Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Editor Interiew: Stacy Whitman of Tu Books (Lee & Low)

Welcome back to Cynsations!

When we last spoke in February 2009, you were going through a transition, having been recently laid off (along with numerous other employees) from Mirrorstone Books, an imprint of Wizards of the Coast, and having recently relocated to Utah.

At the time, you were editing on a freelance basis for Tor and other clients.

It's just over a year later. Could you update us on what's happened since?

For most of 2009, I juggled several lines of a freelance business: critiques for authors, copyediting and proofreading for several publishers including Mirrorstone and Marshall Cavendish, and acquiring novels as a consulting editor for Tor's children's lines.

But I needed the security and health insurance that a full-time job gives, and in the fall, I found a "day job" working as the publication manager for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series while starting up a small press on the side.

That small press, Tu Publishing, was a labor of love. A friend and I came up with the idea while watching anime and discussing the RaceFail controversy, thinking about the lack of diversity in children's and YA fantasy. We worked on a business plan, and the company came to be.

We named it Tu Publishing because the word "tu" means "you" in many Latinate languages, and in Ainu (the language of Japan's native people), it means "many." We thought that juxtaposition of "you" and "many" was exactly the kind of message we wanted to send to readers--that we're all part of the many, and that each of our books are about you, no matter who you are.

Before we could really get going, my friend had to leave the area, so I continued on with it alone, raising money through a Kickstarter campaign to ensure we had enough capital to approach a bank for a small business loan. It was a huge success--what an outpouring of support we got from the children's book community! We were able to raise over $10,000.

$10,000 is a lot of money, but it takes even more than that to start a publishing company. I was doing most of the work myself, and relying on talented friends and interns--artists, designers, editors, students--who volunteered to help with the things we didn't have a big budget for.

Meanwhile, the larger conversation about diversity in children's books, and in fantasy in particular, was of particular interest to Lee & Low Books, which publishes multicultural books--mostly picture books. Their readers had been asking them to publish for older children for a while. They have published a few realistic novels, but no fantasy.

People were talking about Tu on blogs, and Lee & Low publisher Jason Low noticed and got in touch with me. We talked about the possibilities, about how our missions were similar, and eventually Lee & Low offered to acquire Tu.

So now, as you know, Tu Publishing has become Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books. We'll have the resources we need for the kinds of things that I was going to have to create from scratch on my own. We'll be able to acquire more books in the first year.

All in all, this is the best thing that could have happened for this little company.

As one of the Kickstarter donors, I wonder what will happen to the money we sent to support the original house.

Those donations will be returned to our supporters, though we will work to honor the rewards we promised as the imprint gets up and running. After all, it is through their support that we were able to get this far. It will take some time to process the refunds.

What is your vision for the list?

I'd really like our list to reflect a wide variety of both cultures and genres. For example, I'm looking for both middle grade and young adult titles, books that would attract boy readers as well as girl readers, and a mix of contemporary, historical, and futuristic settings.

I'd also like a nice mix of serious books versus funny--or even both in the same book.

Along with that, there are so many different cultures in the world whose folklore and fairy tales haven't really inspired many fantasy worlds here in the U.S., so the possibilities for settings and characters are immense.

We hope to publish six books the first year, with the first list being published sometime in 2011.

As we narrow down the manuscripts we've got in the works, we'll be able to release more specific information on launch dates. Submission guidelines can be found on our site.

Are you interested in speculative fiction set in the real world, high sci-fi/fantasy, or both?

All of the above (not necessarily in the same book, of course).

The popularity of books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008) and Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, 2008) and The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (Delacorte, 2009) are signs to me that a really great fantasy or science fiction needs strong worldbuilding and strong characters, which draw readers in.

Those books are all very different in setting (one medieval, two futuristic/post-apocalyptic), but they have characters that readers identify with, put into situations that readers sympathize with, in settings that fascinate readers.

Will you be considering graphic literature along with prose fiction? Or prose fiction exclusively?

For right now, we're only looking for prose fiction--science fiction and fantasy for middle graders and young adults, specifically.

Are you looking for voices from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic communities, folks who write cross-culturally, or both? What is your thinking along these lines?

Both. I want to be sure that especially for underrepresented groups whose voices have been taken from them historically (Native American tribes come to mind) that the books we publish represent a voice from their group.

A lot of the more well-known novels for young readers that feature people of color are written by white people, which is both great in that characters of color are out there and disappointing in that there aren't more writers of color getting attention.

I spoke briefly with Sherman Alexie a few months back as he signed a book for me. I told him about what we were doing with Tu Publishing, and he said that he'd been telling the young Native American writers he knew that they should be writing fantasy and science fiction.

"Where are the Indians in space?" he asked.

I'd love to see a story like that, written from the perspective of someone from a specific nation, extrapolated into the future.

But I think it's also possible and welcome for writers to write cross-culturally, because who wants books to be completely segregated by race or culture?

The thing to remember when writing cross-culturally is research. Writers who do this successfully talk to people who are members of the group whose perspective they want to write from. They read a lot. They study human behavior, and reach for the universal as well as the specific--the things that tie us together as human, the idiosyncrasies that make each person unique, and the mores, practices, and beliefs of a culture.

For a list of things to remember when writing cross-culturally, author Nisi Shawl has an excellent article on the subject over on the SFWA [Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America] site called Transracial Writing for the Sincere.

What model books do you recommend for study to authors interested in publishing with Tu?

I've got a list of multicultural fantasy and science fiction here. This was compiled as a challenge from the blog Color Online, and many people contributed to it.

When will we get to see Tu Books' first list?

2011. More information will be forthcoming as we narrow down our submissions.

Why is diversity in speculative fiction for young readers so important to you?

Of the many friends I've had over the years from cultures not my own, most of them weren't interested in fantasy. I never really thought much about it at first--after all, tastes differ--but then I found the RaceFail discussion early last year.

That, along with conversations with friends like Christine Taylor-Butler, who has teenage girls who loved Twilight [by Stephenie Meyer (Little, Brown, 2005)] but were frustrated never to find fantasy that featured African American girls like them--these factors made me think more deeply about what I was reading and what I didn't see in what I read.

I started talking to librarians and to kids themselves, and often I heard the same thing: "I don't see myself in fantasy."

That conversation has been repeated over and over on the Internet lately, and I've been watching the anecdotal evidence pile up.

I love fantasy and science fiction--they're the stories that make me light up. They bring joy to my life. But if something that brings me such joy isn't including as many people as possible who might enjoy it as well, we're doing something wrong.

Why is it so important for kids?

I've worked a lot on reaching reluctant readers. Speculative fiction is a great way to get a child interested in reading who might not otherwise have gotten interested. If diversifying speculative fiction for young readers helps some reluctant readers get more interested in reading, we're opening up not only a genre to them, but a world of learning.

But beyond reluctant readers, there are avid readers out there looking to see themselves reflected in the books they love. There are readers who see themselves reflected all the time who are interested in exploring new worlds.

I was just talking to a friend the other day, my former managing editor, who told me his daughter, a sophomore in high school, is learning Japanese in school and getting into manga and anime. She's looking beyond her surroundings to a broader perspective. I think a lot of kids want to do that.

Wow! You are one of the most dynamic people in publishing today! What has this past year taught you?

I am? Ha! I have just been trying to make the best of an economy in the dumps--creating a job for myself and finding a hole to fill. Seriously though, that is very kind of you to say.

The main thing it's taught me is that it's worth it to follow the little niggling feeling that tells you to jump off a cliff. (Figuratively, of course.)

I was laid off from Mirrorstone about a year and a half ago, right when all those layoffs were happening in publishing. I struggled to make ends meet as a freelancer, despite that little feeling that said everything would be fine. Going freelance wasn't my end goal, though--it was just a way to pay the bills until I could figure out what I should do next.

When my friend suggested we start a small press, an old dream of mine resurfaced. I'd always wanted to start one, but I didn't think it was the right time. Yet that same little feeling I'd felt when I got laid off, that this was the right thing to do and that everything would be fine, stayed with me. So I went forward. And everything that's followed has been...well, a miracle.

Second, it's taught me how many friends I have, who are all rooting for me to succeed. And it's been humbling, seeing all the people who loved the idea we were working on, knowing that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with making the idea itself succeed so that readers will benefit.

How does it feel?

Awesome! (Now that I'm through it.)

Is there anything you'd like to add!

Just to say thank you!

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Illustrator Interview: John Shelley

Interview by Laura Watkinson for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Hello, John. Could you tell us a little about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently developing some picture book dummy ideas, later in the Spring I’ll be working on Volume 2 of the Zipper-kun series for Rironsha in Japan.

As a successful illustrator, how do you organise your time? Can you choose to concentrate on one project at a time and see it through to the end, or do you prefer to work on lots of different projects at the same time? Are you happy with the balance between commercial work and children’s books?

Once I begin on a book project I ideally prefer to see it through to the end with no interruptions from other work, however, the market is rarely that obliging!

Commercial jobs have short deadlines but are often pretty straightforward so can be worked on at the same time as books. I don’t mix work on books together though.

When you think back to your childhood, which illustrators do you remember from back then? Do you think that they influenced your development as an illustrator?

I don’t really recall my earliest books, but around the age of 8 to 10, I remember being a fan of Beatrix Potter, Quentin Blake and Edward Ardizzone. I think all influenced my development.

At a slightly older age, the Golden Age illustrators (Arthur Rackham, William Heath-Robinson, Edmund Dulac, Aubrey Beardsley, etc.) had a major impact on me, discovering Rackham’s work made me want to be an illustrator.

Which of your projects do you feel is most representative of your style and the way you want to work? How much freedom do you have to create the kind of illustrations that you want? Which of your projects would you recommend to someone who wants to find out what John Shelley’s work is all about?

That’s a tough one. I’m pretty versatile; there’s no one book that sums me up. I tend to adapt my style to match the text of the books, there are stylistic variations, but they are all fundamentally "me."

I suppose for picture books The Boat in the Tree [by Tim Wynne-Jones (Front Street, 2007)] is quite representative of a certain approach; in black and white, the Charlie Bone books (Tokuma Shoten).

Regarding freedom, again it depends on the publisher and the book. As a general rule, Japanese editors tend to be more controlling than those in the U.K. and U.S., they often have an agenda and firm ideas how they want me to visualise the book.

Then again deadline can be a factor too.

What do you look for when you’re considering whether to accept a new project? Are there any dream projects out there that you’d drop everything else to do?

I look for text that matches my style and general subject matter, which, on first reading, inspires strong mental images.

Dream projects? Many many. Any great works of fantasy. I’m always interested in illustrating classic literature – Andersen, Grimm, Dickens, etc.

Do you represent yourself or do you have an agent to look after your interests? What advice would you give to a new illustrator who is trying to find an agent?

I have an agent in the U.S., but not anywhere else. I’m not really qualified to advise on agents.

As a freelance illustrator, do you try to plan your career or do you prefer to see what projects come your way? Do you have any tips for other freelance illustrators who are attempting to make a career for themselves? Or any advice for aspiring illustrators who are hoping to catch a publisher’s attention?

Naturally, I try to focus in directions I’d like my career to take, though it sometimes works out that you become successful in areas you haven’t anticipated.

You need to be flexible, able to seize opportunities for new areas and appreciate where and how your work fits in without compromising your overall creative integrity. Successful illustrators know how to exploit their talents in areas they are best suited to.

Be versatile, be aware of the needs of the market, expand into fields you find work, but don’t lose track of your core interests. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a reputation for work you don’t enjoy doing, or conversely a portfolio of lovingly crafted images for which there’s no market.

On your website, you mention Mervyn Peake as an inspiration. I love his art, too, and I’d be very interested to hear about your experience of his work. Which other artists have been important for you?

I first came across Peake’s work at art college and was instantly transfixed; I’ve been a fan ever since.

Other artists, it’s a long list – as mentioned above, Ardizzione, Rackham, Heath Robinson and other Golden Age illustrators, the great heritage of pen and ink illustrators from the U.K.

Also Jose Maria Jorge (when I was a teenager), Ralph Steadman, Michael Foreman, E. H. Shephard, Hergé, Albin Brunovsky, Hokusai, Utamaro, etc. There are too many names to list here, I get inspired by a lot of work.

Most enjoyable part of illustrating for you?

Finishing the last pen lines or the last brush stroke on a picture that’s come out really well.

Also - posting the invoice!

Do you have many opportunities to meet your target audience, the young readers?

Only my daughter.

I’ve recently translated a book to accompany "An Elephant Came By," a travelling exhibition of work by children’s illustrators from the Netherlands. One of the questions in the book was whether there’s such a thing as a "typical" Dutch style of illustration. What do you think? Is there, say, a typically British style? Or do illustrators transcend geopolitical borders?

There’s a definite English tradition of pen-and-ink illustration stemming from Hogarth to Rowlandson and through the 19th and 20th century; I think you can trace a thread with some U.K. artists to this. But not all by any means.

Following on from the previous question, you’ve lived and worked in Japan. What influence has that country had on your work and career?

Sense of design, use of space, economy, the power of expressive line, and much more. In many subtle ways I've been influenced by Japan, though my style remains fundamentally English.

You still do a lot of work for the Japanese market. Do Japanese customers have different expectations of you than, say, publishers in the U.K.?


Living in the Netherlands, I’m interested to hear which Dutch and Flemish illustrators have attracted your attention. I love Carll Cneut’s work, and I think Charlotte Dematons is a phenomenal artist, too. And of course there’s Dick Bruna, with his Miffy books, which I believe are very popular in Japan. Have you had much contact with children’s illustrators from the Netherlands and Flanders?

To be honest, not really, though I met Max Velthuijs several times.

Would you care to speculate about the way the children’s publishing world might develop over the next five years or so? Any important trends you see developing?

Everyone is talking about the digitalisation of books, but I’m not convinced. I can’t see this ever replacing “real” books. Who knows where the market will lead?

What are you hoping that this year’s visit to Bologna will bring? Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators who are visiting Bologna for the first time? Do you remember your own first visit to the book fair?

Hopefully some cracking commissions, lots of inspiration and many pleasant memories.

For first time visitors – make appointments before you arrive, publishers have full schedules at Bologna. Bring plenty of handouts, and keep your portfolios light and handy.

Cynsational Notes

John Shelley began his illustration career in London, his first picture book The Secret in the Matchbox [by Val Willis (FSG, 1988)] being shortlisted for the Mother Goose Award. From 1987, he lived in Tokyo for over 20 years, receiving awards for commercial illustration while illustrating over 40 children's books for Western and Japanese markets. The former Illustrator Coordinator and Assistant Regional Advisor of SCBWI Tokyo, he returned to the U.K. in 2008, but still maintains close ties with Japan.

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 U.K. 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.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Diversity in Fantasy Mine by Cindy Pon from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "I called this the 'diversity in fantasy mine,' because our diverse world cultures is such the perfect place to turn to for inspiration in fantasy writing. It's been done before Tolkien and since. Silver Phoenix, my debut, was inspired by ancient China. On the flip side, it's also a land mine." Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy.

On Platform from Janet Reid, Literary Agent. Peek: "A lot of writers tell me they have blogs as part of their platform. I look at the blogs. If there are few or no followers, and no comments, the blog isn't platform."

The Electric Kool-Aid Conflict Test from The Intern. Peek: "If you stab your own manuscript with that toothpick and need to read an entire chapter before being able to identify some kind of internal or external conflict, you might have a problem."

Secret Agent by Brian Yansky from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Some friends who came over for dinner asked what I’d been up to. I could have said discovering unbelievable essential secrets in the world and emotional violence and struggling with the future, but I thought this might make them uncomfortable." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

April Workshop Contest from The Longstockings. Peek: "The Longstockings will select one lucky writer (at random, from the emails we receive) to submit a maximum of 25 pages. We'll all critique the writer's piece and a few weeks later, that writer will receive a document compiling the helpful notes, suggestions and praise from The Longstockings!" Note: team members include Coe Booth, Daphne Grab, Lisa Greenwald, Jenny Han, Caroline Hickey, and Siobhan Vivian.

GoodReads or BadFeelings? by L.K. Madigan from Drenched in Words. Peek: "It seems like more experienced authors – Sara Zarr, Mary E. Pearson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and John Green, for example – already had this figured out. They do not rate or review books on GoodReads. Their profiles exist on the site, but they are not active users. They do plenty to promote authors on their own blogs." See also An Open Love Letter to Debut Authors About Hurtful Online Reviews from Cynsations.

Writing a Query Letter with Voice by Suzette Saxton from Peek: "So we all have it in our novels. Which means you must maintain the same voice in your query letter. Unfortunately, many of us fail at this."

The Secret Strength of Killer Queries - Specificity from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "here's what I think is one of the very most important thing to do in a query: be as specific as possible. Allow me to be even more specific: be as specific as possible about the right things."

Catherine Balkin of Balkin Buddies writes: "My computer analyst husband was in the World Trade Center on 9/11. After that experience, Charlie went back to school and became a nurse. In his spare time, he’s been working on computer programs that might benefit hospitals. He recently submitted two related programs to a contest sponsored by Livescribe. Whoever gets the most votes wins." To vote, click thumbs up here and here, up to once daily through March 31. Note: Charlie also is Balkin Buddies’ computer expert and business consultant.

Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld Join Me to Talk About Their New Book by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Our first effort was a failure, but an interesting one. We wrote a graphic novel-style story where the train is noisily going over a bridge, which antagonizes a shark in the water below. This, theoretically, starts their feud. It’s visually interesting, but far too contrived." Note: Release party - author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

Cynsational Author Tip: if your blog, at least in part, serves as a promotional tool, consider including your byline on the main page. It shouldn't take a reader more than two clicks to find out who you are. Likewise for team blogs, perhaps list all team members on the main page and/or clearly identify the author of each post.

Greg Recommends

Here's a round-up of recent recommendations by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Books by Abby McDonald (Candlewick, April 2010)(12-up). Peek: " engaging voice that will leave readers with an appreciation of the outdoors..." Read the whole recommendation.

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin by Josh Berk (Knopf, 2010)(ages 12-up). Peek: "...a wry mystery that illuminates the social intricacies and mayhem of high school." Read the whole recommendation.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson (Delacorte, 2006)(ages 12-up). Peek: " elegant and sweet story of one girl's quest for independence and family. " Read the whole recommendation.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Dial, 2010)(ages 10-up). Peek: "...a rich story amid a fascinating and disturbing construct of societal engineering gone awry." Read the whole recommendation.

Jump by Elisa Carbone (Viking, May 2010)(ages 12-up). Peek: "Joined by a gorgeous and mysterious boy from her climbing gym by the name of "Critter" (who has a secret past of his own), she hitchhikes across the country on a quest for the perfect rock and self-discovery." Read the whole recommendation.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Delacorte, 2009)(12-up). Peek: "Can they solve the mystery of the maze and make it home? Or will they be trapped there forever?" Read the whole recommendation.

The Reinvention of Edison Thomas by Jacqueline Houtman (Front Street, 2010)(ages 8-12). Peek: "Houtman skillfully captures Eddy's voice and the racing of his thoughts as he is continually interrupted by those he doesn't understand." Read the whole recommendation.

Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors (Little Brown, May 2010)(ages 8-12). Peek: "Homer is soon propelled into mystery and adventure as he and his sister run away to the dangerous City, where they encounter the evil Madame le Directeur of the Natural History Museum, and Homer undertakes a quest to find a pirate treasure map with some of Drake's former colleagues." Read the whole recommendation.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet, 2010)(ages 8-12). Peek: "a brilliantly funny and zany novel, full of heart and wit and middle school agnosticism. Enjoy it readers will." Read the whole recommendation. Read a Cynsations interview with Tom.

Hans Christian Anderson Award Short List

Five authors and five illustrators have been selected from 55 candidates submitted by 32 national sections of IBBY [International Board on Books for Young People] for the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award.

The award, considered the most prestigious in international children’s literature, is given biennially by the International Board on Books for Young People to a living author and illustrator whose complete works have made lasting contributions to children's literature. The winners will be announced on March 23 at the Bologna Children's Book Fair.

The five short-listed authors in alphabetical order are:

- Ahmad Reza Ahmadi from Iran

Ahmad Reza Ahmadi's fascinating short stories speak poetically about humanity, love, nature and peace for children and young adults.

- David Almond from the United Kingdom

Italic David Almond's works are deeply philosophical novels that appeal to children and adults alike, and encourage readers by his use of magic realism.

- Bartolomeu Campos de Queiros from Brazil

Bartolomeu Campos de Queiros as an author of poetic prose and playful poetry is highly admired for his commitment to beauty and art.

- Lennart Hellsing from Sweden

Lennart Hellsing is an outstanding poet, who shares the pleasure of language through his mastery of rhythm, word games and invented words.

- Louis Jensen from Denmark

Louis Jensen is a powerful storyteller and entertainer who combines magic and reality.

The five short-listed illustrators in alphabetical order are:

- Jutta Bauer from Germany

Jutta Bauer creates a harmony between the verbal and visual language, using a philosophical approach in her originality and creativity.

- Carll Cneut from Belgium

Carll Cneut's amazing works powerfully narrate stories in his highly recognizable visual language.

- Etienne Delessert from Switzerland

As a pioneer of modern picture books, Etienne Delessert's impact on many great illustrators around the world can be recognized. His blending of magic and realism, grotesque and close-ups, has created a distinctive style.

- Svjetlan Junakovic from Croatia

Svjetlan Junakovic presents beautiful compositions that are expressive and emotional, while at the same time playful, imaginative and evocative.

- Roger Mello from Brazil

Roger Mello's world is a rich spectrum of techniques, imagination, colour and inspiration that is considered innovative, fascinating and intriguing.

A full list of candidates can be found at

The ten members of the 2010 Jury were led by Jury President Zohreh Ghaeni from Iran. They are: Ernest Bond (USA), Karen Coeman (Mexico), Nadia El Kholy (Egypt), Maria Jesus Gil (Spain), Jan Hansson (Sweden), Annemie Leysen (Belgium), Darja Mezi-Leskovar (Slovenia), Alicia Salvi (Argentina), Helene Schar (Switzerland) and Regina Zilberman (Brazil). Elda Nogueira from Brazil represented IBBY and Liz Page acted as Jury Secretary.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting (HarperCollins, 2010).

A recommendation of One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins, 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with Rita.

Inspiring! Source: Alma Alexander.

Check out the book trailer for How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, April 13, 2010).

Austin Scene

Last weekend, the star of the Austin youth lit scene was author Jo Whittemore, celebrating the release of Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin, 2010) at BookPeople. See Jo's report on the event!

Jumping Genres by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: " agent at the time noticed that most of the positive responses we received from editors had to deal with my humor and characters. So my agent asked me to try writing a contemporary [realistic] piece."

Here's Jo again, smiling with YA author April Lurie. April's latest book is The Less-Dead (Delacorte, 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with April.

Front Page Face-Off revolves around a school newspaper, and at the event, Jo tied into that setting and situation with a newspaper-themed sign.

And newspaper-themed candy bar wrappers!

Check out the cover art, depicted in the icing on the cake.

Fans included author-illustrator Emma Virjan.

YA author Varian Johnson and his fellow VCFA grad Anindita Basu, who was visiting from Boston. Varian's latest book is Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010).

YA author Brian Yansky and author-illustrator Frances Hill Yansky.

Austin writers E. Kristin Anderson, Debbie Gonzales, and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Celebrating Shayne

Remember teen actress-writer-filmmaker-rising star Shayne Leighton, who did the official book trailers for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)? She writes with exciting news about her film "The Incubus."

Shayne says: "'The Incubus' is set to be released in select cities starting Sept. 9! If you want 'The Incubus' to be shown in your city, request it at your local theater!" Note: the official teaser web series begins April 8.

From the promotional copy:

How can an entire town of 500 just disappear?

Marnie Rose has lived in the same small town her entire life with her uncle and guardian, Walter, the town's preacher at the local church.

Things don't change much until new neighbors move in across the street from the Rose house, and things start to get a little weird.

Are these less-than-friendly neighbors just shy, or do they have some other motive?

Changes begin to occur in the town. Folks are beginning to feel a lot more tired than they used to. People are getting sick more easily, while these mysterious new people seem to thrive as though they are "sucking energy."

It's up to Marnie Rose and her new found love, Raphael, to stop his clan from wiping out another small town. Will she finish their unfinished business or remain haunted by these beautifully dangerous spirits?

Read a Cynsations interview with Shayne.

More Personally

I'm signing off Cynsations a couple of days early this week, but I'll be back on Monday!

Shawnee Mission West grad has vampire tale on a best-seller list by Mará Rose Williams from The Kansas City Star. Peek: "Eternal, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, a Shawnee Mission West graduate, debuted at No. 5 on the Times’ best-seller list for children’s paperbacks this month." Note: nothing here we didn't know, but it's fun to be featured in a hometown newspaper.

Author Appreciation Week: Jessica Lee Anderson & Cynthia Leitich Smith by E. Kristin Anderson from The Hate-Mongering Tart. Peek: "They are people who love their community, and who embraced me immediately when I moved here and became a bookseller."

Reminder: Bid to win a critique by me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, of the first 10 pages of your novel in progress to benefit Young Adult (& Kids!) Book Central. I'll provide extensive comments on the manuscript, an overview letter, and, if applicable, suggest both additional resources for study and marketing strategies. Bidding begins at $10. Auction ends at midnight CST March 30. Bid here! See additional items & services available at the auction!

Reminder: As part of Café Skill's first ever You Do the Interview series, Karey Shane is hosting a giveaway of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010) and an opportunity to interview me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: "If the thought of coming up with questions feels daunting, no worries. I'll be happy to talk you through it. I'll forward the questions on to Cynthia and she'll send me back her answers." To enter, simply comment here.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of three newly released paperback copies of How Not To Be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler (Delacorte, 2010)!

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "How Not To Be Popular" 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).

One copy will be reserved for a teacher/librarian/university professor of youth literature (please indicate affiliation in the body of your entry message); the other two will go to any Cynsations readers.

Deadline: midnight CST March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. See also a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

In celebration of the release of Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion, 2010), enter to win a Hex Hall T-shirt (size small, medium, or large)! To enter, just email me, message me or comment me with "Hex Hall" in the subject line. Deadline: March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.
Cynsational Events

Joint release party - YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie will be featured in a joint book signing at 2 p.m. March 27 at BookPeople in Austin. Varian will be signing Saving Maddie, and April will be signing The Less-Dead (both Delacorte, 2010). Note: in the photo above, Austin readergirlz host Bethany Hegedus gets ready to do a video interview with Varian and April.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Author Interview: Carrie Ryan on The Forest of Hands and Teeth & The Dead-Tossed Waves

Carrie Ryan is the young adult author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009) and The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte, 2010).

A former lawyer, she now writes full time and lives with her fiancé, two fat cats and one large lazy dog in Charlotte, NC.

What were you like as a YA reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite titles?

I read anything and everything! I'm the youngest of three girls, so mostly I'd just rifle through my older sisters' bookshelves (this is probably why I got into romance novels at a very young age).

I remember spending many nights staying up late reading Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. To this day, I credit them with making me a speed reader--I turned those pages so fast they were almost on fire.

What first inspired you to write for teens?

When I was still in high school I read an interview with a romance author who said she'd decided to write after finishing a book and thinking, I could do that.

As soon as I read those words, I thought the same thing: I could do that too.

For some reason, it just always stuck in my head that I'd write romance novels. It wasn't until 2006, when I really dedicated myself to writing, that I realized that I could write something other than romance, and that's when I realized that YA books were really exploding.

I remembered how much I adored reading as a teen, and it seemed like the most perfect fit! It sounds a bit lame, but until that point it had just never occurred to me that I could write for teens--I only needed a little nudge.

Could you tell us about your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I've been phenomenally lucky in my path to publication. A few months after starting in private practice as a lawyer, I realized that I didn't want to be doing that forever and I wondered what would have happened if I hadn't quit writing romance novels to go to law school.

I decided that I'd spend the next 10 years writing, revising, and submitting books (in addition to practicing law) and not allowing myself to quit when I hit stumbling blocks and rejections.

When NaNoWriMo came around in 2006, I knew I wanted to do it, but I had a collection of half-finished books and one of the rules of NaNo is that you have to start something new.

I whined about this to my fiancé, wondering what I should write next.

He said, "Write what you love."

I laughed and said, "the zombie apocalypse."

And he smiled and shrugged.

A few nights later on the way home from work, a first line popped into my head and I emailed it to myself.

Two weeks later, I'd written 20,000 words on this crazy post-apocalypse book with a voice I hadn't written in since college. I was loving every minute of it, but knew it would never sell--it was just too different. I didn't let that stop me, I kept writing because I loved it and my fiancé loved it.

When my critique partner, Diana Peterfreund, read what I had so far, she encouraged me to keep going (and I knew she was being honest cause she’d been "meh" about an earlier project of mine--thank goodness!).

I ran into the usual stumbling blocks: fear that I'd mess up the story, not knowing what happened next, etc.

Once the first draft was finished, I spent a lot of time revising--as much time or more than I'd spent writing the book in the first place!

I wanted to know when it got rejected that I’d given the book my best shot--there was nothing more I could have done.

As beta readers were going through my drafts, I spent a lot of time researching agents. I still didn't think the book had a shot (in fact, I thought agents would laugh at my query letter with the word "zombie" in it,) and so one of the agents I queried was someone I didn't know as much about but who'd recently repped a zombie book (so at least I knew he wouldn’t laugh too hard at me!).

A few weeks after I sent my query, I signed with that agent--Jim McCarthy at Dystel & Goderich. After a few revisions, he sent the manuscript out on a Friday afternoon, received a pre-empt offer Monday morning, and I'd signed by the end of the day.

Total and absolute dream come true.

Congratulations on the success of The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte, 2009, 2010)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about a girl, Mary, who grows up in a village surrounded by a forest full of zombies about 150 years after the zombie apocalypse.

Her village has been totally cut off from the world and told by the ruling Sisterhood that they're the last humans left.

But Mary's grown up with stories about the ocean (which most people in the village think is a myth), and she thinks it's a place that's safe from the undead.

She just has to decide if she’s willing to risk the Forest to find out if there’s still a world beyond the fences. There’s also romance.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

Like a lot of books, there were several random inspirations.

I became fascinated with zombies when my fiancé took me to see the remake of "Dawn of the Dead"(2004)(he then bought me The Zombie Survival Guide [by Max Brooks (Random House) and read it out loud to me when we should have been studying in law school).

Part of what I loved about the zombie books and movies was the idea of survival--how we cope with an event that totally devastates and alters our world.

It was around Halloween when my fiancé was talking about a short story idea set in a zombie world with a forest and a village. In his mind, it was right after the apocalypse and the village was at the edge of the forest. But in mine, it was generations later and the village was utterly cut off. Off and on, we talked about this world, but I really hadn’t planned on writing in it.

Then one day I read an article about the overfishing of tuna, and I thought how odd it would be for future generations to grow up in a world without tuna when most of us today have cans of it stacked away in our pantry.

This made me think about what we lose over time--how something so common in our world could be lost to another.

That evening when I was walking home from work a first line popped into my head. It dovetailed so perfectly with the world my fiancé and I’d been discussing that I ran with it!

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I still have the email I sent to myself with that first line on Nov. 2, 2006. I finished the first draft that April and revised it through the summer.

In August 2007, my critique partner got tired of me waffling about sending out query letters so she sent one for me, spurring me into action. I signed with Jim around Sept. 20, 2007; and he sold the book Oct. 15 that year. Two days later, I had my first edit letter!

Much of the year is a blur of excitement and nerves--I really had no idea what to expect and what the timeline was for a book.

Definite high points included seeing the cover in February 2008, getting ARCs, going on a pre-publication tour and meeting George Romero (I got to sign a copy of my book to him, and he asked about movie rights! When I got home after meeting him, I had author copies sitting by my door--perfect timing!).

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

I'm not an outliner, so I definitely ran into challenges when I wasn't sure what should happen next in the book (I still face those challenges, but at least now I know I've figured it out in the past which gives me hope that I can do it again!).

Research was basically watching a lot of zombie movies and books and then building my own world. I spent time talking to my fiancé (who studied parasitology) and his brother (Ph.D. in biology) about the biological aspects of zombies. I also talked to doctors about wounds I inflicted on my characters, a forest firefighter about what that's like, etc.

One challenge I have whenever I write a book is the fear of closing off plots. I always think of a new book as an endless series of hallways with infinite doorways and each word you write and each plot point you decide, you're closing those doors.

It's sad to think of all the potential ideas that never make it.

What was it like being a debut author?

Amazing and terrifying and wonderful and every other emotion all combined together.

I was so lucky to be a part of a group of debut YA and middle grade authors called the 2009 Debutantes, and so we all went through the experience together, propping each other up, cheering each other on, sharing information and stories. Being with them really enriched the entire experience for me.

I go through these moments of thinking that having a book out is ordinary, and then sometimes I pinch myself and ask if this is all really real.

Congratulations on the release of The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte, 2010)! Could you tell us about this novel?

The Dead-Tossed Waves is a companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth and is told from the point of view of Mary's (the protagonist from the first book) daughter, Gabry.

Gabry grows up safe in a town by the ocean until one night, against her better judgment, she crosses the barrier to go hang out at an old amusement park with her friends (and the guy she has a crush on).

Being a book with zombies, things go terribly wrong, and she starts to realize that this safe little bubble she's lived in has really been a lie.

Now she has to decide if living a safe life is really living at all.

How was it different, craft-wise, writing your sophomore novel versus writing your first?

I'd actually never planned on writing a sequel--to me, The Forest of Hands and Teeth was a stand alone, but when my editor asked me if I would write more I jumped at the chance because I loved my protagonist and her world.

However, when I sat down to write more of her, I realized that I hadn’t set up any story arcs that would carry past the first book and this tripped me up.

Eventually I realized that Mary's story was pretty much finished, and I really wanted to write about a new character--someone who'd grown up in this town by the ocean.

But at the same time, I wanted to carry through some of the other threads and unanswered questions, so I figured the best solution was to have Mary still be a character, just not a major character.

Why spooky stories? Are you a spooky person?

What's funny to me is that I never thought of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and The Dead-Tossed Waves as being spooky stories! It was just the world my characters lived in, and I think I accepted it as much as they did.

In fact, I'm someone who is very easily scared--I still jump when I watch "Dawn of the Dead" (even though I’ve seen it a million times), and I still freak myself out at night when I'm home alone.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

That it would work out and to relax a little. But at the same time, one of the things I loved about being a beginning writer is that I had all these amazing things to daydream about.

I remember after I sold my book thinking, what will I daydream about when I’m falling asleep at night now? And I realized that I had to find new dreams to focus on.

What can your readers look forward to next?

I just finished the third book in the series, The Dark and Hollow Places, which should come out in spring 2011.

For those who don't want to wait that long, I also have three short stories set in the same world coming out this year.

The first, "Hare Moon," is coming out in the Kiss Me Deadly anthology, edited by Trisha Telep (Running Press, July 2010) and is about Sister Tabitha when she was a teen.

The second, "Flotsam & Jetsam," is in The Living Dead 2 anthology edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade) and is about two boys on a life raft after the infection breaks out on their cruise ship.

Third is "Bougainvillea," coming out in the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (McElderry, Sept. 2010). My story is set about 15 years after the Return on the island of Curacao--I'm so excited about all three stories!

Cynsational Notes

This is the first stop on Carrie's blog tour! Here's the whole line-up:

3/16: Cynsations
3/17: The Book Smugglers
3/18: “Hollywood Crush”
3/19: The Page Flipper
3/20: Through A Glass, Darkly
3/21: readergirlz
3/22: Mundie Moms
3/23: Cheryl Rainfield
3/24: Just Blinded Books
3/25: The Story Siren
3/26: Bildungsroman
3/27: Beautiful Creatures

From March 22 to April 4, you also can visit with Carrie at RandomBuzzers!

See a video interview with Carrie from Christ Church Episcopal School:

Check out the book trailer for The Forest of Hands and Teeth:

And the book trailer for The Dead-Tossed Waves:

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