Friday, June 16, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

My web designer/master, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys, has updated my site to be current with Cynsations for May. New features include photos of my two youngest cats, Blizzard Bentley and Galileo "Leo" Galilei, on Sebastian's page. See the cats and Sebastian's picture book selections. Then don't forget to surf to alpha Mercury Boo (who'll you'll notice doesn't dain to mention the young cats at all) and check out his kitten lit recs.

Congrats to Gregory K of GottaBook (Thoughts, opinions, and ramblings about (broadly) children's literature from my perspectives as a writer, parent, and volunteer elementary school librarian. Oh yeah, and poetry of all sorts... with lots and lots of Fibs) on his two-book deal with Scholastic/Arthur Levine.

Congrats also to Annette Simon, author-illustrator of Mocking Birdies (Simply Read Books, 2005)(recommendation), which was named to the American Institute of Graphic Arts' "50 Books/50 Covers" list, as an example of outstanding book design. The jury's selections will be mounted as a public exhibition, opening at the AIGA National Design Center in New York in September. The show will travel to AIGA chapters, student groups and galleries throughout the U.S. in 2007.

Thanks to Miss Cecil Castellucci (author interview) for cheering my upcoming gothic fantasy YA release, Tantalize (Candlewick, March 2007) at The Divine Miss Pixie Woods. In part, she says, "Vampires have never really been my thing, but Holy Moly! She made it so compelling I could not put the book down. And funny. It's funny! I really felt like I was getting a classic vampire story that was satisfying on every single level and everything about it made sense to me." Read the whole post.

And we have tons more links for your weekend reading pleasure. Enjoy!

"Can You Make It Goof-Proof?" by Shari Lyle-Soffe from Out of My Mind. An article on making your manuscript send-out ready. See June 9, 2006 post.

Candie Moonshower's Home Page: official site of the author of The Legend of Zoey (Delacorte, July 2006). Surf by to sign her guest book.

"Don't Lose That Book!" by Mark Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. An article on options for backing up manuscripts and other key documents. See also "Everything to Gain, and Nothing to Lose" by Shari Lyle-Soffe from ICL. An article on writing for online children's magazines.

Getting to Know T.A. Barron by Lori Polydoros from SCBWI. More on fantasy author T.A. Barron.

Librarians Most Wanted: "Lots of people write about what they already read, watched, or listened. But aren't you curious to know what they have on their 'to read/watch/listen to' list? And what path brought that item to their attention? This blog is your chance to find out."

David Lubar, author of Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie (Dutton, 2005)(author interview)(recommendation) has won the Thumbs Up Award from the Michigan Library Association.

Picture Book Query by Barbara Kanninen. A clear, conversational overview of picture book query writing, including a sample letter that helped land Barbara a book contract! See also Barbara's sample cover letter.

"Talking to Yourself" by Uma Krishnaswami (author interview) from Writing With A Broken Tusk. Uma talks about balancing your managerial half and your creative half in bird terms.

"Writing by the Seaside" will be held Aug. 21 to Aug. 21 in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. The faculty includes Linda Oatman High, Marty Crisp, Lois Szymanski, and Barry Lyga.

Viking Warrior by Judson Roberts (HarperCollins, 2006)(author website): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Author Feature: D. Anne Love

D. Anne Love is the award-winning author of numerous novels for middle grade readers and young adults. Her books take readers from the world of itinerant puppeteers in medieval England to the gates of the Alamo and the windswept plains of the Dakotas, from a ranch in modern-day Texas to a South Carolina plantation at the start of the Civil War. A former teacher, school principal, and university professor, She fills her stories with details gleaned from the meticulous research she conducts for each of her novels.

Her first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt (Holiday House, 1995), was featured in The Iowa Reading Journal, The Mailbox magazine, and was nominated for multiple state awards. My Lone Star Summer (Holiday House, 1997) won the Friends of American Writers Juvenile Fiction Prize. Other books received multiple nominations for state awards and are a part of state reading lists nationwide. The Puppeteer's Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003)(excerpt) was a Book of the Month Club alternate. Her recent titles include: The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005)(excerpt); Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2006)(excerpt); and Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia (Holiday House, 2006).

D. Anne holds degrees from Lamar University and the University of North Texas.

D. Anne Love on D. Anne Love: "I was born in a small town in Tennessee and grew up there, except for a short stay in Chicago the year I was five. My mother is from a very large family, so I grew up surrounded my many many aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had two brothers who hung out together, so I played mostly with the three girls who lived next door. In summer, my brothers and I would often talk Daddy into taking us to the drive-in movies. To this day, the smell of popcorn brings back memories of monster movies and technicolor comedies viewed through the windshield of Daddy's old Hudson Hornet.

"I loved reading and writing. I owned many of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Little Golden Books, and I read them till they fell apart. I loved to write stories in a spiral notebook which I kept under lock and key. At twelve, I got a diary for Christmas and started writing in it, too, but there were only four lines per day and I got frustrated trying to cram all my thoughts into such a small space.

"In college I majored in teaching and English Lit and wrote for the school newspaper to pay for my education. I spent many years as a teacher, principal, and college professor before becoming a published writer. I collected my share of rejection slips before selling my first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt, in 1995. Since then I've published a dozen books for teen and tweens. I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this work every day."

What were you like as a young reader--both in your mid grade and teen years?

In a word, voracious. I read everything I could get my hands on--biographies, novels, poetry. In mid grade, I loved Lois Lenski and read her books over and over. As a high schooler, I loved Anne Emery, Betty Cavanna, Faith Baldwin, and many authors of books for adults. By high school, I loved novels more than any other form of writing.

What inspired you to writing for this audience?

As a teacher, I had the chance to meet many authors who visited the schools where I taught. The first author I met in person was Byrd Baylor and I still have my autographed copy of her beautiful desert book, When Clay Sings [, illustrated by Tom Bahti; a Caldecott Honor Book]. I met Marc Brown before he became famous, Betty Ren Wright, Bill Wallace, and so many others.

Seeing the students' reactions to those authors, seeing how profoundly the authors' work affected the students made me want to be a part of it. It's a thrill to have a young person tell you how much they liked your story, what they gained from it. I never get tired of talking to my readers, hearing what they're thinking.

Could you describe your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I suppose one might say I began with a few stumbles and then hit a sprint. I wrote articles for magazines to get some publishing credits before I started sending out book manuscripts. At first, I thought I might write picture books, and I gathered enough rejection slips to wallpaper the Pentagon.

Finally, one wonderful editor took time to write a personal note in which she said I was a fine writer but that I wanted to tell too much detail for picture books. She encouraged me to try a novel, which would give me room to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it, with plenty of description and dialogue. The same day I received that note, I began writing the story that would become my first novel, Bess's Log Cabin Quilt. On the advice of an agent who read the completed manuscript, I sent it to Holiday House where it was acquired by the wonderful Margery Cuyler. That was the start of my career.

You work with a small publisher, Holiday House, and the imprint of a big one, McElderry at Simon & Schuster. How does your author experience vary? What do you like about each?

I've been incredibly lucky to have worked with fantastic editors at both houses, and in general the creative collaboration between author and editor is about the same. It's always a process of sharing ideas, give and take, bringing both your views into a single vision for what the books should become. The main differences between my two houses are the size of their lists and their focus--Holiday House publishes fewer titles each season and does a wonderful job of serving the school and library market; Simon & Schuster puts out hundred of titles each season and covers that market, but also focuses on bookstore sales. It's great for a writer to be so well represented in different segments of the market.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight you past few backlist books?

My latest backlist books are The Puppeteer's Apprentice (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2003) and The Secret Prince (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2005).

Set in medieval England, The Puppeteer's Apprentice is the story of a young girl who runs away from a harsh life as a servant to pursue a dream of becoming a puppeteer. On the way to finding her dream, she finds out a startling secret about her mentor, and gains a name and a place for herself in a world that was often very harsh on children, girls in particular. The inspiration for that book was a book I read on the history of the English puppet theater. The lives of itinerant entertainers in the 16th century so fascinated me that I just had to share it with my readers. That book received multiple starred reviews, including one from Kirkus that called it "a must read" and compared it to the work of Lloyd Alexander, which was a huge compliment.

The Secret Prince began as a writing exercise; I had just studied Chris Vogler's book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (Michael Wiese Productions, 1998), and wanted to try his ideas for plotting and populating a novel, which Vogler adapted from Joseph Campbell's Hero With Thousand Faces (Princeton University Press, 1990). It was great fun creating a shapeshifter, a two-headed beast, an epic quest, a turncoat warrior, a fortuneteller, a secret twin hiding in a convent, a trickster, an evil king, and mixing them altogether with a young boy charged with saving his kingdom.

I'd like to focus on your 2006 releases. Let's start with Semiprecious (Simon & Schuster/McElderry). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I'm a naturalized Texas citizen--as the old saying goes, wasn't born in Texas but got there as soon as I could--and I love writing stories set in my beloved home state. Many years ago I wrote a novel called My Lone Star Summer set in and around Austin, and I'd been wanting to write another Texas-based book ever since.

One day a voice whispered in my ear, "My name is Garnet Olivia Hubbard." And I knew right then she was from a small town in Texas. Most of my books have explored family dynamics--how parents and siblings relate to each other, how they support and disappoint one another. In Garnet's case, she has to learn how to make a new family for herself when her old one crumbles. Fortunately, she has an older sister, Opal, to lean on. Their mother Melanie calls the girls her "precious gems" not realizing that garnets and opals are classified as "semiprecious."

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

After Simon & Schuster had signed up The Secret Prince, I sent my editor proposals for two more novels. I intended to follow Prince with another historical novel, which I expected to be my editor's favorite, and I submitted the proposal for Semiprecious just as a change of pace, not really knowing how it would be received. I was surprised when Semiprecious emerged as the favorite. I began working on it right away and the whole project has been very smooth.

The only glitch was that the photo that was originally chosen for the cover wasn't available and we had to find another one that conveyed the same tone as the original. My wonderful designer Krista Vossen came up with a perfect replacement that I just love. The book comes out in July and I'm excited about it.

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

There was a bit of research involved since the story takes place in 1960, but not nearly as much as for my other historical novels. Garnet's mother wants to be a country western star, and I had to find out what songs were popular in those years. But you can find anything you need on the Internet, and I found the lyrics I needed without too much trouble.

In the story, Garnet's art teacher introduces her to the work of three important Mexican artists and so I had to research their work, a task I very much enjoyed. The greatest literary challenge was to show both sides of Melanie, to make her sympathetic despite her shortcomings. I hope I've succeeded.

Could you also tell us about Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia, illustrated by Pam Paparone (Holiday House, 2006)? Who was Hypatia, and what was it about her story that called to you?

Hypatia was a Greek, born in Alexandria, Egypt in the 4th century, C.E. She became one of the foremost mathemeticians, philosophers, and astronomers of her time in an age in which such pursuits for girls were the exception to the rule. Her father, Theon, was a mathematics professor at the university, and she worked with him to write books that explained the work of earlier mathemeticians. She advised one of her young male students on the making of the first astrolabe, a precusror to the modern day sextant. She was noted for her exceptional beauty, and died a violent death at the hands of her political enemies. She is such an accomplished and fascinating figure that I didn't want her to be forgotten. I hope her story will serve as an inspiration to todays' young girls to pursue their own interests.

I believe this is your first picture book--is that right? What inspired you to branch out from novel writing?

Yes, Of Numbers and Stars is my first picture book, and it's something of a fluke. Many years ago as I was beginning my career, I saw that Scholastic magazine was looking for articles on women and math. I had read about Hypatia and thought she'd make an interesting topic for an article. When I mentioned the idea to my then-agent, Frances Kuffel, she encouraged me to expand it into a picture book manuscript. At that time, there was a real emphasis in schools on getting more girls interested in math and science, and Frances thought a book about the first female mathemetician might be a welcome addition to school libraries and classrooms. I'm hoping that's still the case.

What were the challenges in writing to this new form? How about those in writing picture book biography specifically?

The challenge was to tell the story in just a few hundred words and still present a complete picture of Hyaptia's life. My editor at the time, Michelle Frey, who is now at Knopf, was very helpful in distilling the manuscript. Another challenge was to present enough material to give the illustrator plenty to work with. I think Pam Paparone succeeded admirably. The pictures are beautiful. Finally, in writing about someone so removed from us in time, the challenge was to present complex ideas in a way that young readers can understand.

The challenge in writing biography is to get inside your subject's head and yet to separate your own perceptions. It's a delicate balance, especially in this case when I'm writing about someone who left behind no written record, except for a few fragments of letters she exchanged with her students, so that her thoughts and feelings must be imagined. I admire Hypatia, and I hope I've done her justice.

How has your writing changed over the years?

Now that I'm writing for older readers, I'm able to write more layered, complex stories, and to explore more mature themes. Many of my first books were written in third person but I've switched to first for my last few books, and I'm finding it a good fit. I'm most comfortable in the voice of a fourteen-year-old from Texas. My 2007 book, Picture Perfect continues in that vein with Phoebe Trask, the daughter of a judge. in a small Texas town, telling the story.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read everything, not just in the genre in which you hope to publish. Read biography, history, philosophy, novels for adults as well as young people. Expect your first, second, third, fourth, and fifth drafts to be really lousy.

I once heard Avi say that if you write something down, read it and think "hey, this is really good!" you are in deep trouble. When you finish a manuscript, put it aside for as long as possible--three months or more and work on something else.

Then go back to the first ms and you'll see its flaws much more clearly. You'll be soooo glad you resisted the urge to send it out before the ink was dry on the page.

Finally, develop a thick skin; you will be rejected. Not every idea you have will resonate with your editor. Know that it's just a business decision and not personal. Stay professional in all your dealings with editors. Never stop learning about your craft. Take joy in the process of creating stories, love your work, believe in your characters, and the sales will come. It just takes time.

How about those building a career?

All of the above, plus developing a strategic plan for your career long term. Have a clear picture of what you'd like to accomplish in five years, and in ten. Building a career as an author is an excrutiatingly slow process. Even after a dozen books I am still working to connect with readers, libaraians, booksellers. It's a constant process of staying connected with the business, building relationships with people in the various segments of publishing. Luckily I love talking to everybody associated with making and selling books. But it is time-consuming.

How about fantasy writers in particular?

I think the challenge in fantasy now, since the popularity of the Potter books and the "Lord of the Rings" movies is to come up with fresh concepts that haven't been overdone. We don't need more books about wizards in training; maybe we don't even need more quest stories. The great thing about writing fantasy is that one is limited only by his or her own imagination, so strive to come up with something that is truly fresh and original.

What are some of your favorite recent reads for children and young adults?

I have to begin with Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Knopf, 2006)(excerpt), the brilliant new book coauthored by my friend Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. The voices are so strong and original, it's impossible to stop reading. Because of the mature language this is not a book for young teens, but it is very compelling for older readers.

Chicken Boy by Frances O'Roark Dowell (Atheneum, 2005)(excerpt), who wrote the beautiful Edgar winner Dovey Coe (Atheneum, 2000)(excerpt) a few years back. What a fine writer she is.

I also loved How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Random House/Wendy Lamb Books, 2004)(excerpt), The Truth about Forever by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2004), and Rebel Angels by Libba Bray (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview)(excerpt). I just finished this year's Newbery winner, Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow, 2005), which I enjoyed for its quirkiness.

Do you do presentations, classes or other events?

Yes, all of the above. I'm teaching some classes this summer, speaking at a number of writers' conferences, and appearing at the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis this fall. Next year I'll be speaking at literature conferences in Missouri and Iowa, teaching a class in Austin, and giving a guest lecture for students in the MFA program at Hollins University in Virginia.

If so, what audiences do you target? What do you offer? How can planners get into contact with you?

For schools, I speak to students in grades three and up. I offer general presentations on writing and my books, and often pair those talks with small- group writing exercises, book signings, and readings. I work with each school to tailor a program that enhances their curriculum or fits a theme.

For writers organizations, such as SCBWI, and for conferences, I offer a variety of workshops on various aspects of writng the novel, working with agents and editors. I work with the conference planners to identify a topic that will best fit the needs of attendees. I can be contacted through my website. Click on the Let's Talk button to get to my e-mail.

What do you do when you're not writing, reading or speaking?

Watch old movies or go out to dinner with my husband, walk my golden retriever, call my friends and family members scatterd all over the country to catch up on news. My older brother is building a vacation house on the Tennessee river, and I call him to see how the construction is coming along. A couple of years ago I trained for the Keep Austin Weird 5K race and enjoyed it so much I try to stay in shape for 5K events by walking every day. It helps clear my mind; some of my best ideas have come while I'm out exercising. I love all kinds of live music and go to concerts when I can; last year I saw Paul McCartney and BB King; and a couple of weeks ago I saw Faith Hill and Tim McGraw kick off their new Soul 2 Soul tour. Willie Nelson is coming here in August and I'm hoping to see him; he keeps me connected to my beloved Austin...

What can your fans look forward to next?

Picture Perfect (Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 2007) is a YA about a small town Texas girl as she negotiates the first tricky year of high school and deals with the changing dynamics in her family. A Little Rebellion (working title, may change)(Simon and Schuster/McElderry, 2008) is a YA about a high school freshman who struggles to reclaim her life after an episode of bullying.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Author K.L. Going Launches Online Forums, Interviews Agent Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown

K.L. Going has launched online forums, hosted at her website at

Topics include: K.L.'s books; her latest news; books and reading generally; games, movies, TV, music; writing; and an opportunity to share your own website, MySpace, etc. ("brag about yourself here").

"One of the things I like about it is that it's a truly intergenerational forum," K.L. said. "I've got ten year old kids, teens, and adults posting. You don't find this very often since most forums are targeted to specific groups like writers, teens, librarians, etc. But I'm hoping this can continue to work so discussion remains open across the ages."

These forums highlight K.L.'s recent site redesign, which includes teachers' resource pages, a writers' resource page, all new book recommendations and links as well as a revamped home page and events page.

The featured "Very Cool Person of the Month" is Justina Chen Headley, author of Nothing But The Truth (And a Few White Lies)(Little Brown, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview).

The highlight of the Writer's Resource page is a new interview with agent Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd (scroll to read).

K.L. is the author of the ALA Printz Honor Book Fat Kind Rules The World (Putnam, 2003)(excerpt), The Liberation of Gabriel King (Putnam, 2005)(excerpt), and St. Iggy (Harcourt, 2006)(excerpt).

Cynsational Notes

K.L. Going also offers a critique service that provides two-pages of feedback, plus comments on the manuscript. E-mail her for information on rates and availability.

Read a recent Cynsations interview with K.L. Going.

Recommendation of The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going from Renee Kirchner of

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Bank Street has posted its recommended teen reads of 2005. Highlights include: All Rivers Flow to the Sea by Alison McGhee (Candlewick); Anyone But You by Lara Zeises (Delacorte, 2005)(author interview)(recommendation); Boy Girl Boy by Ron Koertge (Harcourt)(author interview); The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (Delacorte)(author interview)(recommendation); The Perfect Shot by Elaine Marie Alphin (Carolrhoda); Pinned by Alfred C. Martino (Harcourt)(recommendation); Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking)(recommendation); A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt)(author interview)(recommendation); Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D.L. Garfinkle (Putnam)(author interview); Strong at Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse by Carolyn Lehman (FSG). See the complete list.

The Bookstore Tourism Blog: Larry Portzline is the creator of the grassroots "Bookstore Tourism" movement. In 2006 he will launch the National Council on Bookstore Tourism, a non-profit organization that will partner with booksellers, the travel industry, arts organizations and government agencies across the U.S. to promote the concept. Cyn Note: I learned of this blog from the Book Promotion Newsletter by Francine Silverman.

Congratulations to Sarah Aronson of Sarah Goes To School on handing in her last packet in pursuit of her M.F.A. degree in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College.

Hillside Lullaby by Hope Vestergaard, illustrated by Margie Moore (Dutton, 2006). Kirkus says, "A must for every child with a window to the great outdoors and a heart that will listen to nature's song." Listen to the text with music--a great way to study rhyme! Music by Ben Hill, performed by LaCretta Ross.

Rejection Collection: the writer's and artist's online source for misery, commiseration, and inspiration.

Thanks to LJ reader slayground at Five Six Seven Eight for her cheers on my recent interview with YA author Marsha Qualey. See her exclusive author interviews.

The Writer and The Hawk: a lovely essay about writing and soaring by Susan Taylor Brown (author interview) from Once Upon A Time There Was A Girl Who Wanted To Write (That Would Be Me).

The guest at the June 13 YA Authors Cafe will be Elise Broach (author interview). Elise Broach is the author of the teen novel Desert Crossing (Henry Holt, 2006), as well as Shakespeare's Secret (Henry Holt, 2005)(recommendation) and several picture books. She lives with her family in Easton, Connecticut. The chat will be held on Tuesday, June 13 at 8:30 p.m. EST, 5:30 Pacific. Go to and click the cafe chatroom icon to enter.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Author Update: Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park is the winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal for A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001). Linda Sue's titles include Seesaw Girl (Clarion, 1999), The Kite Fighters (Clarion, 2000), When My Name Was Keoko (Clarion, 2002). She also has published several picture books--The Firekeeper's Son (Clarion, 2004); Mung-Mung (Charlesbridge, 2004); Bee-Bim-Bop! (Clarion, 2004); What Does Bunny See? (Clarion, 2005); Yum! Yuk! (Charlesbridge, 2005) as well as a contemporary novel, Project Mulberry (Clarion, 2005) and a fantasy novel, Archer's Quest (Clarion, 2006). I last interviewed Linda Sue in March 2002. Read Linda Sue's LiveJournal.

Linda Sue Park on Linda Sue Park: "I was born to Korean-immigrant parents in Urbana, Illinois, and grew up outside Chicago. Since then I have lived in California, Chicago, Dublin (Ireland), London, Brooklyn, and now Rochester, New York. I'm married and have two almost-grown children (one in college, one in high school) and a not-very-bright but loveable dog (Fergus, a Border Terrier).

"My job as a children's writer means that I spend a lot of my time reading, writing, thinking, traveling, and speaking. In my spare time, I like to watch birds, movies, and sports (especially baseball, football, and soccer); cook and give dinner parties; knit; and pester my children. For exercise I do about an hour of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) every day."

I last interviewed you in winter of 2002, shortly after A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001) was named winner of the Newbery Medal. Looking back, how did that change your career? Did it affect the way you approached the writing itself? Why or why not? And if so, how?

The biggest effect was on speaking opportunities. Literally overnight, I went from seeking out invitations to being swamped by them. I love traveling, and I love meeting and talking to people about books, so I do spend a fair amount of time on the conference circuit. It's sometimes difficult to balance the time I spend on the road with time at home for writing and family, but I know how lucky I am to have those kinds of decisions to make.

Other than the time factor (less time for writing), I can't really say how the award affected my writing. When I sit down and stare at that blank screen, it feels the same as it did before--it hasn't gotten one bit easier!

Though I'd like to focus on your latest title, let's catch up on those that came between the two interviews. Why don't we start with When My Name Was Keoko (Clarion, 2002)? Could you tell us a bit about the book and especially your research process in writing it? What about the past calls to you?

Keoko grew directly out of conversations I had with my parents. Sometime after I finished A Single Shard, they told me stories about their childhoods in Korea during World War II--amazing stories that I had never heard before. I was immediately inspired to write about them.

Although it was my fourth historical-fiction project, it was the first time I had primary sources available to me. I interviewed my parents and other family members as well as some of their friends. I read journals and diaries of people who had lived through the era. I looked at a lot of photographs. Sometimes the material was overwhelming--there was so much of it compared to what was available for my other books, which are all set further back in the past. Between the research and the technical problems I had with the book--it is written from two different points of view, which was a challenge structurally--it was by far the most difficult of my books to write.

Could you briefly describe your most recent picture books and tell us what drew you to the projects?

Bee-bim Bop! (Clarion, 2005) has a rhyming text with illustrations by Ho Baek Lee. As I mentioned earlier, I love food and I love to cook. In the back of my mind I always knew that I'd eventually write a picture book about food. Bee-bim bop (also spelled bibim bap) is a natural subject: The word is fun to say and the dish is fun to prepare and eat! It took me a couple of years to write the text, working on it on and off, because the structure I had chosen meant I had to find a bunch of rhymes for "bop," and I wanted to make sure they weren't forced. This book has proven to be a great read-aloud; I've read it to groups of as many as 500 kids at a time and we have a lot of fun yelling out the chorus together.

Yum! Yuck!, coauthored by Julia Durango and illustrated by Sue Rama (Charlesbridge, 2005), is a companion title to Mung-mung! (Charlesbridge, 2004). The latter is a book of animal sounds from around the world, and was the direct result of my work teaching English as a Second Language. I was delighted to learn that the sounds people make when imitating animals varies around the world, and I would use this as an ice-breaker during my first classes with students, i.e., "What does a dog say in your country?"

After Mung-Mung came out, Charlesbridge asked if I had any ideas for a follow up title. Julia and I had worked on a bilingual Spanish-English text on emotional expressions. We took that idea and both simplified and expanded it: Instead of Spanish-English, the text now includes at least twenty languages from all over the world. But it's only 40 words total! The illustrations carry a storyline in which children express different reactions: surprise, dismay, joy, and so on. It is a gatefold book, so there is a guessing-game aspect as well. And Sue Rama's illustrations are wonderful.

It also was a treat to read Project Mulberry (Clarion, 2005), which was your first contemporary novel. It's also a book in which your own voice (as the author) is heard. How did this format evolve? What about it intrigued you?

I am not one of those writers who can say, "My characters talk to me." Alas, as a rule, my characters maintain an absolute silence. Perhaps this is because I am very conscious of writing as a craft, as the act of choosing one word after another. But when I was writing Mulberry, Julia started to talk to me.

My initial response was shock, followed by delight and fascination, and eventually, annoyance and frustration--because she never shut up! I thought it was because I wasn't writing fast enough for her. So whenever I got stuck, I started writing down our conversations in script form. Often, this exercise would get me unstuck, and I'd be able to keep going. This happened so often that the conversations began to feel like part of the story.

Initially our dialogues were sprinkled throughout the book, in three- or four-line segments. My editor found that this interrupted the flow of the narrative to its detriment. She said that if I wanted to keep the dialogues, I had to find some other way to make them work. So I put the shorter segments together into longer passages that were inserted between chapters.

Congratulations on the release of Archer's Quest (Clarion, 2006)(excerpt)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I don't think there was any single source of inspiration; rather, a lot of things came together at once. I love reading fantasy; I've always enjoyed time-travel stories; and of course I have an interest in Korean folk tales. These elements gave me the basis for the story: 12-year-old Kevin has an unexpected visitor, who turns out to be a warrior-king from ancient Korea, and Kevin has to figure out a way to help the king return to his own time and place.

However, the actual spark for the book was a technical question. I was talking to another author, Vivian Vande Velde (author interview), about time span in novels for young people. I said that all of my novels took place over a period of several months or even years. She said that all of her books took place in less than a week! I was intrigued by this difference in our work, and right then and there I decided I wanted to try to write a book that would take place in a very short span of time--less than a day. Archer's Quest takes place almost entirely within one afternoon. I love thinking about how the technical aspects of writing can affect a story.

Because of the adventure and fun relationship between Kevin and Archer, the novel is a great choice for reluctant readers, but its seamless integration of math, history, etc. also makes it a good pick for strong ones. Oddly, it seems that there aren't enough books that really challenge kids to think. Why do you think this is? Do we have a tendency to underestimate the audience?

Hmmmm...I guess I'm always finding books that make me think, in both the adult and children's market. And of course there are people from all walks of life who underestimate young people; writers are no exception! When I write, I'm aware that people read for many different reasons, and it's not possible for any one book to satisfy every reader, so I don't even try. The only thing I can do is to write a story that interests me, and that includes challenging me intellectually. Then I hope there will be other readers out there who share my taste.

(Incidentally, I'm not very good at math...I had to work really hard on the math problem in Archer's Quest, and I had my number-fluent son check it for me!)

Since Potter-mania hit, I've been inundated with requests for fantasy recommendations. There are so many wonderful books in this area for kids. But the challenge has been trying to identify fantasies that feature non-white protagonists and/or casts. Clearly, more and more diversity is reflected in high quality literary trade titles for young readers. However, in fantasy (as well as in science fiction, mystery, and horror), it seems we're dragging behind. Do you think I'm on-base about this? If so, why do you think it is? With the assumption that we want only the best books to fill the gap, do you think such diversity in these genres is important? Why or why not?

I don't think this is a "new" problem; for example, for years now I've been hearing about the need for books with black characters in which their race is not the "issue," the book's central focus; that we need characters of color in picture books, school stories, mysteries--whatever. Ironically, I take some comfort from this concern because I think it indicates progress. Not too long ago, it wasn't easy to find characters of color in books; when they finally did show up there were lots of stereotypes and misinformation. Eventually we got books focusing on characters whose color was important to the story. And now at last it seems we're getting ready to go beyond that, to stories where a person's ethnicity is a part but not the sum of them.

It makes complete sense to me that this process has taken longer to filter through to the various genres of fiction. Both fantasy and science fiction generally posit the protagonist as an "other," amid races and species that are not of this world. Some writers whose lives are lived as part of the majority might feel that they have to leave the real world, as it were, in order to place their characters in environs of alienation. But writers of color didn't need to do that--we've got plenty of alienation right here, thank you very much. As we continue to get more comfortable in the mainstream of both life and literature, I think you'll see more characters of color in other genres. These things take time...

You've published books for young readers at various age levels as well as contemporary stories, historicals, and with Archer's Quest, a fantasy. It's clear you're not content to stand still creatively. Can you tell us about the range of your body of work? At this point in your career, do you still find it scary to try new things? How has your writing grown and changed over the years?

My writing is first and foremost and always a reflection of what I love to read. I like to say that I'll read anything, as long as it's good! Because I read all over the map, both age- and genre-wise, I tend to get interested in writing all over the map too. I feel fortunate that I've been able to publish books and stories and poems across both the adult and children's spectrum.

Scary? Interesting. When I try writing something different, I don't think of it as scary--I think of it as exciting, a challenge. Mostly because I'm not afraid of failing: If I write something really terrible, nobody sees it but me!

Publishing something different, I guess that's a little scarier. But in a way, it's not my problem. It's the editor/publisher who decides whether a manuscript will become a book or not, which takes the ball out of my court.

Sometimes folks are surprised to hear that I received rejections even after Shard won the Newbery. Rejections are always disappointing, of course, but with every project I learn something about myself, about reading or writing, so I never consider any rejected project a waste of time.

I'm not sure how my writing has grown or changed in itself, but I do know that I've become more conscious of technique and craft. Not so much when I'm writing, although there are definitely certain points that I keep in mind as I work; for example, I think a lot about structure and scene. But the biggest change has been after I finish--because now people ask me how I came to write my books.

I confess that at first I was dumbfounded by those kinds of questions, because my only answer seemed to be something like, "Well, I had a story in my head, and I typed a word, and then I typed another word, and I kept doing that until it was done." I learned that people were not very happy with this kind of response, so I've had to reflect on how I write and come up with some specifics.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?


How about those building a career?

Oh dear. Not good at this question. I do know that when I first started out, my children were young and I still had a day job. I made the decision not to worry about marketing my work; I just didn't have the time. Instead I concentrated on making the next book as good as it could possibly be. This strategy worked, but of course it wasn't through my own doing--I was very lucky.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I've written a poetry collection for young people--a book of sijo (the working title is "Tap-Dancing on the Roof" and it will be published by Clarion). Sijo is a traditional Korean verse form, akin to Japanese haiku--three lines and a syllabic structure, but each line is longer than in a haiku. It is currently being illustrated, so it probably won't be out for another year or two, but I'm really looking forward to sharing it with readers!

Cynsational Notes

Beyond the Newbery with Linda Sue Park from the Institute of Children's Literature. Transcript of a Feb. 19, 2004 chat.
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