Kimberley Griffiths Little's upcoming novel, The Healing Spell (Scholastic).

Cynsational Events

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and:

Master Class/Writing Salon Event Details from Austin SCBWI. Peek: A Master Class/Writing Salon for the advanced writer, led by author Carol Lynch Williams, will be held May 15 at the Ranch House at Teravista in Round Rock, Texas. The cost is $80. Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. Note: I usually list conference speakers/critiquers, but as you'll see from the faculty bios (all eleven pages), it's an unusually big group. I will say, however, that I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Visit with Cynthia Leitich Smith at TRT Book Club & Comment to Win Eternal and an Eternal T-shirt

Come join me today at the TRT (Teens Read Too) Book Club!

There, you'll find a new Q&A interview.

And in the comments section, you're invited to ask questions or share your thoughts for a chance to win a paperback copy of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010)(excerpt) and your choice of an Eternal T-shirt!

Surf by and say howdy here!

And take a peek at the Eternal T-shirts (designed by Gene Brenek (illustrator interview) below (other colors available):

Cynsational Notes

Eternal is a YA Gothic fantasy, with some humor and strong romantic elements, set in the same universe as Tantalize (2007, 2008). The two casts will crossover in Blessed (Feb. 2011). There's also a fourth (untitled) forthcoming prose novel in the series, and graphic novel adaptations of Tantalize (Feb. 2011) and Eternal are also in the works. The series is published Candlewick Press.

Guest Post: Author Alison Hart on Writing about Horses

By Alison Hart

I'll admit it: I have been horse crazy since my first Steiff pony and Billy and Blaze picture book by C.W. Anderson (1936).

Decades later, I still ride, continue to read horse books (try Chosen by a Horse, a memoir by Susan Richardson (Mariner, 2007)), and now I have added writing about horses to my passions.

Under my real name, Alice Leonhardt, and my pen name, Alison Hart, I have written over fifty books about horses.

Many are contemporary, including books in the Nancy Drew and Thoroughbred series, my own Riding Academy series, and Shadow Horse (Random House, 2001), an Edgar nominated mystery, and its sequel Whirlwind (Random House, May 2010).

Most recently I have combined horses with history to create suspense-filled historical fiction. The two meld perfectly because human and horses have been intertwined as early as 3500 BC when horses were raised for milk and meat in Kazakhstan (see the fascinating March 2009 article in National Geographic).

Since then, horses have been used (and exploited) by humans in all parts of the world. In America, horses became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were then reintroduced by 16th century Spanish Explorers. That gives me centuries of history to write about.

My current books focus on the 1800s when horses were necessary for transportation, farming, commerce—and war.

During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies depended heavily upon horses. The animals were needed to pull wagons, cannons, and ambulances to and from battlegrounds. The horses also carried cavalry soldiers and officers into battle. About 1.5 million horses and mules died during the Civil War.

--from "The History Behind Gabriel's Journey" by Alison Hart

Writing historical fiction means I have to know the facts. The Racing to Freedom trilogy (Gabriel's Horses (2007), Gabriel's Triumph (2007) and Gabriel's Journey (2008), all Peachtree) took over two years to research. I have notebooks and file folders of notes and photos from visits to Lexington and Camp Nelson, Kentucky, and Saratoga, New York; magazine articles, old maps, and scrawled notes from over two hundred books and online sources.

My job as a writer is to use the facts to write a compelling story for young readers. Take for example, a scene from Gabriel’s Journey--which is about an African American cavalry unit that fought at the Battle of Saltville, Virginia--that I created around the statistics on the number of dead horses:

I lead Sassy and Hero up onto the road. In front of us, a bulky mound lies in the center of the lane. The horse that was shot is dead. Blood oozes from its neck and shoulder. Already someone has stripped it of bridle, saddle, and gear. Soldiers lead their mounts around it or step over it. No one but me pays it any mind. I remember Jackson’s words when we first visited Camp Nelson and saw the broken-down remounts: Horses don’t choose to fight, and they sure don’t get no enlistment fee.

And no glory neither, I see now. The body will be left for vultures and varmints. My eyes blur. I lead Sassy and Hero around the fallen horse and say a silent prayer.

Whether it’s a pony on the prairie during the Blizzard of 1888 (Anna's Blizzard (Peachtree, 2005)) or a Morgan horse helping a runaway slave in 1850 (Bell's Star (Random House, 2009)), each novel I write must be filled with vivid scenes that not only convey our history, but bring it to life for readers.

Cynsational Notes

Alison Hart is a Virginia author of over thirty books for young readers.

Upcoming books include the re-release of Shadow Horse an Edgar-nominated mystery from Random House, along with the new title Whirlwind, its much anticipated sequel (May 2010.)

Emma's River (Peachtree), a historical fiction chapter book about a plucky girl and her pony and their adventures on the Missouri River is coming out in April 2010.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author Interview: Ellen Hopkins

Interviewed by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Your latest novel, Tricks (McElderry, 2009), focuses on the lives of five very different teens, whose stories interweave to form a larger narrative.

What was it like to work with five different characters and five story lines? Did you feel more attached to one particular character? I know that the character of Eden was particularly popular with a lot of your readers.

I enjoy writing multiple viewpoints and interweaving their stories. In Tricks, they actually don't weave as tightly as the multiple storylines in Impulse (McElderry, 2007) and the book I'm writing now, Perfect.

But I like the way these five characters' paths cross, some closely and others from a distance. And I also like the very different paths they each had to the same place.

As for a favorite character, not really, although Whitney was inspired by a young friend who I'm close to, so she may be closest to my heart.

You write novels in verse. Could you tell us how you came to write in this style?

I started my first novel, Crank (McElderry, 2004), in prose. The book is loosely based on my daughter’s story of meth addiction, and I wanted to write from her point of view to gain some understanding of what had just happened to the last six years of our lives.

But in prose, the voice was too angry...mine, not hers, so I put the book away.

Then I saw Sonya Sones speak at SCBWI LA and, having written poetry most of my life, I decided to give verse a try. It totally clicked.

I also wanted my verse novels to stand out from Sonya’s and other verse novelists’, so I spent a lot of time developing some interesting formatting, rather than always writing in standard stanzas.

Do you write with the aim of changing people’s attitudes and opening their eyes? Would you describe yourself as a campaigner?

I don’t think that’s the main reason I write difficult subject matter, but it does play a role. I feel it’s hugely important to shed light on the darker issues that touch lives every day. Only then can we gain understanding and empathy for those who experience things like addiction, abuse or depression. And also, to give hope to these people and let them know they’re not alone.

I have become a strong anti-censorship campaigner, with some book challenges and canceled school visits last fall.

One reviewer on Amazon writes in capital letters about Tricks that "This book is not for teens! This book should only be read if you are 18." I’m sure it’s a point of view that you’ve heard before. Care to react?

Tricks isn’t for every teen. But it is an important book for many. That reviewer wants to believe all young people are living nice, innocent lives. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

I hear from hundreds of readers daily. Many share their stories. I have heard from young women who were raped in preadolescence. I have heard from young men who were forced to prostitute themselves while still teens.

In researching the book, I talked to young prostitutes who were coerced by pimps or who came to sell their bodies to afford drugs or maybe a pair of designer jeans. These young people can certainly handle reading Tricks.

Others should read the book, if only to understand the repercussions of making this very bad choice.

Your stories are emotionally involving for readers; you really make us care about your characters. I imagine that writing must be an incredibly intense experience for you. How do you switch off and carry on with your everyday life after a day of heavy writing? Or do your characters go everywhere with you when you’re in a writing phase?

My characters rarely go too far until I’m finished writing a book, and often they wake me up, talking to me. Very annoying!

But my husband and son provide a lot of light in my life, as do a cadre of caring friends. Almost all my friends are writers (go figure!), so we help each other through writer's block, plot problems, character issues, and of course personal problems. And I get a lot of love from readers every day.

The Kristina books are based on your own family’s experiences with your daughter’s meth addiction. Has the attention been difficult for your family to deal with?

I think, with the initial success of Crank, we all had to come to terms not only with being thrust into the spotlight, but also with the ghosts we carried. Overall, by finally letting go of those shadows, I think we are stronger as individuals, and as a family.

You’ve been doing a lot of school visits lately. Could you tell us about your contact with readers? I can imagine that your books touch many readers on a very personal level.

I’m actually traveling around 100 days a year right now doing school and library visits, book signings, conferences, festivals, etc.

While part of me would like to slow down a little, the outreach and personal contact with my readers is hugely important to them, and to me. I like them knowing I’m a real person.

And they appreciate knowing I care enough about them to make an appearance where they might be able to see me. Always, after I speak, at least one and often several come up and share their stories with me. They like that I listen.

You’ve been praised for your ability to write as teens really speak. Any tips for other YA writers out there?

Spend time with your potential audience, in person if you can. Visit schools. Hang out at the mall or stores teens frequent. Listen, but also talk to them and show a real interest in their lives. Alternately, connect with them online through MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They will talk to you if you talk to them. If you’re not sure how to start, visit my pages and lurk a while.

Could you tell us a little about your research methods? For example, when you were writing Tricks, did you interview teens who were involved in prostitution?

I research heavily with every book. In-person interviews are always the best. With Tricks, I worked with Las Vegas vice, and yes, I talked to kids on the street working as prostitutes.

You have to be courageous in your research and not just rely on the stories you read, although those can be valuable, too.

Now, I’m fortunate enough to be able to throw out a question to my readers through my online avenues, and have them answer me. With Perfect, for instance, I wanted to know how steroids make you feel. I asked. Dozens answered.

If you weren’t a writer, can you imagine what other job you might be doing now? Do you think you might still be working as a journalist and tackling similar issues as in your books?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and can’t really imagine working for anyone else. I might have enjoyed teaching, but wouldn’t like the parameters thrust on teachers today (teaching to the test, for instance). I’m much too creative. I loved the freelancing, although it wasn’t especially lucrative.

And until I took the plunge into YA, I didn’t really realize how important it was to make a difference in teen lives. I did teach as an artist-in-residence, though, and liked that very much.

You’ve been working on Fallout, a sequel to Crank and Glass. And Perfect is due out in 2011. Could you tell us a little about these books?

Fallout is the third and final book in the Crank trilogy. My readers wanted "the rest of Kristina’s story." And I wanted the last book to be the best of the three. So I chose to move into the point of views of three of her children, teens in the book, and dealing with their own lives, which were to a large degree built by the choices she made at their age.

I wanted the hope of the stories to lie with this generation, who can choose to break the cycle, and to give voice to readers who are dealing with their parents’ addictions.

Perfect is about the drive for perfection, whatever the costs. Four characters, and a study of beauty/body ideals among four populations: athletes, pageant/models, lesbians and blacks.

Are you considering a sequel to Tricks? Would you like to revisit any of the characters?

Not considering it at the moment, but there have been lots of requests, including one by my publisher. So you never know.

What are you planning to do next? Will you be taking a break, or are you already working on a new idea?

My focus right now is Perfect, and I don’t know yet what I’ll do after that. I have been invited to do some adult projects, in verse. And I have resurrected the first (prose) adult novel I ever wrote and may revise that. Both my agent and editor feel it’s a viable project.

But I also have a contract for two more YA verse novels, and those will have to take precedence over anything I might write on spec.

Any news on the film front? I’ve read that a script for Crank is making the rounds. If it is made into a film, how closely would you like to be involved with the filming? And do you have any casting suggestions?

Still nothing firm on the film side of things, but there are some "almosts." I have asked to be involved in whatever projects get off the ground, at least as far as some kind of script approval.

Casting? Could we find a role for Johnny Depp, do you think?

I’m a translator, so I’m always fascinated to hear about writers’ experiences of the translation process. Have many of your books been translated into other languages? Have you had much contact with the translators?

Funny you should ask. I’ve heard from both German and Italian translators, and I always get a good chuckle out of the exchange. American sayings can be difficult to translate.

The one I best remember was a line about Kristina not eating anything: "eating zip." The translator was very confused about what "zip: might be. Some strange American dish?

Do you read many books by other YA authors? Are there any books you’ve recently read that you’d particularly recommend?

I do read lots of YA, often sent for blurbs in fact. So I often see books before they release. There’s a Neal Shusterman book to be on the lookout for, called Bruiser (HarperCollins, 2010), about an empathy. Already out in the fantasy area is a book by Michelle Zink called Prophesy of the Sisters (Little, Brown, 2009)[see book trailer immediately below]. Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (Viking, 2009) is a good contemporary read, as is Laura Weiss’s Such a Pretty Girl (MTV Books).

Finally, any suggestions for writers who would like to follow in your footsteps? What’s the Ellen Hopkins Route to Success?

I think you need to experiment--to read and write cross genre. I don’t think going in you always know where you belong as a writer. And I’d also say to remember always who your audience is--not reviewers or awards committees, but readers.

Write bravely. Create three-dimensional characters, with solid motivations for what they do or don’t do. That goes for your antagonists as well as your protagonists.

In YA, character is everything, even in genre fiction. If your readers can’t relate to your characters, they will stop reading.

Cynsational Notes

Ellen Hopkins is a poet and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction books for children, and six New York Times bestselling young adult novels-in-verse. Her latest novel, Tricks (McElderry, 2009), debuted at the number one spot on the coveted NY Times list. Ellen lives near Carson City Nevada with her husband and youngest son, plus two dogs, one cat and four ponds (not pounds!) of fish.

See the book trailer below for Tricks.

Laura Watkinson is a translator, from Dutch and Italian into (British) English, and an occasional writer. She translates children's books for all ages, from picture books to YA/cross-over novels, and has recently completed projects for Piccadilly in the UK and Arthur A. Levine in the States. She's a champion of books in translation and loves making different cultures accessible to younger readers.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest Post: Author Robin Friedman on the '80s, GenX & The Importance of Wings

By Robin Friedman

Sandwiched between 80 million baby boomers and the 78 million members of Generation Y (who are also called millennials), Generation X—roughly defined as anyone born between 1965 and 1980—has just 46 million members, condemning it by numbers alone to demographic insignificance.

It's my generation, defined as much by Pac-Man, Cabbage Patch Kids, Atari, and "Dynasty" as the Cold War, John Hughes movies, and Boy George.

We are the generation that graduated from college just in time for a recession, watched our parents get divorced and get laid off (or work so much that we became latchkey kids), and witnessed a selfish phase of the 1980s that we don't want to repeat.

This bleak inheritance labeled us, but our legacy isn't gloom and doom; on the contrary, we're resilient, independent, and pragmatic. We gave the world the gifts of Google, YouTube, and Amazon.

Few of us can resist the pull of our early days, and authors are no exception. In fact, mining the rich veins of our childhoods—often useful, always embarrassing—is something of a specialty for writers.

So, after three novels for young readers with boys as main characters, I decided to write The Importance of Wings (Charlesbridge, 2009), a novel about Roxanne, a thirteen-year-old girl, born in Israel, growing up on Staten Island in the 1980s. She hates gym, watches too much TV, and can't get her hair to do what everybody else's hair is doing; that is, feathering into a set of perfect wings (another ’80s phenomenon and the meaning behind the title).

Plunging into the depths of my adolescence was both fun and horrifying. Here's how I used the decade of Michael Jackson's moonwalk and Farrah Fawcett's feathered hairdo as the background for my story.


Television dominated my decade. With no Internet—no surfing, no emailing, no texting, no blogging, no tweeting—no DVDs and little cable, most of us watched broadcast TV on a handful of networks. Quaint, isn't it? Take away the remote (necessitating an actual walk to the tube to change the channel), and you have the electronic equivalent of the Dark Ages.

In fact, because of the absence of all the entertainment niches we have today, many of us watched the same shows, leading some experts to call Generation X the last to have a "national culture."

Television is certainly a nice reference of pop culture for any novel set in the past. For my main character, it's an obsessive passion. Her favorites are "Wonder Woman," "Super Friends," "Little House on the Prairie," and "The Brady Bunch." And she does watch "The Smurfs," too.


When I was a teen, the grand summit of style was squeezing into tighter-than-spandex designer jeans by Sasson, Jordache, and Sergio Valente, instantly elevating a girl's school status to the stratosphere.

It's distressing, looking back, to realize a girl's worth boiled down to dark-wash denim. I suspect, though, that while fashion references may change, school statuses generally do not.


One of the themes of The Importance of Wings is Roxanne's desperate desire for the right hair. There are several scenes involving blow dryers, curling irons, and ozone-depleting hairspray.

Like fashion, hairstyle is a pop reference that's instantly recognizable to an era, from the bobs of the 1920s to the beehives of the 1960s.


My decade featured the golden age of arcade games, with several, such as Pac-Man, entering the realms of popular culture. Other iconic games, such as Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Centipede, Frogger, and Galaga, were similarly renowned.

There are several scenes in the novel where Roxanne plays games in a mall arcade, even gauging a friend's coolness factor by how well she can manipulate a joystick.

Though I included few pop references to music and movies in the novel, they're certainly excellent anchors of a time period, as are prominent news events.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the '80s when I wrote my novel; I only hope readers enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Cynsational Notes

Read chapter one of The Importance of Wings, and see also a tie-in discussion guide (PDF).
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