Friday, September 19, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of two autographed hardcover copies of The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine by April Lurie (Delacorte, 2008)! From the promotional copy:

A mother who split for another man.

A father who works 24/7.

An older brother who excels at everything—
and smokes a lot of weed.

A best friend, of the feminine persuasion, who
only wants to be a friend, and who's shooting a film set in cool Greenwich Village, New York.

Dylan Fontaine's life seems to be full of drama he can't control. But when he stars in his best friend's movie, Dylan discovers that, sometimes, life's big shake-ups force you to take risks—and to step into the spotlight.


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. 30! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me 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.

One copy will go to a high school teacher, YA librarian, or university professor of YA literature (please indicate) and one will go to any Cynsational reader. Please also type "Dylan Fontaine" in the subject line.

REMINDER: In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, I'm offering a 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). All Cynsational readers are eligible!

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with a question for me to answer and your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST Sept. 30! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me 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. See more information.

REMINDER: In celebration of 10 years of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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, 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.

Congratulations to the winners of the Dead Is The New Black by Marlene Perez (Harcourt, 2008) ARC giveaway: Laura at the Uphams Corner Branch of the Boston Public Library; Tantalize Fans Unite! member Tracy in Ohio, and Cynsational readers Denise in Illinois and Ruby in Oklahoma! Read a Cynsations interview with Marlene.

More News

Crowe's Nest: An Agent and Her List Discuss Children's Books, Publishing and Beyond from Sara Crowe. See also Putnam Editor Stacey Barney Talks to Us: an interview by author Heidi R. Kling at Crowe's Nest; peek: "...having a Web presence is the really important and not just one that connects the author to other writers, but in the YA market particularly, you want a Web presence that connects you to the readers--the kids." Note: thanks for the caw! Source: Devas T. Rants and Raves. Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Check out this trailer for the Death by Latte (by Linda Gerber (Puffin/Sleuth, 2008)) Online Launch Party! Source: Marlene Perez.



Congratulations to my one-time Vermont College student (and now alumnae) Marianna Baer for signing with Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc., and congratulations to Sara for signing Marianna! Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Don't Get Caught Up in the Rush from Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown. Peek: "...twice in the past month authors have come back to me after an unsuccessful submission with the unrevised manuscript, wishing they had taken the time to revise. But at that point I can't really help them -- it's already been seen at the major houses." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Breathe: A Ghost Story by Cliff McNish (Carolrhoda, 2006): recommended by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "...an altogether suspenseful and truly scary novel that intriguingly probes the boundaries between love and self-indulgence." Note: strongly agreed; a must-read for upper elementary and middle schoolers!

The Safest Way to Search for an Agent by Victoria Strauss from SFF Net. Peek: "Too many agents engage in abuses--charging up-front fees, participating in kickback referral schemes, urging writers to pay for expensive editing services--for you to assume that every agent who expresses interest in your manuscript is reputable." See also Researching an Agent's Track Record. Source: April Henry.

Facial Expressions, Culture, and Stories by Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "...should writers, artists, directors, and actors depict facial expressions or non-verbals in a way that's easily understood by the culture consuming the story, even if it might not be 'authentic'?" Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

The Editing Cycle (a confession) from Editorial Ass. Peek: "In the middle of the night, I'll wake up with the shakes about my own mediocrity and inability to improve your manuscript enough. I hate your manuscript, and I hate myself for acquiring it (even though I still love you, the author)."

Welcome back to one of my favorite blogs, Three Silly Chicks: Readers, Writers, and Reviewers of Funny Books for Kids! Get to know chicks Andrea Beaty, Carolyn Crimi, and Julia Durango. Check out Attack of the Return of the Sequels. Peek: "Alas, movie sequels are tricky things. Sometimes they make our fluffy yellow hearts sing. And sometimes, they don't. Same goes for book sequels. And here are a few of our recent favorites. Read them, you must!"

Interns Wanted by Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine Books at Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "If you'll be in New York this fall, you're passionate about really great children's and YA books, and you have eight-to-ten hours to spare during the business week, you're welcome to apply for an internship with Arthur A. Levine Books." See the whole post, and don't miss Cheryl's link to more information (scroll to the last question-and-answer on the page).

Curiosity: A Graphic Novel Project by Beckett Gladney and Debbi Ridpath Ohi. Peek: "I'm always browsing for news in the comics industry related to online comics (in general) as well as the graphic novels for young people. I'll be posting anything I find particularly interesting or informative here."

Congratulations to Rosemary Clement-Moore on the release of Hell Week: Maggie Quinn: Girl VS Evil (Delacorte, 2008)! From the promotional copy: "Maggie Quinn is determined to make her mark as a journalist. The only problem? The Ranger Report does not take freshmen on staff. Rules are rules. But when has that ever stopped Maggie? After facing hellfire, infiltrating sorority rush should be easy. It's no Woodward and Bernstein, but going undercover as the Phantom Pledge will allow her to write her expos√©. Then she can make a stealth exit before initiation. But when she finds a group of girls who are after way more than 'sisterhood,' all her instincts say there’s something rotten on Greek Row. And when Hell Week rolls around, there may be no turning back. If there is such a thing as a sorority from hell, you can bet that Maggie Quinn will be the one to stumble into it." Read a Cynsations interview with Rosemary.

"Are you an unpublished writer of children's fiction or nonfiction who is a person of color? It's not too late to submit a manuscript to Lee & Low Books Ninth Annual New Voices Award." Submissions are being accepted through Oct. 31. Source: The Brown Bookshelf.

Check out the Query Letter for Soul Enchilada by David Gill from I Am Chikin, Hear Me Roar.

Building Your Author Platform: questions from Colleen Ryckert Cook. Peek: "What have you done to create an identity both online and traditionally?"

Agent Interview: Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management from Alice's CWIM Blog. Peek: "...it's tough to establish a brand when you're jumping from one category to another or from one genre to another. You want to give readers what they expect while still satisfying your own muse." See also The DGLM blog.

What Makes A New York Times Bestseller? from Pub Rants. Peek: "Word-of-mouth. Avid fans. We owe a lot to the readers who absolutely loved the book and told 20 of their closest friends to read it, too."

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright from the United States Copyright Office. See also Taking the Mystery Out of Copyright for Students and Teachers from The Library of Congress.

Children's & YA Book Authors & Illustrators on the Web from my main official site. Note: published folks are encouraged to double-check their links on the site and/or submit an official author/illustrator site or blog for consideration for a listing. Likewise, if you have ever lived in Texas, please check the Texas author/illustrator listings.

SOUP'S ON: Maha Addasi in the Kitchen Interview and Book Giveaway from jama rattigan's alphabet soup. Peek: "...if you enjoy writing picture books keep on writing them. Don't worry about the market. Write for your own personal enjoyment first, which makes for better writing, and this leads to publication."

The Six Friends Every Writer Needs from Jackson Pearce, author of As You Wish (HarperCollins, 2009). Peek: "Every red mark on your manuscript is an opportunity to make it better. She just gave you a hell of a lot of opportunities. Tide gets bloodstains/ink stains out of most fabrics."

Jim McCoy's Big Blog of Nancy Werlin from Nancy's fiance. Peek: "This blog is intended to celebrate all (well, most) things Nancy. For those few of you who've inadvertently landed here without knowing about our heroine, Nancy is an award-winning writer of young adult fiction." Read a Cynsations interview with Nancy.

Unlocking the Biography by Sneed B. Collard III from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "For me, a key to writing about a person is to understand what drove that person forward through life."

Events

Plan to celebrate the release of Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Flux, 2008) with debut author Maggie Stiefvater. The physical launch will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 EST at Creatures & Crooks Bookshoppe in Richmond, Virginia. The virtual launch will be in the Enchanting Reviews chat room at 8 p.m. EST Oct. 1. See details.

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. See more information. Hope to see you there!

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). The children's activities will include author and illustrator visits; live music; face painting; crafts (puppets and collages). Free popcorn and snow cones will be available, as will hot dogs for $1. See schedule.
Hope to see you there!

R. L. Stein's Halloween Party will begin at 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at the Austin Children's Museum (201 Colorado St.). R. L. Stein will read and tell a communal (audience-participation) ghost story at 3:30 p.m. and sign books from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The event is free, but space is limited to 350. Costumes welcome. Note: Barnes & Noble will be selling books; sponsored by the Texas Book Festival in cooperation with the museum.

"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. "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. UPDATE: a new editor speaker will be announced soon.

The Tenth Annual Jewish Children's Book Writers' Conference is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 23 at the 92nd Street Y (1395 Lexington Avenue) in New York City. The fee is $95 before Nov. 1, $110 after Nov. 1 and includes kosher breakfast and lunch. Featured speakers are associate agent Michelle Andelman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency, publisher David E. Behrman of Behrman House, executive editor Michelle Frey of Alfred A. Knopf and Crown Books for Young Readers, editor Larry Rosler of Boyds Mills Press, director Joni Sussman of Kar-Ben Publishing, and illustrator's agent Melissa Turk of Melissa Turk & The Artist Network. Award-winning author Johanna Hurwitz will give opening remarks, and the day will include sessions on publishing and writing in Israel, the Sydney Taylor Book Award and Manuscript Competitions, and individual consultations with editors and agents from past conferences. The registration form is available for download (PDF file). Call 212.415.5544 or e-mail library@92Y.org for additional information or to request the form by mail. The final registration deadline is Nov. 17.

Online Events

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.

More Personally


My sympathies to the family and friends of Colleen Salley. See:
Horn Book publisher Anne Quirk's thoughts at Read Rodger and Obituary: Colleen Salley by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. See also Books Dedicated to Colleen; source: A Fuse #8 Production.

I haven't yet seen an "official" obituary, but you may want to consider donating to the Colleen Salley - Bill Morris Literacy Foundation (and linking to it from your blog/site).

Thank you to everyone who wrote to inquire about my status related to Hurricane Ike. The only weather manifestation in Austin was gray skies and some light rain on Sunday morning.

The city, however, is housing many evacuees. Please consider donating to the American Red Cross or the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

To "contribute online to help our coastal libraries," visit the Texas Library Association's Disaster Relief Fund.

To those still coping with the storm's aftermath, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Readers interested in related books should consider Dark Water Rising by Marian Hale (Henry Holt, 2006)(author interview) and Galveston's Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake (TCU Press, 2003)(author interview), both of which focus on the 1900 storm.

Thank you to Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page, author Marlene Perez, author Debbi Michiko Florence, author Jama Kim Rattigan, author Carrie Jones at Through the Tollbooth, and author Stacy DeKeyser for blogging about the 10-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com!

YA author Devyn Burton sends in this photo (above) of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2008), taken at a Wal-Mart in Michigan. Note: autographed paperback copies of Tantalize are now available at the Barnes & Noble - Aboretum in Austin.

Congratulations to Cynsations MySpace reader Zulmara on her interview at Interviewing Authors! Peek: "I write with a co-author, Eduardo Estrada Montenegro from Nicaragua, and we collaborate on the books. Some we have co-authored, and I do the translations for the books. I am also writing curriculum for the books and an EZ Bilingual Newsletter to help others enhance their bilingual skills." Note: Zulmara also is giving away "an assortment of writing goodies" in conjunction with the interview.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Author Interview: Nora Raleigh Baskin on All We Know of Love

Visit Nora Raleigh Baskin.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

When I first started seriously sending my work out for publication, I wrote adult fiction, but I found that all of my stories were about children, primarily about my own memories of childhood.

One evening, a fellow continuing education student from a writing course I was taking asked if I had ever considered writing for children.

After getting over what I took initially as an insult, I began to consider it. And then doing it. When I started getting nicer more personal, handwritten rejections—I knew I was on to something.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any bumps or stumbles along the way?

My path to publication really began when I starting writing for children. One Bantam editor wrote at the bottom of her rejection (or it is my rejection?) that I should look into SCBWI. After wiping my eyes and blowing my nose (I cried a lot along this path), I did join SCBWI.

Through it, I found a critique group and attended some conferences. It made a huge difference. It showed me how to be a professional, how to work and rework, and it gave me a community of writers.

It was still five more years before my first novel was accepted, but there is nothing I wrote during that time that I would ever try to publish now. It was like being in graduate school. I learned my craft, the business, and fortitude.

What was most useful to you in developing your craft? What, if anything, do you wish you'd done differently?

I am not sure I would do anything differently because it really was an important process, but I can tell you what worked for me along the way—reading. A lot of reading.

I came across Belle Prater's Boy by Ruth White (FSG, 1997), which had recently won a Newbery honor, and it changed my life, well, my writing life at any rate.

It was as if I finally had permission to write the story I had always wanted to write—about growing up without a mother–but had felt was too sad, too adult, or too specific.

Ruth White wrote a deeply moving story about a deeply sad event, but she did it with humor and poignancy and for children. It was like a light was turned on in my head.

So the most useful to me was learning to be truthful in my writing. To write the story I cared the most about--not what I thought would sell, or fill a void in the market, or appeal to the most people. I think when you write for yourself--you write best for others. I guess it kind of holds true in life too, doesn't it?

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

My first novel What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows (Little, Brown, 2001) is still selling well, and after, that my sports novel Basketball (Or Something Like It) (HarperCollins, 2005) is probably my most commercially popular.

Almost Home (Little, Brown, 2003) is as close to autobiographical, chronologically speaking, as I have written and is also very close to my heart.

My agent recently regained the rights to In The Company of Crazies (HarperCollins, 2006), and we are looking to do a paperback edition.

But it is my last middle grade, The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah (Simon & Schuster, 2008), that has gotten me the most speaking engagements around the country. I learned a lot about a niche market from that book.

At the same time, it is an extremely personal novel about my own search for identity and discovery of my Jewish heritage.

Congratulations on the publication of your debut young adult novel, All We Know of Love (Candlewick, 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about the book?

This is a story about a 15 year-old-girl in a fairly self-destructive love/sex relationship with an older boy. The boy is not bad or abusive, but he's certainly a player, and the only way Natalie can free herself from her obsession to be loved by this boy is to embark on a journey to find the mother who abandoned her four years earlier.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

The truth is my mother committed suicide when I was three and a half, which is the subject of my first middle-grade novel What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows (Little, Brown, 2001).

So the inspiration for writing this book was my personal journey to find my mother, and to look at the self-destructive relationships I've had in my life because of her "intentional" death.

I needed to imagine—that if my mother hadn't died but, rather, had abandoned me (which is as close to suicide as I could create as a writer)--then what would happen if I tracked her down and confronted her. What would she say when I asked her: why?

I needed to write this book so I could find out the answer to that question.

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

In this case, it was quite a long time because HarperCollins, which had published my two previous middle-grade novels, Basketball (Or Something Like It)(HarperCollins, 2005) and In the Company of Crazies (HarperCollins, 2006), was not that interested in a YA from me.

Thank goodness I had an agent, so while I went into a complete panic that I would never publish again (and worked on a new middle grade novel with Simon & Schuster), my agent shopped it around.

But since the story is somewhat experimental in structure and tone, it took a while, about a year, before it was bought. And I am so happy it was Candlewick.

Of course it was another year and a half before the actual pub date, so it's been a good three years and a half years, at least.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life? Could you tell me about your choice to include quotes at the beginning of each chapter?

Even though this book is probably more semi-autobiographical than all my other semi-autobiographical novels, I did do a lot of research. I had to research the information in the book about language, about Inuit words for snow, about Spanish words for love, and even about Freudian and Jungian dream theory. I also wove in quite a few mother-child psychological principles such as "mirroring".

I worked very hard on finding quotes that were "about love". In fact, the book's original title was "About Love," taken from an Anton Chekhov short story. But I also wanted quotes that were specific to the "kind" of love each particular chapter would be exploring. I wanted the quotes to not only to aid me in the writing, but also to illuminate something in the narration for the reader.

And funny you should ask about logistics because, after the whole book was written, I had to go back and do a very exact time line; how long it would take a bus to travel from Connecticut to Florida? Where it would stop along the way? And what time it would be at each stop?

I had to consider the weather, geography, and time, and even though I always do this to some degree when I write, I never had to draw a map and timeline out on index cards and lay them out across my floor.

Still, I knew I had to write the "story" first and then adjust the logistics. It would never have worked for me the other way around.

What inspired you to jump age-level markets from middle grade to young adult?

I wasn't really inspired to jump age level as much as I was driven to tell this story, and the only way to tell it was with a character that was sexually active.

I wanted to write about the way girls (and boys), women (and men) confuse sex and love.

How did having an older character and audience affect your process and perspective?

It affected everything. It freed me to write with as much complexity and adult language as I could. I reached as high as I could in terms of metaphor and symbolism.

I have always loved using those techniques, and I do use them in my middle grade books, but not to the level I attempted to here.

I could reference anything without having to consider my audience. I didn't write to teenagers or young adults, I wrote to my most intelligent self (and I don't say that with arrogance at all!).

I truly don't think there is much difference between adult and YA writing other than vantage point, the POV from which the narrator or main character is telling the story.

If you could go back in time and talk to your beginning-writer self, what would you tell her?

The first thing I would tell myself is: don't worry. It's going to happen. Keep working. Don't send out the same work over and over (which I didn't), read, get better, and most of all, write from your heart. Write the best you can, but write from your heart.

Do you work with a critique group? If not, who are your early readers?

Off and on I have had critique groups; then because people have different commitments or time constraints it becomes difficult. But I love them.

I need the constant connection to other writers, and I very much like to bounce ideas off other people who understand.

I meet monthly with Tony Abbott and Elise Broach (author interview) for breakfast. Our Children's Authors Who Breakfast breakfast.

I also have the same few friends (one, since my first year of college) who read my work and give me exactly what I need, which is sometimes –often—just encouragement.

Early in the process I am not ready for specific criticism. I have learned to be careful about that. Too much feedback too soon can be the kiss of story-death.

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

I teach creative writing and children's book writing to adults. I work with kids in elementary, middle and high school, and this fall I begin teaching college students at SUNY Purchase (my alma mater!).

And the best part is: kids or adults, nothing changes. Writing is writing. I don't really think that you can "teach" writing, but I find great joy in helping students find their voice. Hopefully, I allow them a place to take risks and maybe learn some basic skills, too.

Not to mention I am a mother of two teenage boys. That takes up quite a bit of time.

What can your readers expect from you next?

This coming March I have middle-grade novel written in the first person point of view of an autistic 12-year-old boy titled Anything But Typical (Simon & Schuster, 2009). It is also very experimental in structure and voice, and I am very excited about it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Native American Youth Lit Widget: Books for Kids and Teens By Native Authors

A widget celebrating Native American Youth Literature is now available from JacketFlap!

You can see a copy of it and get the code at the JacketFlap Widgets Gallery. Note: the default background is actually a beige color (not white as shown, and so the blue and red are more muted).

About the Widget

This widget highlights children's and young adult books by Native American authors and illustrators.

While many books about American Indians are published every year, Native youth literature creators are among the most underrepresented groups in publishing today. However, those who have found success shine among its brightest stars--people like Sherman Alexie, Joseph Bruchac, Joy Harjo, Louise Erdrich, Richard Van Camp, and Tim Tingle.

Please spread the word about this widget and consider including it among your blog features.

Special Thanks

Thank you, Debbie Reese (Nambe Pueblo)! Debbie compiled the list of books to highlight. Debbie teaches at the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinios at Urbana-Champaign, and her blog is American Indians in Children's Literature.

Thank you, Don Tate! Don designed the logo for the widget. He is a children's book author-ilustrator and one of the co-founders of The Brown Bookshelf: United in Story. Don's involvement in the creation of the widget is especially appropriate because the whole idea was inspired by the efforts of the Brown Bookshelf, which in turn was inspired by readergirlz. Don's blog is Devas T. Rants and Raves!

And thank you, Tracy Grand! Tracy did the coding for the widget and is making it available via JacketFlap. Tracy is the CEO of JacketFlap, "a comprehensive resource for information on the children's book industry. Thousands of published authors, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day." Don't miss the JacketFlap Widgets Gallery!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Publisher Interview: Evelyn Fazio on WestSide Books

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 she is also publisher of the Everbind Anthology series. Learn more about WestSide Books.

What kind of young reader were you?

I was omnivorous. I read everything and anything, starting with Golden Books, to the usual library books, to comic books and even cereal boxes if there was nothing else around.

I also haunted the local bookstore's kid’s section and was always asking my mother for new books.

I'm still haunting bookstores, so I guess some things never change, except my independent bookstore is gone, and there's a huge Barnes & Noble not far away at one of the malls.

What inspired you to make children's-YA literature your career focus?

That's a good question. I've actually worked in a lot of different areas of publishing, from professional books for teachers (because I taught high school for two years), to college textbooks, to library series for middle grade kids, to multi-volume library reference works for high schools.

As for the YA literature focus, I always liked and read fiction, but hadn't worked with YA fiction before. When the opportunity arose to help start WestSide as publisher, I began reading as many of the award-winning and best-selling YA novels I could get, and I absolutely fell in love with the books.

How about children's-YA publishing more specifically?

The thing that pulled me in so deeply into YA literature was that the books are so good.

The writing is strong, and the plots are focused and tight. They have to get to the point to keep the reader's interest. There are a lot of distractions in the world that can pull YA readers away from novels. So these books have to be really good and keep them turning the pages.

Working with YA fiction for teenagers allows me to read a large number of really well written books (a lot better than adult fiction sometimes) and to help make them even better.

The other thing that makes it so great is the authors. They're wonderful to work with, really smart, and appreciative of the work that goes into editing their novels. What more could a publisher want?

What does a publisher do?

A publisher does a lot of things.

First is to have a clear concept of what a list will look like, what kinds of books belong on it. That's the great advantage of starting up a company and forming a new list. It's a clean slate, and it's an opportunity to create something unique. It's really fun.

There's also a lot of communication that has to take place, both inside the house and with the outside world, to make sure that everyone understands what the house is doing, what kinds of books will be published here.

Next comes the look and feel of the logo, the catalog, and the website. It all has to work and fit together. A publisher also has to ensure that the right books are published, books that fit the concept of what the company intends to do, and fit with the overall goals of the company.

That means looking at a lot of queries from agents and writers, then deciding which novels will fit conceptually. Then, once the potential books are identified, it involves reading a lot of material, from the synopsis and writing sample to the full manuscript.

That's important because if the plot doesn't make sense or the writing isn't strong enough, the book isn't going to hold our readers' attention.

It's up to the publisher to set the tone for the whole line or company, to keep the quality of the books at the highest possible level, and then make sure that the whole package works together.

Every piece of cover art, every line of catalog or jacket or Web copy all has to be exactly right.

Then there are the many other pieces that have to fit together, and all the coordination with marketing and sales, and the production aspects of getting the books out in the best shape possible.

What are the job's challenges?

See the previous paragraph.

But seriously, the first and foremost challenge is finding the right manuscripts.

Next comes reading and then buying the ones we decide we want.

There's competition among houses, and we have to convince the writer and the agent, if there is one, that we’re the right house for the book.

And then there's editing each novel, and keeping everything on schedule.

I'm a hands-on publisher, and since we’re a small house, I edit the novels myself, which I really enjoy. You'd be surprised how real these characters start to become after a while.

What are its rewards?

The rewards are numerous.

First, helping to shape a good book into an even better one is very satisfying. And finding a great cover illustration—the right one—is a challenge. But when it happens, it's really gratifying.

The illustrators are also wonderful to work with, and many of them read the novels before they start working on a cover illustration.

It's also really rewarding when the author is pleased with the editing, the design, the cover and all the other pieces, especially when we have to come up with a new title for a novel. That can be a long process, but once we get there, it's a great feeling.

It'll also be fantastic when the books come out and are well received in the market, when people tell us that they like the line and enjoy reading the books. That's very rewarding, too.

What was the inspiration behind WestSide Books?

The inspiration was a successful list that was started in our sister company. Once management saw that the other new list was working, the decision was made to venture into YA fiction.

What is the house's philosophy?

It's to publish great, edgy, realistic books for teenagers, ones that will reflect the world that they live in.

We want to publish books about regular teenagers, like kids we all know, who are going through challenges in their lives, dealing with things like family issues, divorce, abuse, alcoholism, racism, poverty, date rape, teen suicide, and all the other teen issues they deal with every day.

But even though the books focus on serious issues, they're full of life and humor, and they're fun, and touching.

What attracted you to the company?

I love the challenge of a start-up, especially when it's something different and new.

When I met the senior managers and heard about what they wanted to do, I had a feeling we'd all work well together. I saw that there'd be a great synergy with other parts of the organization, especially with our sister company, Everbind Books, which is a 30-year old, successful company that sells pre-binds into English classes in all 50 states via their own sales force.

It's important to get YA books into schools, and this company has the know-how and the people make it happen.

What makes WestSide special, different from other houses?

We have a very specific focus and target audience, and we are working strictly on realistic books for and about teenagers.

We're not going to publish chick lit, fantasy or sci fi, and we're not planning to publish series.

We also want to publish books that will interest teenage boys and resonate with them as readers because we keep hearing that the reason they don't read is that there aren't enough good books that interest them. We want to help do something about that.

Will you be taking submissions from agents, from writers directly, or both?

Definitely both.

Over the course of your career what are the most significant changes you've seen in the field of publishing books for young readers?

I think the biggest change is that the category of YA exists. This is a relatively recent development. They used to either be children's books or adult.

The other big change is that the books are getting edgier all the time. That wasn't always the case, but sensibilities change over time.

What do you do outside of the publishing world?

Oh, that's a big question. I go to the theater a lot and love movies, concerts, and of course, I read!

I enjoy doing a lot of the great things that are available in NYC, and go in frequently because it's so close.

I have a lot of good friends all over the place, so I spend time trying to see everyone and keep in contact.

I also have a big extended Italian family (I have over 30 first cousins), and I like sports like baseball and football, and go to local games when I can. (I don't play, though, because I've injured my knees and ankles too many times.)

And one of the greatest advantages of working in publishing for a long time is the people you get to work with, including both colleagues and authors. These are smart, articulate and funny people, and they're great company.

Many of them have become lifelong friends, and I'm very fortunate to have so many. The people you get to work with are one of the best things about working in publishing.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I have thousands of books in my home, and my dining room has an entire wall of books, from the floor to the ceiling.

The space was probably designed to hold a breakfront or some other piece of furniture, but I had a wall-size bookcase built in to the spot. I have at least six large bookcases, many built in, and I wish there were room for a few more!

There are also stacks of manuscripts that move between the office and home, as I read them.

I have to use binder clips to hold them, though, instead of rubber bands, because otherwise my cat uses them as dental floss, and it's hard to concentrate with that twanging sound of the rubber band stretching.

Monday, September 15, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Ellen Wittlinger

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of www.cynthialeitichsmith.com, 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?

YA author Ellen Wittlinger said:

What I've learned about writing in the last decade is to give all the ideas and all the energy I have to each book as it comes along.

I'm not going to run out of ideas; the well isn't going to go dry.

What I've learned about the writing life is that there aren't any weekends.

Yes, your time is your own, you can work in your pajamas, in the middle of the night if you want, etc., but the work is always with you.

What I've learned about publishing is that it will always worship the next new thing. You have to try not to let it make you crazy.

Read a Cynsations interview with Ellen.

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Sept. 15 to Sept. 19 from My Friend Amy. Peek: "Think of it as a retreat for book bloggers and a chance for us to totally nerd out over books together." Note: not just children's-YA.

See the Official BBAW Giveaway List and additional BBWA Giveaways from participating bloggers!

For writers...

If your blog reading is strictly for keeping up with the industry and seeking resources that advance your craft, I recommend:

Alice's CWIM Blog: Not-quite-daily news and musings from the editor of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market.

Revision Notes from Darcy Pattison.

Shrinking Violet Promotions: Marketing for Introverts.

Through the Tollbooth: Thoughts on Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Note: I also recommend that you register your own blog, if you have one, at JacketFlap. Do you know of another well-focused, can't-miss resource along these lines? If so, please write me (scroll to click envelope) with a suggestion.

For readers...

I would also like to highlight a few blogs that focus on underrepresented perspectives in the field of youth literature:

American Indians in Children's Literature: Critical perspectives of indigenous peoples in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large.

Black Threads in Kid Lit: Exploring African American Picture Books and other Fanciful Topics.

The Brown Bookshelf
: United in Story.

I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?: The Place to find out about Young Adult fiction books with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning characters and themes. ...and other cool stuff from Lee Wind, Teen Action Fantasy author.

papertigers blog from Pacific Rim Voices. "Speaking of multicultural books for children and young adults."

Note: Mitali's Fire Escape also offers some fascinating posts on "life between cultures."
Do you know of another well-focused, can't-miss resource along these lines? If so, please write me (scroll to click envelope) with a suggestion.
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