Friday, November 14, 2008

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win an autographed copy of Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006)! Four runners up will receive audio productions of the book either on tape or CD (Scholastic Book Club, 2007)! From the promotional copy:

Who knows if you've been naughty or nice?

Santa knows, that's who.

But not everyone believes in Santa Claus.

Consider Alfie F. Snorklepuss. He thinks he's proven that Santa Claus doesn't exist. Alfie thinks there is no way that Santa could do all the things he's supposed to, like deliver billions of presents all over the world in one night or know what every little kid wants.

When Alfie starts spreading the word that there is no Santa Claus, he makes someone very unhappy: his little sister Noelle.

And so Noelle turns to the only person who can help her. The one person Alfie thinks doesn't exist: Santa Claus.

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 Nov. 24! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 24! But DON'T send in your contact information on MySpace or Facebook. I'll contact you for it if you win. Please also type "Santa Knows" in the subject line and specify if you prefer tape, CD, or either. Visit!

Enter to win one of two copies of The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 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 Nov. 17! OR, if you're on MySpace or Facebook, you can message me on that network by 10 p.m. CST Nov. 17! 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) and one will go to any Cynsational reader. Please indicate status. Please also type "Porcupine Year" in the subject line.

More News

Attention Cynsational Readers: one of your own is trying to compile a list of multicultural science fiction children's books, graphic novels, and movies! If you have any suggestions, please email me (scroll and click on the envelope or LJ, MySpace, and facebook subscribers may leave a comment. Thank you! Note: help!

Association of Jewish Libraries Podcast: a new program, which "will include material recorded at the Association of Jewish Libraries annual convention, as well as recordings of Jewish literary events across North America. A wide range of topics will be covered, from the academic to the hands-on, from children's literature to technology."

Knucklehead featuring Jon Scieszka from Jon Scieszka on Vimeo. Source: Confessions of a Bibliovore.

My years with Roald, by the "love of his life" by Elizabeth Day from The Guardian. Peek: "Felicity Dahl was married to the much-loved children's writer for only seven years, yet 18 years after his death she still finds life 'hell' without him. As the inaugural Roald Dahl award for children's books is set to be announced, she recalls the great man's seductive charms, his impish generosity - and his habit of having pink milk for breakfast." Source: Gwenda Bond.

One Simple Question: Siobhan Vivian, Author Same Difference from Ypulse Books. Peek: "I've never really felt very adult or particularly grown up. I am constantly embarrassed, awkward, sweaty, pimpled. These are the "bad" parts of adolescence, the things we hope to grow out of."

Donna Freitas and the possibilities of faith in YA by Sara Zarr at Good Times and Noodle Salad. Peek: "Why do you think there are so few mainstream YA books that feature characters who have a positive relationship with their religious faith and/or traditions?" Learn more about Donna's debut novel, The Possibilities of Sainthood (Frances Foster, 2008). Note: very much looking forward to this one!

Tough Times and the Publishing Industry Stimulus Package from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "This isn't a time for cheaping out on the authors you love. Publishers are going to be making very tough decisions about which authors are going to survive and which will be dropped. They're being extremely selective about supporting new authors. You can do your part by buying new, asking for new books for the holidays, and encouraging your friends to do the same." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Politics & Prose Opens Section for Older Teens by Paula Chase Hyman from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "The article goes on to say that the section was conceived to help prevent older teens from bypassing the young readers section for the adult section, located upstairs."

Check out this trailer for Margaret Peterson Haddix's new middle grade series, The Missing (Simon & Shuster (author interview):

Fifth Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts will be March 27 to March 29, 2009. Featuring: author Kathi Appelt; author Elise Broach; and editor Cheryl Klein of Scholastic. Includes: lectures; organized workshops; writing exercises; one-on-one critiques with one of the guest authors; one-on-one critique with guest editor (extra fee); open mike; discussions; room and board. Cost: $450. Registration begins Dec. 1. For more information, contact Sarah Aronson.

Deliciously Clean Reads: "anyone can recommend books as long as they are free of sex, profanity, and graphic violence."

Graphic Tales from Colleen Mondor at Bookslut. Peek: "It's a dark slightly subversive delight that never ceased to amaze me. Mostly it's just very, very cool and I do hope that it doesn’t get overlooked in the masses of YA fiction for teen girls."

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Brian Lies at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I show drawings from books I’m working on and talk about the seemingly endless revisions I do in both words and pictures, but also show one of my second-grade drawings, to prove that it's more a question of hard work and time commitment than it is about being born talented."

And My Skin is Getting Thicker by Allison Winn Scotch from Ask Allison. Peek: "Here's the thing. I can't defend myself. I can't write this reviewer a letter and say, 'Hey, I'm sorry about that. It wasn't carelessness, it was something I truly wasn't aware of. Oh, and by the way, if you're going to critique me for a mistake, can you get the details of the book right in your review too?'"

Native American Heritage Month: Book Lists and Resources from Wild Rose Reader. Note: thank you to WRR for including my site among your listings.

Please join me in welcoming Donna Bowman Bratton to the kidlitosphere! Donna is an Austin-based children's writer, and in her inaugural post, she writes: "I'm a born questioner. I am curious, persistent, determined, and easily entertained in a room of strangers or in a room of solitude. I also feel deeply."

Here's a book trailer for the much-buzzed YA, Graceling by Kristin Cashore (Harcourt, 2008)(Source: Sarah Miller):

Featuring Dimitrea Tokunbo from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I started doing self portraits (one a month) using acrylic paints in part to find a new technique and in part to stay in touch with my inner artist. By the time I got to my third self portrait..."

Blurbs I: Getting from Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted at Red Room. Peek: "A blurb is not the back-jacket description of a book; it's not the inside-flap description of a book. It is a quote from an established author, the purpose of which is to help promote the book at hand." Note: mileage varies, but I expect blurb requests to come from editors or agents, not authors.

The Art of Phyllis Hornung Peacock: official site for Austin-based illustrator. Titles include A Place for Zero (Charlesbridge, 2003) and What's Your Angle, Pythagoras? (Charlesbridge, 2004). See also Phyllis' blog!

Strange Machines: Website of Authors: "Dallas Reed and Thomas Pendleton (They're the same guy... Shhh, don't tell anyone!):" official site of a new Austin-based YA author. Check out his LJ and MySpace page. Read a Cynsations interview with Thomas. Note: SLJ says of his latest, "Horror fans will be thrilled by Mason's story."

Contract Limbo! Next Stop, the Lake of Fire from Editorial Anonymous. Peek: "An unagented author should be a wee bit more pointed (but still pleasant and professional--try to express polite concern rather than escalating frustration and panic. Frustration and panic are common qualities in authors (and yes, I know sometimes it's the editor's own fault), but they're unattractive qualities)." See also: The Personal 'No-Comment': In Which We Need Some Better Terms for Rejections. Note: don't miss the comments.

Thematic Book List: Everybody Needs a Home from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: "...these books are not focused on habitats, but the actual shelter/home in which animals live." Note: for review consideration, this blog accepts "both poetry and nonfiction for young readers through middle grades."

How Much Money Does a Writer Make from Laurie Purdie Salas. Peek: "...most children's writers I know who actually make a living off of writing do it by cobbling together an income from many different sources."

Texas Book Festival Photos
from Margo Rabb. A first-rate photo report on the event!

Exiled! From Tragedy to Triumph on the Missouri Frontier by Louise A. Jackson (Eaken Press) has won the WILLA award for "the finest children's book about the women's west published in 2007." The award given annually by Women Writing the West and is judged by librarians and historians. Read Louise's blog at the (Springfield, Missouri) News-Leader. Peek: "I grew up on a small ranch in Central Texas, spent most of my adult life in Wyoming and have lived in Missouri for 14 years, of which the last seven have been spent in Springfield."

Take a sneak peek at The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2009).

Who's on Your Team? by Allison Winn Scotch from Ask Allison. Peek: " many ways, I really believe that your success as a writer is largely due to whom you choose to surround yourself with."

Agent Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency from Kidlit Central News. Peek: "At ABLA, we're hearing encouraging news from publishers about the state of the industry, and I recently read that juvenile sales are up. However, in terms of selling manuscripts, we are seeing the economy affect advances, and we're seeing more hesitation on the part of editors to take books that are not in stellar shape to acquisitions."

Children's Book Insider Highlights Great Blogs of the Day:

Best Illustrated Children's Books 2008: a slide show from The New York Times. Source: Elizabeth O. Dulemba.

Another Austin Treasure: Children's Book Authors by Lindsey Lane from Good Life Magazine (PDF). Peek: "Austin hosts one of the most vibrant children's book writing communities in the country..." See also Alison Dellenbaugh's additions to the recommendations. Read a Cynsations interview with Lindsey, and learn more about Texas Children's and YA Authors and Illustrators.

Diane Roberts -- author/puppeteer: official site of the author of Made You Look and Puppet Pandemonium (both Delacorte). Diane makes her home in Fort Worth.

Native Voices by Debbie Reese from School Library Journal. Peek: "As we approach 2009, stereotypical images of American Indians as bloodthirsty savages and tragic, heroic warriors still strike fear and evoke sympathy as they traipse across the pages of children's books." Note: article includes an bibliography of reading recommendations for elementary through high school readers.

The Bradford Novels: a new blog celebrating The Bradford Novels by Micol Ostow (Simon Pulse, 2009-). Peek: "My editors and I developed this blog to give readers a sneak peek into the months leading up to a book launch. As we get closer to G-day (GoldenGirl), aka Book #1, Day), you'll find author videos, question-and-answers with other YA authors, brilliant insights on the writing life from yours truly (if I do say so myself), outtakes from photo shoots, cover stories, contests, and more, more, more!"

Check out the trailer for Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers (St. Martins, 2008).

read this b4 u publish :) by Max Leone from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "I am of that population segment that is constantly derided as 'not reading anymore,' and is therefore treated by publishing companies as a vast, mysterious demographic that's seemingly impossible to please. Kind of like the way teenage boys think of girls. The reason we read so little in our free time is partially because of the literary choices available to teenagers these days." Note: emphasis here seems to be more on tween than upper YA, and the bottom line here seems to be to "stop parenting and write something fun."

An Interview with Candlewick Editor Jen Yoon by Brian Yansky from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "The one quality that draws me into a manuscript is voice. That trumps everything else for me."

Meet Kimberly Pauley from Through the Looking Glass Book Review. Peek: "I definitely didn't write it to be a 'message book' but I wanted some good messages to be in there, if you want to find them. There are a few, to me…like being true to yourself and not doing things just because people expect you to…standing up for yourself and your friends and for what you feel is important…that things are better when you communicate…that family and friends matter…and that girls can be strong individuals with minds of their own." Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberly.

Michelle Moran on How to Promote Your Book from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "Like galley covers, not all galley print-runs are equal. A lead title might have anywhere from a thousand to ten thousand galleys printed up for every type of reviewer imaginable, while most other novels will have between a hundred and two hundred." Don't miss part two.

More Personally

Thank you to Julie Moody at KUT 90.5 FM for interviewing P. J. Hoover and me about the Austin SCBWI holiday party! Thank you to the whole youth books crew at BookPeople for their hospitality and to RA Tim Crow and his volunteers for all of their hard work! And an extra special thanks to all the members of the community--especially teachers and librarians--who turned out for the celebration! Look for pictures next week!

Candlewick Press has updated its site to include new author bios! Here's mine.

Seeking Spooky Author Blogs: my spookycyn blog has been getting spiffed up for the release of Eternal (Candlewick, Feb. 2009). I've broken some windows and added some cobwebs, and along the way, I've also added a blogroll featuring YA authors who write spooky cool fic of any stripe. Please surf over to confirm that your own blog and/or that of your favorite scary writer is listed. If not, just email me (scroll and click on the envelope) with the author name and blog URL. Thanks!

Carol, a teacher librarian from Iowa, sends this link to a photo of a jingle dress that reminded her of Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000).

Due to extraordinary busy-ness, Cynsations will not post tomorrow; however, I'll be back online Monday. Don't miss my NCTE/ALAN conference schedule below!


Acclaimed author and National Book Award recipient, M. T. Anderson will be at BookPeople in Austin, Texas; at 7 p.m. Nov. 21. He discuss his books, sign copies of his work, and answer questions from the audience. There is limited space for this event. If you would like to attend, you must RSVP to to reserve a spot. Reminder: Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld will be appearing at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at BookPeople!

NCTE and Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) Workshop in San Antonio Nov. 24 to Nov. 25. An event I utterly adore for the depth of discussions, sophistication and dedication of the attendees-leadership, and wonderful company of fellow YA authors. Note: NCTE stands for "National Council of Teachers of English," which has a preceding conference. Please stop by the Candlewick booth at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, where I'll be signing ARCs of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), and look for me at the ALAN Panel - "Gods, Foods, and Tatoos: The Mixed Mythos of Fantasy" on Monday at 2 p.m. ish at the Marriot Rivercenter (Salon E, Third Floor Room). I'll be speaking with Melissa Marr (author interview) and Rick Riordan (author interview).

Reminder: Vote for Yohannes and Ethiopia Reads

Yohannes Gebregeorgis, a native of Ethiopia and children's literacy advocate, has been named a Top 10 Hero of the Year by CNN. Mr. Gebregeorgis was selected from more than 3,000 individuals nominated by viewers throughout the year. Finalists were selected by a Blue Ribbon panel of judges that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall and Deepak Chopra. The Top 10 Heroes will be recognized in CNN's "All-Star Tribute" to air on Thanksgiving.

Yohannes was first recognized as a "hero" by CNN in May for his work championing children in Ethiopia. A former political refugee who worked as a librarian at San Francisco Public Library, Yohannes is the co-founder of Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization that works to create a reading culture in Ethiopia by connecting children with books. In a country where 99% of schools have no libraries, Yohannes and Ethiopia Reads are improving lives, one book at a time.

Vote for Yohannes, then visit Ethiopia Reads web site for more updates. Note: please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this announcement and these links!

More Reminders

Take a Chance on Art: purchase one or more $5 raffle tickets to enter to win illustrator Don Tate's painting "Duke Ellington," and support the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund. Note: it's especially important this year in light of devastation caused by Hurricane Ike. To learn more, read interviews with TLA librarian Jeanette Larson and illustrator Don Tate.

Hurricane Ike Recovery Fund for Rosenberg Library in Galveston, Texas. Peek: "The Children's Department, Technical Services, Circulation Department and Operations were located on the first Floor and all are gone. [emphasis added]" See more information. Note: Please consider yourself encouraged to pass on this blurb and link. The media has moved on to other stories, but efforts to deal with the aftermath are ongoing.

Hurricane Ike Library Relief: "Following the destructive visit of Hurricane Ike, Blue Willow Bookshop [in Houston] is initiating a nationwide campaign to rebuild the library collections of Anahuac High School, Freeport Intermediate School and, closer to home, the Alief Hastings 9th Grade Center. These schools lost more than 75% of their collections. Our goal is to have 1,000 books to deliver to these libraries by Dec. 1."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Author Interview: Drew Hayden Taylor on The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel

Biography of author Drew Hayden Taylor.

What first inspired you to write for teens? For adults?

Well, I started in theatre. In fact, my very first play was a play for young audiences called "Toronto at Dreamer's Rock."

The play was very popular, and it was remounted several times.

I won the Floyd S. Chalmers Award for outstanding new play for young audiences, which consisted of a plaque and a cheque for $10,000, which I almost lost in a bar that night. It's a much longer story.

I hadn't intended to write a teen play specifically, but the director told me it was perfect for them, and who was I to argue. I did several more plays over the years, aimed at young audiences and adult, too.

Then I was approached by the publishing company Annick Press, one of Canada's leading publishers of YA, asking if I'd be interested in writing a book for teens.

Most of my novelist friends lament the fact that they write one or three novels and shop it around hoping to find a publisher. I kind of did it backwards. They offered me money up front, and I wrote it. I kind of prefer it that way. It's easier

The Night Wanderer originally started out as a YA play titled, "A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story." It had been produced once in the '90's but I wasn't happy with the script. So I put it on the shelf and when I was presented with this opportunity, I blew the dust off it and reread it. Perhaps it was too big for a play. It needed the universe of a novel. So I adapted it.

Nothing in particular "inspired" me to write for teens or adults. It's the story that suggests the audience. I just write them.

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

Again, things happened unusually for me. When my first play came out and was so successful, a publisher, Fifth House, called me up and asked if I'd like them to publish my play.

My first three books/plays were with them. Since then, I have had seventeen other books published by four other publishers. Different publishers prefer different genres, and I write in about half a dozen genres.

Congratulations on the success of The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel (Annick, 2007)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Basically, because I am bi-cultural (have Native, half white), I like combining or exploring examples of each cultures.

So for this book, I took a European legend and indigenized it.

Simply put, its the story about an Ojibway man who, 350 years ago, made his way to Europe and was bitten by a vampire. He spent all those years wandering Europe, feeling homesick but unwilling to return as the monster he'd become. But finally, unable to stop himself, he makes his way back to where his village once was in Canada, and it's now a First Nations community. He takes up residency at a bed-and-breakfast, in the basement apartment. In that same house is a sixteen-year-old girl, Tiffany, who is having problems with her white boyfriend, father, and herself. Eventually, both their lives intertwine, and things happen!

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

A sense of fun. And I wanted to explore two different perspectives of death: one from a teenage girl who is contemplating suicide and one from somebody who has been "dead" for several hundred years. What better way to do it!

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

About 15 years! As I said, it was a play originally that I wasn't happy with. So I forgot about it until about three years ago when I was approached by Annick Press.

I wrote the first draft in about six weeks, deciding what to keep and throw out in the original play, and after two rewrites, it was published about a year later.

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

Research. I had to research life 350 years ago. And I hate research. That's why most of my plays and stories are contemporary. And the research got kind of weird.

I remember talking with my travel agent on how to get a vampire from Europe to Canada.

Also, upon request from the publisher, I changed the title from "A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story" to "The Night Wanderer." I wasn't happy about the change, but they thought it was important.

Also, when I signed the contract for the novel, I was committed to 50,000 words, and I had never written a prose piece longer then 4,000 words. It was quite daunting.

Every day when I would write, I would do a word count. It was like climbing a 50,000 foot mountain, 2,000 words at a time.

What, if anything, do you wish you could change about publishing (as a business) and why?

The length between delivering the final draft and seeing the actual book.

How have you grown as a writer over the course of your career?

I have become more comfortable with prose. I started out writing television scripts and plays, both of which are dialogue oriented. Coming from an oral culture, it was easy to tell a story through how people talked.

Having never been to university, I was always nervous about prose. But as the years went by and I wrote more and more, I became more comfortable with it. Now, I have sold my second novel and am about to start on a third.

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

I would tell myself not to be so frightened of rewriting. It's part of the process.

I always hated rewriting, and to a certain extent, I still do. I consider it a necessary evil.

What do you do outside the world of publishing?

Not a lot. Theatre and television. I travel the world lecturing on Native culture, identity, and literature. And chop wood.

What can your readers look forward to next?

My new novel [for grown-ups]. The working title is "Motorcycles and Sweetgrass." And possibly a television series in Canada that I am developing, currently titled "Ojibwayworld."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: John Michael Cummings

In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

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

Here's the latest reply, this one from author John Michael Cummings:

Clearly, for me the most important lesson learned from my first novel was to advance the plot with urgency.

My background is in literary short stories, where I've spun more than a few nicely phrased sentences without taking the story forward. This all changed with The Night I Freed John Brown (Philomel, 2008).

Not only was my first novel with a mainstream publisher, which makes its money from good, clear, entertaining stories, but it was young adult! That made it doubly difficult—my prose had to march double-time.

"Advancing the plot" is a simple way to say it, but it's really much more than that. It's about having a powerful organic voice that reels the story forward, whether in action or state of being. A plot need not press forward by the measure of its hero's footfalls. His mind can be the conflict's fiercest battleground, doing much to make "what happens next" all the more inevitable and believable.

In The Night I Freed John Brown, young Josh Connors is a lion out of its cage as he searches for a father figure. But he also fights fiercely with himself on the inside.

In fact, for all his travels through his historic hometown—through a ghostly abandoned house, through leaky caves and up to a scenic overlook, then into museums and richly renovated houses—his biggest climb is up the endless staircase of his own heart. He rises through his feelings—why he hurts, why he is angry, why he is ashamed.

Probably the best word for the effectiveness of this mix of internal and external conflicts is execution. How a novel is executed speaks to the many varied techniques by which it develops. I was lucky to have an editor who, in the margins of my drafts, wrote notes like, "stage this," "shine light on this," and "hold this moment."

She was—and don't laugh—my Steven Spielberg. But for all our red pens and fancy talk, sometimes we threw up our hands and wondered where the organic voice comes from, then marveled at how it cannot be gypped of its richness or yanked out of its poetic groove by forcing it to a word count or chapter length.

For me it was also about making every word proof of what was yet to come. Call it seeding, or foreshadowing, but it came down to an honest, consistent design that created a sense of time and place in which every sentence, every paragraph, cast subtle reflections backwards and forwards, raising up a three-dimensional world fraught with consequences.

At times, it felt like I was arranging puzzle pieces of information just far enough apart so that only when you stepped back and looked at the novel as a whole could you see how they all fit together. Other times, it was nothing but rewards for the reader every few pages. I often thought—this is harder than ten short stories written at once!

It was journey waiting for me to make.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Author Interview: Helen Hemphill on The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones

Learn about Helen Hemphill.

We last spoke in June 2006 about the release of Long Gone Daddy (Front Street, 2006)! Could you update us on your writing life since?

It's been fast and furious! Last year, Runaround (Boyds Mills Press, 2007) was published for middle school readers, and Booklist named it one of the Top Ten Romance Books for Youth.

With two novels published in two years, I've been really busy writing, teaching, and learning the book business. There are so many gracious, generous people in children's publishing, and I feel lucky to be part of the industry.

Congratulations on the early success of The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones (Front Street, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the story?

Inspired by the African-American cowboy Nat Love, the novel is about fourteen-year-old Prometheus Jones as he and his cousin Omer take off on a cattle drive from Dodge City to Deadwood.

The book is a high adventure story, obviously written with boy readers in mind, but girls have loved the book as well.

How was Nat Love your inspiration for the story?

Three years ago I read Nat Love¹s autobiography, published in 1907. His voice is big bravado. Nat Love is the best at roping and riding and shooting and reading brands. I loved him!

But there were several nonfiction books out about Nat Love already, so I used his voice as my inspiration. Prometheus is very sure of himself and his abilities, but he thinks he's lucky.

For him, luck is outside himself and can give or take his talent and confidence. One of the themes of the book is that Prometheus learns luck is made by his own grit, determination, and attitude.

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

The book took about 18 months of research. I actually drove the route of the cattle drive (in a car, not a wagon!), visited Deadwood, and tried to envision for myself what the landscape of 1876 might have looked like.

I also keep notes as to the specific distances and modes of travel in the story so that I could get the timing right--a cattle drive did well to cover 15 miles in a day.

The book was written in about a year, so total it was about three years from idea to publication.

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

The obvious challenges were writing across race and time. I wanted very much to draw Prometheus's character as an authentic African-American boy, so research was critical.

I kept a vocabulary journal as I read both cowboy and slave narratives from the period. I researched black cowboys and the African American migration west, and I discussed dialect with my writers groups in both Austin and Nashville to get feedback along the way.

Ultimately, I focused on the fact that this story was the story of one boy, not a wide depiction of African Americans after the Civil War, so that was helpful.

Also, the very fact that it was historical fiction helped. I didn't have to write a boy with modern-day problems.

The issue of writing across time came down to depicting all the various groups--the cowboys of various ethnic backgrounds, the settlers, and the Indians in the story with historical authenticity, given modern-day sensibilities. That was sometimes a balancing act and was one of the most difficult aspects of the book.

What advice do you have for those writing historical fiction?

Get your research right, but don't expect to use every detail. Only about 5-10% of the material should be included in the book. For any piece of fiction, it's the story that matters most. Let the history serve the story.

How about for those writing cross-culturally?

Be sensitive. Be open. Do your research, and be intentional about what you are writing. It helps to show your manuscript to someone from that cultural or ethnic background to get feedback. Be willing to revise and cut the manuscript if things aren't working.

When we last spoke you were a debut novelist. Now, you have a couple of years as a published author behind you. What have you learned in that time--about publishing, about craft, about your writing life?

I guess I've learned it's always about the manuscript. No matter what happens in terms of the business, a good story will always find its way to an audience.

So I work hard to keep getting better at my craft. While I do a number of things to promote my books and love talking to readers, I try not to let that be the focus of my work life.

I'm a writer, so I get my joy from the writing.

So far, as a reader, what are your favorite children's-YA books of 2008 and why?

I loved volume two of The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: The Kingdom on the Waves (Candlewick 2008) by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2008).

It's a rich, full story with many layers about notions of freedom. It's not an easy-reading novel because the language is so authentic to the 18th century, but that's one of the many things that makes the book terrific. I can't stop thinking about it.

I also just read Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games (Scholastic Press, 2008). It's a thrill ride of a story!

What can your readers look forward to next?

I'm finishing up a book titled William Shakezpeare & the Tragedy Rap Tour. Written within a concert structure, it's a hip hop poetry book that explores the themes of three Shakespearean tragedies: "Romeo & Juliet," "Hamlet" and "Macbeth." I also have a new YA novel in the works.

School Visits Added to Austin SCBWI Holiday Party Giveaways

The Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators will be hosting its annual holiday party from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at BookPeople (6th and Lamar) in Austin, Texas.

The event will include: short panels on writing picture books, middle grade novels, and YA novels (respectively); author signings; and door prizes!

Highlights include: Philip Yates--dressed as a pirate and reading his new release, A Pirate's Night Before Christmas (Sterling, 2008)(author interview); book giveaways; and school-visit giveaways featuring:

picture book author Lindsey Lane (interview);

debut tween fantasy author P. J. Hoover (interview); and

YA author Jennifer Ziegler (interview)!

Note: limit of one entry per person for the school drawing and one entry per person for the other prizes; offer is only good for schools in the Austin (and surrounding) area.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 10, 2008

10th Anniversary Feature: Laurel Snyder

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

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

Here's the latest reply, this one from author Laurel Snyder:

It's funny, but with all I've learned over the past few years—through about 17 drafts, as many failed manuscripts, several amazing editors and agents...the biggest lesson I learned was not a writing lesson, but a personal lesson.

A lesson in how to be patient. How to turn off my ambition and relax. Wait for it.

A writer who wants to be published has to cultivate a kind of stubborn, constant energy flow. When I was sending out my book I was certain that the only way to make it happen was to keep at it.

And so every time a rejection came back I sent it back out. I talked to any agent who'd chat with me. I lurked on all sorts of bulletin boards and in chat rooms, read blogs, and revised and revised and revised. I never stopped thinking about how to get there

But then, gloriously, astoundingly, it all paid off! I sold two books at once (both from slush), and I found that there wasn't anything to do anymore but write.

Suddenly, I had an agent and an editor and I didn't have to think about getting there. And I found that was weirdly difficult. To stop the ambition wheels from spinning in my brain. To slow down my breathing and think of stories I wanted to tell, instead of thinking about how to get people to read the stories I'd already written.

I'd sit down to write, but instead I'd find myself online, surfing the blueboards for editors who might like my next picture book idea (though I already had an option to fulfill). I'd reconsider my agent choice for no good reason. I actually dreamed about becoming an agent myself.

See, while it's frustrating to be unpublished, the constant ebb and flow of submissions is also kind of addictive. Every day there's something to do. Every day there's a hold-your-breath-and-open-your-mail moment. And you make it happen. You're in charge. It's a roller coaster, and I'm a roller coaster kind of girl.

It turns out that being a published author is the opposite. You're not in charge anymore, and the publishing world moves at the speed of a sleeping sloth.

So you sit, and wait, and crack your knuckles, and dream about the book that is, in theory, going to come out. But you can't make it happen. You can't flood the world with emails and speed things up. And for me, that was hard, a lesson to learn.

It took effort. I had to learn to take a deep breath, turn off the Internet, and just start the next book...
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