Friday, September 21, 2007

Cynsational News & Links

Congratulations to Arthur Slade on the upcoming release of Villainology: Fabulous Lives of the Big, the Bad, and the Wicked, illustrated by Derek Mah (Tundra, 2007). Listen to an audio author interview by the Headless Horseman. Note: it's not working on my computer, but perhaps you will have better luck. Read a Cynsations interview with Arthur on Monsterology.

Author-illustrator Mark G. Mitchell: official website. Mark is based in Austin, and his books include Raising La Belle (Eakin, 2002)(author interview). He's offering a free download of Raising La Bell to anyone who signs up for his new newsletter/blog. The book was named winner of the 2003 Western Writers of America Spur Award for best western juvenile nonfiction book of 2003; winner of the 2003 United States Maritime Literature Award, and it was featured at the 2002 Texas Book Festival.

Capital Campaign: Montpelier's fine arts college will soon be fact, even if a fiction writer led the way from Seven Days: Vermont's Alternative Weekly. Note: this new college is to be the new home of the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Note: see photo of campus in the summer.

Copyright: United States Copyright Office from the Library of Congress.

Interview with K.L. Going, author of St. Iggy from the YA Authors Cafe. Here's a sneak peek: "Honestly, the hardest part is putting my work out there and hearing what people think. I’ve mostly heard great things, but it’s tough when people say stuff that’s mean spirited. I thought I’d get more used to it when I had more books out, but instead there’s just more to hear!"

Hiss Me Deadly: Chet Gecko: a video book trailer at YouTube. Read a Cynsations interview with Chet Gecko series author Bruce Hale.

Entires are now being accepted by the 19th annual Oklahoma Book Awards. See eligibility information, deadlines, judges, and special notes from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. Note: for their respective years of publication, two of my books, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) were finalists.

"Twelve Steps to Nonfiction Writing Success" by Maude Stephany from the Institute of Children's Literature. Note: emphasis on magazine writing.

Why Do Bloggers Blog? by Ilene S. Goldman from the Prairie Wind (newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois chapter). Thanks to Erin Edwards for suggesting this link.


The 24th annual Austin Jewish Book Fair (JBF), presented by the Jewish Community Association of Austin (JCAA), will be held from Nov. through Nov. 11. The following two events may be of special interest:

Judith Viorst, author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (see adaptation) will be speaking on Sunday, November 4th at 10:30am. The event is $5 for seniors, students and JCAA members and $7 for the general public. You can buy tickets online at

Frank McMillan, author of Cezanne is Missing, will be speaking to middle school students about his book which explores the importance of memory and tolerance in the face of fanaticism and hate. This event will take place Nov. 7 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The public is welcome to attend. Admission is free. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Both events will be held at the JCAA, 7300 Hart Lane, Austin. For a full book fair schedule go to

More Personally

The Faerie Drink Review says of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007): "From young hot werewolves to street bums with a Nosferatuian bite, Tantalize will have your mouth watering for more!" Read the whole review. See also my latest interview at Faerie Drink Review.

Members of Tantalize Fans Unite!, a reader-created group at MySpace, have been creating new logos and banners of late. Highlighted below is an example of their efforts.

Thanks to the Tantalize readers who road-tripped to the Holiday Inn in Tucson to meet me while I was speaking at Wrangling with Writing last weekend. (Hi, Zack!) I was honored, and it was a delight visiting with y'all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Illustrator Interview: Marla Frazee on Mrs. Biddlebox: Her Bad Day...And What She Did About It

Marla Frazee is a children's book author-illustrator. She teaches children's book illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and works in a small studio cabin in the backyard under an avocado tree.

Could you please describe your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

My path to publication? It was long, dusty, uphill, and without water or shade. And it took about ten years. Meanwhile, my path to becoming a freelance commercial illustrator was so easy it seemed like I was on one of those motorized walkways at airports. I breezed along, but I was doing work I didn't want to do--advertising, toys, games, etc.

I've always wanted to be a children's book illustrator, and when I graduated from Art Center College of Design, I left with a portfolio that I hoped pointed me in that direction. But publishers kept telling me that my illustration style was too commercial. I've come to understand that my work at that time wasn't narrative. Now I teach and I try to address this with my students so that they can figure out in fourteen weeks what took me ten years to discover.

Could you give us a snapshot of your backlist titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I have illustrated a few books about complicated family dynamics with an emphasis on "mother anger" and/or parental exhaustion, such as The Seven Silly Eaters, written by Mary Ann Hoberman (Harcourt, 1997) and Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild, written by Mem Fox (Harcourt, 2000).

A bunch more of my books are about babies, like Hush, Little Baby (Harcourt, 1999), Everywhere Babies (Harcourt, 2001), New Baby Train, written by Woody Guthrie (Little Brown, 2004), and Walk On! A Guide For Babies of All Ages (Harcourt, 2006).

And in addition to Walk On!, I've written and illustrated Roller Coaster (Harcourt, 2003), Santa Claus the World's Number One Toy Expert (Harcourt, 2005)(author interview), and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (Harcourt, 2008).

I am also illustrating a series of chapter books about a character named Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (Hyperion, 2006-).

Congratulations on the re-release of Mrs. Biddlebox: Her Bad Day...And What She Did About It! by Linda Smith (Harcourt, 2007), first published by HarperCollins in 2002. First let's back up to the beginning. What first inspired you to illustrate Linda Smith's text?

I loved this text from the minute I read it, but it scared me. So I turned it down. About two months later I got it out again, felt like an idiot for turning down such a gorgeous and emotional text, and called the editor to ask if it was still available. Luckily, it was.

In the beginning I was afraid of it because I'd heard that the author, Linda Smith, wrote the story while battling breast cancer and it was in response to a very bad day she was having as a result of her treatment. I'd heard that her cancer was quite advanced, that she was 39 years old, and that she had eight kids--the youngest one was four or five at the time.

When I illustrate a text, I immerse myself in the world of the story for a year or more. I selfishly felt that I didn't want to--or couldn't--go to the place I needed to go to do justice to her text because it would be too sad. But when I read it again later, I realized that I could. Linda's situation was indeed very sad, but her text is funny, irreverent, whimsical, and highly imaginative. And this was what I focused on when I illustrated it.

What what were the challenges (artistic, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the story to life? What were the major events along the way?

The primary challenge for me was how to portray depression in a book for children because that is essentially what the book is about. Mrs. Biddlebox wakes up in a bad mood and proceeds, in anger, to take the entire day apart. This is a pretty intense premise for children. I wanted the book to seem real, in that this was a character the reader could relate to. And yet, the book by its fantastic nature, had to feel unreal as well.

I eliminated a lot of the details that I normally put in my pictures to create a familiar world. Mrs. Biddlebox lives in a weird house on a bleak hill. She has hardly any furniture. She is child-sized, which I think makes her appear more vulnerable and overwhelmed by her surroundings. These were all conscious decisions. And most importantly, she has no family--only a pet goose.

Before I began working on Mrs. Biddlebox, I called Linda to ask her if there was anything she'd like to tell me about her text before I got started. She was way too professional to engage in this dialogue with me, and she kept saying that she didn't want to say anything that would influence me. Finally after much prompting, she said that she always imagined that Mrs. Biddlebox had a pet of some kind--a mangy dog, or a skinny cat, or something.

After Linda had died and I started working on the story, I tried drawing a cat, a dog, then a raccoon, and even a goat, before I realized that Mrs. Biddlebox's pet just had to be an angry goose. My agent, Steve Malk, was also Linda's agent, and he suggested that we send the sketches to Linda's husband and kids so they could see how the book was developing. We received an email back from her husband that said Linda once had a goose named Gabby who would follow her around and bite her through her blue jeans, actually drawing blood. He told us that Linda would have been delighted.

This email about that goose made me feel like I was doing right by Linda and that was very important to me.

What happened after publication?

The book was embraced wholeheartedly by HarperCollins, and I think they had high hopes for it. It won some significant awards, including the Borders Original Voices Award and the Golden Kite Award from the SCBWI. It was a Parents' Choice Award Winner, a BookSense recommended book, a Southern California Booksellers Association Award finalist, on the Miami Herald Best Book list, starred in Publishers Weekly, and took second place in the New York Book Show.

And then it went out there and didn't sell well. It was a bummer.

How did the possibility emerge that the book would be brought into print by Harcourt? What steps were involved?

My editor, Allyn Johnston, the Editor in Chief of Harcourt Children's Books, has always been a big fan of this book even though I worked on it with another editor at another house.

Allyn and I were speaking at a SCBWI conference together, and while there, she spent some time paging through the book again. Before we left the conference, she had decided to pursue bringing the book to Harcourt where I've been publishing for many years. At that point, neither one of us knew that the book was already out of print at HarperCollins. Once we found that out, it was pretty straightforward.

If you could go back in time and speak to yourself at any point during this story, what moment would you choose and what would you say?

This is such a fascinating question. I began working on Mrs. Biddlebox by doing thumbnail sketches (which is how I begin all of my picture books). It was a couple months after Linda Smith had died. In puzzling out the ending, I realized that I was going to bring Mrs. Biddlebox up to the rooftop on some rickety stairs into what could be interpreted as heavenly light--and by doing so, I was making the end of the book a metaphor for death. It seemed be what the book needed.

I sat there crying for Linda, her kids, the immense loss of this person I never met but felt so connected to, wondering if this was really the right decision for the book or if I was just milking the sadness.

I wish I could go back to that moment and tell myself that it was okay, even desirable, to feel all of that. Children's books are an emotional medium. They can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. But when strong emotions fuel the creative process, it is always, always, always a good thing for the book.

What do you do when you're not creating children's books?

I'm married to a photographer and we've got three sons and a dog named Rocket. I teach Children's Book Illustration at Art Center College of Design. I spend a lot of time hiking in the hills above Pasadena. I lead a caffeinated life and therefore I have to listen to music that calms me down.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Next up is a picture book I wrote and illustrated called A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever (Harcourt, 2008). It was inspired by a week that my youngest son, James, and his friend, Eamon, spent together one summer. It is part comic book, part buddy movie, part Malibu. I had the Best Time Ever working on it. And it even comes with an idea for a Make-a-Penguin craft out of mussel shells and rocks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wrangling with Writing: Web Extension

I had the pleasure of speaking at "Wrangling with Writing," a conference sponsored by the Society of Southwestern Authors Sept. 15 to Sept. 16 in Tucson. I would like to thank the SSA officers and planning committee. Special thanks to Jennifer J. Stewart, author of "seriously funny books for children," for her hospitality and efforts. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Fellow faculty member, Janni Lee Simner, spoke on young adult fantasy. Janni's first YA fantasy will be published by Random House in spring 2009. Her fourth children's book, Secret of the Three Treasures, was recently published by Holiday House.

Her editor, Jim Thomas, offered an overview presentation on children's publishing. Jim is editorial director of middle grade and YA books at Random House.

Because of conflicting schedules, I was unable to attend Janni and Jim's presentations. However, I did sit in on Sarah Ketchersid's. Sarah is a senior editor at Candlewick Press, and she delivered one of the most informative and inspiring presentations I've ever heard on picture books.

As promised, the bibliographies and resource lists that follow are Web extensions (and cheat sheets) for audiences at my two talks, "Imagining the Middle Grades" and "Marketing Manuscripts to Agents and Editors."

Imagining the Middle Grades

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)(interior illustration).

Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2001)(Web extension)(readers' guide).

Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002)(readers' theater).

Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006)(book site).

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2007)(readers' guide).

favorite books from childhood

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

craft building

Author Kathi Appelt

Author Debbi Michiko Florence

Author Jane Kurtz

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Arizona Chapter of SCBWI

Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories, and Scripts by Raymond Obstfeld

The Giblin Guide to Writing Children's Books by James Cross Giblin

Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver

Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King with illustrations by George Booth

What's Your Story: A Young Person's Guide to Writing Fiction by Marion Dane Bauer

heart books

Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland

The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner

Take Joy: A Book for Writers by Jane Yolen


Cynthia Leitich Smith Children's and Young Adult Literature Resources


Planet Esme; The PlanetEsme Plan

genre reading

Bringing Mysteries Alive for Children and Young Adults by Jeanette Larson

Genrefluent (see also guide books)

writing process

Jennifer Armstrong's "Blood from a Stone;" Nancy Werlin and Jane Yolen's responses.

Conflict and Character within Story Structure from the Everyday People's Guide on How to Write a Novel

middle grade fiction

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

Dancing in the Streets of Brooklyn by April Lurie (author interview)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Jacob I Have Loved by Katherine Paterson

Julia's Kitchen by Brenda A. Ferber (author interview)

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Yee (author interview)

P.S. Longer Letter Later: A Novel in Letters by Paula Danzinger and Ann M. Martin

Rules by Cynthia Lord (author interview)

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach (author interview)

Shug by Jenny Han (recommendation)

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed
by Heather Vogel Frederick

boy versus girl books?

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (author interview)

Brothers, Boyfriends, and Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie (author interview)

multicultural books

Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos (author interview)

Hannah West series by Linda Johns (recommendation)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (author interview)

note: attendees seeking a copy of the humor-writing points may contact me directly.

Marketing Manuscripts to Agents and Editors

ABCS of an Author/Illustrator Visit by Sharron McElmeel

An Author's Guide to Children's Book Promotion by Susan Salzman Raab

The Association of Authors' Representatives; see FAQ

Attorney Interview: Aimee Bissonette on Law & Publishing from Cynsations

Author & Illustrator Visits by Toni Buzzeo

Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown (author interview)

Editorial Anonymous: a blog of a children's book editor.

How to Write a Query from Agent Query.

It's a Bunny-Eat-Bunny World: A Writer's Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Today's Competitive Children's Book Market by Olga Litowinsky

Literary Agents Directory at

The Purple Crayon: A Children's Book Editor's Site, especially The How-Do-I-Get-Published Quiz, Children's Book Agents and Artists' Representatives: A Primer, Finding and Choosing Literary Agents, and Publishing Glossary.

Some Writers Deserve to Starve! 21 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry by Elaura Niles

A Terrific Query Letter by Jenny Bent, literary agent.

Why I Don't Have an Agent or Doing the Math by author Barbara Kanninen.

Why I Have an Agent by author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

Writer Beware by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

See also the related links on my main site.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Editor Interview: Roger Sutton on The Horn Book

Roger Sutton on Roger Sutton: "I've been working with children's books for about twenty-five years, beginning in 1980 as Zena Sutherland's assistant at the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. After getting my M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago, I worked in a variety of public library youth services positions and began book reviewing and writing about children's literature and librarianship for a number of journals. Since 1988 I've been working full-time as a book reviewer and editor, first at the Bulletin and, since 1996, at the Horn Book, working in a number of adjunct teaching jobs along the way."

How did you come to devote your professional life to literature for young readers?

It was really Zena who got me into this. While I came into library school with an idea that I wanted to be in youth services (inspired by one Louise Bailey, now a respectable library director in Mansfield, Connecticut, then a hippy-chick children's librarian at the Pomona Public Library in California, where I spent a year as a security guard), Zena Sutherland led me to see what kind of possibilities there were for a "life of the mind" in children's literature.

What led to your becoming the Editor in Chief of Horn Book Publications?

They asked.

What do you love about it and why?

I love the variety of the work, from book reviewing to soliciting and editing articles, planning Magazine issues, writing the blog, figuring out how to keep going in a changing publishing environment.

What do you wish you could change about it and why?

I wish we could afford to print in color, and I wish we could get more subscribers. And advertisers.

For those new to the Horn Book Magazine and the Horn Book Guide, could you outline the mission of each and how they complement one another?

The mission of the Horn Book, Inc, was set down by Bertha Mahony Miller in the first issue of the Magazine: "to blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls." The Magazine reviews very selectively--about 800 books a year, I think, and they are mostly the ones we think are truly "fine" (or if NOT fine, then worthy of comment for one reason or another) and also includes other features--articles, columns, interviews, the editorial, etc.--that we hope readers can use to think about children's literature in a larger way, not just one-book-at-a-time.

The Guide is our effort to, one, provide comprehensive review coverage of children's trade books, and, two, to provide reliable reviews that are short and workable in electronic as well as print format, thus allowing us to slice and dice (and sell) 'em digitally: you can go to the Horn Book Guide Online, for example, to find reviews of all hardcover picture books about, say, fish, published in the last three years.

How do you select the books to be reviewed in the magazine?

The other editors and I look at everything that comes in--more than 10,000 books a year, easily, quickly reject and assign some, either to magazine or Guide, read others more thoroughly before making a decision, and the whole process refines itself again after books are read by the reviewers. When it comes to books being reviewed in the magazine, the operative question is "Do we have something we want to say about this book?"

How do you select your reviewers? What credentials are necessary, preferred?

Our reviewers have a mix of backgrounds and areas of expertise. Good reviewers have an instinct for the short form and understand that reviewing is a kind of service journalism, giving people information to make informed decisions about book selection.

What opportunities exist for writers to contribute to the Horn Book? Could you offer examples of articles for study?

I've started a series on the blog regarding our various columns and what we look for in features. I would recommend that any would be contributors to the Horn Book (or any other periodical) thoroughly browse at least the most recent two years' worth of issues.

When I think of the Horn Book, my mind goes first to the debates it's fielded. As a writer, I enjoyed the conversations surrounding Jennifer Armstrong's "Blood from a Stone" as well as Nancy Werlin and Jane Yolen's responses. I also closely followed the debate between Marc Aronson's "Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes" and Andrea Davis Pinkney's "Awards That Stand on Solid Ground." It's clear that the Horn Book is willing to delve into controversial subjects and offer competing opinions. Are these features generated from outside the Horn Book? Or, in the alternative, do you ask writers to address certain topics?

That goes both ways--sometimes the author gets the ball rolling, as did Marc with his article on prizes, and then Andrea called to see if we would publish a rebuttal. Sometimes I'll suggest a project--like Kimbra Wilder Gish's piece on fundamentalism and Harry Potter ["Hunting Down Harry Potter: An Exploration of Religious Concerns in Children's Literature"] some years ago. Kimbra had been posting on the topic at child_lit, and I thought it deserved sustained consideration.

More recently, you've started a blog, Read Roger. What do you see as its mission? Is it Roger's perspective, the Horn Book's, or is there a difference?

The Horn Book has really brought out the (to paraphrase Carson McCullers) editorial "we of me." If I'm speaking for the Horn Book, it's we; if I'm speaking for myself, it's me. Both voices show up on the blog.

Read Roger allows comments. Do you moderate them, or just let readers post?

In either case, why or why not? They are not moderated because there aren't enough abusive or off-topic comments to make that necessary. I've only removed a (non-spam) comment once.

More globally, what are the most significant changes you've seen in children's-YA publishing over the course of your career, and why do they matter?

The biggest change has been the rise of the retail market over the school and library.

Which trends are you inclined to celebrate? Which do you abhor? In each case, why?

I don't think this way.

With regard to craft, what are your pet peeves?

Opening paragraphs that Use All Five Senses to Pull the Reader In.

What are the five books you wish every author would study?

I'm less concerned about what authors read than I am that the editors and reviewers who go on to engage with their manuscripts/books have a strong understanding of the history and possibilities of children's literature.

Looking back, what were the funniest moments during your tenure?

The time we almost reviewed the book Magid Fasts for Ramadan (Clarion, 2000) as Magid FEASTS for Ramadan.

The most poignant?

It's a sad week here--Thomas Todd, who hired me and whose family has published the Horn Book since its inception, died.

But I'm also reminded here of another funny moment: when we moved our offices from downtown Boston to Charlestown some years ago, Mr. Todd reflected to me that it was like coming home again, because Charlestown was where his family first lived.

When I asked when this was, he replied "1647."

I'll miss him.
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