Friday, May 16, 2008

Cynsational News, Links & Giveaways

Enter to win one of three copies of Violet by Design by Melissa Walker (Berkley Jam, 2008).

From the promotional copy: "I was going to get out of the modeling business for good.

"But now I'm having trouble sticking with my decision. After all, if it weren't for modeling, I might still be the invisible wallflower. Hot guys like Paulo wouldn't be interested in me. And I'd never have seen Brazil or Spain--and now France! On the other hand...

"I also wouldn't have to choose between my best friend from home and my agent's shrill demands. Or anguish over my body the way only runway models do. Not to mention all this trouble I'm getting into for speaking out in the press about eating disorders.

"Maybe the life of an international model isn't for me. But if I quit for good, I might always wonder... What if?"

To enter the giveaway, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST May 20! Please also type "Violet by Design" in the subject line. One copy will go to a YA librarian (please indicate if you are one in your entry email). Good luck!


The Cynsations grand-prize May giveaway is an autographed paperback set of all three of Lauren Myracle's New York Times bestselling Internet Girls novels (in chat-room-style writing)--ttyl, l8rg8r, and ttfn, all published by Amulet!

Read a Cynsations interview with Lauren. Read Lauren's blog, and visit her at MySpace!

To enter the giveaway, email me with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST May 31! Please also type "Internet Girls" in the subject line. Note: one autographed set will be awarded to any Cynsations YA reader.

For Authors

Source: Jennifer Echols:

More News & Links

Faith in Fiction by Carla Sarratt at The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Within African American Christian fiction, there are several well known authors including Jacquelin Thomas, Kendra Norman Bellamy, Michelle Andrea Bowen, Vanessa Davis Griggs, and Reshonda Tate Billingsley." Read a Cynsations interview with the founders of The Brown Bookshelf, and join the new Brown Bookshelf Forum at MySpace!

The Power of Family Conversation: School and community programs help parents build children's literacy from birth by Laura Pappano from Harvard Education Letter. Peek: "Mounting research that links language-rich home environments with reading success and school achievement is driving educators and community groups to target families long before children register for school." Source: Pen Weekly NewsBlast.

Congratulations to April Lurie on the release of The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine (Delacorte, 2008)(excerpt)! Read a Cynsations interview with April!

Blogging helps encourage teen writing: Survey reveals that student bloggers are more prolific and appreciate the value of writing more than their peers from eSchool News. Peek: "Forty-seven percent of teen bloggers write outside of school for personal reasons several times a week or more, compared with 33 percent of teens without blogs. Sixty-five percent of teen bloggers believe that writing is essential to later success in life; 53 percent of non-bloggers say the same thing." Source: Pen Weekly NewsBlast.

"New Vermont College of Fine Arts is almost ready to take over Union Institute" by Sarah Hinckley from the Barre Montpelier Times Argus. Peek: "The three masters of fine arts programs being purchased from Union Institute and University are in Writing, Visual Art, and Writing for Children and Young Adults. They range in age from 10 to 25 years and have produced several published authors and award-winning works." Note: congratulations to the administration, my fellow faculty members, students, and our partners! Thank you to all who contributed to the establishment of our new college!

Kids' Comics: this blog "is an online publication of RAW Junior, LLC, publisher of the Little Lit Library and TOON Books. The blog is maintained by Bill Kartalopoulos with contributions from TOON Books artists and authors." Source: Anastasia Suen's blog.

"Child's 'One Hen' Lays Microlending Success" from National Public Radio. Peek: "That part of the story also mirrors Darko's experience: 650 people now work at his farm and he has granted small loans to entrepreneurs such as bakers, dressmakers and traders in his own community. His repayment rate? 98 percent." Note: features One Hen by Katie Smith Milway (Kids Can, 2008). Don't miss the official One Hen website--a model for the best in book sites!

The 2008 Skipping Stones Honor Awards: "recognize 26 exceptional books and teaching resources. Together, they encourage an understanding of the world's diverse cultures, as well as nature and ecological richness. The selection promotes cooperation, nonviolence, respect for differing viewpoints, and close relationships in human societies." Source: Mitali's Fire Escape.

The Nonfiction Author-Illustrator Relationship by Sneed B. Collard III at Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "Not long ago, another one of 'my' artists, Joanna Yardley, who lives here in Montana, took an especially daring step." See also "My Tune Has Changed: Writers and Photoresearch" by Tanya Lee Stone.

Dialogue: Writing for Children and Young Adults: an interview with authors Linda Urban and Micol Ostow by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek from Linda: "Longtime friends have a shorthand for things. They speak in private jokes. They tease. They sidestep. They shield." Peek from Micol: "There's always a temptation to cram exposition into dialogue but to do so is to give in to lazy impulses." See also Tami Lewis Brown's discussion this week of showing versus telling and literary time.

Thick-skinned, Thin-skinned, The Skin I'm In: Books about Bullying, Teasing, Relational Aggression and School Violence by Tessa Michaelson from the Cooperative Children's Book Center (2008). Peek: "From books depicting the heartache of gossip and social invisibility to books portraying the struggle of feeling comfortable into one’s own skin, these titles will have relevance and resonance with readers." See also

Teacher's Guide to My Life as a Rhombus (Flux, 2008). Note: novel by Varian Johnson; guide by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Learn more about Tracie's teacher guides. Need a guide?

Asian American Book List from the National Education Association. Peek: "a bilingual reading list of titles appropriate for K-12 students. The following titles are listed by grade level and include fiction, non-fiction and poetry." Source: NCTE.

The Perfect Blend from Lensey Namioka from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "Lensey's most recent book is a young adult novel called Mismatch (Delacorte, 2006), which I devoured over the weekend. Fifteen-year-old Sue Hua, a Chinese American girl whose family moves from culturally diverse Seattle to a mostly white suburb, falls for Andy Suzuki, who plays violin in the school orchestra. They are seen as an ideal couple since they are both Asian, but this is just one of many misconceptions that are examined and dispelled in the course of the novel."

"I'm Talking to You, Corded! The mismatch of technology and picture books" by Erica S. Perl from Slate Magazine. Peek: "And yet there is one place—a whole world, actually—where children are safely walled off from wired and wireless devices. That is the world of picture books." Note: just FYI, my Santa Knows, co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006) featured a more modern take as Alfie takes his campaign to the Web. Source: VCFA.

Attention Austin Writers: author Jo Whittemore will be speaking on "The Great Agent Hunt" at the 11 a.m. May 17 Austin SCBWI meeting at the Barnes & Noble in Westlake, Texas. Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

Attention Austin Event Planners: famed fantasy author Franny Billingsley has a particular interest in visiting the Texas Hill Country! Drop her an invite! Check out her newest release, Big Bad Bunny, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Franny.

Celebrating Young Writers

READ and WRITING magazines present the 2008 Student Writing Showcase. In the Student Writing Center section, check out the honorees. Note: You can hear me read two of them aloud--"Veiled Water" by Nadia Qari and "House at Bodega Bay" by Hari Srinivasan.

More Personally

Attention authors/publicists: interested in submitting a book for Cynsations review/interview consider? See guidelines.

Thank you to Betty Bird and everyone in my warm and enthusiastic audience at the Daughters of the American Revolution-Austin Woman's Club luncheon on Thursday! It was a pleasure to meet y'all. Thanks too for the tour!

On a more dramatic note, Austin is still cleaning up from Thursday's early morning storm.

It hit the center of town between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. with four-inch hail and winds clocked as high as 47 miles per hour.

Trees still block many neighborhood streets (including mine, headed north), three elementary schools were closed yesterday, and up to 40,000 people lost power. More than 3,000 are still without. Here's the latest from the Statesman.

We were lucky, losing only a medium branch and one west-facing second-floor window. West-side windows were hit (and broken) hard across town; at least one east-side apartment complex lost all of theirs. The problem was that the large hail was flying fast and horizontally toward them. If your angle was right, it looked like a blizzard.

I was on the second floor at the time, rushing to unplug my laptop and grab my flash drive (priorities?) when hail broke the window behind me. We never lost power, though our cable service was out until about 4 p.m. yesterday.

The kitties weathered the storm in their cat carriers in the first floor central hallway, except for Mercury, who was temporarily in hiding and then decided that clinging--claws out--to my shoulders was the only way to go.

Of course many other cities have been hit much worse by spring storms. It appears that none of our funnel clouds actually touched to cause tornado-level damage. From the reports, it appears that our damage was to property--not people. There was time enough to secure animals, etc.

Still, quite a night. See Greg's report and Don Tate's.


Check out the book trailer for The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman (Greenwillow, 2008)! Read a Cynsations interview with Jody, and learn more about the Class of 2k8!

Don't miss the book trailer for A Difficult Boy by 2k8's M.P. Barker (Holiday House, 2008)!

And take a peek at this new entry for Impossible by YA superstar Nancy Werlin (September, 2008)(author interview):

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Author Interview: Rick Riordan on Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series

You last spoke with Cynsations about The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians)(Hyperion, 2005) in December 2005. Could you update us on what's new in your writing life since?

So much has happened in three years, it's hard to believe. The fourth Percy Jackson book, Battle of the Labyrinth, will be out May 6. The response from kids, parents, and teachers has just been overwhelming. Interest in the series really started to snowball in the last year or so.

The biggest change in my writing life has been the increased demands on my time. It's always been a balancing act between family, writing, and touring, but in the last few years, it's definitely gotten trickier.

Fortunately, I love what I do! Right now I'm working on the fifth Percy Jackson book, along with an adult mystery novel, and planning for a fantasy/adventure that I'll publish with Disney in 2010.

Congratulations on the release of Demigods and Monsters: Your Favorite Authors on Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series (BenBella, May 2008)! Could you tell us about the book?

It's a collection of essays by a variety of authors about themes and characters in the Percy Jackson series. It never would've occurred to me to do a book like this, but I was very impressed when I saw the essays!

How did the project evolve, and how did you come to be involved in it?

BenBella puts out a series of these anthologies which they distribute with Borders.

They have collections about everything from Stephenie Meyer (author interview)(A New Dawn: Your Favorite Authors on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Series edited by Ellen Hopkins) and Narnia (Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia edited by Herbie Brennan (author interview) to Veronica Mars and the Gilmore Girls.

Leah Wilson from BenBella contacted me about possibly editing the Percy Jackson volume, Monsters and Demigods, and I was curious to see what the different writers were saying, so I agreed.

What attracted you to the idea?

I was a little hesitant at first. I didn't know if people would want to read it. I'm also wary of over-analyzing books that are meant for pleasure--which is probably something I picked up in my days as an English major! However, I was flattered that anyone would want to write an essay about my books, and I wondered what these other authors would say. Writing a forward for the book also gave me a chance to reflect on my own writing path, which is something I don't often have the luxury to do.

Could you give us a hint of what to expect from the various contributors?

I was very impressed by the range of ideas, and the entertaining way those ideas are presented. The book is anything but dry. The essays cover so many topics -- what makes a good parent, what the Oracle's prophecies mean, why so many monsters seem to go into the retail business.

Many of the essays made me stop and wonder: "Wow, is that what I was doing?" It was like someone showing me an x-ray of my own head.

What were the challenges, from an anthologist's point of view?

For me, the biggest challenge was maintaining distance, since I wrote the series the essayists were analyzing. It took a while to get used to that.

But honestly, the essays were so insightful, and most of them gave me much more credit for being clever than I deserved. How could I complain?

What did you love about it?

The variety. It's amazing how a dozen authors can look at the same series and find a dozen different angles to talk about--all of them unique and thought-provoking.

Was it in any way surprising or uncomfortable or particularly marvelous to read essays (by other authors) that were inspired by your work?

Everything was surprising! I've been an English teacher for years, but I never look at my own books the way an English teacher does -- for themes, messages, symbolism, etc.

When I write, I'm just telling a story. If there is symbolism in the books, it happens subconsciously, the way a native speaker might use subject-verb agreement without ever consciously thinking about it. To have someone else hold up a mirror to your work is pretty amazing, and yes, a little uncomfortable!

It would be hard to single out one essay, since they are all so great, but I definitely related to the discussion about what makes a good parent. I see this from both sides -- as a parent myself, and from Percy Jackson's perspective, as my teen narrator.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I hope it will enrich their reading of the Percy Jackson series and encourage readers to come up with their own interpretations.

The author creates the book, but what the book means --that's a long discussion, and the author is not the sole authoritative voice.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Percy Jackson and the Olympians will wrap up in book five, spring 2009, but it won't be the end for Camp Half-Blood. I'll be returning to Percy's world for a new series with demigods and Olympians in 2011. More on that later!

I'll also have a new fantasy coming out from Disney in 2010, as I mentioned, and a mystery adventure The Maze of Bones, which launches the series 39 Clues, will be out from Scholastic this September.

Cynsational Notes

Contributors include:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Author Interview: Herbie Brennan on Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia

Herbie Brennan on Herbie Brennan: "A professional writer whose work has appeared in more than fifty countries, Herbie Brennan is enjoyed by children and adults alike--sales of his books already exceed 7.5 million copies.

"Herbie has an well-established career writing for the children's market--from picture books to teenage fiction, from game books to school curriculum non-fiction. His keen eye for novelty, both in technology and market development, made him among the very first writers to create adventure game books and his GrailQuest series was an international bestseller.

"His teenage novel, Faerie Wars, also rocketed to international success, achieving best-seller status in more than 20 overseas editions, and was voted No 1 Top Ten Teenage Pick in the United States and listed as a New York Times Best Seller title.

"When he can be persuaded to take a break from his writing, Herbie give lectures and seminars, which have included modules on reincarnation research, the astral plane, dreamwork, healing, spiritual development, psychical research, quantum physics and magical training.

"With a background that includes writing for radio, the creation of boxed games and computer software, perhaps his greatest strength lies in the realm ideas, particularly in the diversification of publishing product into allied fields like audio and CD-ROM."

With the understanding that it's vast indeed, could you please update us on your back-list books, highlighting as you see fit?

The following listing gives first English-language publication only—all publishers listed are U.K. based unless otherwise stated. Most recent books are in bold. All books are listed alphabetically by category.

Children's Fiction

Bad Manners Day, Macdonald; Barmy Jeffers and the Quasimodo Walk, HarperCollins; Barmy Jeffers and the Shrinking Potion, HarperCollins; Black Death, Mammoth; Blood Brothers, Poolbeg (Ireland); Capricorn’s Children, Mammoth; Doroth’s Ghost, Heinemann; Eddie and the Bad Egg, Puffin; Eddie and the Dirty Dogs, Puffin; Eddie the Duck, Puffin; Emily and the Werewolf, Liber; Fairy Nuff, Bloomsbury; Faerie Wars, Bloomsbury; Faerie Lord, Bloomsbury; Final Victory, A&C Black; Kookaburra Dreaming, Scholastic; Letters from a Mouse, Walker; Little House, Macdonald; Marcus Mustard, Transworld; Mario Scumbini and the Big Pig Swipe, Hamilton/Puffin; Ordeal by Poison, HarperCollins; The Purple Emperor, Bloomsbury; Return of Barmy Jeffers, HarperCollins; Ruler of the Realm, Boomsbury; Shiva, HarperCollins; Telling Times: Jennet’s Tale, Egmont; The Crone, HarperCollins; The Gravediggers, Reed; The Mystery Machine, McElderry (USA); The Thing From Knucker Hole, Scholastic; Zartog’s Remote, Bloomsbury; Nuff Said, Bloomsbury; Frankenstella and the Video Shop Monster, Bloomsbury.

Children's Non-Fiction

Alien Contact, Scholastic; Death of the Dinosaurs, Longmans; Eleven Things You Never Knew About Cats, Longmans; Atlantis; Time Travel; Hidden Powers of the Human Mind; Parallel Worlds — Herbie Brennan’s Forbidden Truths, series published by Faber; How to Remember Absolutely Everything, Longmans; Internet, Scholastic; Memory, Scholastic; Mindpower 1: Succeed at School, HarperCollins; Mindpower 2: Make Yourself a Success, HarperCollins; Seriously Weird True Stories, Scholastic; Seriously Weird True Stories 2, Scholastic; Space Quest, Faber; Techno-Future, Puffin; The Alien-Hunter’s Handbook, Faber; The Code-Breaker’s Handbook, Faber; The First Vaccination, Longmans; The Ghost-Hunter’s Handbook, Faber; The Man Who Invented (nearly) Everything, Longmans; The Spy’s Handbook, Faber; The Young Ghost Hunter's Guide, HarperCollins; The Wizard’s Apprentice, Faber; Why Race for Space?, Longmans.

Phew! Bet you haven't even read the list, let alone the books.

Congratulations on the release of Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia (BenBella, April 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about the book?

Somebody at BenBella came up with the brilliant idea of asking a number of YA fantasy writers to contribute to an anthology on the works of C. S. Lewis.

Borders liked the idea and decided to make the finished product a Borders exclusive. Most of the authors involved had read Lewis as kids—no surprises there—and some even credit him as the ultimate inspiration for their own writing careers. So what you have in the book is 15 essays, all highly personal, by top flight fantasy authors on various aspects of the Narnia Chronicles. Great fun if you like Lewis; and who doesn't?

How did the project evolve, and how did you come to be involved in it?

As far as I know, what happened was BenBella brought out a book of essays [edited by Scott Westerfeld (author interview)] on Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass to celebrate the movie.

It proved so popular that they thought they might extend the idea into a series of anthologies on the works of other fantasy writers, and Lewis was an obvious choice for inclusion.

I'd contributed an essay to the Pullman collection and they kindly asked if I'd like to contribute to the Lewis one as well. It was a fairly batty piece about how Hitler became a black magician, but they must have liked it because the next thing was they asked me to edit the whole anthology.

Actually, if you look on the title page you'll find I'm jointly credited as editor with Leah Wilson. I can tell you Leah did all the hard work.

What attracted you to the idea?

I was flattered to be asked. (And I'm a big fan of Lewis's work, science fiction and fantasy.)

Could you give us a hint of what to expect from the various contributors?

There's some super stuff in there, varying from quite serious literary criticism to very quirky contributions.

Diane Duane, for example, did a piece about food in Narnia which I thought was brilliant because I'm a foodie myself and like talking about it. Ned Vizzini contributed an essay that was so funny it made me laugh aloud. Diana Peterfreund took her starting point as the crush she had on Lewis's character Edmund Pevensie when she was a girl. My friend Orla Melling, the Fairy Queen of Ireland, pretended to write about being good (she called it "Being Good for Narnia and the Lion") but actually wrote about being bad, which is always far more interesting; that was another very personal piece, and I learned a lot about Orla's naughty teenage days. Kelly McClymer tackled girl power in Narnia.

And so it goes on—quirky and personal, as I said. If you're interested in Lewis, or fantasy writing, or even just fantasy writers, you'll love it.

What did you love about it?

What I loved most was the surprise in my wife's voice when she leafed through an advance copy and said, "This is really very, very good." Of course that was due to the contributors, not me, but I liked getting the credit.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

What I really hope the readers will take away is something I don't think any of us really planned at the beginning—a little of what it feels like to be a fantasy writer.

There is a lot of very personal material in the anthology so if you read between the lines, you can really dig into the way a writers' minds work and what motivates and inspires them.

And, of course, understanding other fantasy writers will help you understand C. S. Lewis as well.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm not sure "look forward" may be the best way to describe it, but I've just finished a Magician's Memoir about my personal interest in magic and mysticism. Highly unsuitable for young adults, of course, but some of them might read it under the covers at night.

I've also send my agent a novel called The Shadow Project, which is a weird teen thriller. But next in line… not sure, except I keep thinking about a daughter Henry and Blue produced after the Faerie Wars Chronicles finished. She's fifteen or sixteen now, half fairy, half human (a faeman child) and a bit of a tearaway with some serious problems, so I might be heading back to the faerie realm before too long…

Cynsational Notes

Contributors include:

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Librarian Interview: Brazos Price on Second Chance Books

Brazos Price on Brazos Price: "After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin School of Information in 2006, Brazos began working full time for the Austin Public Library Youth Services Division. As an extension of his graduate work, he became a part of the Second Chance Books Project. Today, Brazos is a member of the Second Chance Books Leadership Team and is responsible for the collection at both of the satellite libraries."

What is Second Chance Books?

Second Chance Books is collaboration between the Austin Public Library and the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center that results in books, book talks, book clubs and readers' advisory to youth who are incarcerated in either a pre- or a post-adjudication facility here in Austin, Texas.

What was the initial inspiration for the program? How did it get started?

It started when Devo Carpenter (a youth services programming specialist with the Austin Public Library) went out to the center and noticed that it didn't have a library. She then vowed to do everything that she could to make sure that everyone there has an opportunity and the appropriate material to read. To work towards connecting every reader his/her/hir book.

Who is behind it?

Second Chance Books is a joint project between the Youth Services Division of the Austin Public Library and the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center.

On the Library's side of things, there are approximately 10 people in Youth Services that spend some portion of their time with the project.

Devo Carpenter started the project several years ago, and I joined on as a graduate student working on a project and continued after I was hired on full time by the Austin Public Library.

Who does it benefit?

First and foremost, it benefits the residents of the facilities. Residents don't have many choices, and giving them the option of reading a book that is interesting to them is a wonderful thing. So I'd say that they are the biggest beneficiaries of this project.

Next I would say it benefits the facility, administrators, and teachers at these facilities. They've said numerous times how valuable the collaboration has been.

It also benefits the library by giving us an award-winning outreach arm that does important work, and also brings patrons into the library. It's a win win win (win win win win win ad infinitum).

Why is this an important population to society? To you personally?

I've been interested in prison issues since my time at university as an undergraduate. I became involved with a political organization that opposed privatizing prisons and was immediately interested when I first heard about the Second Chance Books Project. It reminded me a bit of an organization I was already aware of, the Inside Books Project, which sends books to adult prisoners in Texas.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that it combines two of my "loves" in reading and prison issues, so it immediately appealed to me on a personal and professional level.

From the standpoint of society, I'd say that I think that we need to reevaluate much of what's going on in the criminal justice system. The U.S.A is already imprisoning more of its population than any other society in recorded history. This is unsustainable and true rehabilitative measures need to start sooner rather than later.

It's sort of obvious, but prisoners are an incredibly oppressed group in this country; whether or not they deserve it, something should be done to alleviate the social, economic, and culture pressures that have resulted in this abundance of prisoners.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the population that Second Chance Deals with is incredibly important to our society, and every effort should be made working with this population.

What is Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center? Please describe the residents.

Residents at the centers are just like youth that you see in the library; in fact, some of them are youth that you've seen at the library. Many of them are reluctant readers who have never read a book for pleasure on their own before entering the facility.

What results of Second Chance Books have you witnessed?

Personally, I've witnessed several successes of this program. It has been an opportunity to connect with youth from all over the city and help instill a love of reading with readers' advisory.

In addition to this, it also helps to forge a personal connection with the residents that ends up translating into a library visit. That's the best part, getting to see these youth back on the outside and asking them how they liked the book that you recommended to them on the inside.

How is the program financed?

Originally, the libraries were furnished with books from the Friends Austin Public Library as well as donations by individuals and publishers. As the program has evolved, we've secured funding through the Youth Services division and now have an annual budget devoted to books for the centers. Other things that we do are financed through staff time, grants and awards from funding agencies.

How can people help/support the program?

You could visit this website, and follow the appropriate link that reflects the sort of support that you would be interested in providing.

What is your vision for it in the future?

I'd like the see the program serve as a model, modular, easily extensible program that other libraries can take the parts that they like and adapt it to their specific situations. That's what we are working on right now; it's slow going as most nuts-and-bolts organizing often is.

To what extent do programs like this exist in other cities?

I'm not personally to up on what other locations around the country are doing… I know that Hennepin County libraries are doing some stuff, and Devo was on a panel with some other folks… so there definitely things happening on this front.

What sort of outreach/leadership are you doing on this front?

We've done several presentations at library conventions, like the aforementioned one that Devo was on.

What do you do outside of the library world?

I read comic books, play basketball, and go on long walks in the moonlight with my lovely girlfriend.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Agent Interview: Erin Murphy on Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Erin Murphy on Erin Murphy: "I grew up in Arizona, a fifth-generation native to the state and the product of a family of elementary educators--both parents and all four grandparents were teachers and administrators.

"Many of my fondest memories revolve around books and words: The first day of summer vacation, signing up for the reading program at the public library and picking out the first stack of books of the summer; going to the used bookstore with my dad and walking out with a big grocery bag of paperbacks to read during a camping trip; getting to the Waldenbooks at the mall the day the new Trixie Belden came out, cash in hand; learning the Dewey Decimal System and helping my mom shelve books the summer she volunteered at the school library around the corner; reading my way through the entire hardcover fiction section of that same library years later, in eighth grade, with my best friend; cuddling up to re-read the Narnia books every Christmas break. (I realize now that I never had to learn to love to read--it was a given. On the other hand, I had to teach myself to love physical activity, and that came less easily!)

"I felt like the black sheep of the family when I used my English degree to become an editor instead of a teacher, but as my engineer-not-educator uncle said, it's in the blood; you end up teaching no matter what your actual job title is."

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

It's funny because I don't think of the process as being "inspired" so much as "accidental." I never went looking for this job, but it's turned out to be the best fit for me. I don't think I could love what I do more; I'd keep doing it if I won the lottery.

In 1998, I was editor-in-chief at a regional publishing house, Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers, and it was just time for me to leave.

I thought I wanted to try working for myself. I did a bit of freelance editing of regional nonfiction titles for other publishers, but I heard from a lot of children's writers I'd worked with or corresponded with over the years, wanting me to do paid critiques for them (which surprised me to no end, let me tell you--writers paying editors?!?). I always say that it was a short hop from helping them strengthen their manuscripts to helping them sell them.

The truth, though, is that there was a definite inspiration point. Mary Wade had booked me to do a day with the Houston SCBWI group before I left Northland, and she kindly did not rescind the offer when I was no longer gainfully employed.

[See one of Mary's biographies, Joan Lowery Nixon: Masterful Mystery Writer (Enslow, 2004), right.]

I did an incredible number of critiques in one day at Mary's beautiful home (in my memory, it's 25, but I think that must be an exaggeration), and I saw so many wonderful manuscripts, but the writers all said they didn't know where to send them because so many houses were closing to unsolicited submissions, and it was so hard to track who was moving where and so on. I thought, I could figure that out for them!

My very first clients were Kelly Bennett, who lived in Houston, and her writing partner Ronnie Davidson; I'd worked with them at Northland.

To this day I think I have more writers from Texas on my list than from any other state. I am so grateful for all those early clients who put up with my massive learning curve; they took a big chance on me.

I'd never worked in New York and had no contacts there, and my early submissions went into the slush pile, I'm sure.

I was fortunate to become an agent at a time when agents were taking more and more of the role that editors have had in the lives of authors historically. I love that in this job, I know where my loyalty lies.

An editor is the publisher's representative to the author and the author's representative to the publisher, sandwiched in the middle in many ways. I knew where my paycheck came from when I was an editor, but I often felt more loyal to my authors than to my company.

Sure, an agent has to balance many things (her reputation, relationships with editors, what is best in the big picture of a client's career) against any conflict of the moment, but I always know for certain that the author's interests outweigh everything.

I also love that my clients, and I decide if our relationship is to be long-term (and of course we hope it is!). I don't build relationships only to have someone outside of that relationship decide that they're not working any longer and I have to move on.

My career unfolds side by side with those of the authors I work with. That's still true with many editors and the authors they work with, of course, as well, but a lot of editors have to move around in order to move up, and houses change direction, get bought out, etc.

An agent can be the consistent point in an author's career when other things change.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

Just as I never imagined I'd be an agent, I never imagined I'd focus on children's books!

When I was hired at Northland, their children's program was just beginning. It wasn't even really a program yet, it was just a couple of books. I started there the week that The Three Little Javelinas, which I believe remained their best-selling book ever until the company closed its doors, first arrived in the warehouse.

When my boss interviewed me, I think she had high hopes for building a real children's program, and she definitely had a passion for it. She asked me if I had any interest in children's books, and I was honest and said no, absolutely not. I had only been out of college a year, and in my mind, children's books were my mom's bailiwick (she was an elementary librarian); I was trying to be my own woman!

Betti Albrecht, my boss, was so relieved because she wanted that to be her baby; let the new girl deal with the stuff for grown-ups! About eight months later, Betti passed away quite suddenly, and as I was the only other editor, everything fell to me. Then the publisher retired, the art director was promoted to publisher, a new art director was the time the dust cleared, I was doing the job, and had found my own love of children's books.

How long have you been in the business? How has it changed?

Let's see, I started at Northland in 1992 and started my own business in 1998. Publishing is so odd in that it feels ever-changing and never-changing simultaneously.

I remember the furor 15 years ago over books on CD-ROM, the worry that they would spell the demise of the book as we knew it.

Now, at last, ebooks feel like real and important aspects of this industry--the rights that have been such sources of contention for so many years are now concrete and not just hypothetical.

Audio books are more and more important as well.

And yet books in their traditional form also live on. The Internet and online book-selling have changed so many things--the world is smaller in many ways, and rights issues are harder to anticipate and ever-developing.

The chain stores have so much say over what books get backing from corporate publishing, and it often feels like too few people are making decisions for too many--and yet I grew up in this business in independent publishing, and I know and appreciate that there are many strong-minded individuals forging their own paths successfully, and the remaining independent bookstores are so very vital to reaching readers.

Trends come and go, issues evolve, but at its heart, the business is the same--it's driven by a love of words and story and a desire to understand the world, by a wish to preserve these things and share them. In children's publishing especially, I think there is a sense of the greater good at work, even if it is a business and does have to turn a profit.

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

Oh, I am absolutely an editorial agent. I work closely with my clients on developing their work before we send it out, and we continue to develop it if necessary, based on feedback we receive, until it sells or goes into the drawer.

I sometimes even match clients up to critique and develop each other's work.

Manuscripts have to be in such good shape in order for editors to take them to acquisitions committees and build consensus, and the more of that work that is done ahead of time, the better chance the manuscripts have.

It's a fine line, developing a manuscript enough that it feels whole and publishable, but not so much that an editor doesn't see her place in bringing it to life, but I try very hard to walk that line.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript or do you see yourself as a career builder? In either case, why?

Before I sign a new client, I want a sense of where the writer is headed, what projects are on the horizon, what dreams we are pursuing. Helping to shape a career is such an intuitive process--it's definitely working without a net in so many ways.

If I don't have a big picture in mind, I find the work kind of deadens for me. I want a sense of my clients always striving forward, not finishing one manuscript and then waiting to see what happens.

I definitely want to be open to serendipity and surprises, and I want my clients to be listening when the muse speaks, so the plan is always in flux, but I can't fathom only thinking of a client in terms of one project. I sign writers, not manuscripts.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

Several of my clients have found that their writing selves have opened up in surprising and wonderful ways once they turned over the marketing side of things to an agent. They can stop worrying about that aspect of things, knowing they have a partner to help them make tough decisions, and free themselves to just focus on growing in their craft.

The validation of having an agent express interest in your work, and the quicker response from editors, can make you feel less like you're shooting in the dark, as well--and paradoxically, you can allow yourself to take risks and write in directions you didn't dare go before, because you do have some projects that someone has said are marketable--now you can play a little without so much worry that every piece you write has to get results.

I think the very best work springs out of this sensibility.

And by the way, I don't think every writer needs an agent, by any means.

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim, and/or both?

To me, the books that resonate the most with readers are those that are surprising and distinct, and yet touch the universal, and also hit a note that feels extremely timely.

I'm full of talk of balance and paradox today, aren't I? Well, I'll continue with that: The paradox here is that any manuscript that follows a formula for commercial success won't likely find it, unless it is genre fiction or something along those lines that succeeds because of formula.

Personally, I'm not attracted to formula, and the vast majority of new authors looking to find success in children's publishing won't come to it in genre fiction anyway, as much of that comes from packagers and established authors and lines.

A lot of the time, the "breakout" is a myth. It's so ironic when a multi-published author is seen as suddenly breakout--chances are, he's been working his butt off for years, and to him it doesn't feel sudden at all.

I think the best talents are the ones that are nurtured over time, and the best success comes when the author is ready for it.

I know for me in my life as an agent, growth has been slow and steady; each new stage comes at about the time I realize I'm pretty comfortable with where things are. It unfolds at what turns out to be the right pace. I wish the same for my clients, and it has been immensely satisfying to see that come to fruition.

In this market, thinking in terms of the big picture helps you make your own success, and that isn't just about the craft--it means building relationships with booksellers, teachers, librarians, and readers in general.

Children's book buyers appreciate someone who is in it for the long haul and isn't just looking for quick and easy success.

That mythical "breakout" often seems to come when a writer has a large community rooting for her, growing the readership with each book, and something just comes together, hits more universal notes and manages to plug into something very "now" at the same time, so that all those supporters are feeling extra-supportive all at once, and the awareness just spirals up and outward.

That level of awareness can be manufactured with lots of money, but in general, it's much more satisfying and long-lasting when it's organic, and when a publisher's investment in marketing piggybacks on the momentum an author has already built.

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

I have always acquired and sold a fairly even distribution of picture books, middle-grade fiction, and YA fiction without really thinking about it; my interests just seem to be that spread out.

My inner child reader is a smart and brave 11-year-old girl who loves escapism and has a secret affinity for history. I have heard others describe my taste as fairly wholesome and classic.

I'm definitely drawn to beautiful writing and literary fiction, so long as it is not impenetrable--I think readers should be challenged, but I don't really enjoy being challenged to find my way into a story, if that makes any sense.

I love silly picture books so long as they aren't slight (gawd, speaking of impenetrable--is that the annoying editor-speak that writers hate or what?). By this, I mean that a silly picture book can't be a throwaway--read it once, that's it--it has to have something to it that engages the reader enough to want to read it over and over again.

I love it when a book for any age makes me cry, and that only seems to happen when I feel the story has really earned it. I'm not a sucker for manipulation (but I'll forgive it if it's the least of a story's faults and I am immensely entertained).

I love it when fiction is tightly woven so that it feels like whole cloth--there is a world behind the pages that keeps turning even when we don't see it, the characters didn't spring to life on page 1, and yet the themes and motifs and storytelling work together in that way that takes the story beyond true-to-life and into true-to-story.

I have always felt that stories are more true than facts. I am a fairly new nonfiction reader--I didn't read much nonfiction as a child and don't find myself naturally drawn to it--but when I love a nonfiction piece, it is because the writer has pulled the human story from the research.

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

I work with a couple of author-illustrators on the pieces they write, but I don't work with illustrators to find illustration work only.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

I don't accept unsolicited submissions or even unsolicited queries--I only consider prospective clients if they come to me by referral (and not from somebody I've never heard of!) or if we have previous contact.

I always open to queries from attendees at conferences where I speak.

As my guidelines say, my submissions policy "does not exist to cultivate an air of exclusivity, nor does an opportunity to submit your work equal an invitation to query indiscriminately."

I know that all writers have to get through the "green" stages and figure out the basics of the business and the craft, but at this stage of my own career, I don't find it's the best use of my time to read queries or submissions from people who haven't made the most of the many, many resources out there for new writers.

I am more productive for my clients, and more helpful to those prospective clients who do reach out to me, because I'm not juggling slush.

And I am more attracted to people who, like me, tend to research the heck out of things, and enjoy the hard work that growth requires.

People who write their first draft of their first children's book and then go looking for an agent don't really have a sensibility I appreciate.

Email is best for first contact. I like a query to give me a sense of the whole person and the person as a writer, as well as the breadth and depth of projects the writer has available and in progress.

If I have a positive response to a query, I'll ask to see sample writing, and I'm pretty quick about that; if I ask to see complete manuscripts, the process grinds to a halt for a few months (unless I get caught up unexpectedly!).

Someone recently expressed concern that I take months to read whole manuscripts, thinking that was true with my clients as well--but I read client manuscripts much more quickly, I promise!

And I have lots of busy clients giving me new things to read all the time, which is why I don't have as much time to read the work of prospective clients.

I always encourage prospective clients to pursue other opportunities while they wait for my response. I don't want their process to grind to a halt because of me.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I like it when someone includes or clearly references previous correspondence so I don't have to reconstruct my memory about them and their work.

I strongly dislike it--aw, hell, I really hate it--when a writer submits simultaneously and then signs with another agent without giving me the courtesy of letting me know there's a competing offer of representation on the table.

I think that part of the process is kind of a mystery to many writers; the message of "don't nag, don't call" has been drummed into people so hard that they don't have a sense of when there are exceptions to the rules.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I have a lot of contact with my clients, and I love it that way!

I email my client list with announcements whenever something new sells, or a starred review comes out, or a writer wins an award.

Much to my terror, my clients started a listserv that I found out about after the fact, when they decided to ask me to join them (for which I am eternally grateful)--oh, I was so worried that having them talk to each other would cause all kinds of problems! (Aaaahhhh! It'll be anarchy!)

But it's been fantastic, so warm and sharing and often just plain goofy, and my clients are now wonderful resources for each other, too.

Last year we had our first retreat; another is scheduled for July.

I always wanted my clients to feel a sense of investment in the agency, and I think that's very much true. They really pull for each other, buy and promote each other's books, and there's a sense that when one has a new kind of success, everybody is proud.

For me, this business is about relationships as much as books, and a very nice thing about running my own business is that I get to choose who I spend my working days with! You can bet I choose to work with people (editors and writers alike) with whom I feel a sense of connection.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

Staying on top of changes in the industry, navigating tough times with writers, reading everything I want to read, staying so organized that nothing slips through the cracks, not being able to stop time or clone myself to get more done....

But I definitely think of all of these things as challenges, not down sides. No down sides to this job, really. I'm spoiled rotten.

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

There's a complete list of recent and upcoming releases and recent sales here.

Today, the book that is most on my mind is Laura Resau's Red Glass (Delacorte, September 2007) because Laura is at IRA in Atlanta where she will receive the Young Adult Fiction Award at a banquet tonight. We also just found out that the book won the 2008 Américas Award. It is such an amazing read--beautifully written, full of comedy and heartbreak, and so uplifting--it's hard to leave behind after turning the last page.

Looking at the shelf next to me for things that have arrived from publishers in the last couple of weeks, I see:

Galleys of the chapter book Maybelle Goes to Tea by Katie Speck (Holt, August 2008), the second book featuring a spunky cockroach always maneuvering to get more out of life; Mary Hershey's hilarious and heart-warming middle-grade novel Ten Lucky Things That Have Happened To Me Since I Nearly Got Hit by Lightning (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, July 2008), another sequel; and the lush YA fantasy Aurelie: A Faerie Tale by Heather Tomlinson (Holt, September 2008).

Paperback releases of the so-much-fun-I-can-hardly-stand-it "sketch-diary" Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury, May 2008; hardcover, May 2007), which also has a sequel coming out this spring; and the rousing middle-grade adventure Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R.L. LaFevers (Houghton, May 2008; hardcover, April 2007)(author interview), which has a sequel coming out this fall; as well as the Australian edition of Susan Vaught's Big Fat Manifesto (published in the U.S. by Bloomsbury, December 2007), a sassy contemporary YA novel featuring a shameless fat girl.

The cover of the picture book Dogs on the Bed, by author and bookseller extraordinaire Elizabeth Bluemle (Candlewick, October 2008)(bookseller insights), which has the most infectious bouncy rhyme; and mechanicals for the picture book The Hat That Wore Clara B. by Melanie Turner-Denstaedt, which FSG will release next year, and which is especially close to my heart because the author passed away from cancer last fall before seeing her first book published, although she did get to see the sketches the amazing Frank Morrison did for it.

Brand-new hardcovers released in the last month: Neptune's Children by Bonnie Dobkin (Walker & Co.), a modern-day Lord of the Flies; The Lucky Place by Zu Vincent (Front Street), a beautifully written coming-of-age novel told in vignettes against the backdrop of the new suburbia of the 1960s; and A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), a retelling of Rumplestiltskin that finally gives a name to the miller's daughter and makes the mill a creepy setting with a life of its own, which has been getting lots of nice buzz online.

As a reader, which books have you enjoyed lately and why?

I've been in an adventure phase lately (Philip Reeve's Larklight and Kenneth Oppel's Airborn were fabulous reads), and I'm always reading something quieter and more character-driven (right now I'm loving Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Heather Hepler and Brad Barkley)(Dutton, 2006)(co-author interview).

I read headlong through your Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) on the plane home from Austin a couple of weeks ago; it was the first time I've ever been mad that a flight landed on time, and my poor husband thought I wasn't very happy to see him because I kept sneaking little bits of the ending in on the drive home from the airport; fortunately, he's very understanding, so I don't have to blame you for a rift in my marriage!

The last audiobook I adored was Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree [by Lauren Tarshis]; such a different sort of perspective for middle-grade, and so satisfying.
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