Saturday, May 14, 2005

Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters

Far From Xanadu by Julie Anne Peters (Little Brown, 2005). Between working out, playing softball, and keeping up the plumbing business her dad left behind, Mike's days in Coalton, Kansas are if not full, at least familiar. Then one day, she walks into class. Xanadu. The most beautiful, smart-ass, conflicted girl in the world. Mike falls fast, and the two seem to connect. Only problem? Mike's gay and Xanadu's...not. A story of family, friendship, and unrequinted love. Barriers that can be broken and those that should be respected. Ages 12-up.

More On Far From Xanadu

Though the novel's book-talk hook is the love story, the family and friendship threads are just as heavily weighted and highly satisfying reads. Mike's best friend Jamie and brother Darryl are compelling, well-drawn, and especially resonate characters.

As someone who spent half of her childhood in Kansas, I found the town convincing and appreciated the opportunity to read a book set in the midwest. I also thought it was refreshing that "small town" didn't automatically equal "universally bigoted."

I've lived in and been around small towns, and it seems like this has become a stereotype. Call me an optimist, but some loving, good, clear-thinking people can be found everywhere.

Julie Anne Peters is one of my favorite YA authors. I highly recommend her other YA novels: Luna, Keeping You A Secret, and Define Normal--all published by Megan Tingley/Little Brown.

Cynsational News & Links

Interview with Julie Anne Peters by Malindo Lo from April 21, 2005. Note: this is an excellent, don't-miss interview.

Read the first chapter of Far From Xanadu from Time Warner Books.

Surf over to Julie Anne Peters' Blah, Blah, Blog.

"Anything Goes, But What Does a Banned-Book Author Do Next?": a chat with Phyllis Reynolds Naylor from the Institute of Children's Literature.

The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers 2005 Awards and Honors have been announced. Congratulations to all the honorees, especially Deborah L. Duval, author of Rabbit and the Bears: A Grandmother Story, illustrated by Murv Jacob (UNM Press, 2004) for best children's book, Joy Harjo (author of The Good Luck Cat, illustrated by Paul Lee (Harcourt, 2000)) for best screenplay, Devon A. Mihesuah, author of So You Want to Write About Indians? A Guide for Scholars, Writers, and Students (Booklocker, 2005), for research and Oyate for foundation/organization of the year!*

*one of my own books was a 2001 Wordcraft Circle winner: Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins). Follow Rain's progress at

Friday, May 13, 2005

Social Justice In Native American Literature for Youth

Today, I received contributor copies of the Journal of Children's Literature: A Journal of the Children's Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (Vol. 31, No. 1, spring 2005), focusing on Special Collections of Children's Literature, Book Illustrations, and Picture Book art.

My article "Social Justice in Native American Literature For Youth" appears on pg. 7. It was adapted from a speech I gave as part of the 2004 CLA Workshop on Social Justice in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Cynsational News & Links

Author Susan Taylor Brown debuts her blog, Write On Right Now! Her recent topics include: the balancing act: writing and the day job.

Tribute to Charlemae Hill Rollins from the de Gummond Children's Literature Collection. "During her 30 year career as a librarian, author and storyteller, Mrs. Rollins was an advocate for the positive portrayal of African Americans in children's literature."

The Children's Writing Update features the magazine market, insights from a librarian, and rules beginners should never break.

Who Wrote That? Featuring Laurie Halse Anderson from Patricia M. Newman. I learned about this profile from Laurie's LJ.

Greg and I were invited to Walter The Giant's upcoming birthday party! The invitation came this week. Woo woo! Walter--a long-time children's/YA lit guru--is now also the author of Walter The Giant Storyteller's Giant Book Of Giant Stories, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2005).

Congratulations to author Amanda Jenkins, recipient of the latest PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship!

Thank you to Kids Lit: Books and More for Kids and Teens for mentioning mine and Greg's blogs!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Picture Book Length

Picture books should be as long as they need to be. That every-word-perfect standard is high.

Traditionally, the core market audience for picture books is 4 to 7. However, picture books are increasingly used with older kids, even teenagers; ie: In fact, Kelly Milner Halls' Albino Animals was both a YALSA Quick Pick and BBYA this past year.

Forces I suspect drive the shorter-picture book trend include: (1) pushing younger and younger children to read novels (AKA "growing up is a race");* (2) the decline of the school/library market, which means that there is less money for literary trade books in the classroom; (3) the emphasis on standardized testing, which means there is less time for literary trade books in the classroom; (4) the decline of local bookstores (buyers appear to favor curriculum tie-in and bedtime stories); (5) the rise of national bookstores (buyers appear to favor books more for a rousing storytime); and (6) an emphasis on mainstream American consumers (as opposed to ethnic minorities, urbans, etc.).

That said, the industry is notoriously cyclical, and change can be counted on.

My first picture book, Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000) was 850 words. The picture book that my husband and I wrote together this past year and for which we just signed a contract with Dutton is 1012 words (before final edits). The latter is a quicker read aloud because of the pacing and tone.

So, believe in your stories and polish, polish, polish!

More Thoughts

*"My seven year old can read Harry Potter!"
"Well, my four year old can read Harry Potter!"
"My baby read Harry Potter in utero!"

Madame Esmé and I spoke about this rather frightening parenting trend on a panel at a recent Texas Book Festival. Visit her at Planet Esmé.

Cynsational Links

Thanks to the following folks for their recent comments on this blog or its LJ syndication: illustrator Don Tate; author D.L. Garfinkle, author Haemi Balgassi; the Complimenting Complimenter; author Laurie Halse Anderson; author Mary E. Pearson; writer Kimberly Pauley; and author Cynthia Lord.

It was on CynthiaL's blog that I learned about another great one, Notes from the Slush Pile.

Thanks also to Debbi Michiko Florence for her recent congratulations on mine and Greg's picture book sale to Dutton!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Over and Over You by Amy McAuley

Surf over to spookycyn to read my thoughts on Amy McAuley's debut novel, Over and Over You (Roaring Brook, 2005), and check out my list of hypothetical past lives.

Boys & Girls, Men & Women, Authors & Heroes

Last night, I led a chat exploring gender writing issues with author panelists Nancy Werlin, D.L. Garfinkle, and Brian Yansky at The YA Authors Cafe. I'll let y'all know when the transcript is posted online, but in the meantime, here's a sampling of the questions I asked them:

What are your experiences, challenges, and/or lack thereof when it comes to writing a cross-gender protagonist? I.e., from a female point of view if you’re a male.

Is there such a thing as "gender authenticity" in voice? Is it sexist to ask? Is it sexist not to?

It’s often said that girls will read “boy” books, but boys won’t read “girl” books. What do you think is a “boy” book? What is a “girl” book?

Assuming boys won’t read “girl” books, but “girls” will read either, should we be more worried about this? Is it part of the reason there are, say, so few women in Congress?

Do male authors have an advantage in a business so dominated by women? And if so, why and how does it manifest itself?

Are there downsides to being a male author? And if so, why and how do they manifest themselves?

Overall, do you think men and women approach the craft and/or business differently, and if so, how?

Any thoughts appreciated!

Cynsational Links

Check out the latest from editor Harold Underdown's May blog on: resubmitting to an agent or publisher; source citation in children's nonfiction; non-profit and grant-supported publishers; responding to a personal rejection; picture book length; and more.

The Secret to Becoming a Published Writer by Margot Finke from The Purple Crayon. Notice that my secret is included! I was so flattered. Visit the author mentor/teachers I mentioned, Jane Kurtz and Kathi Appelt, to learn more about them and their work.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Reminder: Boys & Girls, Men & Women, Authors & Heroes

Tonight, May 10 at the YA Authors Cafe - Boys & Girls, Men & Women, Authors & Heroes: how gender affects how we write, who we write for, and what happens next. Cynthia Leitich Smith explores gender writing issues with panelists Nancy Werlin, D.L. Garfinkle, and Brian Yansky.

The YA Authors Cafe chats are held Tuesday evenings at 8:30 p.m. EST. Please join in at Click the cafe chatroom icon to enter the chat.

Cynsational Links

A Round-Up of Some of the Season's Best Books for Boys by Elizabeth Ward from The Washington Post. (Children's and YA).

Author Greg Leitich Smith blogs about channeling your inner child.

Check out the lovely Laurie Halse Anderson's May 7 LJ entry about her writing group. Very interesting! I'm also proud to be included among her buddies.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Double Byline

Greg and I signed a contract this week with Dutton Children's Books for a humorous holiday picture book, tentatively titled Santa and the Snorklepuss. We're not sure yet on the publication date, but we're thrilled that Steve Bjorkman has already agreed to illustrate the story.

This soon-to-be published manuscript represents the first book Greg and I have co-authored, and it also will be his first picture book.

In addition, I got word today that Tantalize, my upcoming gothic fantasy YA, has been slated for August 2007, just in time for Halloween. The novel will be published by Candlewick, and the revision process has been the subject of many a spookycyn post.

Cynsational Links

An Interview with Doug Whiteman, publisher of Penguin Young Readers Group, from

"Bibliography, Biology, Biopsy-What?" by Katie Clark, in the Writing Nonfiction section of Writing Tips from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also "Making the Writing Better: Cutting Pages, Paragraphs, Lines and Words" by Gail Martini-Peterson, in the Work Habits section of ICL Writer's Support.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Worser and Worser; O. Henry Writing Club

Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (Simon & Schuster, 2005), spoke about plot yesterday to SCBWI Austin members at Barnes & Noble Westlake.

She drew on her own experiences as a reader, writer, educator, and former children's bookstore owner, and she highly recommended the book Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, creator of the legendary Writers' Loft in Chicago.

Anne's examples of children's books that showed steadily rising opposition against the protagonist were: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Frindle by Andrew Clements.

She also talked about books that began with a character want (like Pig Enough by Janie Bynum and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka) as well as books that began with a conflict (like Milo's Hat Trick by Jon Agee and Bubba and Beau Meet The Relatives by Kathi Appelt).

Another helpful book that came up during the Q&A that followed was Story by Robert McKee. It also was noted that Immediate Fiction doesn't particularly address subplots, but arguably the same principles could be applied to a lesser intensity.

After Anne's talk, Greg and I stayed on for the 15th Annual O. Henry Writing Club Celebration, MC'd by Austin writer Spike Gillespie.

We were among ten local authors who each read aloud one of the winner's entries and presented them with a signed copy of one of our own books and a collection of O. Henry's short stories.

"My" winner was a delightful middle school girl, who has an interest in journalism and horseback riding. It was a great honor to meet her, read her work, and present her with a copy of the anthology along with my first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name.

About a hundred people were in attendance, and I was pleased to see adults applauding for youth writing.
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