Thursday, January 26, 2006

Author Interview: Tim Wynne-Jones on A Thief in the House of Memory

A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar, 2005). From the promotional copy: "It's been six years since sixteen-year-old Dec's free-spirited mother, Lindy, disappeared. Dec feels so trapped in the present, he's avoided examining his past. But when an intruder dies in the museum-like family home, the man's death sends forth tremors that reawaken forgotten memories. Suddenly Dec is flooded with visions of his mother so tangible it's hard to believe they're not real. At least Dec has his best friend - gifted, funny Ezra - to help him sort out what's real and what isn't. But as Dec's dream visions of his mother turn into nightmares, Ezra announces he's going away, leaving Dec haunted by questions that must be answered. What did happen to his mother? And who really is the thief in the house of memory? In this masterful new novel, Tim Wynne-Jones explores with wit, compassion, and humor the fictional territory he knows best - the prickly ties that bind families, the murky connections between imagination and real life."

What was the initial inspiration for creating this book?

I guess the initial inspiration came over twenty years ago when I was an instructor at a writing workshop at the Banff School of Arts in the Canadian Rockies. A thirty-something student wrote a memoir of when she was a little girl of five or six, playing with her dolls in the front hall of the house and catching bits of stray conversation between her dad and mom as they came and went. It was very vivid and very tense. In the middle of the class response, the student suddenly burst out, "Oh, my mother was having an affair!" Ever since then, I've been fascinated by the idea that if you can recall, accurately and deeply, an event from your childhood, your mature mind will be able to interpret data that your young mind could not have understood. That's the basis of Thief.

I guess I'm also obsessed by House since we never stayed in one place more than a couple of years when I was growing up. I don't think of myself as being very material but I am aware that there is a lot of stuff from my past that has been left behind -- stuff full of memories.

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

It took a year and ten months to write Thief and thirteen drafts. I usually start to write a novel when I have a scene or an image that intrigues me and a character I like. I never plot or outline -- I want the story to unfold as I write. But in this case, I had an "idea." Hmmm. Sounds good but where to begin? Here's the idea conceived while washing the dishes: What if you used to live in a house so big that you never had to throw anything away and so you had every pair of shoes you ever owned, and every halloween costume, etcetera. But you moved out of the house when your mother left and now, when you return, you find a dead body in the front hall.

Thief came out a dry period (The well was good and empty!) where I had written two novels -- one adult, one young adult -- both of which were soundly rejected. After twenty-four books, rejection letters are a little disturbing. So I was on the rebound, so to speak, and wrote very gingerly. I wasn't exactly insecure but smarting. The thing was, I knew I was in the zone with this -- it was my kind of book. But it wasn't an easy book to unlock.

Major events? I started teaching at Vermont College. How great is that?

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

Oops! I guess my last answer already addressed the major challenge question. But let me explain further. The biggest problem was in creating a believable set of characters to act out this little drama. Idea can be a stranglehold. Like Theme, it can be very dry and lifeless. My protagonist went through a lengthy casting session before Declan came along. His precursor, Ray, was really boring and didn't have any friends. Finding some friends helped me to understand who he really was. It seems weird, after the fact, to realize how long it took to come up with him wanting to be an architect when he grew up, since that was my fondest dream from the age of eleven. It worked perfectly in this story. I also struggled with motivation, until I introduced Dec's step mother. Suddenly, I realized I had a Dad who lived in the past, a new mom who lived in the present and a protagonist who longed for the future and somehow that helped me get the sparks flying.

I also got hung up on the logistics of an inquest into a suspicious death. I didn't want to bring the cops into the story and in trying to avoid that I got hugely lost! When I finally talked to a coroner about how such a case might be handled, with regards to a minor, especially, I realized that there was a technical loop hole that worked perfectly for me. Dec could be blocked from attending the inquest. Yahoo! A little research can save you a whole lot of trouble.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Author Interview: Lori M. Carlson on Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today

Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories For Today, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (Harper, 2005). Features "A Real-Live Blond Cherokee And His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" by Cynthia Leitich Smith; other contributing authors: Joy Harjo; Sherman Alexie; Richard Van Camp; Linda Hogan; Joseph Bruchac; Louise Erdrich; Susan Power; Greg Sarris; and Lee Francis. See also Lori M. Carlson on Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young And Latino in the United States (Henry Holt, 2005). See also Lori Marie Carlson on Red Hot Salsa (Holt, 2005).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this anthology?

I was inspired to create Moccasin Thunder a long time ago, after I gave a talk at a New York Library Association convention in Saratoga Springs. I was talking about the need for good young adult fiction that spoke to kids of all ethnicities and races in America. A librarian from Buffalo asked if I would do a book of Native American stories for teens. Actually I had wanted to do such a book in the early 90's but I was afraid that my motives would be questioned by some politically correct critic. (I could just hear someone scoffing, "What does a woman of Swedish and Italian ancestry know about the Native Amemerican experience." That sort of comment.) So even though I had the intention of doing a book like Moccasin Thunder for quite some time, I had let fear get in the way of acting on my intention, of trying to do some good. One day, I let my fear fly away. And I sat down at my desk and began to write a proposal.

I decided to focus on stories because storytelling is so important to Native American cultures. And I felt, too, that there was a real need for a book that explained Native American teens' feelings, situations, hopes, dreams, fears, loves, grievances in an anthology format for all American teens. I wanted to edit a book of truly contemporary stories that revealed the truth about Native American experience in the United States today, stories that shouted "We are here and WE MATTER."

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

Quite a few years passed from spark to publication because there were some unforeseen inhouse events at HarperCollins that slowed down publication. But I really do believe that books are born when the moment is just right. I am happy that Moccasin Thunder came out in 2005, as for me personally it was a very difficult year and the book's publication gave me cause for joy.

What were the challenges in bringing it to life?

Honestly, this book was a kind of blessing and gift. Every single writer who contributed to Moccasin Thunder enriched my life by sharing words of wisdom, thoughts about living, kindness, and artistry. I remember getting off the phone with Lee Francis, thinking "This man's voice is so beautiful and strong...what music!"

If there were challenges in bringing it to life I wasn't aware of them, as doing this book was like praying. A deeply moving experience.

Cynsational News & Links

Promote It Yourself: With Book Sales Flat, Authors Find Creative Ways to Pitch Their Offerings by Kerry A. Dolan from

The 2006 Sidney Taylor Awards and Notable Children's Books of Jewish Content (PDF file) include Hanukkah, Shmanukkah!, by Esmé Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview) and Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses, and Crescents by Mark Podwal (Doubleday, 2005)(recommendation).

The Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction went to Louise Erdrich for The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005).

Teacher Guides: Author, Poet, Teacher from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Lots of new guides! Don't miss this wonderful resource! See picture books, middle grade, and young adult!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers

"YALSA has announced its 2006 annual recommended list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers." Highlights include: Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States edited by Lori M. Carlson (Henry Holt, 2005)(author interview); Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2005); Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview); The Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs, and Me, Ruby Oliver by E. Lockhart (Random House, 2005)(author interview); Twilight: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown, 2005); and Broken China by Lori Aurelia Williams (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(2000 author interview).

ALA BBYA and Selected Audio Books

Best Books for Young Adults 2006 from the American Library Association. Highlights include: Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard (Roaring Brook, 2005); Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview); Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac (Dial, 2005)(author interview); Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview); Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar (Dutton, 2005)(author interview); Twilight: A Novel by Stephanie Meyer (Little Brown, 2005); A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Holt, 2005)(author interview); The Lighning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005)(author interview); Peeps by Scott Westerfeld (Razorbill, 2005); Sandpiper by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2005)(author interview); and A Thief in the House of Memory by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar, 2005). The Top Ten List also was posted.

2006 Selected Audio Books for Young Adults from the American Library Association. Highlights include “Prom,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, read by Katherine Kellgren (Recorded Books, 2005) and “The Truth About Sparrows,” by Marian Hale, read by Emily Janice Card (Listening Library, 2005).

The Center for Children's Books Announces the Winner of the 2006 Gryphon Award

The Center for Children's Books at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana is pleased to announce that the annual Gryphon Award for Children's Literature has been given to Michelle Edwards for her easy-to-read book, Stinky Stern Forever (Harcourt, 2005), illustrated by the author.

Three honor books, representing a diversity of styles, were also named: Jigsaw Pony by Jessie Haas (Greenwillow, 2005), illustrated by Ying-Hwa Hu; Babymouse: Queen of the World! written and illustrated by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2005)(illustrator interview); and Chameleon, Chameleon by Joy Cowley (Scholastic, 2005), illustrated with photographs by Nic Bishop.

The Gryphon Award, which comes with a $1,000 prize, is given annually to the author of an outstanding English language work of fiction or non-fiction for which the primary audience is children in Kindergarten through Grade 4. The title chosen best exemplifies those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers.

The Gryphon Award was started in 2004 as a way to focus attention on transitional reading, an area of literature for youth that, despite being crucial to the successful transition of children from new readers to independent lifelong readers, does not receive the critical recognition it deserves.

The award is sponsored by the Center for Children's Books at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and funded by the Center for Children's Books Outreach Endowment Fund. Income from the endowed fund supports outreach activities for the Center for Children's Books in general and the Gryphon Award for children's literature. Gifts may be made to the Fund.

See more information about the Center and the award.

Cynsational News & Links

"I Write What I Am" by Vicki Cobb from the Children's Book Council. "Vicki Cobb is the well-known author of more than eighty highly entertaining nonfiction books for children."

Non-fiction Submissions Editors Love with Cricket Group editors Heather Delabre and Paula Morrow from the Institute of Children's Literature.

Teen Angels: a bestselling novelist [Libba Bray] on why boys aren’t the only ones who like sci-fi, and how writing helped her survive a tough adolescence by Nicole Joseph from Newsweek. Note: I learned of this link on Big A little a. Read a Cynsations interview with Libba Bray.

Monday, January 23, 2006

ALA Award Cheers

Children's and YA literature circles are abuzz today with the award winners announced by the American Library Association. Read the press release for full information.

I'd like to send out particular congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson, the author of Newbery Honor Book Show Way, illustrated by Hudson Talbott (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005). Jackie also was named recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award (for lifetime contribution to teen literature).

In addition, I'd like to cheer Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (author interview), Pura Belpré Honor Author of César: ¡Sí, Se Puede! Yes, We Can!, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2005). By the way, David Diaz also earned a Belpré illustrator honor for this same title.

I also was pleased to see that Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (recommendation), illustrated by Raul Colón and written by Pat Mora (Knopf, 2005) took the Belpré Illustrator Medal.

Bravo to all the winners and honor recipients!

Cynsational Notes

Two recent author interviewees on Cynsations recommended Show Way among the best of their recent reads: Esmé Raji Codell and Justina Chen Headley.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tips for Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week: First Week in February

Check your library copy of Chase’s Annual Events and among such upcoming celebrations as American Chocolate Week and National Week of Student Action, you will find Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week (CAIW), annually the first week in February.

This week was started several years ago by authors and illustrators in Children’s Authors Network (CAN!), who wanted to celebrate the school visits, library programs, and hands-on workshops that authors and illustrators do to inspire a life-long love of reading and writing. Visit for a list of tips to help share your love of books with children.

Parents & Caregivers

TALK with your child’s librarian or a local children’s bookseller. They can recommend the perfect books for your child’s age and reading level.

VISIT independent bookstores and children’s specialty bookstores. These stores typically have a large, diverse selection, as well as books by local authors. See if you and your child can discover a new author this week!

WRITE a letter (or an email) with your child to a favorite author or illustrator. Most authors now have web sites with contact information. If you can’t find an address, send the letter to the publisher. Publishers usually won’t give out an author’s address, but they are happy to forward mail. Just address the envelope to the author in care of the publisher.

ORGANIZE an author visit at your child’s school. Most children’s authors give presentations and/or conduct writing workshops at schools. The school will likely need volunteers to help with fund-raising (fees vary depending on the author) and handling book sales. A step-by-step guide to hosting an author is available on the Children’s Authors Network (CAN!) web site at A visiting author can inspire even a reluctant reader to pick up a book!

ATTEND a bookstore or library event featuring a children’s author or illustrator. These events are terrific ways for kids to meet an author or illustrator in an informal setting, ask questions, and perhaps come away with some writing or drawing tips.

READ as a family. Reading together is fun and helps create enthusiastic, strong readers. Even older children enjoy being read to, and they may want to take turns reading to younger siblings. So, turn off the TV, gather the family, and spend some time enjoying children’s books together!

Teachers & Librarians

HELP children write letters to favorite authors and illustrators. Most authors now have web sites with contact information. If you can’t find an address, send the letter to the publisher. Publishers usually won’t give out an author’s address, but they are happy to forward mail. Just address the envelope to the author in care of the publisher. Organize an author visit at your school or library. Most children’s authors give presentations and/or conduct writing workshops at schools and libraries. They can talk about their books, give tips for aspiring writers, and host informal question and answer sessions. Fees vary depending on the author. A step-by-step guide to hosting an author is available on the Children’s Authors Network (CAN!) web site at A visiting author can inspire even a reluctant reader to pick up a book!

CREATE a display of books by authors and/or illustrators in your local area or state. Invite one or more of these authors to give a presentation in your classroom or library.

ORGANIZE a "Mock Newbery" Book Club. These clubs meet periodically to read and discuss books they consider contenders for the Newbery award. Usually, a librarian chooses a few titles, and the children choose the rest (in keeping with the Newbery guidelines). The club votes on a winner in early January (before the actual Newbery is awarded) and awards a "Mock Newbery" prize. The club writes letters to nominated authors and, of course, to the winner.

GENERATE a newsletter or flyer with information on local/state authors and illustrators. Include a list of local events during Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week (such as special library events, author appearances at bookstores, etc.). Enlist the help of older children–they can conduct phone or email interviews with the authors/illustrators and help produce the newsletter.

DISPLAY a list of author web sites next to your computer stations (or have one available at the circulation desk). Encourage interested children to visit these sites and drop their favorite authors an email message. For more information about children’s authors and illustrators, visit the CAN! web site at and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators at

Vermont College MFA Ketchum-Smith Workshop Bibliography

I had the honor of leading a workshop with author Liza Ketchum in conjunction with the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults this past month. The following titles arose during our discussions with students during the sessions:

The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1) by Jonathan Stroud (Miramax, 2003).

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000).

Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2004).

Big Mama Makes The World by Phyllis Root (Walker, 2002).

The Counterfeit Princess by Jane Resh Thomas (Clarion, 2005).

Elephants Aloft by Kathi Appelt (Voyager, 1997)(author interview).

Freewill by Chris Lynch (HarperCollins, 2001).

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 2002)(35th Anniversary Edition).

Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (HarperCollins, 1947).

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech (Joanna Cotler, 2003).

Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by John Manders (Candlewick, 2005)(author-illustrator interview).

The House That Jill Built by Phyllis Root (Walker, 2005).

How the Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont (HarperCollins, 1982).

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch (Atheneum, 2005).

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke (The Chicken House, 2005).

The Killer's Cousin by Nancy Werlin (Delacorte, 1998)(author interview).

Knots and Crosses (An Inspector Rebus Novel) by Ian Rankin (Doubleday, 1987).

The Legend of the Valentine by Katherine Grace Bond, illustrated by Don Tate (Zondervan Publishing House, 2002)(illustrator interview).

The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going (Putnam, 2005)(author interview).

The Long Night of Leo and Bree by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2002)(author interview).

Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles (Gulliver, 2001).

Muskrat Will by Swimming by Cheryl Savageau, illustrated by Robert Hynes, featuring a Seneca traditional story retold by Joseph Bruchac (Northland, 1996).

Napping House by Don and Audrey Wood (Harcourt, 1994).

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson (Bodley Head, 2005).

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (Harcourt, 2003).

Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi (Clarion, 1996)(author interview).

Preston Falls by David Gates (Knopf, 1998).

The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan (Red Fox, 2000).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001).

Rosa Sola by Carmen A. Martino (Candlewick, 2005)(author interview).

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking adult, 2002)(Good Morning America edition).

Sketches from a Spy Tree by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, illustrated by Andrew Glass (Clarion, 2005).

Smoky Night by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz (Harcourt, 1994).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999).

Subway by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Karen Katz (Viking, 2004).

A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse (Hyperion, 2000)(revised edition).

The Trolls by Polly Horvath (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001).

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (Joanna Cotler, 1994).

What I Believe by Norma Fox Mazer (Harcourt, 2005)(author interview).

What Is Goodbye? by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Raul Colon (Hyperion, 2004).

What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (Front Street, 1995).

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial, 2000).

Additional authors mentioned: Jane Kurtz (author interview); Linda Sue Park (author interview); Valerie Worth.

Cynsational Notes

Unfortunately, the above listing isn't complete due to title fragments, inaccuracies, and/or my occasional inability to read my own handwriting.

While I'm on the subject of bibliographies, please note that I'm seeking suggestions for a list of young adult novels featuring a protagonist from the United States whose story takes place in another country. Any suggestions appreciated. Thanks!

Cynsational News & Links

An excerpt of Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown (Tricycle, 2006) is now available as a PDF file on her Web site.
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