Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Cynsational News, Links & Hiatus

Cynsations is going on its annual summer hiatus! To those who have interview questions pending, please complete them at your leisure and send them when they're ready. I'll go ahead and format so they'll be ready to run when I relaunch.

In June, I'll be returning to the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults to teach a summer residency. Other faculty in residence are: Sarah Ellis; Sharon Darrow (author interview); David Gifaldi, Uma Krishnaswami (author interview); Jane Kurtz (author interview); Julie Larios; Leda Schubert (author interview); Rita Williams-Garcia (author interview); and Tim Wynne-Jones (author interview). Visiting authors include: Susan Cooper; M.T. Anderson (author interview); Martine Leavitt; David Levithan (author interview) and Anita Silvey. Note: Kathi Appelt (author interview) will not be at the residency but will be teaching next semester; the same may also be true of Ellen Howard (author interview). The featured cover art is from The Boat in the Tree by Tim Wynne-Jones, illustrated by John Shelley (Front Street, 2007).

The following month, I'll be on the faculty at Writing & Illustrating for Children, the 36th annual summer of conference of SCBWI. The event will be held August 3 to 6th in Los Angeles. My topics are "Increasing Your Revenue & Book Sales: Blogs and Websites" (part of a special workshop track) and "Using the Web to Build Craft and Career."

Austin-area readers, mark your calendars! I'll also be speaking and signing at the Hastings Books, Music, and Video in Round Rock (2200 S. I-35) during the afternoon of Aug. 18. More details forthcoming! In addition, I'll visit the University Hills branch of the Austin Public Library from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 23.

What's Fresh With Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize: an interview at YA Fresh (from Kelly Para, author of Graffiti Girl (MTV, 2007)). Visit Kelly at MySpace! Note: watch for another upcoming interview with me at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) is a Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick at Chapters. Emma-Lee Kramer, 12 from Edmonton, Alberta writes: "I found this book extremely entertaining. Author Cynthia Leitich Smith threw such curve balls and twists of plot that it was always a weird and wonderful read. Tantalize kept me transfixed and it was nearly impossible to put down. A book that keeps me that engaged can earn no less than five stars." City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, Book 1) by Cassandra Clare (McElderry, 2007) also is a JAB pick. Note: "The JAB contest encourages and supports a love of reading for youths aged 10 to 16 years. The annual reading contest searches the country to find the nation's [Canada's] top young readers and give them a chance to voice their opinions about what kids should be reading." Photo by Cecil Castellucci.

Kristen Pihlman of Tracy Press (CA) writes: "Tantalize is as delicious and satiable as a generous slice of rich and creamy, chocolate cake." In addition, Lyn Seippel at BookLoons Reviews calls the novel a "darkly romantic, alluring urban fantasy."

The July grand-prize giveaway for the Tantalize Fans Unite! group at MySpace will be a signed copy of Don't Die Dragonfly from The Seer series by Linda Joy Singleton (Llewellyn, 2005)(excerpt). From the promotional copy: "After getting kicked out of school and sent to live with her grandmother, Sabine Rose is determined to become a 'normal' teenage girl. She hides her psychic powers from everyone, even from her grandmother Nona, who also has 'the gift.' Having a job at the school newspaper and friends like Penny-Love, a popular cheerleader, have helped Sabine fit in at her new school. She has even managed to catch the eye of the adorable Josh DeMarco. Yet, Sabine can't seem to get the bossy voice of Opal, her spirit guide, out of her head...or the disturbing images of a girl with a dragonfly tattoo. Suspected of a crime she didn't commit, Sabine must find the strength to defend herself and, later, save a friend from certain danger." Read a Cynsations interview with Linda about the series. Note: runner-up prizes will be posted to the group board.

Eligibility for the June giveaways is ongoing. These include signed copies of Over and Over You by Amy McCauley (Roaring Brook, 2005)(author interview), Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004)(author interview), and Exile: Star Wars Legacy of the Force by Aaron Allston (Del Rey, 2007).

"How to Hook the Reluctant Boy Reader" by Denise Hamilton of the LA Times. Authors mentioned include David Lubar (author interview) and Greg Leitich Smith (author interview). The cover art to the left highlights Greg's debut novel, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2005). It's a Parents' Choice Gold Medal winner.

Greg and I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel on Saturday afternoon at the Writers League of Texas Agents Conference with authors Kathi Appelt (author interview) and Julie Lake (author interview) and agents Andrea Brown and Scott Treimel. Author sightings also included Mark G. Mitchell (author interview), Lila and Rick Guzman (author interview), Tim Tingle, and Jo Whittemore (author interview). We also briefly spoke to Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, which is our agency, though we're represented by the other Ginger there (Ginger Knowlton).

More Globally

Amy Lin (formerly Amy Hsu) has launched editomato, "a small, online business offering developmental editorial services to children's book writers aiming to be published in the trade market." Find out more. Note: before leaving Little Brown, Amy was Greg's editor.

Congratulations to Chris Barton of Bartography on the sale of his YA biography on Alan Lomax to Bloomsbury! Note: not many authors have multiple projects sold before the first is released. Keep an eye on Mr. Barton (and an eye out for his forthcoming titles).

Embarrassing Editor Moments by Barbara O'Connor at Greetings from Nowhere. Look for her latest, How To Steal a Dog (FSG, 2007).

Escape Reality Summer Reading List by "Book Diva" Melissa at MySpace. Note: I'm honored that Tantalize is included on the list. See also her Smart Chick Lit for Summer Reading.

Jo Knowles will be teaching a graduate course on writing for children at the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College this fall in conjunction with the MA/MFA program.

Weekend highlights included a party and signing Saturday at BookPeople in celebration of Brian Anderson's Zack Proton chapter book series (Aladdin, 2006-). It was a wonderful event, drawing about fifty people, and featured games for the kids. Brian also did an upbeat and entertaining visual presentation about the series. Perhaps the most notable feature was the Warlord of Nibblecheese piñata. You can't tell from the photo, but it's enormous. Scroll for behind-the-scenes details and Austin kids save planet earth! Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Native Students in Chicago Public Schools by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature.

Nonfiction Matters: a new blog from Marc Aronson at School Library Journal. Source: Bartography. Read a Cynsations interview with Marc.

PW Asks: Are There Too Many Books? from Alice CWIM Blog. Congratulations to Alice for sending the 2008 CWIM to the printer!

Writing for Educational Publishers with Pam Zollman: an Institute of Children's Literature chat from June 2006.

Author Interview: Brian Yansky on Wonders of the World

Brian Yansky on Brian Yansky: "It's an old story. I was born and I was very small and then I got larger and then one day I stopped growing and, with minor adjustments, I've stayed about the same size ever since. All of this growing happened in Iowa where, I once read, there are eight pigs for every person. I didn't really notice at the time, but I still felt compelled to leave at my earliest opportunity. I had wanderlust.

"I moved around a lot for several years. Eventually, I ended up in Texas. I got a couple of degrees along the way. One at the University of Texas. One at Vermont College--an MFA in Writing [adult program]. I wrote a lot of unpublished manuscripts before I wrote a published one. Like being born and growing and having wanderlust, this is very common, at least among writers.

"My first published novel was My Road Trip to The Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). My second published novel is Wonders of the World (Flux, June 2007). I live in Austin, Texas with my wife, Frances Hill, and some dogs and a cat named Chaos."

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

I shouted "yes" in a quiet kind of way. I loved to write. I didn't love to do many things, so finding something I loved to do was cathartic. It changed everything.

Why did you decide to write for teen readers specifically?

My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World was written as an adult novel but accepted for publication as a Young Adult. I started reading YA novels then, and I loved reading about characters that age. I discovered a lot of amazing novels and writers. I became a YA reader. I wanted to write another YA novel. This time I wanted to be aware I was writing a YA novel while I was writing it.

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

I'm the poster person for try, try again. I wrote five novels before I published my first novel. I wrote dozens of stories before I got one published in a literary journal.

Stumbles? Oh yeah. I kept myself going by telling myself this was what I wanted to do. If no one else was interested, I was still going to keep doing it for me. Being blindly obstinate can be helpful to a writer. The other thing that kept me going is that I love to write; I love the whole struggle to get a story down on paper.

Your first novel was My Road Trip to the Pretty Girl Capital of the World (Cricket, 2003). What was the book about?

Identity. The main character is adopted (like I was) and is getting into trouble at school and with his parents and with the law. His girlfriend drops him and he decides to take off on a road trip to find his birth parents. He has some adventures along the way and ends up in the Pretty Girl Capital of the World, which is Austin, Texas, my adopted hometown.

Congratulations on your new release, Wonders of the World (Flux, 2007). What was the initial inspiration for this book?

The novel is about street kids and takes place on the street. I worked at the University of Texas for a while and I used to see this group of street kids getting up in the morning in a park across from campus. There were a lot of them some mornings, and some of them were very young. I wondered what their stories were. I thought about my own youth when, for a time, I hitchhiked around the country. When I was passing through cities, I sometimes stayed in the same places as street kids did.

Even back then there were kids living on the street. I decided that I wanted to tell a story about a teen who ended up on the street and his struggle to find a way off it.

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

I guess it took me a little over a year to write the novel and then another few months for my agent to sell it. Then it was a year and a half after that to publication. There are always major events of the imagination while working on a novel. You struggle with a certain point in the plot or a character and you find your way (at least you hope you do). Besides these internal struggles, I attended a workshop called Writefest that was very helpful in motivating me to finish the novel.

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

I did some research on street kids. Nothing in depth, but read a few articles and books and looked around on the web. I discovered a very useful site called Stand Up For Kids, an outreach group for children and teens who are homeless and living on the street.

I was appalled by this statistic: about 1.5 million kids and teens live on the street in America. It confirmed my sense that there are a lot more teens and kids living on the street than most people think. My biggest challenge was creating the world my characters live in. I hope I got it right.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Try to write the kind of work you love to read. Read. A lot. Write. Rewrite. Listen to everything writers you admire say about writing, then only use what works for you. This will take patient experimentation. Some of the best advice I got was try to find what your characters yearns for and let that direct the story. Characters will not always be up-front about this, so sometimes you will have to write a lot to figure out what they really want. Another good piece of advice for me was try to get to the place inside you that allows you to write intutitively in a kind of continous dream. Rewrite looking for places where you seem to have lost the flow of that dream.

How about YA novelists specifically?

For me, writing YA fiction is no different from writing adult fiction except that it's about young people. It has a different feel because if you're true to voice and character your characters will see the world through the eyes of someone who is a teenager regardless of how old you are.

Like me, you're married to a fellow author. How do you relate to each other in the writing part of your lives?

Wonderfully. We support each other and read for each other. There are some parts of the writing business that are very difficult, and we help each other through these. I feel very lucky to be married to someone who walks into the room where I'm supposed to be writing and sees me staring out the window (at length) and does not feel obligated to point out that I do not seem to be writing, or for that matter doing anything. I seem to be lost in space. She understands that writing, in fact, requires that you stare out the window a lot. At least for me. When I start talking about a character as if he or she is a real person, she does not suggest I see a therapist or covertly call friends and family for an intervention. She understands. I feel very lucky to be married to another writer.

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

Teach, watch movies, travel, exercise, eat out, listen to music, play with my new Old English Sheepdog.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Davis on Not Like You

Deborah Davis on Deborah Davis: "I write contemporary, realistic fiction about teens who think seriously about themselves and the world, who take risks, make mistakes, figure out what they love, and learn to laugh at themselves. My books contain a lot of 'issues,' but they contain humor as well.

"When I teach writing workshops, I teach from the belief that everyone can write well, given the right support and encouragement. I love working with reluctant writers. As a teen, I was a reluctant writer. Terrified, even. Now I believe that the scared or hesitant writers usually have the most to say.

"I recently moved from Seattle to Berkeley, California, an area that is rich with writers and literary events. I've been warmly welcomed here, and I'm thrilled to be launching Not Like You (Clarion, 2007) from the Bay area."

What about the writing life first called to you?

As a child and young teen I loved making up stories, but I had such bad experiences in high school English classes that by the time I graduated I believed I couldn't write and was not creative in any way. In college, I studied history and Latin American literature, and after college I wanted only to be outside and helping people. That desire led me to work with adjudicated and "at risk" teens in wilderness programs.

After a few years doing that, I began having ideas for stories about young people and felt an irrepressible need to write them down. I felt so strongly that I had something to say, that I had to say it through writing stories, and that I needed to have those stories read by others. I quit working with teens, took several writing workshops and classes, spent many hours free-writing, and eventually found a job editing magazine articles. While working on the magazine, I wrote my first novel for young people.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

Most stories that come to me are through the point of view of teenagers. It's just the way I imagine them. Or maybe that's simply what interests me: a time of life when you are figuring out who you are, what's important to you, and how you are both separate and connected to others.

Could you fill us in on your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I've alternately sprinted and stumbled--or maybe sprinted and paused--since I began writing my first novel, a chapter book titled The Secret of the Seal (Crown, 1989), in 1985. I write quickly, but I revise a lot and sometimes I need to let a story sit before I can work on it more.

I wrote The Secret of the Seal mostly on Sundays over a year, and the book sold fairly quickly--I had two offers within two and a half months of sending it out.

My second book, My Brother Has AIDS (Atheneum, 1994), went through several major revisions, but I got to develop that story under the brilliant guidance of Atheneum editor Jean Karl, who eventually offered me a contract for it. I took time off from writing when my son was young, and unfortunately Jean died right when I was finishing a third book, one that she and I had been working on together.

That manuscript still needs a lot of work, and I eventually set it aside to write Not Like You (Clarion, 2007). I did my fastest and longest sprint on Not Like You--writing 200 pages of the first draft in 18 days--but ultimately it was a five-year process from concept to publication, one interrupted by a half-year living in India, a major move, and editing an anthology.

For those new to your work, could you briefly highlight your backlist as you see fit?

The Secret of the Seal (Crown, 1989) is a sweet chapter book about an Inuit boy who encounters an unusual seal while hunting. It was an IRA Teacher's Choice and a Notable Trade Book in Social Studies and has been used in elementary classrooms across the country. My Brother Has AIDS (Atheneum, 1994), which was included in the NYPL's Books for the Teen Age, tells the story of a 13-year-old swimmer named Lacy who courageously faces a family tragedy and learns how to move beyond it. My third book, You Look Too Young to be a Mom: Teen Mothers Speak Out on Love, Learning, and Success (Perigee, 2004), is a collection of true stories by women ages 20 to 60 who became mothers in their teen years. I worked with more than 100 women to create that book, which was also included in the NYPL's Books for the Teen Age.

Congratulations on the publication of Not Like You (Clarion, 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for this story?

My stories often begin as images, and it's hard to say exactly where they come from. For Not Like You, I had an image of a teenage girl finding her mother passed out from drinking on the floor of a trailer in the New Mexico desert. The girl felt a mixture of concern and fury, and that piqued my interest: what was her story? How would she reconcile her conflicting feelings of deep love and intense anger toward her mother? I was also inspired by having lived in New Mexico after college, by my own history with drinking, and by my experience of having an older boyfriend when I was 16.

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

I give a terrific hour-long talk about this timeline, so I'll try to keep it brief! I began Not Like You in 2001. Simultaneously, I started soliciting essays for You Look Too Young to be a Mom. In early 2002 my husband, my then 8-year-old son, and I lived and traveled in India and Nepal for five months. I worked on the anthology there--when we had power--and had to put Not Like You aside, and when I returned from South Asia I signed a contract for the anthology and had to focus primarily on that.

In the fall of 2003, I got to spend three weeks in a paradise otherwise known as Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers, and I finished the first draft of Not Like You during that time (that's where I wrote 200 pages in 18 days). The book went through a round of rejections from publishers in 2004, so I completely revised it, and in 2005 my agent sent it out again. In the summer of that year I received an offer from Jennifer Wingertzahn at Clarion, and over the next year I did four more drafts of the book for her, finishing in fall of 2006. Whew!

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

The biggest challenges were a combination of psychological and literary. For instance, I had to make sure that Kayla, who turns 16 during the story, didn't sound too mature or too self-aware. As the child of an irresponsible and neglectful alcoholic, Kayla has been exposed to a lot, yet she's still young emotionally, so I had to show that she was both experienced and naïve. I also felt challenged to make Kayla's mother, Marilyn, realistic. So many mothers (and fathers) in young adult literature are either absent, neglectful, or thinly drawn.

I had to delve deeply into Kayla's relationship with her mother, which is at the heart of the story, and it was difficult to balance the love they feel for each other with the far more negative emotions each of them experiences. For both characters, I had to mine my own history of relationships--not the details so much as the feelings and the dynamics. Writing dialogue was particularly gnarly. I probably rewrote the scenes with dialogue more than any others, trying to create both text (what the characters actually say) as well as subtext (what they really mean).

The research challenges included making sure my descriptions of the Southwest settings were accurate--a task accomplished during two writing retreats I did in New Mexico while revising the book. I also spent time reading about alcoholic families and discussing them with a social worker friend.

What do you hope readers take away from the story?

Not Like You is unusual in the YA field in its focus on the mother-daughter relationship. Both Kayla and her mother make bad decisions, yet neither one is a wholly bad person. I hope readers will take heart from Kayla and her mother's efforts to find their way through a maze of complex emotions.

What advice do you have for beginning novelists?

It's been said by others, but it's true: write a lot, read a lot (in your genre and in others), rewrite a lot. And participate in a critique group. Very few people can write and then improve their work entirely on their own.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love settling into my ergonomically-designed rolling chair with a mug of hot green tea, the morning sun shining on the cat curled next to my desk, feeling curious and hopeful: what will I discover as I write today? What will my characters discover and say and do? What problems will we solve? Will their lives get messy or juicy or complicated?

The writing process for me is fascinating. It's the most interesting, challenging, and satisfying work I've ever done. It scratches an itch that nothing else can reach. It gives me a sense of purpose that I rarely get from doing anything else--and I've done many other kinds of work! I love creating something substantial from an idea, and I love how the truth and beauty inherent in that story resonate with readers. The connection that occurs between me and people who read my writing simply cannot happen in any other way, and it's really deep and precious. It's as if I have a part of me that can only be known through my stories, a part that I want known.

Okay, that was a little heavy and off-track at the end, but it's all true.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

Only my periodic self-doubt, jealousy of other writers, and lapses in confidence. And the anxiety that accompanies waiting--for my critique group to give me their comments on a new draft, for my editor's thoughts on my latest revision, or for reviews to come out.

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

I'm not sure I can say I love anything about publishing, if you mean the business of it, unless it's the kind of love one might have for a highly idiosyncratic or even insane relative. Publishing is a wacky, often unpredictable business. I enjoy talking about it, in small doses, and I love being published; otherwise, I try to walk steadily through the ups and downs of publishing, trying not to take anything too personally, trying to keep my focus on writing.

What do you do when you're not writing?

Aside from reading posts on too many listservs, updating my blogs, procrastinating (what is it about those REI and Sierra Trading Post catalogs?), and checking my refrigerator frequently to see if something decadent has spontaneously appeared, I read a lot, take long bike rides and walks and sometimes a dance class, or work out at the gym. I also hang out with friends and my husband and son, and I love to travel. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago and rafted the Colorado through the Grand Canyon last year. I'm aiming to do a 100-mile bike ride this fall.

[Visit Deborah's LJ and MySpace].

What can your fans look forward to next?

My current work-in-progress is a novel about a 17-year-old named Lina, an ambitious student who hates to see people suffer and aspires to become a doctor. When her parents take her to India during her senior year of high school, she is miserable, and to earn money to return home she takes a job working for an attractive young photographer who photographs what he calls the beauty of suffering. Lina's experiences in India challenge her beliefs about love and suffering, her confidence in herself, her commitment to her schoolwork, and her desire to pursue her dreams...
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