Saturday, November 05, 2011

Guest Post: Shelley Pearsall on Writers, Elvis Impersonators, and All Shook Up

By Shelley Pearsall

True confessions time. I’ve always dreamed of being a Broadway singer. If "American Idol" had been around in the 1980’s – and if I could sing -- trust me, I would have been jumping in the audition line with all the other big-haired teens, hoping for my own golden ticket.

However, the sad reality is that I have zero musical ability. Cannot sing in tune. Cannot hum in tune. I spent three years in a high school marching band where I discovered that I’m also unable to do two things at the same time. That is, marching and playing an instrument.

But I think my own unfulfilled dreams of musical stardom are what eventually drew me to write about a middle-aged Elvis impersonator in my fourth novel, All Shook Up (Knopf, 2008).

In the story, Jerry Denny is a divorced, down-on-his-luck shoe salesman with big plans for a career as an Elvis impersonator -- much to the chagrin of his teenage son, Josh. And in the midst of middle school angst and Elvis hair dye disasters, father and son must find a way to get along.

Readers often ask me why I chose to write about a group of people most often known for bad wigs and tacky costumes. Like most stories -- it began with something I read. After seeing a feature about a local Elvis impersonator, I started wondering what motivated people to pull on a rhinestone-laden polyester jumpsuit and pretend to be the King of Rock n’ Roll.

To find out, I became an Elvis impersonator groupie. I visited Las Vegas, the mecca for all Elvis impersonators. I traveled to their competitions (Elvis Fests). Learned about sideburns glue, wardrobe malfunctions, and gold sunglasses etiquette. Memorized the lyrics of at least 100 Elvis songs. Sat through one Elvis movie. Resolved never to sit through another one.

(One unrelated thing I discovered is that almost everybody can tell you a story about somebody they knew who met the real Elvis in person. All of us are six degrees of separation from the King, it seems.)

And authors may be closer to the King than we realize. The more Elvises I met, the more I began to see how much I had in common with the wig-wearing guys.

 As an author, I could absolutely understand the desire to slip out of one’s life every once in awhile and step into the world of somebody else. In their “real lives,” the impersonators were factory workers, divorced dads, janitors, businessmen. On stage, they were transformed.

No matter how “un-Elvis” they looked on the outside, once they slipped into the role of being the King, they had the magic touch, the sparkle. They could put a smile on anyone’s face. Ironically, they got to show people who they really were -- by being somebody else.

And I understand that feeling perfectly. While it would have been fun to belt out a song on a Broadway stage, I know my gig is writing. I slip into the lives of my characters. The page is my rhinestone jumpsuit. And as the King would say, “That’s alright, Mama…”

Cynsational Notes

Author Interview: Shelley Pearsall on All of the Above from Cynsations. Peek: "I can still remember the jaw-dropping sight when he opened the door: the entire room was filled with giant rainbow-colored pyramids. They were suspended from the lights and lined up along the windowsills and bookshelves. It was a magical, almost gravity-defying sight."

Watch for Shelley's World War II era novel, Jump Into the Sky (Knopf, Aug. 2012).

Friday, November 04, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Guys Read: Thriller by Jon Scieszka from Debbie Gonzales at ReaderKidZ. Peek: "Gripping tales of ghosts, ghouls, and the odd pirate will most certainly enthrall the most reluctant reader. Who could resist reading about ghost vision glasses, monster hunters, or a wish machine that conjures up the desires of the dead?" Note: Melissa Sweet is the author-in-residence this month at ReaderKidz.

World Fantasy Con Wrap-up by Lena Coakley from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "Enthusiasm for YA fantasy was contagious at this panel.  All four women spoke eloquently about how much they loved their children’s and YA audiences. 'This is an area where you can really make a difference,' said Tamora Pierce.  'If a kid says to me that a book of mine changed their life, I believe them because I remember the books that changed my life.'"

Vivid Descriptions of Faces Don't Have to Go Into Detail from Science Daily. Peek: "They found that, in many cases, the face was not explicitly mentioned but that the scientific literature suggests this may be more beneficial for forming a vivid response to the description." Source: Leda Schubert.

Author Tip: before you sent an autographed bookmark/bookplate/postcard in response to an online request, at least do a search of the address offered to make sure it isn't a pawn shop, bar or other business indicative that there may be something shady about the request.

Neil Gaiman and the Disappearing Newbery Seal by Travis from 100 Scope Reviews. Note: interesting conversation in the comments.

Mastering McBean’s Machine (Or How to Find Your Way in the Publishing World) by Amber J. Keyser from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: " writing alone was not enough to get me the job. Just as I brought scientific expertise to my first foray into writing for children, I brought my expertise about this crazy business to the table."

Congratulations to Lita Judge on the release of Red Sled (Atheneum, 2011). From the promotional copy: "In this almost wordless picture book, a host of woodland creatures take a child's sled for a nighttime joy ride. Their whimsical ride is gorgeously depicted in bold watercolor, complemented by humorous expressions and pitch-perfect sound effects. With a timeless tone and classic characters, Red Sled will become a wintertime favorite." Note: the book has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. See interior illustrations.

Writing Historical YA by Dianne Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "I keep hearing that historical fiction is a hard sell with teens. Yet the growing popularity of science fiction and dystopian fiction tells me YA readers are looking to break out of a world defined by school and social cliques. They want to expand their horizons, explore their destinies, lead revolutions -- and save the world."

An Interview with Award-winning Author Elizabeth Partridge by Hillary Homzie from The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "I have always traveled to where a book is set, fiction or nonfiction. It helps me to see how things relate to one another geographically. I like to smell the air, feel what the rains feel like on my skin, see how people move in their environment. In Vietnam I spent time by the rivers, at the markets, in small villages, talking to anyone who would talk to me, soaking up stories. In Da Nang I visited an orphanage."

Chris Westwood on Ideas, Inspiration and Gothic Horror from Tall Tales & Short Stories. Peek: "I now live in Hackney, East London, but I was still getting to know the area when I started MoP, and I soon found the alleyways, parks and canal towpaths between home and Islington triggering lots of ideas, almost becoming characters in their own right."

Cover Stories: Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin from Melissa Walker. Peek: "I was surprised. The folks at Puffin hadn’t told me they were rethinking things for the paperback. The email said: ‘We all think that these images really capture the two girls (and the dynamic between them) perfectly.’"

"Fat Kid Rules the World" Movie: First Screening from K.L. Going. Peek: "When I arrived at Curtis Brown, they’d set up the conference room with a beautiful, celebratory movie spread. Wine, champagne, chocolate, popcorn..." See also Author Interview: K.L. Going on "Fat Kid Rules the World," the Movie.

Shining a Light on the Finalists for the National Book Award by Nikki Grimes. Peek: "...some overdue, positive attention to the books selected." Note: a discussion of the merits of the finalists.

New Mailing List for Fans of Cinda Williams Chima: sign up for all of Cinda's latest news--books, events, and more!

How to Avoid Parenting Your Characters by Sue Bradford Edwards from Writer's Digest. Peek: "If you simply cannot get the parents out of your story, then make good use of them." Source: Phil Giunta.

Heavenly interest sparks creation of 'A Flight of Angels' by Brian Truitt from USA Today. Peek: "With the holidays coming up, people start breaking out decorations and begin thinking more about angels as messengers of God, but they also play a big role in sci-fi, fantasy and other genres of pop culture." Source: Louise Hawes.

Elise Howard Moves to Algonquin to Start Middle Grade-YA Book List by Marc Schultz from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "As for Howard, she says she will be looking for work consistent with Algonquin’s list as it is: 'Books for serious readers, you could say, though that doesn’t mean all books on serious topics, by any means.' She also hopes to publish books 'that might entice a casual reader to become a true reader—that’s probably the biggest reward in creating books for young readers.'" Source: Austin SCBWI.

Delacorte, Nov. 2011
Iain Lawrence has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature ($20,000). The award celebrates an author’s body of work in the field of children’s literature and was announced on Tuesday evening at the 11th annual Writers Trust Awards banquet. Source: Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

The 22nd Annual Children's Book Illustration Exhibition is scheduled for Nov. 6 to Jan. 15 at R. Michelson Galleries (132 Main Street) in Northampton, Massachusetts. The opening reception is from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; ceremony and entertainment begin at 5:30 p.m. Peek: "Join us and meet more than 50 of the illustrators and writers behind your favorite children's books. Our artists have garnered an astounding 12 Caldecott Medals and 29 Caldecott Honor Awards."

The Red House Children's Book Award 2012 Shortlist from the Federation of Children's Book Groups. Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

My Very UnFairy Tale Life with Anna Staniszewski by Karen Schwartz from The Mixed-up Files...of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "...I started thinking about all the magical quests I read when I was young about heroes who were whisked away to other worlds to save the day. I wondered what life would be like if those heroes spent years saving the day on a regular basis–wouldn’t they get sick of it?" Comment at the link for a chance to win! See also the book trailer for My Very UnFairy Tale Life (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2011).

Don't miss This Week for Writers: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Celebrate Picture Book Month
Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, 2011)!  To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Flint Heart" in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 14.

Notes: Read a sample chapter (PDF) and A Conversation with the Creators of The Flint Heart (PDF), both from Candlewick. Listen to an audio of Katherine Paterson discussing the book.

Enter to win a signed copy of Waiting to Forget by Sheila Kelly Welch (namelos, 2011)! To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia with "Waiting to Forget" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 7.

The winner of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones by Helen Hemphill (Front Street, 2008/Boyds Mills, 2011) was Jen from Ottawa.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
Cynsational Screening Room

The 2011 Best Illustrated Children's Books from The New York Times. The video below celebrates one of the choices, Grandpa Green by Lane Smith (Roaring Brook).

In the video below, Kathi Appelt interviews Caldecott-winning author/illustrator Eric Rohmann about his new book, Bone Dog (Roaring Brook, 2011).

Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month is November. Peek: "The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans."

Consider celebrating with Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, or Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (all HarperCollins). Note: teacher/reader resources are available for all three titles, and include a free readers theater for Indian Shoes.

See also Native American Themes in Children's & YA Books & related educator resources from Children's Literature Resources, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Storytellers, American Indians in Children's Literature from Debbie Reese, and the Oyate online catalog, which includes many hard-to-find and small-press books.

Note: be sure to continue celebrating Native-themed children's-YA books all year long!

From GregLSBlog

Tim Wynne-Jones
Attention Children's-YA Writers & Illustrators! In anticipation of the release of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), Greg Leitich Smith is hosting a photo blog series called Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs, and you're invited to participate!

All you have to do is email him a photo of yourself with any dinosaur image. Greg says, "These can be realistic dinosaurs or skeletons from natural history museums or theme parks or can be dinosaurs of the more cartoon-y variety (like toys, signs, books)."

So far, participants include Caroline Arnold, James Howe, David Ostow, Jane Yolen, and Jennifer Ziegler. The posts also offer information about the contributors' writing/art and will be featured in a variety of book lover venues.

Greg adds, "I'm having fun promoting my fellow children's-YA book creators and of course celebrating all things dinosaur!"

To join in the fun, write greg at gregleitichsmith dot com. 

More Personally

This week's highlight was participating as an author-speaker via Skype in “The Many Media of Young Adult Narrative” on Nov. 3 at Salisbury University’s Teacher Education and Technology Center. In-person panelists were Michelle Ray and Douglas E. Draper, Jr. Fellow graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang also joined in via Skype.

On a related note, thanks to Debbie and John Gonzales and Lindsey Lane for their support in my recent Skype training effort.

My draft of Smolder is resting until after Austin Comic Con. Every once in a while you reach a pausing point with a manuscript, and it's a good idea to step away for a while so that later you can see it with fresh eyes. I already know of changes that I want to make, and my fingertips are already itching to make them. When I go back in, my focus will largely be on deepening character relationships and making more use of a type of setting that's new to me. In the meantime, I'm reading a YA manuscript for an author pal, continuing to market my books, and preparing to launch Diabolical in January.

I'm also excited to report that children's author Kate Hosford will be joining Cynsations to coordinate a series of posts celebrating poetry for young readers in 2012. Read a new voice interview with Kate.

“We like to see aspects of ourselves reflected in the world of books.” – Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Voicu Mihnea Simandan. Peek: "Read. Focus on story first, the craft of writing. Publication isn’t writing. It’s what may or may not happen afterward. What’s more important is the process of putting together the text." Note: it's not every day I'm interviewed by a Romanian teaching in Thailand.

From Zombies to Vampires and Werewolves from Book Moot. Peek: "At a recent author appearance at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Cynthia described the process of working with an illustrator in this kind of storytelling.  She described a collaboration which made me think of the relationship between a movie director and cinematographer with each of them sharing both roles."

Check out the super cute cover for Hollyweird by Terri Clark (Flux, 2012). Read a Cynsations snapshot interview with Terri.

Congratulations to Lisa Mantchev on signing with Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary AGency, and congratulations to Laura on signing Lisa!

Congratulations to Tiffany Trent and her agent Jennifer Laughran on the sale of the next book in the Unnaturalists series to Simon & Schuster.

Even More Personally

This week I watched "Ghost Busters II" (1989), "Bridge Jones's Diary" (2001), "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" (2004), "Monte Carlo" (2011) and saw "Footloose" (2011) in the theater. "Monte Carlo" struck me as a cute flick for a tween girl slumber party.

I also watched the season premiers of the TV shows that I follow in real time: "Terra Nova," "Glee," and "Bones." "Terra Nova" is more Greg's show than mine, but I'm enjoying it. Dinosaurs rule in our house. I also love any show with singing and dancing, which "Glee" has in abundance. And with its combination of mystery, humor, romance, and brainy factoids, "Bones" is one of my all-time favorites. I'm particularly fascinated by the character "Angela's father," the Texan musician played by ZZ Top member Billy Gibbons.

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing at Austin Comic Con, scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Austin Convention Center.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Guest Post: M.G. King on Holding Human Hearts

By M.G. King

If I ever decide to switch genres and write horror instead of books for young children, I’m sure I could do a creditable job. After all, not many writers, horror or otherwise, can claim to have put their hands inside a human chest to hold a living heart.

While in nursing school, I worked as the weekend assistant in a cardio ICU. The facility was large enough to offer state-of-the-art heart interventions, but small enough that it needed its staff to float among various departments.

So one weekend, when the OR staff had an emergency surgery and needed an extra hand, they taught me to scrub in. I became the weekend “heart holder.”

Holding a heart in surgery is about as dramatic as plucking eyebrows on a Saturday night. My job was to hold the heart in place to give the surgeon access to the part of the organ that needed work. The minutes would tick by with nothing to listen to but the steady hum of the bypass machine, and nothing to look at but something that resembled a piece of cold chicken, a marvel of human anatomy that makes us all live and breath. When that part of the surgery was complete, I returned to the ICU to run errands and walk recovering patients up and down the corridors.

But the next morning always smacked of the miraculous. The heart that I’d held would be repaired and tucked safely back inside a person who was awake, and usually complaining. I’d help them up to a chair, open their Jello and juice containers, and position their pillows. All the while, I would listen.

Heart surgery has a way of bringing out people’s most private thoughts -- about God and mortality, regrets and dreams. I found that holding hearts can be a serious business.

Every time I sit down to write, I think about the fact that a writer’s words can touch and hold young hearts. They can surgically bypass barriers and reach inside where we ourselves could never go.

Because of this, children deserve the very best -- stories that let them laugh and cry, stories that that help them find their way.

Kids get the fact that the world can be a difficult, sometimes scary place. A good book is a safe place to process hopes, fears, and ways of navigating the world.

While children and young teens don’t need to be coddled, they do need respect for their place on the path to emotional maturity. The craft of writing needs good doses of caring and humility, because holding hearts is a serious business.

Cynsational Notes

New Voice: M.G. King on Librarian on the Roof! A True Story from Cynsations. Peek: "When I first heard the story about Lockhart’s librarian camping out on the roof for a week, I knew I had to write it. The tale had all the elements of a wonderful picture book: a dramatic setting on the top of a beautiful historic building, an unforgettable character who was both daring and tenacious, and a community that came together to exceed everyone’s expectations."

Giveaway: The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco

Enter to win The Flint Heart by Katherine and John Paterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Candlewick, 2011)! From the promotional copy:

An ambitious Stone Age man demands a talisman that will harden his heart, allowing him to take control of his tribe. Against his better judgment, the tribe’s magic man creates the Flint Heart, but the cruelty of it causes the destruction of the tribe. 

Thousands of years later, the talisman reemerges to corrupt a kindly farmer, an innocent fairy creature, and a familial badger. 

Can Charles and his sister Unity, who have consulted with fairies such as the mysterious Zagabog, wisest creature in the universe, find a way to rescue humans, fairies, and animals alike from the dark influence of the Flint Heart? 

This humorous, hearty, utterly delightful fairy tale is the sort for an entire family to savor together or an adventurous youngster to devour.

A robust and wildly entertaining fairy tale, freely abridged from Eden Phillpotts’s 1910 fantasy and wryly retold by Katherine and John Paterson.

Read a sample chapter (PDF) and A Conversation with the Creators of The Flint Heart (PDF), both from Candlewick. Listen to an audio of Katherine Paterson discussing the book.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Flint Heart" in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 14.

The Flint Heart Book Trailer from Candlewick Press on Vimeo.

Cynsational Notes

A feature film adaptation of The Flint Heart was optioned ahead of publication and is already in development with Bedrock Studios and Arcady Bay Entertainment.

Katherine Paterson is the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Her international fame rests not only on her widely acclaimed novels but also on her efforts to promote literacy in the United States and abroad. She is a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, and she has received many other accolades for her works, including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, given by her home state of Vermont. Katherine Paterson was also named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000. She lives in Barre, Vermont, with her husband, John Paterson.

John Paterson Sr. has collaborated with his wife, Katherine, on Consider the Lilies: Plants of the Bible (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), Images of God (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), and Blueberries for the Queen (HarperCollins, 2004). He lives with his wife in Barre, Vermont.

John Rocco collaborated with Whoopie Goldberg on the picture book Alice (Random House, 1992) and was Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering and served as pre-production art director at Dreamworks Moonpowder, and his illustrations are also featured on the jackets of Rick Riordan’s best-selling YA series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. John Rocco lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Guest Post: Tracy Barrett on Malleable Myths & the Minotaur

By Tracy Barrett

“It’s a retelling of the myth of the minotaur,” I tell people who ask me about Dark of the Moon (Harcourt, 2011). Then, depending on how much I think they know about the myth, I add either, “You know, the half-man, half-bull that lived in the labyrinth?” or “...told by Ariadne, the minotaur’s sister, and Theseus, his killer.”

That description makes me uncomfortable, though, especially if I get a follow-up question about the “real” myth and how I’ve “changed” it. Because the truth is, myth by its very nature is a constant retelling, and the minotaur myth that most of us are familiar with is itself a garbled retelling of rituals from a culture very different from classical Athens, the society most of us think of when someone says “ancient Greece.”

I’ve always had a lot of questions about the minotaur myth. So many things about the story don’t make sense:

• Greek mythological creatures that are part human and part animal (satyrs, centaurs, tritons, etc.) are human from the top down, and change into animals at the waist—with one exception: The minotaur has a bull’s head and a human body.

• The labyrinth is hardly a secure prison for a man-eating monster. Granted, the minotaur isn’t too sharp, but after years and years, wouldn’t he stumble out at some point?

• Why would Ariadne help a stranger from a foreign country kill her brother?

• Why does that stranger take her away and then dump her on an island? Why not just leave her on Crete?

• How could you possibly not notice that you’re flying a black sail, when you told your father that this would be a signal that you died?

• Why would a king who sent a previously unknown son to his certain death commit suicide when he thinks that the son has died?

So I plunged into research.

The culture of ancient Crete is pretty much a mystery, but some things are known. Cretans worshipped the moon (“Pasiphaë,” the name of Ariadne’s mother, means “she shines for all” and “Ariadne” means “most pure”—obviously the moon and her priestess).

They also revered the bull. Athenian travelers might have witnessed a ritual in which a priest wearing a bull’s head mask symbolically wed a priestess. Those same travelers might have seen the so-called palace of Knossos, ancient Crete’s most important city, marked with a double-headed axe—the labrys, symbol of power—and the maze of rooms in its basement.

They made what sense of it they could, perhaps adding the part about the “monster” devouring Athenian children either to symbolize the tribute that Crete demanded from its neighbors, or to justify their own attempts to take power over the Aegean Sea. They retold the story and gave us what most people think of as the original myth.

My own retelling is an attempt to re-imagine Cretan society and religion, placing Ariadne, who serves merely as a plot-device for the Athenian re-tellers, at its center. She questions her faith, her traditions, and her family ties in a quest for her own truth and autonomy.

Cynsational Notes

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls the novel "a historically rich reworking of Theseus and the Minotaur."

In the video below, Tracy presents a Research Tip of the Day from Tina Nichols Coury.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Author Lena Coakley Interviews Editor Hadley Dyer of HarperCollins Canada

Hadley in Tanzania
By Lena Coakley

Today I’m interviewing my friend, Hadley Dyer, the new executive children’s editor for HarperCollins Canada.

Hadley’s time was scarce, but she graciously agreed to let me poke a microphone into her face as she drove us to the country to visit friends. 

With her dog Luke packed into the back seat, we set off, immediately launching into a conversation that was so interesting that I forgot to tell her where to get on the highway. 

We ended up getting caught in an enormous traffic jam. Was it just my way of getting more time with one of my favourite people? I’m not telling.

Lena: Congratulations on being appointed the executive children’s editor at Harper Collins Canada.

Hadley: Thank you.

Lena: I was quite surprised by the announcement because I thought you had given up editing for writing.

Hadley: To be honest, I wasn’t looking for a full-time editing job until this opportunity came up at HCC. My focus was shifting more and more towards being a full-time writer. But I found the list at HarperCollins to be absolutely irresistible. The opportunity to work with Canada’s top writers and to help develop one of the best lists in the country was something I couldn’t say no to.

Lena: Does being an author yourself give you a unique perspective when you edit a book?

Hadley: I like to think I’m a sympathetic editor. I’m probably more willing than others to give authors extra time when they need it; I think that’s extremely important. I think I can speak the language. When an author is in a crisis over a deadline or a plot knot, it’s nice to be able to say, “I know how you feel,” or, “This is a familiar stage to me, and trust me when I say you’ll move beyond it.”

The best editors can do that anyway, even if they’ve never written a word, because they have experience with writers and have been through the process many times before, but the authors I’ve worked with do seem to appreciate that I have not just a sympathetic ear but a truly empathetic ear—I think that does help our working relationship.

Lena: Are you continuing to write?

Hadley: As it turns out I had signed a contract to write a nonfiction book for Annick Press just before I got the call from Harper Collins, so right from the outset I had to learn how to make time to write.

I have two novels in progress that I really would love to finish, so, yes, I definitely intend to keep writing. However, when you’ve been published before in different forms—I’ve written fiction and nonfiction and also for newspapers and magazines—the novelty of seeing your name in print wears off.

Writing really does become about creating your best work, so I am not in any hurry to get published again for its own sake. It’s only worth it to me if the work is really good. That takes time—but I’m okay with that.

The fun thing about working with really great writers is that it does keep the pilot light on. Authors often say that reading great novels inspires their work—and now it’s my job to do just that.

Lena: Many people reading this interview will be more familiar with American publishers. Are there differences between being an editor in Canada and being an editor in the States?

Hadley: Our book industry is quite different from the States. For starters, it’s much, much younger. Most of the independent Canadian children’s houses were founded just thirty or thirty five years ago.

And Canadian publishers have a mandate to publish Canadian authors for the Canadian market, so there are cultural considerations for us that U.S. publishers might not share.

Our whole industry is also much smaller than in the U.S.: A best seller in Canada used to be 5,000 copies...

Lena: What is it now?

Hadley: Well, there are examples of books in Canada that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, so there’s no ceiling anymore, but to sell 5,000 copies is still very respectable in the Canadian market because we have a much smaller population—the economy of scale isn’t there for us the way it is in the U.S. All of these considerations factor in when you’re acquiring an author here—who they are, where they’re from, the setting of their novel, the audience for the novel and what it would mean for that audience to see those characters in a story, and of course the sales potential—these are all things that we consider slightly differently in Canada than in the U.S.

Lena: I often hear that U.S. publishers live off the books that sell a hundred thousand copies or more, so how does Canadian publishing work economically?

Hadley: Well, it can be similar for us. Some books on our list are great engines that generate revenue that allow us to then publish quieter books, smaller books.

Canadian independent publishers actually receive subsidies in the form of grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, an organization that administers public funds for the arts on behalf of the government. This helps to ensure that market forces aren’t driving all of the publishing decisions. It has allowed publishers to keep historical fiction in the marketplace, for example, even while genres like paranormal and dystopian fiction and are dominating.

This benefits those of us who aren’t eligible for those grants as well, including HarperCollins Canada, Penguin Canada, Random House and so on, because it means that there’s more breadth of selection on bookstore shelves and that kids have more variety in their reading choices. It also just keeps certain genres alive.

Lena: With the American market being so huge and with so many changes in publishing, do you think Canadian culture is safe?

Hadley: It’s certainly true that when Canadian publishers began distributing their books in the U.S., many of them chose to drop Canadian spellings, because they couldn’t afford to do a separate print run for each market. And sometimes decisions are made to keep the location of a story a little more generic so that a Canadian location can pass for an American one. But the cost of having a successful book industry is that in order to grow we do have to look beyond our borders.

Lena: I know you haven’t been at HCC very long, but can you tell me about any acquisitions that you’ve made?

Hadley: Sure! I’m very proud to say I’ve acquired poet Dennis Lee’s first book for children in more than a decade and also his classic backlist, which includes Alligator Pie and Garbage Delight and other books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies over the last forty years.

Alligator Pie was one of the first books I ever owned.

When I started writing for children, I wrote quite a bit of poetry and studied poetry thoroughly—I think it actually made me a better prose stylist, funnily enough—so for me it was a very proud moment when he agreed to allow us to be the caretaker of his work.

I was also very excited to sign Kenneth Oppel for two more books.

I’ve recently acquired the first children’s book by Michael Redhill, a much-loved novelist and playwright for adults. I have been trying to get Michael to write a children’s book for years, even when I wasn’t associated with any one publisher, so I was pretty excited when I finally wore him down.

And we’ve also acquired two books by Richard Scrimger, one of the funniest writers for children in Canada.

Lena: Is there one book coming out in 2011 that you are particularly excited about?

Hadley: Our whole fall list is wonderful, but the book I’m most curious about is This Dark Endeavour: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel. It is so unique and wonderfully written, and I’m very curious to see how kids will respond to it. That’s the kind of thing I think about before I got to sleep at night.

Lena: So that’s being published by Simon & Schuster in the States but HarperCollins here in Canada. Can you talk a little bit about how that works?

Hadley: As many readers know, territorial rights and language rights can be sliced and diced a thousand different ways. Sometimes you give a publisher world rights and then they turn around and sell subsidiary rights—foreign language rights, for example—to foreign publishers; sometimes the agent or author will split off the rights from the get-go and sell them piecemeal to different publishers.

So it’s not unusual for a Canadian author, especially a well-established Canadian author, to have a separate Canadian home from their U.S. home, even when those companies have a presence in both countries.

Kenneth Oppel has always been a HarperCollins Canada author. He was at one time with HarperCollins U.S.; now he’s with Simon & Schuster in the U.S. Though we love to keep our Canadian authors in the HarperCollins family, we have worked quite happily with many different U.S. publishers.

The neat thing for the author is that it’s not unusual to have close editorial relationships with both their Canadian and U.S. editors and maybe even a U.K. editor as well.

When this happens, there are many different possible scenarios: An author might get three separate editorial memos, or the editors might collaborate and produce only one memo. The author is often in the position to choose the relationship that works best for them.

It’s been great for me because I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with very talented editors from all over the world—Susan Rich at Little, Brown and Wendy Lamb at Random House, for instance.

Lena: In addition to being an author and an editor, I know that you are also very involved in the children’s book community as a volunteer and that you are a past President of IBBY Canada. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Hadley: One of the best decisions I ever made was to become involved with IBBY Canada. It exposed me immediately to children’s publishing around the world, and it infused me with enthusiasm for helping colleagues in different countries who are trying to get their book industries off the ground. I think volunteerism is very important in the arts, and it’s certainly has been an important part of my career.

Lena: I know that one of the things that you did as a volunteer was to travel to Tanzania—I’d love to hear more about that.

Hadley: I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of a new project administered by CODE, which is a literacy organization that works in developing countries, especially Africa. They had just founded a new English language writing prize designed to encourage East African writers to write wonderful, easy-to-read, engaging novels for young adults. Because the prize was sponsored by a Canadian, Bill Burt, they wanted a Canadian to be on the first jury.

I put my name forward and ultimately traveled to Tanzania four times, twice to be on the jury and twice to lead writing workshops with a juror from Uganda. These were some of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.

I worked with African authors who were just starting to explore the YA genre and who were working extremely hard to produce works in a second language. English is the language of the secondary schools in Tanzania, which is why the writing prize is for English-language works—the prize encourages writing by Africans for Africans, so that schools don’t have to rely on foreign imports. The commitment that these writers show to their work has been extremely inspiring.

Lena: At HCC you’re not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, correct?

Hadley: Right.

Lena: So, Hadley, how are you going to find the next big thing?

Hadley: (Laughs.) First and foremost, Lena, agents do a really good job of finding authors.

Also, as an author myself I have strong connections to the writing community, so sometimes I find unagented writers through those connections, and I’m trying to stay connected to the community by doing events like The Word on the Street that put me in touch with writers just finding their footing.

But I have to tell you, before I was at HarperCollins, I worked at a small Toronto publisher for five years and I published a lot of first-time authors. (That was the best part of my job, in fact, calling authors and telling them that I was going to publish their first book.)

However, I rejected 99% of what I saw—we just had an enormous slush pile. At HarperCollins Canada, the cost benefit of taking unagented writers just doesn’t work for me, because the odds of finding that diamond in the rough are so small. Keep in mind that I am the sole children’s book editor there, and at the moment we only publish four to seven front list titles per season.

Lena: You make it sound almost impossible to get published!

Hadley: Not at all! To be honest, I often think that one thing that stands between great writers and their future editors is the number of manuscripts in circulation that really shouldn’t be in an editor or an agent’s slush pile—because they were sent to the wrong house; because they weren’t appropriate for that list; or because they simply aren’t ready yet to be published.

People are very excited about the prospect of being published. I understand that—of course I do. Very early in my career I sent off manuscripts prematurely. And then I stopped, because I realized it was more important to produce good quality work and end up in the right home.

I do think that in Canada especially that it’s not very hard to get a book deal if the work is good. There are so many publishers, and their lists are so diverse. Every editor I know is dying to find someone new and wonderful, but it can be a lot of hard work to get to those manuscripts.

My advice? Be patient. Send your best work. And be thoughtful about where you send it. I honestly believe that if the writing is there, publishing will follow.

Cynsational Notes

Hadley Dyer is the executive editor of children's books at HarperCollins Canada and an author for children and young adults. Her first novel, Johnny Kellock Died Today, was the winner of the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year for Children Award. She also writes The Globe and Mail's Live Better column and teaches in the publishing program at Ryerson University. Previously, she was the children’s book editor for James Lorimer & Co. and has worked as a bookseller, publicist, reviewer, and library coordinator of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. She is a past president of IBBY Canada.

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

Picture Book Month: A Celebration

By Dianne de Las Casas

"I have always believed that literature begins in the cradle -- the poems we say to the babies, the stories we tell them -- prepare them to become part of the great human storytelling community. We humans are the only creatures in the known universe who make and remake our world with story." - Jane Yolen from her Picture Book Month essay

Founder Dianne de Las Casas decided it was time to celebrate picture books in their printed format so she created an initiative to designate November as “Picture Book Month.” Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar, and Wendy Martin came on board to champion the cause and spread the word.

A logo was designed by Joyce Wan. A website ( was created to feature essays from “Picture Book Champions,” thought leaders in the children’s literature community.

Each day in November, a new essay will be posted from such notable contributors as Suzanne Bloom, Denise Fleming, Leslie Helakoski, Eric A. Kimmel, Tammi Sauer, Dan Yaccarino, and Jane Yolen.

Dianne de Las Casas
Better World Books and organizations like Scholastic Book Fairs Philippines are lending their support. The website will also feature links to picture book resources, authors, illustrators, and kidlit book bloggers. In addition, parents, educators, and librarians can download the theme calendar to help them plan their picture book celebrations and access picture book activities.

Join the celebration! Visit

“Picture books are important because they are with us for life. They are the most important books we'll ever read because they're our first. No matter how many books we've read since, they will always have a place in our hearts.” – Dan Yaccarino from his Picture Book Month Essay.

Cynsational Notes

November also is Native Heritage Month.
In My World: The Power of Picture Books by Dianne de Las Casas from Picture Book Month. Peek: "Picture books celebrate childhood. They speak universal truths and help children better understand the world around them."

Why Picture Books are Important by Eric A. Kimmel from Picture Book Month. Peek: "Children learn to read from picture books and children learn what books are by reading picture books."

Proclamation on the Picture Book by various creators. Peek: "We are tired of hearing the picture book is in trouble and tired of pretending it is not." Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

Picture Book Idea Month by Tara Lazar from Writing for Kids. Peek: "Do you think you can meet the PiBoIdMo challenge and create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days? Well then, sign-up for all the craziness!"

Monday, October 31, 2011

New Voice: Carrie Harris on Bad Taste in Boys

Carrie Harris is the first-time author of Bad Taste in Boys (Delacorte, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Super-smartie Kate Grable gets to play doctor, helping out her high school football team. Not only will the experience look good on her college apps, she gets to be this close to her quarterback crush, Aaron.

Then something disturbing happens. Kate finds out that the coach has given the team steroids. Except...the vials she finds don’t exactly contain steroids. Whatever’s in them is turning hot gridiron hunks into mindless, flesh-eating...zombies.

Unless she finds an antidote, no one is safe. Not Aaron, not Kate’s brother, not her best friend...not even Kate...

It’s scary. It’s twisted. It’s sick. It’s high school.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

I am continually, constantly surprised. Every time I get an email or a picture or a note that says, “I read your book!” my kneejerk reaction is to wonder how they hacked into my computer and if I should press charges. Honestly, I pinch myself every morning. Because I’ve been dreaming about it for so long. Not exaggerating—I’ve been writing for fifteen years.

The whole thing started way back when neon was cool. I got the only F of my life on a creative writing assignment, and I tried to tell myself that it stood for “fabulous,” but I didn’t believe me. I wrote the heck out of the next paper, got an A+, and was hooked.

But I was determined to be a doctor, dancer, veterinarian, psychologist, and/or lifelong college student, so I wasted a lot of time changing my major to each of these things (except the last one, which is kind of implied by all the rest).

Finally, I took a writing workshop and changed that major for the last time, because it’s so much more fun to write about sparkly unicorns than it is to learn the Krebs cycle. Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!

I figured I’d become a teacher and write on the side. So I started the first of a bijillion freelance writing jobs, went back for a masters in teaching, and big surprise! I changed my major again. To statistics, which only proves once and for all that I really am rat-in-a-coffee-can insane.

So now, I’m a statistician who writes freelance on the side, and I have no real idea how that happened. But it all worked out, because along the way I developed the obligatory list of wonky jobs that all writers seem to have. I sold orthopedic shoes and knives (but not at the same time), coordinated autopsies, and managed the national center for research in the human form of Mad Cow disease.

In short, I lived. And I kept writing. And I kept getting better.

This is what comes to mind when I think about the significant moments in my writing life. It’s not the years of writing websites and roleplaying games and med school study cards and all that other random stuff, although that certainly was important to do craft-wise. But even more important for me was figuring out who I am and realizing that maybe I’m not the kind of person who wins Pulitzers, and that’s okay! That maybe being a monster-obsessed, slightly crazed, extremely silly writer is exactly what I ought to be, and all those years of trying to deny that? Ultimately fruitless.

At the end of the day? I found myself through my writing. I think that’s pretty awesome.

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

For me, comedy is all about trial and error, wordplay, and boob jokes. (Although I think I might have gone a little overboard with the boob jokes, because my editor requested that I give my most recent manuscript a breast reduction.)

Humor’s a really slippery subject because there are so many different ways to approach it. The thing that has surprised me so much about putting a funny book out on the shelves is that every person who writes me cites a different thing that really cracked them up. It really does go to show that humor is relative.

So if that’s true, how in the heck do you learn to write it? Honestly, I’ve read all the how-to humor books. Okay, not exactly true. I started a lot of them, but I don’t think I ever finished one. I don’t think humor is something you can break down into easy-to-follow steps. For me, it all comes down to studying at the feet of the greats and critically evaluating their work as a writer.

This sounds very impressive and technical until you realize what it actually means—I really just wanted an excuse to watch a lot of "The Muppet Show" and read a bunch of Dr. Seuss and call it “research.”

But it is! Jim Henson taught me more than any how-to book ever will. And when I write, I channel my inner Fozzie, or Kermit, or Piggy. (I once channeled my inner Animal, but I don’t advise that. My laptop still has bite marks on it.)

Instead of trying to write comedy, I try to make myself snort things out my nose.

I think it’s an important distinction.

And if all else fails, I’ve found that a good boob joke goes a long way…

Happy Halloween

Scary Halloween Food by Petr Kratochvil
Cynsational Notes

A Blood Good Read: 'Dracula' Author's Journal Found by Ashley Fantz from CNN. Peek: " day not long ago, a researcher working on a project about Stoker got in touch with Dobbs to ask if he might know anything about a journal his famous relative kept. Dobbs looked around and finally popped open this tiny book. It was signed 'Abraham Stoker.'" Note: the Tantalize series is a tribute to Dracula (1897), and in particular, Blessed (Book 3)(2011) is a literary mystery in which Stoker's novel holds the clues to saving the day. Or, well, night. (That said, you don't have to have read Dracula to enjoy it.)

Last call! Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2009) is a highlighted October sale title for Kindle readers! You can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (67% off)! See a complete list (with links) of children's-YA ebooks on sale for Kindle/ readers from author Cheryl Rainfield. Limited time only! Sale ends after Halloween. See also information on Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren's Story and the forthcoming Diabolical.

Last call! Enter to win an ARC of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Melissa at Just One Opinion. Deadline: Nov. 1. See more information. Note: link fixed!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs

Attention Children's-YA Writers & Illustrators!

In anticipation of the release of Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), Greg Leitich Smith is hosting a photo blog series called Writers and Illustrators and Dinosaurs, and you're invited to participate!

All you have to do is email him a photo of yourself with any dinosaur image. Greg says, "These can be realistic dinosaurs or skeletons from natural history museums or theme parks or can be dinosaurs of the more cartoon-y variety (like toys, signs, books)."

So far, participants include Caroline Arnold, James Howe, David Ostow, Jane Yolen, and Jennifer Ziegler.

The posts also offer information about the contributors' writing/art and will be featured in a variety of book lover venues. Greg adds, "I'm having fun promoting my fellow children's-YA book creators and of course celebrating all things dinosaur!"

To participate, write greg at gregleitichsmith dot com.
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