Friday, September 12, 2008

10th Anniversary Giveaway

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I'm offering one rather eclectic giveaway package, which will include paperback copies of the following books:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1958);

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977);

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (1997); and

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (2008)(signed).

Why? Each of these books has a personal meaning to me. The first two were favorites of mine as a young reader--the first because it made me feel less alone and the second because it in part inspired my own debut novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001). The third influenced me most in my own YA writing, and the last is my latest contribution to the conversation of books. I'll also likely include a few additional surprises.

All Cynsational readers are eligible! To enter, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with a question to answer along with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30!

Note: as examples, questions may be related to the writing life, craft, publishing, teaching writing, or any area within my fields of interest/expertise such as--writing for young readers; children's-YA fiction; diversity (of ethnicity, religion, region, etc.) in books; Native youth literature; writing picture books; writing short stories; writing novels; Gothic/urban/paranormal fantasy; speculative fiction more broadly; promotion; teaching writing; diversifying your "brand;" working with an editor or agent; the youth literature community; blogging; etc. I'll likely pick some to answer as part of the anniversary series of interviews.

OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me with the previous information on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

Please also type "anniversary giveaway" in the subject line.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Amazing News! In celebration of 10 years of, the lovely Angela L. Fox is sponsoring a giveaway at Pickled Pixel Toe.

Enter to win a T-shirt!

Here's how: go to one of the following categories: The Muses (see design sample); The Inner Critics; or Writing, Illustrating, and Conference.

Pick a T-shirt design. Then email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your design choice, the color you prefer, your shirt size, your name, and your snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 22! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 22! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

REMINDER: Enter to win one of four ARCs of Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez (Harcourt, 2008)! To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 15! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 15! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win.

One ARC will go to a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature (please indicate), two will go to any Cynsational readers, and one will go to a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace. Please indicate status. Please also type "Dead is the New Black" in the subject line.

Winners of the ARC giveaway of The Devouring: Sorry Night by Simon Holt (Little Brown, 2008) were: Mandy in Pennsylvania; Jaden in Texas; and Kate, a teacher in Pennsylvania! UPDATE: At Blue Rose Girls, Devouring editor Alvina Ling offers an interesting look at the U.S. versus U.K. covers for this novel with related commentary.

More Giveaways

Join Author Micol Ostow's Popular Vote Cyber-Launch Party at First Person Present! From Sept. 8 to Sept. 13, Micol will be offering question-and-answer interviews with such youth lit authors as Jill Santopolo, Judy Goldschmidt, Nancy Krulik, Nancy Holder, Marjetta Geerling, Kim Kane, Liz Gallagher, and more! Each day, Micol also will also giveaway "one copy and one bookmark of Popular Vote (Scholastic Point, 2008), plus a special prize from the visiting author of the day."

Between now and Dec. 31, author Suzanne Selfors is running a video contest! The winner "will be announced in January and will receive a $150 gift certificate for the bookstore of his/her choice and a signed copy of Suzanne's next teen novel, Coffeehouse Angel. [The] winning video will also be featured on Suzanne's website."

Fangtastic Contest: sponsored by author Heather Brewer. To enter, "create a piece of artwork that is a tribute to your favorite scene from any book in the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod [(Dutton, 2007-)]." From Heather: "Grand Prize: a character named after winner in the fourth Vlad Tod book, Eleventh Grade Burns (as well as your name in the book's acknowledgments), a vampire smiley t-shirt (as featured on the cover of Ninth Grade Slays), ten (10) temporary tattoos of Vlad's name in Elysian Code (his Mark), and autographed copies of Eighth Grade Bites (paperback) and Ninth Grade Slays (hardcover)." Note: there's also a spooky-cool first and second prize. See deadline and details!

Enter to win from the Texas Book Festival! Grand prize: VIP Trip for two to the Texas Book Festival in Austin from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. Second prize: Fort Worth Arts and Culture Tour. Third prize: Barnes & Noble and Gift Basket & Gift Card. Check out the amazing details (airline tickets, spa resort, and much more)!

UPDATE: authors to be featured at the 2008 festival include: Kathi Appelt; Shana Burg; Melissa de la Cruz; Heather Vogel Frederick; Shannon Hale; Varian Johnson; Laurie Keller; Christopher S. Jennings; Marisa Montes; Yuyi Morales; Lauren Myracle; Margo Rabb; Tanya Lee Stone; Philip Yates; Paula Yoo; and Jennifer Ziegler. See the complete list.

More News

This book trailer celebrates Little Night by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook, 2007) winning the SCBWI Golden Kite award for children's book illustration. Source: René Colato Laínez at La Bloga.

Is That a Statuette in Your Pants, or Are You Just Trying to Impress Me? from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "Having won a Newbery in the 70's isn't jumping-up-and-down exciting, but it's still interesting. Having won your junior high's highest honor two weeks ago for this very manuscript is so unimportant I can't believe you care."

Children's thoughts about parents who go off to war by Karen MacPherson from ScrippsNews. "...normal doesn't equal easy when your parents are in the military, as author Deborah Ellis eloquently demonstrates in her new book, Off to War: Voices of Soldiers' Children (Groundwood, 2008). A companion volume, Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees, will be published in January."

A Conversation With Laurie Halse Anderson by University of South Florida Professor of English Education Joan F. Kaywell and her son Stephen, a King High School junior from the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. Peek: "Every time I lose myself in a story, I come out knowing that this is what I was put on the planet to do." Note: Laurie's site has been updated to add her latest book, Chains (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Don't miss the bibliography and teacher's guide.

See also Genre-bending from Laurie at Mad Woman in the Forest. Peek: "And your heart says, 'I'm not in the mood for YA right now, but I have a great historical fiction idea.' So you follow your heart and write for a couple of years and turn in the historical novel and what is going to be the reaction at your publishing house? In all likelihood, there will be a deafening silence."

Book Blocks by Jenny Rappaport at Lit Soup. Peek: "This is an open invitation for any author who has a book coming out to write up a short piece about one of the building blocks of their upcoming book. It can be about the characters, the plot, the theme, the actual writing structure, the idea behind the novel (or non-fiction work), the worldbuilding, etc."

Meet the Author: Jack Gantos from Reading Rockets. Source: BookMoot.

Spendor in the Slush from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "The first person who has to love what you create is you. After that, you have to raise your manuscript right and teach it good manners. It should know how to play nicely with others. It should be strong, but unafraid to be human. It should know how to offer the best of itself to the people it loves."

Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: newly updated from Jen Robinson's Book Page.

A cuddly invention inspires Karen Hesse's captivating new novel by Deborah Hopkinson from BookPage. Peek: "Where would I be without archived newspapers? Some days I feel like the nursery rhyme character, Jack Horner, who sticks in his thumb and pulls out a plum."

Q and A with Terry Pratchett by Mike Levy from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "There are some people who research my work obsessively, who claim that they can follow the philosophy of my life by reading my books consecutively. I don't really agree." Source: Confessions of a Bibliovore.

Personalizing versus Kissing Up from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "...anyone deliberately not personalizing is shooting their query in the foot, and then stomping on it and telling the query it was actually left in a bundle by the stork and its real parents are trolls from another planet." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Query Letter Project from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Janni shares the query letter to Bones of Faerie (Random House, 2009). Note: this is part of a larger series of posts by various authors in which various they share their query letters.

Fresh New Voice of YA- Terri Clark Interview from Book Chic. Peek: "Sleepless [(HarperTeen, 2008)] came from my own fascination with dreams and a series of Denver Post articles that ran on violent criminals who pretended insanity so they would get sentenced to a mental hospital instead of jail. At some point I put the two ideas together and Sleepless was born."

Cool enough for the New York Times bestseller list: an interview with Lisa McMann from Calvin College. Peek: "Some folks believe that authors who write about real issues are in fact endorsing bad behavior and teens will believe that it's okay for them to do drugs or get pregnant too because they read about it in a book. ...give yourself some credit for teaching your child morals, and more importantly, give your teen some credit—if she's reading books for fun, she's not a dunderhead."

'Potter' Author Wins Copyright Ruling by The Associated Press from The New York Times. Peek: "The author of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling, has won her claim that a fan violated her copyright with his plans to publish a Potter encyclopedia." Source: The Horn Book.

Imaginary Friends: You're Never Quite Alone with this Accomplished Artist and Storyteller: an article about Tony DiTerlizzi from Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion. Peek: "What I’ve found to be crucial is something that no one teaches in art school. Learning your craft and creating a good story is certainly half of your challenge, but a big portion of your success has to do with your people skills."

Finalists for the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Award are: We Are One by Larry Dane Brimmer (Calkins Creek); The Bee Tree by Stephen Buchmann and Diana Cohn, illustrated by Paul Mirocha (Cinco Puntos); The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous by Suzanne Crowley (HarperCollins)(author interview); The Red Queen's Daughter by Jacqueline Kolosov (Hyperion); and Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb (Delacorte). Note: Greg Leitich Smith won the award in 2004 for Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003).

Query Letter Phrasing to Reconsider from Bookends LCC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "Don't demean yourself or your work. I should be overjoyed to continue receiving submissions from authors and should be lucky to have the opportunity to read your work. Treat yourself and your work with pride. It will get you further."

Congratulations to That Bookstore in Blytheville on its 32nd Anniversary! Source: GalleyCat.

Congratulations to Adam Selzer on the release of I Put a Spell on You: From the Files of Chrissie Woodward, Spelling Bee Detective (Delacorte, 2008)! From the promotional copy: "Come spelling bee season, the tiny town of Preston erupts in excitement: the bee is televised, and the hottest ticket in town. This year, an assortment of sixth-grade miscreants is going for the top prize: Jennifer, an over-scheduled free spirit whose parents are obsessed with her college applications; Mutual, a previously home-schooled outsider who's enrolled in public school for the first time in order to participate in the bee; Harlan, the class clown who has spectacular plans for making the most of his time in the spotlight; and Chrissie, the constant observer, who suspects something is off at the bee and will stop at nothing to get to the truth. Principal Floren is acting shady to everyone—but, as he insists, 'I am not a crook.'"

The News from Andrew Karre at The Flux Blog. Peek: "I am leaving Flux and Llewellyn on September 26 to take the editorial directorship of Carolrhoda, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group in Minneapolis, where I will be acquiring children's books of all sorts for all ages (including YA)." Note: congratulations to Andrew! I know he'll be missed at Flux, but Carolrhoda is lucky to get him. Read a Cynsations interview with Andrew.

Who's Moving Where? from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. A resource for folks trying to track the latest news and staff changes at children's book publishers. Read a Cynsations interview with Harold.

Three Things in Undone by Brooke Taylor. Brooke showcases photos of the real-world settings behind her debut novel, Undone (Walker, 2008).

Heinlein's Fan Mail Solution from Conceptual Trends and Current Topics. Peek: "In the days before the Internet, Heinlein's solution was fabulous. He created a one page FAQ answer sheet--minus the questions. Then he, or rather his wife Ginny, checked off the appropriate answer and mailed it back." Source: Editorial Ass.

"The Interview" by Marion Tickner from The Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "It's a good idea to record the interview, whether it's taken in person or over the telephone. And make sure the recorder is turned on. (I've had that experience--concluded my interview and found I hadn't turned on the recorder.)"

Censorship and The Right to Read from my main site. Note: feel free to suggest a resource. I'm going to feature the various pages from CYALR in order for the next several weeks and request link submissions. Note: ALA Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is Sept. 27 to Oct. 4.

Author-illustrator Don Tate offers a taste of his school-and-library visit presentations; learn more.

Picture Book Author Advance Survey from Barbara Kanninen, Children's Author and Adventure Economist. Peek: "When someone responds to the survey, I immediately send my previous report (which is currently based on 50-some responses) to that person. After that, I will send the entire group updated reports whenever I collect enough responses to warrant a new report." Source: Kidlit Central News.

Writers and Depression by Nancy Etchemendy from the Horror Writers Association. A frank discussion of warning signs and why writers are so vulnerable. Be good to each other out there. Take care of yourselves. Note: I run this link a couple of times a year.

Life, Craft, Art by Zu Vincent from Through the Tollbooth. A discussion and response to The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates (Harper, 2004). Peek: "Have your journal ready. Sit with the essays at a coffee shop or on a rock at the creek and open an inner dialogue. Respond to Oates' journey with notes on your own. We all have gold in our passion for this strange persuasion to create. Mine it." Read a Cynsations interview with Zu.

Aha Moments by Melissa Stewart from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "Some people still ask me why I've never written a book for adults. Others want to know if I'll ever write a novel. But these questions no longer bother me."

Do You Look at Rejections? by Agent Kristin from Pub Rants. Peek: "Considering that 90% of the population wants to write a novel but never have the guts to go for it, being in the game is a huge thing. Even though it sucks, rejections are a badge of honor."

Check out the book trailer for Skinned by Robin Wasserman (Simon Pulse, 2008):

Mark Your Calendars

YA Author Justine Larbalestier is touring in celebration of her wonderful new novel How To Ditch Your Fairy (Bloomsbury, 2008)!

From Scott Westerfeld: "Next week, she'll be in northern California, then doing a couple of dates near home. In October, she'll be in Ohio and Michigan, and in Texas for November. (I'll be traveling with her some of the time, and maybe popping in to say 'hi' in a few places, but this is her tour, not mine. I will be officially appearing at BookPeople in Austin, though...)."

See the schedule for details. UPDATE: see Justine's page for the latest additions/corrections/changes!

Note: I want a doubles-my-writing-time fairy.

Coming Soon

Rick Guzman (Austin) will speak at the Sept. 13 meeting of the CenTex Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers in Round Rock, Texas. "Book Publishing Contracts: What You Need to Know" will discuss what to look for, what to avoid, and what it all means. "Guzman's law practice includes publishing interests, and he writes biographies of famous Latinos, most recently George Lopez: Latino King of Comedy (Enslow, 2008)." Source: Writers' League of Texas.

Second Annual Kidlit Bloggers Conference is scheduled for Sept. 27 at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel. The Sheraton has extended conference rates between Sept. 24-Sept. 29, if you wish to stay longer. The room must be booked by Sept. 12 to get the special rate. Cost: $60 (dinner included); $30 for the dinner alone. See more information and registration. Source: Tracy Grand of JacketFlap.

The Youth Literature Festival, sponsored by the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be Oct. 4. All events are free and open to the public and will be held at various locations across the Urbana-Champaign community. Speakers will include: Ashley Bryan; Betsy Hearne; Dan Keding; W. Nikola-Lisa; Alice McGinty; Patricia Hruby Powell; Melodye Rosales; Marc Aronson; Susan Campbell Bartoletti; Chris Crutcher; Jan Spivey Gilchrist; Jennifer Holm; Paul Jancezko; Francisco Jimenez; M. E. Kerr; Robert Lipsyte; Robert San Souci; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Joyce Carol Thomas; Richard Van Camp; and Janet Wong. See more information. Hope to see you there!

A Picture Book Primer: Writing and Illustrating Children's Books with Keith Graves from The Writers' League of Texas. Dates: Oct. 7; Oct. 30; Nov. 18. "Animator and picture book author and illustrator Keith Graves will guide students through the process of writing and illustrating a picture book. Students will bring in rough manuscripts or ideas, along with sketches or ideas, which will be developed over the course of three meetings into a book dummy for presentation. Students will receive one-on-one instruction, and participate in group critiques and discussions. This class will require some work to be done at home between classes." See more information.

The first annual Hill Country Book Festival will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Georgetown Public Library (Georgetown, Texas). Participating authors/illustrators include Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Don Tate, P. J. Hoover, and Deborah Frontiera. The Biscuit Brothers also will be performing! See schedule.

"Connections & Craft: Writing for Children and Young Adults:" hosted by Brazos Valley (Texas) SCBWI Nov. 15 at A & M United Methodist Church in College Station, Texas. "Editor Joy Neaves, agent Emily Van Beek, and author Cynthia Leitich Smith comprise our faculty for this day-long event. Published BV-SCBWI authors will also conduct a hands-on Writers' Workshop." Download the brochure. Read a Cynsations interview with Emily.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program now offers a one-semester graduate-level picture book certificate program. Note: "The picture book certificate program is modeled after a regular MFA-WC&YA semester with a few additional components."

Online Events

Reminder: I'll be appearing twice to discuss Tantalize and related forthcoming books in October on the Eye4You Alliance Island at Second Life. From School Library Journal: "There will be two appearances, the first on the main grid of Second Life (for those 18 and over) on Oct. 14, and again on Oct. 28 on the teen grid of Teen Second." See more information.


If you're submitting a book for interview/recommendation, please read the guidelines. Please don't send me an e-mail "pitch" for the book. Please don't call me at home. Thanks!

More Personally

I thought y'all might enjoy seeing the gorgeous roses Greg sent in celebration of our 14th wedding anniversary, which was last week!

This week has been a quiet one, largely spent revising my graphic novel adaptation of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). It's told from Kieren's point of view and includes many new scenes.

My thoughts also have been with the victims of 9-11, their surviving loved ones, and others affected by the tragedy.

Austin SCBWI's Day with an Editor, scheduled for Sept. 13, has been postponed due to Hurricane Ike. I'll keep y'all posted on that.

To folks from Houston-Galveston and surrounding areas, stay safe! To the evacuees headed this way (or already here), welcome to Austin! Note: for Saturday, according to News 8, we're expecting "wind gusts up to 25-40 mph by noon" and "briefly heavy rain bands, mostly east of I-35."

Thanks so much to everyone who sent cheers regarding the 10th anniversary of, and a special thanks to author Kimberly Griffiths Little, who blogged about it, to author Sara Zarr, who blogged about it, to illustrator Gail Maki Wilson, who blogged about it, and to author-illustrator Don Tate, who blogged about it, too! Note: if I missed your cheers, please send the URL!

Thank you to Debbi Michiko Florence for highlighting the Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) sighting at her local Borders! Read a Cynsations interview with Debbi.

Thank you to Druzelle Cederquist at Luminous Realities for naming Cynsations among her favorite blogs! Visit Luminous Realities: Exploring the Creative Process: A Writer's View of "Walking the Mystical Way with Practical Feet."

It made me smile to read Carmen Oliver's blog post about four of my favorite Austin area writers on a writers' retreat in Kingsland, Texas.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Author Interview: Kimberly Pauley on Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)

Kimberly Pauley on Kimberly Pauley: "I majored in English at the University of Florida and took as many classes as I could in adolescent fiction and science fiction (it's awesome to read books for class that you'd read anyway).

"I was working as a programmer/Web development manager when I started up Young Adult Books Central and have been reviewing books since 1998.

"Sucks to Be Me is my first novel, and I had a lot of fun writing it.

"I live in Illinois near Chicago with my husband Tony (who is very supportive of the whole writing thing), and my brand new baby boy Max (he's already 4 ½ months old!)."

What first inspired you to write for young adults?

I've always loved YA lit, and I truly believe that some of the best writing out there today is for teens (despite what some authors say about the "YA Ghetto").

I think you can do things and write about things in the YA arena that you just can't do with "adult" books.

Congratulations on Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (Maybe)(Mirrorstone, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the novel?

It's about a sixteen (almost seventeen) year old girl who happens to have parents that are vampires. She's known about their little bloody secret for just about forever, but only recently has the local vampire council discovered her. And since non-vampires aren't supposed to know that vampires exist, they give her an ultimatum. She's got to decide--in just a month's time--whether or not she wants to be a vampire too.

They make her take these vampire classes (vampire homework, ugh!), and she even has to go on "educational" field trips with her weirdo Uncle Mortie. Meanwhile, she'd really rather be concentrating on her love life (or lack thereof), getting a date for prom, and getting through school.

There are some hot guys, a couple of mean girls, a great best friend, and dashes of normal teenage angst. Oh, and vampires, of course. But no bloody mayhem or skulking about at night.

This is really a humorous look at the vampire life and not a serious one (though Mina's dilemma is big enough for just about anyone!).

The official age range is 12 and up, though I've had 10 year olds write me that they liked it and other people that only recommend it for those aged 14 and up.

That's the problem with age ranges in general…it really depends on the individual reader. There's nothing too risqué in the book, but Mina does get some kissing in and her mother does give her a version of "The Talk."

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

A couple of things. At the time, I had recently read a book that shall remain nameless. It was an okay book, but it annoyed me because it referenced bits of the Dracula myth and got things wrong. It was also pretty typical with the whole "evil" vampire vs. virtuous heroine plot line.

That started me thinking, hey what if being a vampire were boring and not at all mysterious or even all that dangerous? What if it were a teenager's parents that were vampires? We all know how teens generally feel about their parents…so, anyway, it went from there.

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

I actually did a lot of research on the vampire myth in general and dug up some of my old college coursework (I'd studied Dracula in a couple of classes). I knew I wanted to keep the book fairly light and funny and not full of blood and gore, but also I wanted a book that teens that weren't into vampires could still read and enjoy.

The comments about Bram Stoker's Mina and Lucy were terrific. Did you give much thought to the role of girls/women in the horror tradition, and if so, would you like to share a few of your thoughts?

Believe it or not, some of what is in the book about Stoker is taken directly or paraphrased from some things I wrote in college.

I had this great professor, James B. Twitchell, who had literally written the book on vampires (The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature) and I'd taken a class in the Romantic period with him. Incidentally, my husband-to-be was also in that class with me.

One of the best things about Twitchell was that he let us write on pretty much whatever we wanted for our weekly papers and didn't mind if we were a little flippant (which I tend to be). He didn't even always pick them up, but you'd better have written something in case he did.

When we read Stoker in class, I found myself really annoyed, just like Mina. Besides the obvious things, Professor Twitchell was really good at pointing out some of the more egregious but hidden digs at women in the novel. Actually, a lot of literature from that time period (heck, a fair amount in all time periods, I suppose) is very male-centric. We used to call the literature canon that everyone studies in college "books by dead white guys."

You know, come to think of it, I probably should have put Professor Twitchell in the acknowlegements section of my book. He still teaches at the University of Florida, and I highly recommend him to anyone that is attending college there.

But getting back to your question…I think that it is a wonderful thing that there are so many woman authors in the horror field now and so many great female characters. I tried to make Mina be someone believable; not too weak, but not too strong either.

And I hope it comes through that she makes the choice she makes for herself and not for a guy or even her best friend.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

Write more. And write more often. There's always something to interrupt you out there, and you just have to ignore it (even if it is the laundry – after all, you can always wear that horrible looking muumuu in the back of your closet…you're a writer and people expect that anyway), and get your writing done.

Many of us also know you as the YA Books Goddess at Young Adult (& Kids) Books Central! Could you give us the behind-the-scenes scoop on your efforts on that front?

It's hard to believe, but I've been doing that for over 10 years now. Yikes! I feel so old!

My goal has always been to encourage reading and be a place where readers (young or old) can learn about new authors (big or small).

I give away hundreds of books a year and also try to provide a forum for authors and publishers of any size and stature to get the word out about their books.

For those who may be new to Young Adult (& Kids) Books Central, could you give us an overview of the site and/or share any new features/directions?

The site is located at and there's also an associated blog (where you can find out what the latest postings are) and a forum (hosted on Delphi). I and a number of wonderful volunteer reviewers put up reviews of books for ages 0 and up, so we cover everything from picture books and early readers to young adult and even some adult titles.

There're also interviews, press releases, bios (which authors can submit directly), excerpts from books, and guides (teacher, study, and reader). Readers can also submit reviews, and every 15 they submit earns them a free book from the Prize Bucket. I also feature a couple of publisher-sponsored giveaways every month.

There's always more that I want to do, though the biggest challenges are time and money. Since I want to keep the site accessible for everyone (visitors and those interested in putting their work out there), I don't feature many ads and, for the ones I do feature, I try to keep the price low so that any author can afford to advertise their book.

So, while I'd love to be able to hire someone to code some additional features, I just can't afford to do it. And believe it or not, I coded almost all of the site myself. I used to be a Web development manager at AT&T Labs. But it has been so many years now that I've forgotten half of what I used to know!

That said, I do have plans for additional features…like a publisher search and a way that people can log in and track their reviews. But I just need to find the time to get it done! (Hm, any ColdFusion programmers out there that would like to help?)

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm working on a sequel now called It Still Sucks to Be Me. I can't say much about it since it would give away the ending of the first book. Let's just say that Mina's always got some kind of trouble in her life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Author Interview: Tony Abbott on The Postcard

Tony Abbott on Tony Abbott: "In brief, I was born in Cleveland, Ohio; and moved with my family to Connecticut when I was eight.

"My father had a Jesuit college education (courtesy of the G.I. Bill, rightly touted as one of the most amazing pieces of legislation in the last century) and wanted to teach, so when he got his Ph.D., there were several choices of places to move to--as I recall, Detroit, a small town in Maine, or Connecticut. He and my mom chose the latter, a fairly new college, so we moved. He was a professor at the college, later university, there for 30 years.

"I went to the University of Connecticut, graduated with a degree in English, worked in bookstores, a library, and a technology-related publishing company before I married and had children. I always wrote: short stories and poetry (quite a bit, actually, some appearing in small magazines), but turned to children's books after having children of my own, and reading to them."

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Reading to my first daughter (she was born in 1985) gave me a chance to learn about the wonderful books being written for children at that time. When I was growing up, it was either picture books (the Golden Age) or, for older readers, classics and Hardy Boys.

The market had grown from that time to the eighties. My daughter and I read constantly when she was very young: William Steig, William Joyce, the Fox books, the Cut-ups (which I still think are some of the funniest books ever written), many others, usually of a quirky sort. I became entranced with the idea of writing a book of this sort.

Could you please update us on your recent back list, highlighting as you see fit?

I suppose I am most proud of my novels, so I'll start there. My first was scantily reviewed; Kringle (Scholastic, 2005) is a Christmas fantasy, a sort of hagiography written about the boy who became this monumental Winter Gift Giver (as some stories call him) that we commonly know as Santa Claus.

But I still love this book. It harks back to the classic English children's stories from Peter Pan to The Hobbit, and was written as something like a saint's biography, but with all the humor and adventure lacking from most of the classics in that genre.

To pitch it to Scholastic, I employed a crass phrase: "Santa Claus meets The Lord of the Rings." In truth, that is fairly accurate, as I had long thought of the current idea of Santa Claus as something like the vulgarized remains of a once great hero on the scale of King Arthur or Odysseus. So I wrote the book (boy, am I spending a lot of time talking about this book no one knows!) as an homage to the hero I call Kringle.

There is a war, of course. Wherever there are elves, which the secular Christmas story always has, there are goblins, their natural enemies. I set this book in 410 AD Britain, as the Roman forces are leaving the island, leaving the way open for the goblins to rise from their (traditional) underground home. Kringle comes to lead the good elves against the goblins, and that's the center of the story.

Along the way, I was able to work in some of real history of early Britain, and the actual Nativity story. What may seem a potpourri to some makes perfect sense to me, as this is how I celebrate the December holiday. Whew, enough of that.

More recently came Firegirl (Little, Brown, 2006), a novel that has its origins in a time in my own childhood that I never thought I would talk about, let alone write about. A burned girl came into my class when I was in sixth or seventh grade, and some things happened, little things that moved through the classroom. It took some forty years or more for this story to come out.

There's a bit to say about Firegirl, how the story changed in the writing of it from memoir-like to a piece of fiction, that moment all writers know when the inspiration is trumped (or set aside) by the novel's own story and the characters that live in it, as opposed to the real people who may have inspired them.

Firegirl became quite its own tale, with inventions and imagined conversations, but with an eye always on what motivated me to write it in the first place.

Over all of these has been the amazing experience of writing the series The Secrets of Droon (Scholastic, 1999-). I began writing these stories in 1997, and the first came out in 1999, so we are, at the time I'm writing this, nearing the 10th anniversary of the publication of these stories.

I like to think of this fantasy series for second graders and up, as a single, multi-thousand-page saga.

When a young reader starts these books, and continues with them, he or she is reading a very complex and many-charactered drama. An epic in installments.

I've been lucky enough to join a very small club in having so many books in a single series published. As I write this, I am writing my 40th book in the series. A mystifying achievement, even for me to consider.

Congratulations on the publication of The Postcard (Little Brown, 2008)(recommendation)! Could you tell us a bit about the book?

Jason's grandmother, who has been ill with dementia for years, has just died. It's the first week of his summer vacation at home in Boston, and he is asked/told to fly down to Florida to join his father in cleaning out his grandmother's house, to sell. He doesn't want to go, but his mother has to fly out of town for business, there is no one to take care of him, so he goes.

Once there, he sees a bunch of strange characters at the funeral, then, in the midst of the obligatory cleaning of her little house, discovers a piece of hard-boiled pulp fiction in an old magazine by a young writer, and its heroine appears to be his grandmother.

Finally, he discovers an old postcard in which he finds a clue, which he follows--only to find more of the pulp story. He reluctantly teams up with the girl who used to mow his grandmother's lawn, and they find more and more of this story that brings them from the 1940s to the present day.

The Postcard is an experiment in storytelling (since the chapters of the old story are interspersed with Jason's story), a family drama, a three-generation love story.

I have to say it became a rather bigger affair than I intended, but in a way it's my favorite book; an homage to old Florida, to noir writing, and to young love.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

The first impulse was the actual postcard. I collect linen postcards from the 1940s; I love their color, their artificiality.

It came to me one day as I was holding a particular card that someone from that era could have hidden a clue to something in the picture on the card that was so hidden no one had seen it for some 60 years. This stayed in the back of my mind.

When I was considering what novel I would follow Firegirl with, I had the notion of doing a thriller. It would involve a young artist, and I was not sure whether it was a children's story or something different.

The more I pressed into the idea, the more I realized that it was not a pictorial artist, but a writer, and that it had an element of the past about it, and, finally, that I would have to write that writer's story. This linked with the postcard/clue/mystery, and the basic part of The Postcard was born.

To make it work there needed to be the modern element, and quite soon after starting to sketch this out, Jason appeared to me. He was a boy whose family is in trouble; his parents' marriage is rocky, and he's stuck in the middle, which he realizes literally on the plane from Boston to St. Petersburg that is taking him away from his mother and to his father.

Rather than making the postcard be about some unrelated story, I knew it had to mean something to him in order for the book to work. It was then that the big pieces fell into play.

The postcard and its story reveal to Jason things about his grandmother and her first boyfriend that even his father didn't know.

Because Jason discovers these things with Dia in both a comical and sometimes dangerous way, a relationship blossoms between them that positions itself with the relationships of his grandparents and parents.

If readers make it all the way to the end, they might seen a continuum there that was, I have to say, not quite a conscious thing while I was writing it. Other parallels were, of course.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

How far back does one go? If I go back to the clue in the postcard, we're probably talking six or seven years. The time I first mentioned "thriller" to my editor at Little, Brown, Alvina Ling, was probably about three and a half years, the late fall of 2004, before the book appeared.

In the spring of 2005, I began to write it down. Late in the summer, I submitted a brief draft to Alvina. She said keep going. The next spring (2006) I submitted a more complete draft. Alvina's first editorial letter followed a couple of months later.

I produced another draft in the fall, followed by another editorial letter. Because it was a mystery that had two timelines (1944-1962 and the present), and because for mysteries to work they have to be completely water tight, there were a lot of revisions, back and forth for months, and even after the pages were typeset.

As writers who have tried a mystery know, the more complicated your plot is, the number of issues to resolve, the more work must go into simplifying the way it's told.

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

There were lots of challenges, substantial ones. The background of St. Petersburg, Florida, was taken a lot from memory. My grandmother lived there for some twenty years, and I relied on my experiences of visiting her from Ohio, first, then Connecticut, but I had to go down to do some on-the-ground research.

This is physical stuff, but it was quite enjoyable tracing the streets that Jason and Dia walk, the attractions they go to to find more parts of the story, and so forth.

I read a number of books about early Florida, and devised a character who was a real estate baron and railroad builder early in the last century; it's fascinating to think of Florida's comparatively recent history as a cross between wilderness and the wild west.

Peter Matthiessen has depicted this in his novels about the everglades. St. Petersburg was both wild and an early destination for celebrities, so the real history is rich.

Literarily, I found myself reading any southern author I could lay my hands on. I'm still under this spell (talk about riches!); my next series with Scholastic, The Haunting of Derek Stone (beginning January 2009) is set squarely in the Southern Gothic tradition (more below).

In any case, the experience of dealing with the physical effects of a person who has died is something I've had to do a couple of times, and to me it's one of the most strangely intrusive, melancholy, burdensome, and profoundly joyful experiences you can have.

You come away from it with both a sadder but more hopeful view of this thing we call life. Jason's journey from beginning to end is tinged not only with humor and love, but with that--the presence of death--as well.

You're the author of The Secrets of Droon (Scholastic, 1999-) series! What are the challenges of series writing? What recommendations do you have for other writers?

From the practical to the spiritual, the series writer has a lot of balls to keep in the air. Or, as my wife says, dishes to spin.

You have to be the sort of person who doesn't recognize the concept of "writer's block." It doesn't exist; that's all.

You have to be able to keep to a deadline (this is why newspaper writers were so successful in early Hollywood, one imagines, where the novelists had a poorer track record).

You have to be constantly inventive. The question, "where do you get your ideas?" has to be nonsensical to a series writer. You have to have a business side equal to your imaginative side, too, since series fiction tends to work in tandem with trends in the culture at large.

The down side, of course, is that the schedule of three or four books a year (or more) doesn't allow staying with a particular story long enough to make it rich and deep and work on every level that you know you could make it work on. There are rough spots in language and plot that, with time, you could correct. But time runs out.

This is not an apology; I think series writing is crucial to the development of early reading as straight novel writing is not.

As someone who has been lucky enough to do both, I feel, as you would expect, that my best work will be in my novel writing, my "literary fiction," but I don't denigrate other kinds of writing.

Children's publishing is a business, and there are many ways of engaging in it, to the benefit of the young reader.

As a reader, so far what are your favorite new children's books of 2008 and why?

I have two so far, but I have to admit that I read very little children's literature. I try to read my friends, but even then, I find my tastes are extremely narrow, so I give up easily.

Part of me thinks, and this may seem snobby, but I think it's really a matter of the time allowed to us, part of me thinks that I should be reading the really fine writers because in addition to their superior art, they have the most to teach me.

It's hard to spend time reading, for instance, a fantasy book, when I write the Droon stories, which are likely more involved. I guess that sounds bad, but so be it.

Two books this year, however, of the few I have read, I have really liked. One is Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, 2008), a lovely little book about the things that happen in boys heads. Henkes has a deep and humorous feel for the thickets of thought, and a very fine way with word and mood. An excellent book.

The other book I quite liked is Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb/Random House, 2008). She has written many, many great books over the years, and you almost expect someone with a track record like that to lay back and do some automatic writing.

No. Eleven is a story of a boy who is struggling with the knowledge of who he is, why he lives with who he does, how he connects with people, and his place in this world. It is as fresh and lively as a debut novel by a very good writer.

Giff is someone I'd love to emulate: a long career on an upward incline. Great little book. Now, I think I've said little book twice, which is, I guess, the sort of story that appeals to me. No dragons, no explosions, just people.

What do you do outside of the world of youth literature?

Is there anything outside? Actually, I write so very much (and more and more slowly) that there is little time for anything else. But I love yard work, especially mowing the lawn, which to me has a postwar, suburban, life-is-all-open-before-us sort of feel about it.

I recognize that sometime in the future we will have no lawns, no private houses, no fuel, no children, no books, no life, so I treasure the one hour a week I spend making my little plot look good.

The other thing is that I play electric guitar. Not loud, because I live in a neighborhood, but yes, blues, wah-wah pedal, distortion, and all that. My faves: Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. Also . . . Jeff Beck.

What can your readers expect from you next?

First of all, I have this new series coming from Scholastic, starting in January 2009, called The Haunting of Derek Stone. It is a dark comedy, with the emphasis on dark. It's a ghost story, with a kind of twist, an exercise in Southern Gothic fiction, a genre I love, and a Louisiana thriller.

It is more novelistic than my other series work and for older readers, who can handle the truth...and the fear. If it's deeply frightening, it's meant to be.

Derek is a boy in trouble, and I hope we all never get into that kind of trouble, but we may want to hear his story.

The first one, called City of the Dead (a reference to the above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans), comes out in January.

About the novels, when I wrote Firegirl I made the silent decision that my novel-writing would be as different as can be from my series writing. If the Droon stories, for instance, are continuations of the same story, my novels would be vastly different from one another.

This may wreak havoc with an editor or a publisher (not Little, Brown, I must say, who are adventurous and fun), but a writer does want to be able to stretch. So, while Firegirl was a quiet school story, and The Postcard a magical realist noir crime comedy mystery, my next book will be different again. In tone, it may relate more to Firegirl, but it will be quite different. A piece of historical fiction. Perhaps even experimental in the way that it tells a story. Short. Hard. Unforgettable, if I have my way. Something you will love dearly or hate intensely.

I mean, I have, what five, eight more novels to go before they run me out of town, so I want to write what I want to write. This is a story that needs to be told. Something that happened to me in the dark days of the previous century. Is that vague enough?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Uma Krishnaswami

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some established authors--folks I'd featured early on--the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here's the first reply, this one from author Uma Krishnaswami:

About my craft, I have learned that the journey is everything. Every time I start a new work, I am beginning all over again.

Someone said to me the other day, "But you know how to write novels and picture books."

And I replied. "No. I know how to write the novels and the picture books that I have written. The next ones that come along, I'll have to learn how to write them, and each one will be different."

About the writing life: it's a roller coaster, and it always will be. You have to embrace the downturns, more than just expecting that they'll come and bracing yourself.

I practice tai chi, and it's a bit like yin and yang. The positive energy is great, but the negative allows you to pull back, return to being grounded again.

I've also learned that teaching feeds my writing. When I'm so busy with teaching that I don't even have time to write--that's when the ideas begin catching fire or I make breakthroughs in work in which I thought I'd lost my way.

About publication: I've learned not to pay attention to trends, and to treat "the market" as a giant conversation of books. And most of all, to write what I want to write.

Read a Cynsations interview with Uma.

New Publisher, WestSide Books, To Launch Young Adult Line

WestSide Books, a company dedicated to publishing contemporary, realistic young adult fiction, will launch its debut list of seven young adult novels in Spring 2009.

WestSide is a sister company to Everbind Inc., a distributor and pre-binder that has been selling to public schools for thirty years. Each year, Everbind ships nearly two million books into the school market, and their national sales force goes into high schools in all fifty states.

According to Publisher Evelyn Fazio, WestSide's focus will be on novels from both established and debut authors.

The list will be available in jacketed hardcover and will be sold into the trade, school and library markets.

WestSide Books plans to publish approximately twenty titles per year by 2010, from the company based in Lodi, New Jersey.

"I'm thrilled to be publishing this exciting new list for teenage readers," says Fazio. "I've fallen in love with the YA market because the books are so refreshingly direct, so immediate and so real. I know I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to create this kind of a list and to work with these wonderful writers, not to mention being able to rely on the resources and infrastructure of such a solid, established, well run and respected company.

"At WestSide, we believe there's an opportunity to publish great books for the high school YA audience, especially teenage boys, and we hope to bring them many of the kind of books they'll want to read. I work directly with each author, and all the manuscripts get hands-on treatment to help writers make their books the best they can be."

WestSide will handle its own sales and distribution, according to Charles B. Davis, Vice President and Director of Marketing. Both Ms. Fazio and Mr. Davis report to WestSide Books' President Stewart Penn. As a sister company to Everbind, WestSide Books already has infrastructure and warehouse facilities in place. The marketing and sales synergies between Everbind and WestSide give the new publisher a unique opportunity to reach target markets from day one.

WestSide novels will feature typical kids grappling with the real issues and problems that teenagers face in contemporary society, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, bullying, peer pressure, family problems such as divorce, and other typical teen issues.

Teenage readers will recognize themselves in these fresh stories of diverse young people who must navigate new friendships, learn about trust, or test the limits of family bonds.

The books will feature cover art by, among others, Michael Morgenstern, who created the cover art for Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, and by Rick Leider, the cover artist for such YA bestsellers as A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park's Newbery Award-winning novel.

All seven authors on the debut list are first-time novelists with strong, original voices. They include a television writer and producer who has written for "Full House" and "Saved by the Bell," and created the NBC Saturday morning series "Hang Time;" a classical trombonist who is CEO of a symphony orchestra, a former high school English and theatre teacher; a registered counselor; and several recent graduates of M.F.A. in Writing programs.

Evelyn Fazio has 28 years of publishing experience and has worked at Simon & Schuster/Prentice-Hall, Random House, Marshall Cavendish, and M.E. Sharpe. A former Vice President of E-Content Acquisitions for Baker & Taylor, she has also been a full-time literary agent and has co-authored seven nonfiction books. Ms. Fazio became publisher of WestSide Books in 2006, and is also publisher of the Everbind Anthology series.

Charles B. Davis worked at Van Nostrand Reinhold Company and was Marketing Director of the University of Pennsylvania Press before moving to Simon and Schuster in 1972. He spent ten years there, most of that time as Vice President, Marketing Services. In the early 1980s, he founded Practical Book Marketing Services, and later co-founded The Mesa Group, a boutique ad agency specializing in book publishing. After he sold off his interests in these companies in the 1990s, Mr. Davis joined Everbind Books, where he helped produce the Everbind Anthology series and has been instrumental in the early planning and start-up of WestSide Books.

Stewart Penn, co-founder and owner of Everbind Books and now WestSide Books, was a New York City high school English teacher prior to his involvement with Everbind. After running Everbind for many years, he decided to produce Everbind Anthologies, a publishing program for high schools that is widely used throughout the country. The success of Everbind Anthologies led Mr. Penn to seek a broader challenge, out of which grew the YA publishing company WestSide Books.

Source: Raab Associates.

Monday, September 08, 2008


In the winter of 1998, my agent sold a manuscript that would eventually be published as my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000).

In September of 1998, I launched a do-it-yourself, official author Website (www.cynthialeitichsmith) and monthly e-newsletter. Over time, the newsletter eventually attracted more than 1,000 subscribers.

The focus included my own work, but also celebrated youth literature more globally.

Each issue highlighted publishing news, writer resources, and a couple of original author interviews.

This information was then archived in a major section of the main author site, Children's and YA Literature Resources, which grew more extensive with each passing month.

In 2004, the Cynsations blog replaced the e-newsletter. By that time, the main site was attracting more than 100,000 unique visitors a year.

Then in 2006, Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (interview) transformed my amateur design effort on the main site into a work of art, and by then, Cynsations had become its biggest feeder after Google.

By 2007, the number of unique visitors had climbed to more than 2 million. At current traffic rates, 2008 looks likely to top that.

For the past decade, it has been my great pleasure to take part in the discussion of youth literature on the Internet, and so I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you!

Thank you to the writers, artists, authors, illustrators, editors, agents, bloggers, publishers, publicists, booksellers, book doctors, teachers, librarians, reviewers, readers, gurus, university professors, and children's-YA book enthusiasts of all stripes who have visited my site-blogs!

Thank you to everyone who passed along my URL on a listserv or site or blog or message board or chat or at a live event!

Thank you to everyone who suggested a resource to feature or shared your thoughts in an interview!

Thank you all for your support and encouragement!

And if you haven't surfed by lately, please check out!

Cynsational Notes

In a Dec. 12, 2007 interview with YA author Sarah Aronson at Through the Tollbooth, I advised fellow writers:

I have found that it helps to celebrate every victory, no matter how small.

You finished your draft? Celebrate!

You received a personal rejection letter? Celebrate!

Your workshop leader says your story arc is stronger?

An agent asks for the whole manuscript?

You’ve sold your first book? Your fiftieth?

Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate!

So, in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked several well-established authors--folks I'd featured early on--the following question:

Over the past decade, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing/artistic life, and/or publishing, and why?

And in my tradition of highlighting new voices, I also asked several first-time authors:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you've learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Answers are incoming (and fascinating)! Over the next few months--amidst more typical postings--I'll share them as they become available.

I'll also be offering a 10th anniversary giveaway and other celebratory features.

Stay tuned, and thanks again!
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