Saturday, September 24, 2005

Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents by Mark Podwal

Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents by Mark Podwal (Doubleday, 2005). Celebrating faith and the city itself, poetic prose and vivid paintings evoke peace and hope. Respectful and inclusive, the author/illustrator acknowledges that "no place has been fought over more" and suggests, "[p]erhaps possessing Jerusalem is like trying to own the sky." Yet the upraised prayers to one God suggest a belief in a brighter future. A miraculous book that more than meets its great challenge of expressing both the sacred and humanity's potential. Ages 4-up.

More on Jerusalem Sky

It's not every book that's blurbed by Elie Wiesel and Maurice Sendak.

An excellent choice for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families as well as religous studies classes and multicultural collections, not mention anyone (and isn't that everyone?) who's in some way affected by the history of Jerusalem.

Cynsational News & Links

Against Borders by noted Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman (The Horn Book, March/April 1995).

Age is an Asset by Pamela Mingle from the Rocky Mountain chapter of SCBWI.

Banned Books Week is September 24 to October 1. 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 to 2000 from the ALA. See also Top Ten List of Most Frequently Challenged Books, also from the ALA.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Author Interview: Kathy Whitehead on Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July

Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Pablo Torrecilla (Boyds Mills Press, 2005). Joe and his parents are among those at the parade celebrating the Fourth of July. It's a wonderful, patriotic celebration, but where is Uncle Louie? And what would it be like to be part of the parade instead of just watching from the sidelines? Whitehead's tribute to Independence Day has a strong Texas twist, brought to life in Torrecilla's vivid illustrations. Ages 4-up. Read more of my thoughts on Looking For Uncle Louie On The Fourth Of July.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Looking for Uncle Louie on the Fourth of July was a 4th of July parade in Corpus Christi, TX in 1986. It was my son’s first 4th of July. I thought the lowriders were fascinating and would be great in a children’s book.

Personalizing a mass-produced vehicle through the elements of color and movement seems like such an American expression of individual freedom to me – perfect for the 4th of July!

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

Although I got the idea for the book in 1986, I didn’t write my story until 2001. I finished it in the fall of that year and sent it off to an editor I had seen at a conference, but was rejected with a form letter. I believed in my story though, so I promptly sent it out again, this time to Kent Brown at Boyds Mills Press. I had met him at an SCBWI conference that fall. My manuscript was accepted in February, 2002. They did a wonderful job of finding the right illustrator, Pablo Torrecilla, and the book’s publication date was April, 2005.

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

I started writing for children in the fall of 1989 when I took a community ed course on writing. The years that I’d spent teaching fourth grade led me to focusing my writing on middle grade novels. My daughter was born in 1988 so my writing time was limited.

Ideas for picture books surfaced through those years, but I resisted starting them. I was afraid of having a lot started but nothing completed. I filed the ideas away and finally came to a point when I felt I could turn my attention to the picture book format.

Parades I had attended in College Station always included lowriders so the idea had remained fresh in my mind. I researched lowrider magazines during the actual writing of my story to add concrete details to it. Adding Joe, my main character, and “Uncle Louie” to the 4th of July parade of lowriders seemed natural to me since I associate the 4th of July with family celebrations. Family and freedom seem to be two of our most basic needs – both are cause for celebration!

I think studying novel writing through the years, as I worked on middle grade manuscripts, helped prepare me for writing a picture book. The same elements are necessary in order to create a story children will enjoy over and over. The turning points are just more subtle sometimes.

Cynsational News & Links

An Exchange With An Agent: featuring Linda Pratt, a literary agent at Sheldon Fogelman Agency from Don Tate.

Meet the Author: Steven L. Layne from CBC Magazine. Condensed from the bio: Steven L. Layne serves as a professor of literature and education at Judson College in Elgin, IL. His books include This Side of Paradise (Pelican, 2002) and The Teachers' Night Before Christmas (Pelican, 2001). Steve lives in St. Charles, Illinois.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Author Interview: Dorian Cirrone on Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You

Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone (HarperCollins, 2005). Kayla is one of the strongest dancers at her performing arts school, but there's just one problem. Or, well, two. Kayla's busty--in a double D/needs-to-wear-three-bras kind of way--and the world of ballet has a very specific body type preference. Will she get surgery? Push back against societal expectations? Find relief in the company of the cute new guy or find out that he's really somehow sinister? Ages 12-up. See more of my thoughts on Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

The original inspiration came all the way back in the seventies when I studied and taught dance with a friend who had trained at American Ballet Theater. Following puberty, she was told by her teachers that she would never be a ballerina because of her large breasts. She went to Las Vegas and danced for a while, but eventually had breast reduction surgery and became a ballerina. I always thought it was an interesting anecdote, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it into something more.

Years later (actually decades), I read an article in our local newspaper about a teen who was told she couldn’t display her art project at school because it showed a man’s penis – even though female nudes were approved for display. I had been studying a lot of feminist theory in graduate school, and it occurred to me that these two stories could be woven together to say something about the cultural construction of gender and how we literally and figuratively view male and female bodies. I wanted to raise questions, rather than answer them, which is why there’s sort of a tug of war of opinion between the two sisters in the book. I left the ending somewhat open regarding Kayla’s decision so readers could debate the issue.

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

In between my original inspiration and then finally figuring out a way to tell the story, I worked as a journalist, went to graduate school, taught college writing, had two children, and wrote copious amounts of practice work.

In the early nineties, I met my mentor, Joyce Sweeney. That was a major event for me in that I not only began to take fiction writing more seriously, but I was also able to hone my craft in her weekly writing workshop.

I wrote the first chapter of the novel about seven years before it was actually published. I put it aside for several years, not quite knowing where I was going with it. When I came across the line, “Dancing in red shoes will kill you” while researching an ill-fated doctoral dissertation, everything fell together. I wrote the first five chapters over a period of about nine months, and then I learned about an agent looking for new clients. I sent him some other manuscripts and the first five chapters of the novel. He liked some of the other stuff, but he loved the novel and took me on as a client. I wrote the rest in about four months and he sold it in six weeks. It was published by HarperCollins a little over two years later.

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

My first challenge was to thematically weave together the three plot lines (Kayla’s decision, Paterson’s censorship issue, and the mystery of who was leaving the red shoes around school).

The fairy tale motif provided me a solution to that problem. My second and biggest challenge involved making sure that the novel could be read on many levels. I knew I wanted to write it in a humorous way, but I also wanted a depth that readers who were familiar with various critical and feminist theories could also appreciate.

The fairy tales had to work within the plot as well as the subtext, which demonstrates the many ways dominant discourses influence us without our knowing. For example, the fairy tale The Red Shoes is meant to be a cautionary tale against pride and ego. But as Atwood notes in the poem mentioned in the novel, it is really a subversive story designed to curtail the freedom of girls and women.

In addition, Kayla’s plotline had to work on both the literal and metaphorical level. I wanted to say something about the way we seem to be unaware as a society at the way we’re constantly manipulated to change the way we look, be it fashion, make-up, or plastic surgery, how women, in particular, relinquish power so easily to the whims of Madison Avenue, the media, etc. It’s not an indictment, but rather a call to awareness. Kayla possibly might have the surgery one day, but it should be her own decision.

In addition, I wanted to touch on Peter Berger’s notion that women through the ages have been depicted differently in art because the "ideal" spectator was always assumed to be male and the image of the woman was designed to flatter him. Creating a balance between telling a funny story, and also layering it with serious undertones was my greatest challenge.

Cynsational Notes

Dancing In Red Shoes Will Kill You is a BBYA nominee, a Quick Picks nominee, and a Teens Top Ten nominee. Dorian's next book will be Lindy Blues and the Missing Silver Dollar (Marshall Cavendish, spring 2006).

Other recent YA interview highlights: Holly Black; Joseph Bruchac; Lori M. Carlson; Cecil Castellucci; Alex Flinn; Nancy Garden; D.L. Garfinkle; K.L. Going; Rosemary Graham; Louise Hawes; Jennifer Richard Jacobson; Ron Koertge; David Lubar; R. A. Nelson; Julie Anne Peters; Mary E. Pearson; Lara M. Zeises.

Cynsational Link

Narrative and Violence by Jennifer Armstrong (author)(The Horn Book, March/April 2003). "The value of literature in dangerous times."

Golden Spur Award Nominees Announced

The Texas State Reading Association has announced nominees for the Golden Spur award in the children's literature (K-3) and intermediate divisions. The nominees are:

Children's Literature: Ima and the Great Texas Ostrich Race by Margaret McManis of Angleton (Eakin Press, 2002); Bats Around the Clock by Kathi Appelt of College Station (HarperCollins, 2000); The Cotton Candy Catastrophe at the Texas State Fair by Dotti Enderle of Houston (Pelican, 2005), Finding Daddy – A Story of the Great Depression by Jo & Josephine Harper (scroll) of Houston (Turtle Books, 2005); Isabel and the Hungry Coyote by Keith Polette (scroll) of El Paso (Raven Tree Press, 2004); Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck of Fort Worth (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang by Melanie Chrismer of Houston (Pelican, 2004).

Intermediate Nominees: Angel of the Alamo – A True Story of Texas by Lisa Waller Rogers of Austin (Eakin Press, 2000); Lorenzo’s Secret Mission by Lila and Rick Guzman of Round Rock (Arte Publico Press, 2001); Katherine Stinson – The Flying Schoolgirl by Debra Winegarten of Houston (Eakin Press, 2000); Tofu and T. Rex by Greg Leitich Smith of Austin (Little Brown, 2005), Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay of Arlington (Holiday House, 2004).

Cynsational News & Links

Texas Authors' Newest Endeavors are Child's Play by Glen Drumgoole from The Bryan-College Station Eagle. Features The Alley Cat's Meow by Kathi Appelt (Harcourt, 2002), a nominee for Bats Around The Clock, as well as two nominated books, Phoebe Clappsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang by Melanie Chrismer and Ima & the Great Texas Ostrich Race by Margaret McManis.

A Series of Fortunate Events: an Interview With Lois Gresh, author of Eyeballs, Leeches, Hypnotism and Orphans: The Truth Behind A Series Of Unfortunate Events (St. Martin's Press, 2005) by Susan VanHecke from

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Author Interview: Lupe Ruiz-Flores on Lupita's Papalote

Lupita's Papalote/El papalote de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Pauline Rodriguez Howard, Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Arte Publico, 2002)(a bilingual picture book). Condensed from the catalog copy: Lupita sits on the wooden steps of her house and stares into the sky. Lupita cannot tear her eyes away from the colorful papalotes, or kites. Lupita yearns for one of her own. But the family needs to save all of its money for school supplies and other must-haves. The kite remains in Lupita's mind until, with the help of her father, Lupita hatches a plan to make her very own.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

My father. When I was a little girl of about five, we really couldn't afford to buy a fancy kite like some kids (not many) in the barrio where I grew up. I remember my father comforting me and telling me that we would make our own kite just like he used to when he was a little boy. Together we made it out of comics, old colorful rags, and bamboo sticks from the vacant yard next door. Then he taught me how to fly it. I remember the thrill of the kite pulling and tugging and the fear I felt at the force of the kite as it kept going higher and higher.

But what I remember most was a gesture that stayed with me to this day. When I was the most afraid of being swept up into the sky by the kite, my father who was standing behind me, must have sensed my anxiety because he placed his hand on my shoulder. As soon as I felt the warmth of his touch, the fear oozed out of me through my feet and I knew I was safe. The love that the human touch brings is powerful. I wanted that to be in my story. Excerpts in both English and Spanish can be viewed on my Web site:

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

The spark came in 1996 when I wrote a very rough first draft with the idea and filed it away for about three years. I was busy with career and family and didn't know if I could even write something that someone would like. Once I retired from my career as an engineering technician, I really thought about pursuing writing. Since my background was all technical (Masters in Computer Information Management), I entered writing contests just to test the waters. I got my rejections but I also started winning some, i.e., subscriptions to magazines, a ton of deck supplies when I entered a Thompson Deck contest, and finally when I won a writing contest for Guideposts magazine, that gave me the self confidence I needed to continue.

In the summer of 1999, I revised the draft. I had no idea where or how to send it out. I read about a writing seminar being offered at one of our local universities. It was a one-day workshop and that was my initiation into the world of writers and publishing. One of the speakers, who turned out to be one of my closest friends, suggested to the audience that a certain publisher was looking for bilingual stories. I perked up. That was me. That was October 1999. I immediately mailed my manuscript out and by January 2000, I had a contract. Unbelievable! The book came out in October 2002.

I thought it was going to be easy from then on but it hasn't been. I've had my share of rejections since then. Although now, I'm happy to announce, I just signed my second contract for another bilingual picture book tentatively titled, "The Woodcutter's Gift." Since then, I've attended as many writers' workshops and conferences as I can. I'm immersing myself in the writing process. I have years to catch up on. This summer I attended the Highlights Foundation Workshop in Chautauqua, New York, and the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. I cannot tell you what an experience both were.

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

With Lupita's Papalote, there really wasn't any research because I wrote it from the heart. I embellished it, of course, because the story becomes a fantasy for the little girl. I think bringing the book to life gave me a real sense of accomplishment when my entire family of 10 brothers and sisters, plus nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, my son, daughters, grandchildren(total close to 100 friends and relatives who showed up for my book signing) were there. The characters in my story were named after my real brothers and sisters. My sisters cried when they heard the inspiration for the story because they remembered. (My father died in 1980). Logistically, it wasn't hard to bring the book to life because the illustrator lives in the same city I do and the publisher is only three hours away. I lucked out!

How has the book been received?

Very well. As of July, it has gone into its second printing and is on the Accelerated Reader list. I am presently working on a middle grade novel which does entail tons of research.

Cynsational News & Links

Chris Barton's blog talks about some of the contemporary picture books he's sharing with his son. I was honored to see that he'd pulled from the suggestions on my Web site.

Chris has one of the best blogs on the 'net; most recently, he drew my attention to this interview with Cheryl Klein, an associate editor with Arthur A. Levine Books on the Rocky Mountain SCBWI site. The site also features an interview with Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge, and an interview with Michele Burke, assistant editor at Knopf.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Author Interview: Kathryn Lay on Crown Me

Crown Me! by Kathryn Lay (Holiday House, 2004). From the flap copy: "Justin has always wanted to be a leader. He envisions himself as President of the United States--but he'll have to start with the fifth grade class of Payton Middle School. He's helped along by a new project in Mr. Bailey's history class, where one boy and one girl are appointed king and queen for two weeks. The other students are their subjects who must obey or be punished. There are jesters and knights to be chosen. A dungeon to be built. Chaos erupts as Justin and his followers interrupts the PTA meeting. And a bicycle joust decides whether Justin will keep his crown, or lose it to the bully of fifth grade, Badger Crabtree. Look out world, here comes King Justin!" Ages 8-up.

What was your inspiration for creating this book?

Every year my family and I go to Scarborough Faire, a rennaisance festival. Several years ago I watched a kid, about 10, standing in front of the King, hands on hips and saying, "If I was King of my school, I'd make everyone obey me, we'd have pizza in class every day, and no homework on weekends!"

So, I got to wondering...what would a kid do if he was king of fifth grade for a couple of weeks and it went from there.

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

About 6 1/2 years from when I got the idea until it was published.

After writing it, I entered the first chapters in a contest and it won. The judge, a published author, said she definitely felt it was publishable. I sent it out over a two year period, getting lots of good rejections, but no sale. Then an editor asked to see the whole manuscript after looking at a few chapters.

During a long year of waiting for response on it, an online friend kindly referred me to her agent. After she accepted me as a client, she worked on trying to get a decision from the publisher who had King of Fifth Grade. After a few more months of declared interest and promises to make a decision, my agent pulled the book.

With her wonderful insights, she suggested I change the book from third to first person. When we'd completed rewrites, she sent the book to Holiday House to an editor I'd met at a SCBWI conference and two months later we got an acceptance!

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

Making it funny with modern issues using medieval issues (jousting, feasts, a dungeon, and so on). Creating a character who is so into politics when it's definitely not my area. The variety of rewrites on my own, with my agent, and after acceptance.

Overall, this was a fun book to write and plan, the final sale was smooth and rewrite suggestions from my editors (the original editor left before final rewrites were done) were helpful. It was a great first book experience.

Cynsational Notes

Kathryn is also the author of The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer ( Publishing, 2004) and regional advisor for NE/NC Texas SCBWI.

Cynsational News & Links

BookTalk with Lynn Rubright, author of Mama's Window (Lee & Low).

The Brothers Grimm: a CBC teacher movie review by Katrina Kearney.

Greg Leitich Smith recommends Wizards at War by Diane Duane (Harcourt, 2005).

Honoring Alaska's Indigenous Literature: "The book reviews are a result of students enrolling in special topics course Ed 493 Examining Alaska Children's Literature taught by Esther A. Ilutsik in the Spring of 2004." From the Alaska Native Knowledge Nework.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Author Update: Dian Curtis Regan

Though I'd known her through an author list serv, I first met Dian Curtis Regan in person at the 25th Anniversary Conference of SCBWI in Los Angeles. We've stayed in touch since, and I've had the pleasure of visiting her at her home in Wichita.

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

Newly painted office. New art on walls. New display shelves. This is also known as “circling” AKA “getting ready to get back to writing.”

When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he prepared to begin a new novel, he responded, “First, I defrost the refrigerator.” I can relate.

In the works: New mystery anthology coming out soon from Scholastic. Picture book in production at Holiday House and board book in production at S&S. A promise to write “Twenty Years After” for the editor of Byline Magazine since I was the children’s market columnist there when my first novel sold twenty (!!!!) years ago.

Could you tell us about your new book, The World According to Kaley (Darby Creek, 2005)? What was your inspiration for creating this book?

The concept for Kaley came to me while I was living in Venezuela. My husband and I were walking into the MareMares Resort to meet other expats, and I had one of those ‘slip of the tongue’ moments that made me immediately think of it as a book idea. I don’t remember the exact comment, but it was historically anachronistic. Or maybe it was hysterical fiction.

The idea stuck with me, and I knew I’d have to do a lot of research. However there were no libraries in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, and Google was just a baby.

I’d become friends with the director of a local private school, Escuela de las Americas, so I asked if I could borrow a few history textbooks. This turned out to be the perfect solution for finding historical facts, then twisting them a bit to make them funny.

I was back in Venezuela earlier this year when I found out the book was going to be published. Nice closure.

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

I wrote the first draft in 2000. The original title was Twisted History, and Kaley was not even in it. An editor told me, “No child is going to pick up a book with the word ‘history’ in the title.” Uh, good point.

After several more drafts, the book landed in its almost-final form, but then was shelved during the long move back to the USA. I’m awfully glad I finally took it out of storage and sent it off into the world.

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

Besides figuring out how to do the research, I needed to design the chart, graph, and spot art. I am not an illustrator, but I am a closet cartoonist and have had cartoons published. I spent a lot of time working on the graphics. The publisher brought in a few 4th grade girls to recreate some of the doodles and handwriting.

The main character had three different names along the way. I think “Kaley” is a perfect fit. Also, a subplot was changed at the eleventh hour.

Lastly, it’s easy to poke fun at ancient history, but as the essays drew closer to the 20th century, I noticed that history wasn’t so funny anymore. I had to come up with a way to segue into modern times and find topics I could address in a humorous way.

How about children’s or YA books that you’ve read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

I recently revisited Stolen by the Sea by Anna Myers (Walker, 2001). It’s a haunting book, set during the 1900 Hurricane in Galveston. I kept thinking about the story all during the Katrina tragedy.

Other favorite new books:
Each Little Bird that Sings by Deborah Wiles (Harcourt, 2005).
Double Helix by Nancy Werlin (Dial, 2004).
101 Ways to Bug your Teacher by Lee Wardlaw (Dial, 2004).
Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Atheneum, 2005).

Currently reading: What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005) and Totally Joe by James Howe (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

The publisher is nudging me to write a sequel to The World According to Kaley. Kaley has already started talking to me, so I can say that the story is underway.

I’m also eager to begin an SF novel I’ve been researching for a long time. See note above about circling. Guess I’d better go see if the refrigerator needs defrosting...

Cynsational News & Links

Attention Austinites: Free Writing Workshops at Barnes & Noble Westlake—As part of its “Year of Writing” program, B&N Westlake is featuring author Susie Flatau at 7 p.m. Thurs. Sept. 22. Susie will discuss “Metaphor-Based Writing.” On Wed. Oct. 12, 2 p.m., author Pat Flathouse will present “Writing the Stories of Your Family History.” On Sat. Nov. 12, 10 a.m., author and storyteller Tim Tingle will share “From Oral Tradition to Written Stories.” And on Sat. Dec. 3, 10:30 a.m., Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will give tips on “Writing the Young Adult (aka Teen) Novel.” Source: Austin SCBWI.

Author Q&A with Ursula LeGuin by M.E. Wood from BellaOnline: The Voice of Women.

Not So Wild About Harry: Independent booksellers say latest 'Harry Potter’ book boosts store visibility, not bottom line by Laura B. Weiss from School Library Journal.

YALSA offers recommended reading for teens in light of recent disaster from the ALA. [Please continue to support Katrina survivors. Though many have responded in these early days, the need will persist. Thank you.]

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Author Update: Uma Krishnaswami

When we last visited with Uma Krishnaswami, she was anticipating the release of Yoga Class (Lee & Low, 2000) and Beyond The Field Trip (Linnet Books, 2001). In the years that followed, Uma became a break-out name in children's literature. Her picture books include Chachaji's Cup (Children's Book Press, 2003) and Monsoon (FSG, 2003). Her first novel was Naming Maya (FSG, 2004). Uma also was one of my co-contributors to Period Pieces: Stories for Girls edited by Erzsi Deak and Kristin Embry Litchman (HarperCollins, 2003).

What is new in your writing life since we last chatted?

I'm so grateful to have a writing life, to be able to keep learning and finding joy in the process. I'm teaching new classes through (manuscript workshops and a class on picture book text are particularly exciting). And I'm working with teachers at a local site of the National Writing Project. All of it comes together, so each writing or teaching project ends up forging more links even when I'm not trying to make that happen.

Do you have a new/upcoming book(s) to tell us about?

I have a new picture book out this fall, The Happiest Tree: A Yoga Story, published by Lee & Low, illustrated by Ruth Jeyaveeran. Another new picture book will be published in spring 2006, The Closet Ghosts from Children's Book Press, with illustrations by Shiraaz Bhabha. And I'm thrilled to say that Jamel Akib, who illustrated Monsoon, will be doing the artwork for another picture book from Lee & Low.

If so, could you give us some insights into how this book(s) came to be?

For quite a long time, The Happiest Tree was a theme looking for a story. I scribbled notes about yoga and theater and possible story points for months, then suddenly realized the perfect flaw for my character. She was sort of tripping around the outskirts of the story until then. You'll know how mixed up I was when I tell you that the earliest title was "Feet Up in the Air." At the time too I was struggling with a frozen shoulder, in every way a real pain. Suddenly one day I realized that the flaw Meena, in my story, needed was my own childhood clumsiness. From there on the story straightened up and began to grow its own roots.

The Closet Ghosts came out of a deliberate impulse I had to push my own writing. I wanted to try a contemporary story with a mythological character showing up in it. I'd read Jamila Gavin's short stories that do precisely that, Three Indian Goddesses, but they were written for the middle grades, and I wanted to try this in a picture book format. In the book, Anu hates her new house, her new school, her new neighborhood. Then she finds out that she has ghosts in her closet. So she calls on the Hindu monkey god Hanuman to help her get rid of them. It's been loads of fun to see it through with Children's Book Press, where the editor really understood what I was trying to do and was very patient with my tortured revision process.

How about children's or YA books that you've read lately? Which are your favorites and why?

Not the End of the World by Geraldine McCaughrean (HarperTempest, 2005).
I admire her writing greatly, have done ever since I read A Pack of Lies years ago. This one's a retelling of the Noah story from a fictional daughter's viewpoint--not an easy book to read, but a gripping book and in many ways courageous.
In the Coils of the Snake by Clare Dunkle (Henry Holt, 2005). Book III of the Hollow Kingdom Trilogy.
She paints a fantasy world in which humans exist as just another, sometimes inconsequential race. Lots of very prescient material here about war and the making of war for trifling reasons!
Finally a collection that I know you know well, Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005).

Middle grade
The Girl From Chimel, Rigoberta Menchu's stories as told to Dante Liano, with glorious pictures by Mexican artist Domi (Groundwood Books, 2005).
The voice is so clear and true you can almost hear the teller's chuckles and sighs as the stories turn. Lovely.
Thora by Gillian Johnson (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2005). Thora's a half-mermaid and that's just the beginning. Told with lots of loving energy and whimsical humor.

Picture books
The Road to Mumbai by Ruth Jeyaveeran (Houghton Mifflin, 2004).
Funny, sweet, child-centered, luminously beautiful art.
The Travels of Benjamin Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century by Uri Shulevitz (Henry Holt, 2005)[BookLoons Review; NPR excerpt].
Nonfiction with really compelling voice.
Albert by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim LaMarche (Harcourt, 2001).
Not your standard picture book. The premise is so startling and strong that it just carries the entire story and you suspend disbelief without a thought.

What are your writing goals for the immediate future?

I have more story ideas pressing their faces against the window than I know what to do with. It's always the case. I have a novel that needs conjoined twin surgery--it's really two novels in one, only I didn't know it at the time. That needs dedicated time, however, so unless I land some dream residency that will give me a month in the woods....

Oh and I'm working on a humorous picture book manuscript based on a story my father told me recently. My parents live in India and we call them once a week. When my father turned 80 he began telling me stories on the phone from time to time, urging me to write them down. Some I've heard from him before. Others are new to me. They're all wonderful, and I'm so grateful for them. I'm hoping at least one will end up working itself into a picture book.

Mind you, I'm not sure those are goals. I take tai chi classes, and I think those stories are the horizon I'm supposed to keep my eye on.

Cynsational News & Links

Monsoon by Uma Krishnaswami is one of my all-time favorite picture books.

Author Lori Aurelia Williams has a new YA novel out, Broken China (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(read an excerpt). Lori was born in Houston, graduated from the Mitchner MFA program at UT, and lives in Austin.

Thanks to kelcrocker and bravebethany (I probably was thinking of Trash!) for their comments on What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005).
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