Friday, November 03, 2006

Cynsational News & Links

Wee Ones magazine praises the Santa Knows. (Dutton, 2006) for the "bright illustrations," "comical and expressive faces," and calls it a "sweet story." Read the whole review.

Also Wee Ones is sponsoring a book giveaway (scroll for info)! Enter the contest to win a Christmas collection of books--Santa Knows, My Tiny Book of Christmas, Christmas Turtles and Christmas in the Candle Factory.

What's more, Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006) is a "cute takeoff on the Grinch story," according to Nancy Williams at She adds, "With great color illustrations by Steve Bjorkman, your children will love this story." Read the whole review.

Thanks to Andrew at red-hot, smokin' Flux for highlighting my recent interview with Christine Kole MacLean on How It's Done (Flux, 2006) and his kind words about me, this blog, and my home town YA scene: " I the only one who thinks that Cynthia is the Gertrude Stein of Austin, Texas, which is the new Paris for YA authors?" To learn more about my local YA writing community, visit: Lila Guzman, Varian Johnson, April Lurie, Ruth Pennebaker, Greg Leitich Smith, Jo Whittemore, Lori Aurelia Williams, Brian Yansky, and Jennifer Ziegler. Plus, Libba Bray, Alex Sanchez, and Rob Thomas are one-time residents. Visit Austin SCBWI and learn more about Texas authors. See also Forthcoming (2007) YA Novels by Texas Authors: A Preview from GregLSBlog. Note: Varian will be on board shortly thereafter in '08, and I'm not sure when Libba's third installment of her gothic fantasy historical will be released, but I'm guessing soon, too.

Thanks also to Laurie Halse Anderson over at Mad Woman in the Forest for the shout out and linkage about the cover art placement of my Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) and Greg Leitich Smith's Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005) on the cover of the Fall 2006 ALAN Review. Laurie mentions that she has an article in that issue, so don't miss it and check out all of her news!

More News & Links

"Jennifer DiChiara Makes Dreams Come True": an interview by Angela Miyuki Mackintosh from WOW! Women on Writing.

"Cohn and Levithan Team Write Entirely by E-Mail": An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, authors of Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Knopf) by Susan VanHecke of Authorlink. November 2006

In the category of author/illustrator/storyteller, U.S. nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2007 are: Russell Hoban, Maira Kalman, Peter Sis and Gary Soto. The Swedish government founded this international prize in Astrid Lindgren's name to honor her memory and promote children's literature. The award, of five million Swedish crowns, is the largest for children’s literature and the second-largest literature prize in the world. In total, 133 candidates from 52 countries have been nominated; 104 in the category of author/illustrator/storyteller. The winner will be announced in March 2007. Katherine Paterson won the award in 2006.

2006 NYPL Books for the Teen Age from TeensReadToo. Highlights include: Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview); Memories of the Sun: Stories of Africa and America by Jane Kurtz (Amistad, 2003)(author interview); Margaret Bourke White by Susan Goldman Rubin (Abrams, 1999)(author interview); and When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (Yearling, 2004)(author interview).

Eighth Carnival of Children's Literature: Halloween from Scholar's Blog. Note: Cynsations is a proud participant in the carnival.

Hale's Unlikely Heroes Resonate with Readers of All Ages: an interview with author Shannon Hale by Dee Ann Grand of BookPage.

KidStuff on Martha Stewart Living Radio: "The Children's Book Council is pleased to sponsor the children's book segment on "KidStuff" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Agent Interview: Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc.

Sara Crowe joined Harvey Klinger Inc. after two years at Trident Media Group as Foreign Rights Agent selling rights for Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje, and Louis Sachar, among others. She began her publishing career at the Wylie Agency in New York and also worked in Wylie's London office. She ran away to Ireland once and worked for a publisher there as an editorial assistant. She represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, as well as young adult and middle-grade fiction and non-fiction. She is currently not accepting unsolicited picture book submissions.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I didn't know a thing about agents, but put my resume in a box at the publishing course and was hired by The Wylie Agency and pleasantly surprised. Though of course there are many more business tasks sometimes than there is reading--it still often seems like I dreamed up the job.
Wylie's client list was inspiring, and I loved it from the start. I am grateful that my days, though often very late and busy, are so varied.

How long have you been agenting?

I've been in the business for eight years, up until two years ago in foreign rights, though I spent one of those at a publishing house in Dublin.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent"--one who comments on manuscripts or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

Some authors send me material only after many drafts--following careful reads from their critique groups, spouses, favorite readers. Some like me to see earlier drafts--and often I am involved from the synopsis stage. I think it's important to send the most polished manuscript possible to editors, and so I always read carefully before submitting anything.

Why should unagented authors/writers consider working with an agent?

I like to think that we act as passionate advocates for an author's work, and that we play an important role, not always just in terms of securing the best deal, but in being there to support the author for the whole process. We also, I think, allow the author to have an editorial relationship with their editor that isn't hindered by business issues.

My time at Wylie taught me to look at the big picture and to always consider the author's whole career with every move, and I think we provide important strategies to that end. I also think agents are often more aggressive in selling film and foreign rights.

What questions should a writer have answered before signing with an agent?

They should be clear on the commission structures of the agency, expenses, etc., so that there isn't any confusion down the line. Does the agent actively pursue audio, foreign and film rights? Have they sold titles like yours?

I think another important question is to make sure the agent's communication preferences work for you.

Most of my clients wrote to my other clients to ask about me first, and I think that is one of the best ways to get the whole picture.

I'm very grateful, however, to my first clients who let me work with them without being able to ask anyone!

In terms of markets (children's, YA, adult, fiction, non-fiction, genres, novels, chapter books, ERs, picture books), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

I work with all types of children's books, though am not presently looking for picture books. I look for a strong, original voice and tend to respond to literary, quirky books. I am always looking for books for boys, too--especially young adult books. I don't work with much straight fantasy, though its not a strict rule. I do like books with many layers, though, and often that means a fantastical or magical element.

Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

I work with author/illustrators, but I don't think I have the contacts and knowledge to work with illustrators.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for prospective clients to make contact with you?

I prefer email queries to I try to respond to queries within three weeks--though I know I've faltered in the past! Am working on it!

Do you have any particular submission preferences or pet peeves?

People often send queries to all of the agents here--even though it says not to on our website, and that is ineffective --we won't look. I also ignore group queries, or those that don't address me by the correct name. I don't like queries that are not spell checked or have terrible grammar. It makes me not want to request and read many pages of bad spelling and grammar, and I think it makes it seem like you aren't sincere when you don't take the time to be careful.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Just business emails? Phone dates? Retreats? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

It can vary--for instance if there isn't much going on for a particular book--or if the author is off revising/writing, sometimes we don't talk for a while. I do try to be in touch pretty often--at least by email--and I hope that I make myself available to my authors should they call me.

Sometimes it takes a day or so to call back or to schedule a call. I love meeting my authors-- though some are far away and that hasn't happened yet. I would love to host a retreat someday!

When you spoke at the Austin SCBWI Fall 2006 conference, you mentioned that YA "keeps getting older." Could you offer us more of your insights into this evolving category?

The category is splitting--that there is young adult, both contemporary and fantasy, that is crossing over to the adult market, which I think is a great thing, as I know I read and enjoy so much young adult.

And there is some young adult that now seems younger because of how old young adult is going overall. I think these books are younger due to content and how the content is handled. Much of what I respond to in young adult is still the 12 and up bracket, and I think that there is a space for it still.

There are readers who want to read past middle grades but who don't want edgy or overly sexy. It is so challenging to write about teenagers without over-dramatizing the issues, and that, when it's done well, is so good.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I think its the same as the challenge for my writers--accepting rejection. I hate it almost as much as they do, because I believe so fully in every book I take on, and I feel so close to the books. Also, as each authors work is so incredibly important to them--and there is only one of me--it can be a challenge to make sure everyone is and feels looked after.

What do you love about it?

I guess that would be sort of the same answer as above--because it is such a great feeling to feel so close to the books you champion and to see them succeed. I feel so lucky to be a part of it. I think for all of us in this field--editors, agents, writers-- it is always exciting, even when it is difficult. I'm so proud of my list--and that almost all of it is debut books and that I'll get to work with these authors on many more books.

Would you like to highlight a few of your clients and/or their recent titles?

Karen Halvorsen Schreck's Dream Journal (Hyperion 2006)(author interview) was published in September and is getting some lovely reviews. Erin Vincent's young adult memoir, Grief Girl will be published in March 2007 by Delacorte and is a completely inspiring, and very off-beat, true tale of Erin's losing her parents at fourteen and how she gets through it all.

Elizabeth Holmes's middle grade debut, Pretty Is (Dutton), is also out in March and is about a girl who fears starting middle school with her unpopular older sister--not only does Erin fear the discovery that they are related--but that she might be like her sister in some awful, inevitable way.

Brian Yansky's second young adult novel, The Wonders of the World, mixes the bizarre and the ordinary in the way Brian does so well to completely encapsulate adolescence, will be published by Flux in July 07, and Kristen Tracy's debut Lost It, a quirky, extremely funny, take on the subject of virginity, using Ethan Frome as a model, comes out in June 07 from Simon Pulse.

Jacqueline Kolosov's The Red Queen's Daughter will be published in fall 2007 by Hyperion and will appeal to fans of Libba Bray--and of the adult title The Other Boleyn Girl.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Author Tanya Lee Stone To Chat on "Writing Across Genres" Online at ICL

Join author Tanya Lee Stone Nov. 2 for an online chat on "Writing Across Genres" with the Institute of Children's Literature. Times are 9 to 11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada; 8 to 10 p.m. Eastern; 7 to 9 p.m. Central; 6 to 8 p.m. Mountain; or 5 to 7 p.m. Pacific. Log in here!

Need help? See "I Want to Chat: Tell Me How" by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature; see also the ICL chat schedule.

Read a Cynsations interview with Tanya.

Cynsational News & Links

Kirkus cheers my new picture book, Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006): "The transformation of a nonbeliever on Christmas Eve is an old story, but Alfie F. Snorklepuss is a newly minted winner."

Speaking of Santa Knows, it's not every day I hear as delightful a reader story as the one featured of late at One Over-Caffeinated Mom: Kim's Reading and Writing Home. Thanks for sharing, Kim!

Read about the Jingle Dancer puppet show from Liz B. at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

Currently reading: Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon & Schuster, 2006)(excerpt). Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen. See also a review of Blind Faith by Kristi Olson at

More News & Links

The 2006 ALAN Award has been awarded to both author/editor Marc Aronson and scholar/author Virginia Monseau. Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

The Broken Tusk: Stories of the Hindu God Ganesha by Uma Krishnaswami (Linnet, 1996) is now available from August House in paperback. Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

Children's Librarians Recommend Books for the Holidays from VLA Blogs. "The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), has created a list of new books recommended for holiday gift-giving, as well as reading about the holidays themselves."

Congratulations to Maureen Doyle McQuerry on the the publication of Wolf Proof (Idyllis, 2006). Scroll to read related interview.

Congratulations also to the following authors on their November releases: Alma Fullerton, author of In the Garage (Red Deer, 2006); Natalie Standiford, author of Dating Game #6: Parallel Parking (Little Brown, 2006); and Lola Douglas, author of More Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet (Razorbill, 2006)(note that True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet is available in paperback).

"Book Proposals with Terry Whalin:" a chat transcript from the Institute of Children's Literature.

GregLS Blog is now syndicated on LiveJournal. Greg is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003, 2005), Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005), and the co-author of Santa Knows (Dutton, 2006). See also Greg's website.

Library Community Comes Together to Build Bridges: More than 1,100 attend First Joint Conference of Librarians of Color from VLA Blog.

Thanks to author Helen Hemphill (author interview) for sending me a copy of the latest cover of The ALAN Review, which features the cover art to: Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002); Tofu and T. rex by Greg Leitich Smith (Little Brown, 2005); Bone: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books, 1996); Dateline: Troy by Paul Fleishman, illustrated by Gwen Frankfeldt and Glenn Morrow (Candlewick, 2006)(inside spread); Andy Warhol: Prince of Pop by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan (Delacorte, 2004); The Telling Pool by David Clement-Davies (Abrams, 2005); A Boy No More by Harry Mazer (Simon & Schuster, 2004)(author interview); Somebody's Daughter by Marie Myung-Ok Lee (Beacon Press, 2005); and Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs (HarperCollins, 2006).

Surf over to Spookycyn where I'm blogging of late about writing my newest gothic fantasy YA manuscript, Halloween, and the Texas Book Festival.

See also Jo Whittemore's TBF report and her Austin SCBWI Fall Conference notes. Read a recent Cynsations interview with Jo. Happy Birthday, Jo!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Author Interview: Roxyanne Young on Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist

Roxyanne Young is the co-author of Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May Or May Not Exist, with Kelly Milner Halls (author interview) and illustrator Rick Spears (Darby Creek, 2006). She's also the creator and Editorial Director of, a professional resource site for children's writers and educators, and administrator of the Write It Now! Competition.

How did the writing life first call to you? Did you shout, "yes!" Or run the other way?

I've been writing since I was able to hold a pencil. I wrote, illustrated, and self-published my first book in second grade. It was about a wild mustang pony and I still have it.

I began my first novel in 8th grade chemistry class. I was living in Savannah at the time, and attending an all-girl parochial academy downtown in the historic district, so my novel was a Southern Gothic Romance featuring a pampered belle named Olivia Dupree that thankfully never made it past chapter one.

In high school, I fell in love with Indiana Jones and set my sights on being a feature writer for National Geographic. I was going to travel the world and write about archaeology, foreign cultures, and all those wonderful, amazing things in that magazine. I even majored in anthropology at Auburn, with a double minor in history and journalism.

Shortly after graduation, I went on a cruise to the Bahamas with some girlfriends--my first experience in an actual foreign culture, which I loved, but found out along the way that I get frightfully seasick. Turns out I don't travel well. Alas. So much for the globetrotting writing career.

After that, I did a few years as a social worker, and then earned my M.A. in English Education studying with Dr. Janet Allen and taught for a while. In doing that, I was reintroduced to an old love: books. As much as I enjoyed teaching, I really, really love children's literature, and it awakened in me a new dream. Janet encouraged me to write for children and young adults. I've been pursuing land-based writing ever since.

Why did you decide to write for young readers specifically?

I had something of a turbulent childhood, and books were my salvation. They literally kept me sane and showed me that there was more to the world than what I was living. I'd forgotten how much they meant to me until I began reading them again in grad school. Here were my old friends, and lots of new ones. Richard Peck, Jane Yolen, Robert Cormier, Katherine Patterson, Bruce Coville, and so many more. I wanted to write novels like the ones I'd been reading.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles?

My first professional children's writing credits were for a now-defunct magazine called Kids' Wall Street News. I wrote an article about a shipwreck in the Mississippi River. Then they assigned an article on a shipwreck off the coast of San Francisco. And then another on the Titanic. I was fast becoming the Maritime Tragedy Queen, but I had my foot in the door and my full membership to the SCBWI. I attended conferences, did some freelance work for The San Diego Union-Tribune, started some really awful novels and completed some really awful rhyming picture books, and then a couple of years later, I started getting more positive editorial feedback on my submissions.

In the meantime, I was helping my husband start and run a Website design company, and I started and began really learning how this business works. I had to get over my timidity about meeting the people who had created the books that I loved so much (meeting Jane Yolen was a biggie for me, as were Richard Peck and Bruce Coville), and I confess that I'm still starstruck much of the time at conferences, but I'm still learning. I'm still very new at all of this. Or at least I feel like I am.

One of the most influential writers I've met is Kelly Milner Halls. We got to know each other and become friends after I emailed her a congratulatory letter for an article she had published in Writer's Digest about ten years ago. We've been friends ever since, and she actually brought me on for the Tales of the Cryptids book as co-writer.

Congratulations on the publication of Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist (Darby Creek, 2006). What was the initial inspiration for this book?

Thank you! It was Kelly's idea. She's regularly working on three or four books at a time, all very interesting subjects. We Instant Message each other several times a day to check in, and one day she popped up on my screen with a "Hey, I'm writing a proposal for a book on cryptozoology. What do you know about Bigfoot?" And I started gushing everything I knew, which turned into pages and pages of text. I had helped her research other books for an educational publisher, and I offered to do the same with this book--cryptozoology is a subject that really fascinates me. She brought me on as co-writer instead.

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

It was fast. After Kelly's IM and my gushing everything I could tell her about Bigfoot (which turned into much of the the sample chapter), she finished the proposal and sent it to her editor, Tanya Dean at Darby Creek. I think that was in August. It was approved and we began researching it in earnest within the week with the help of Kelly's illustrator friend, Rick Spears, who is a major crypto fan himself. We finished writing it in December. There were some final edits to be made, of course, and Rick did an amazing job on the art. The book went to the printer in March and was released on September 1, 2006.

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

Keeping up with Kelly was a challenge. The woman is a writing machine! As far as writing the book, my main role was to research what would come to be called the Cryptidictionary, a resource of cryptid profiles at the end of the book. I also did some filler pieces for the front part of the book, some of which were kept, some of which were cut.

So cryptids...! Could you give us a sneak peek into these "mysterious creatures" featured in the book?

Cryptids is a term that applies to all the creatures in the world that we talk about, but have no proof that they really exist, like mermaids, sasquatches, lake monsters, and so on. Bigfoot and Nessie fall into this category--they're probably the best known.

The lesser known creatures lurk in local myth and legend around the country, around the world, really. There's the Bunyip of Australia, the Beast of Bodmin Moor in southwestern England, the Mapinguari of the Amazonian rain forest, the Kongamato of Africa. I read that there is an area of the Congo larger than the state of Florida that has not be explored yet because it's so remote, so harsh a landscape. The local peoples tell of giant snakes and dinosaur-like creatures living in the swamps of this region, creatures with plates on their backs, thick legs, horns, and some that fly. In other parts of Africa, they have cryptids whose names translate to things like "overwhelmer of boats" and "elephant killer."

Here in North America, there are stories of Bigfoot-like creatures in every single one of the continental United States and every Canadian province, and these sightings go back hundreds of years. There are lake monsters, too, and sea creatures off our coasts that are described as long, serpent-like creatures with heads like horses...and these reports are coming from experienced fishermen. People who can tell a whale or a shark from a horse with a serpent body.

Which cryptid most intrigues you and why?

Bigfoot, hands down. My grandmother told me a story about the Bardin Booger when I was little. This is my hometown's version of the Bigfoot legend, and I've heard about sightings since then in the marshy forests that separate the small towns and cities of North Florida. It's fascinated me since I was little.

What is the appeal of these mysteries? What about them is so especially fascinating to kids?

I think these stories capture their imaginations. They allow for the possibility of being. And that, for a young reader (and old ones, too), is truly a gift beyond compare.

You worked with two co-authors on this project, Kelly Milner Halls and Rick Spears, who also was the illustrator. Could you tell us about your collaborative process?

Because Kelly and I already have a great working relationship, I think the writing went really smoothly. Kelly was the lead writer, so I followed her direction. I would get an email from her with a request to research a particular creature, and I was on it, writing up the piece and sending it back to her for inclusion in the manuscript.

Conversely, I'm already on several message boards and other sites that cover crypto news, so I was emailing her almost daily with new research findings, experts to contact, and so on. I helped get some of the photos together (another friend, author Sandra McBride, even made a trip to get a photo of the Champ Sightings sign at Lake Champlain, and that made it into the book).

Rick and I brainstormed on the list of cryptids to profile and Kelly handled all of the actual interviews for the book, and we served as copyeditor for each other, double checking references and resources. It was a blast, really. And Rick was right there, too, with the art, sending us image files of preliminary art for the book and getting our input. (And thanks to him, one of my favorites, the Piasa Bird, made it into the book, too!)

It was a three-way collaboration all the way through.

What did Rick's illustrations bring to the text?

Rick's background is in building exhibits of animals and other creatures for museums, including dinosaurs. He has a lot of experience in anatomy and the general musculature of these creatures, as well as a lot of insight into how their respective environments will determine how much fur they have or what kind of skin they have, or what their eyes or teeth might look like, or how large they can grow, what they might eat, etc. For creatures based more on myth than actual evidence, that kind of insight is critical.

You're also the editorial director of! Fill us in on that? What do you do? What is SmartWriters all about?

Well, started out about four years ago as an informational Website for children's writers and illustrators. We've grown since then to include an international writing contest, the Write It Now! Competition, which has helped lots of writers get their first works published. I'm really proud of that. We also publish a monthly e-journal for writers with articles on the business and craft of writing for children, and we have done teleseminars over the summer--I'll probably start those back up soon--and we have other projects in the works, too, which will be announced closer to their launch dates.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Let me save you five years of banging your head against the wall. In a nutshell:

1. Stop talking about writing and sit your butt in the chair and do it. 1,000 words per day will get you a first draft of a mid-grade novel in about a month.

2. Find a good critique group, either in person or online, with members who will challenge you to do your very best. You don't need a rah-rah group. You need people who will point out that your plot has holes or your characters are two-dimensional, or this or that could just never happen, with love and support, of course, and you need to do the same for them.

3. Study the best of your genre. Read for entertainment, yes, but read to study the structure, too, and plot, and character, and descriptive language. Read, read, read.

4. If you're working on a rough draft, stop editing yourself. The thing I see that freezes up new writers more than anything else is that they continuously edit their first drafts of novels, to the point that they get locked up around chapter three and are unable to move forward with the work. Shut the Inner Editor off and free your mind, let those ideas flow. When you're done with the first draft, then you can let that Editor go to work.

How about those interested in picture books specifically?

Read at least two hundred picture books before you get serious about writing your own. Good ones, bad ones, mediocre ones. Study them. Look at what the very best writers can fit into 500-to-1000 words. See what they are able to do with that economy of language. Look at what the illustrator brings to the story, how the pictures help propel the plot and inform the characters. Picture book writing is perhaps the most challenging field of children's writing, simply because you have to do so, so much with so few words. I admire picture book writers more than I can tell you. In fact, our Grand Prize W.I.N.NER this year was from the Picture Book Category, Leslie Muir's C. R. Mudgeon's Cure.

And how about those who're writing non-fiction?

Respect your reader. Do quality research. Check and double check your sources with experts. (You'd be surprised at the mistakes that make it into print because someone read it on a Website and didn't get a verification from a more trustworthy source.) Present the information you find and cite your sources, and then let your reader make up their own mind about the subject. Don't editorialize.

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


Is there anything you'd like to add?

I want to thank you, Cynthia, for the great work you're doing here. The more resources we have that offer quality information to children's writers, the better our industry will become, and that means better books and magazines for kids, and better reading material for kids means more intelligent, more thoughtful kids who will grow up into intelligent, thoughtful grownups, which means there's hope for us all.
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