Friday, November 06, 2009

Guest Post Elizabeth O. Dulemba on Marketing - The Snowball Effect

By Elizabeth O. Dulemba

I’m in the thick of marketing my newest picture book (and first as author-illustrator)--Soap, soap, soap (Raven Tree, 2009), and I keep getting emails from friends asking how I market, especially online.

To me, marketing is a two-phase process. There’s general marketing (getting my name out there), and then there’s specific marketing (of a particular title).

It’s like building a snowball. When I got into this business eight years ago, my career (AKA snowball) was the size of a pea. But I was willing to put in the work, and had time to make it grow. Hence began my general marketing...

In these economic times, publishers have become interested in creators who already have a platform--a public profile, persona or following. It takes time to build this up, but the Internet has made it easier, so I’ve been working on my platform since before I was published.

I thought of my name as a brand. became synonymous with Nike or Google - yup. It was my website domain (where I show my portfolio, bio, etc.) and my blog title.

To create consistent blog content, at first I participated in, which forced me to post once a week. (Writers have groups like Non-fiction Monday and Poetry Friday.)

Now, I follow online trade resources (free via email) like School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch, and Children’s Bookshelf where I always find something interesting to share. They also keep me up on industry news.

To gain visitors, I stepped into the online world of children’s books and started making friends. I joined message boards like SCBWI and the Blue Board [Verla Kay's Children's Writers & Illustrators Message Board], then later, Facebook and Twitter.

I think of them as ongoing parties. I can pop in and say "hi" whenever I want, but the more often I do, the more likely people are to remember me. The support I found was invaluable, and my snowball grew to the size of a kumquat.

Somewhere in there I got published, spoke at some schools, did some book signings and panels. And I went to tons of conferences, but they can get expensive. I found the secret to off-setting fees was to volunteer. It’s more work, but volunteering coincides with discounts and better networking. Heck, my position as Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI Southern Breeze region earned me a scholarship to the 2009 summer [national] conference in LA!

In summary, my general marketing plan is give back as much as possible. Within reason. I donate one free school visit a year to a needy school, submit illustrations and articles for the SCBWI Bulletin, support friends during their events, and give away free coloring pages every week on my blog. And while it may not sound like much, the articles position me as an expert and people really do appreciate the support and giveaways.

In fact, my “Coloring Page Tuesdays” has become one of my best marketing tools. I create them for teachers, librarians, booksellers and parents to share with their kids (my demographic) - and they can sign up to receive the coloring pages in their in-box each week (I use, but ConstantContact is good too). I now have over 1,000 subscribers and receive over 40,000 hits to my website each month (I can follow through These are people who have already expressed interest in me or my creations.

My snowball grew to the size of a basketball, and things started getting exciting.

In this business, your demographic changes as your career grows. When I started out, I was trying to reach an agent or publisher. Once published, I needed to reach people who buy and sell my books--sales reps, booksellers, librarians, parents and community leaders. These are my front line, people who make things happen for me.

The nice thing about snowballs is, when they get big enough, they can roll on their own. As word spread about me, my books, and everything I do, my stats jumped exponentially. People are talking about me (dang do my ears itch) and it’s no longer just me pushing that snowball - groovy!

So, now I have this great support system and I’m applying it to my specific marketing for Soap, soap, soap! I have a Blog Book Tour with interviews and giveaways (most of the bloggers I asked to host me said "yes"). I have a web radio interview and will talk up Soap, soap, soap like crazy through my e-newsletter and Coloring Page Tuesday alerts. I joined the Association of Booksellers for Children and the kidlitosphere where I have gotten to know booksellers and book reviewers, and I’m sending out personal emails to them in which I include links to view my book trailer and an e-galley of Soap, soap, soap online (an experiment).

For those who want review copies, I forward requests to my publisher (we’ve become quite the marketing team). And I promote literacy through online groups and activities - because to sell books, we need to create readers! (Ironically, I volunteered for a literacy organization shortly after college--I’ve come full circle.)

In fact, except for four festivals this fall and a few speaking engagements, most of my promotion for Soap, soap, soap will be online. But that doesn’t mean it’s not personal. Over the years, I’ve created good contacts with people all over the country via the Internet. Because it all comes down to relationships these days, and those don’t happen overnight.

The biggest impact the Internet has had on advertising is you can’t blast people with non-personalized ads anymore. You must establish a following of people who appreciate you and believe in you. I do that by keeping in touch, remaining accessible, and celebrating other people’s successes--just as I hope they’ll support mine and help get the word out about my books.

Of course, in the end, there’s no point in marketing yourself if you have nothing to sell. So, I need to get back to writing and illustrating...

Cynsational Notes

Check out Elizabeth's new iPhone app, "Lula's Brew."

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of two author-signed copies of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón (Raven Tree, 2009), one of three author-signed copies of My Father's House by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Raul Colón (Viking, 2007), an author-bookplate-signed copy of Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Amulet, 2009) and a contributor-signed copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, Oct. 2009)!

From the promotional copy of Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón:

Hugo's mamá sends him to the store to buy soap. Of course, Hugo takes the long way there which gets him into loads of trouble and plenty of mud. With all his adventures, he keeps forgetting what he’s supposed to buy at the store. But through each mishap he's somehow reminded he needs soap, soap, soap ~ jabón, jabón, jabón! Hugo ends up a muddy mess, but he finally prevails. He buys the soap and returns home only to discover that his mamá plans to use the soap on him!

Soap takes the classic Appalachian Jack Tale and gives it a modern twist. The story now takes place in a small rural town with a sweet little troublemaker named Hugo. The artwork is drawn with graphite and rendered digitally using bright, happy colors reminiscent of this playful tale.

From the promotional copy of My Father's House:

"Oh my father, thank you,

"for all your many mansions. . . ."

From woodland halls to painted desert walls, from mountain porches wrapped in snow to rain forest attics catching clouds, this exquisitely beautiful poetic tribute to Earth’s creator is grand in its gratitude and sure of the love found throughout the natural world.

Filled with award-winning artist Raul Colón’s jewel-toned illustrations, My Father’s House imparts a refreshing and uplifting message that is necessary today more than ever. This is a book both to give and to treasure for years to come.

From the promotional copy of Operation Redwood:

Waking up alone in an abandoned office, Julian Carter-Li intercepts an angry e-mail message meant for his high-powered uncle:

Sibley Carter is a moron and a world-class jerk!

With that, Operation Redwood is set in motion as Julian discovers his Uncle Sibley's plan to log an ancient redwood grove in Northern California. Will there be "consequences" when Sibley discovers Julian's been tampering with his e-mail? Can Julian find out more about Robin, the intriguing girl who sent the message? Can he escape math camp for the summer and help save Big Tree Grove? Is Operation Redwood doomed to failure . . . or is there hope?

Read a Cynsations interview with S. Terrell French.

From the promotional copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite:

This edition includes a new short story by Rachel Vincent. This vampire-themed YA anthology also includes short stories by Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine, Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, Rachel Vincent, and Claudia Gray.

Read a PDF excerpt which highlights my short story, "Haunted Love." The story is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) and features new characters.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Soap Soap Soap Jabón Jabón Jabón" and/or "My Father's House" and/or "Operation Redwood" and/or "Immortal" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message me with the name in the header; I'll contact you if you win). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 30.

The winner of the Spooky Cynsational October giveaway was Courtney in Pennsylvania! Courtney won Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2009); Coffeehouse Angel by Suzanne Selfors (Walker, 2009); Far From You by Lisa Schroeder (Simon Pulse, 2009); How to Be a Vampire: A Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, November 2009); Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey (Harcourt, 2009); Kissed by an Angel by Elizabeth Chandler (Simon Pulse, 2008); and Vamped by Lucienne Diver (Flux, 2009).

More News

Uncommon Sense- Author Debby Dahl Edwardson and Her Process by Tami Lewis Brown from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "When it comes to deciding which details to leave in an which to leave out, though, I really like that Janet Burroway quote you posted: 'No amount of concrete detail will move us unless it also implicitly suggests meaning and value.'"

How to Encourage Young Writers?
by Carmela A. Martino from Teaching Authors. Discussion of recommended craft books and online resources. Read a Cynsations interview with Carmela.

SPELLBINDERS: Teacher/Librarian Newsletter: A Monthly Newsletter by three Children's/Young Adult authors (Carolee Dean, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Lois Ruby) to help teachers and librarians create lifelong readers. Peek: " Interviews, curriculum ideas, new book buzz, literacy in the community, and lots more!"

George Littlechild's This Land Is My Land (Children's Book Press, 1993): a recommendation by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...he provides teachers with the opportunity to teach children that Native peoples in the U.S. and Canada were and are members of nations."

What Not to Do With Rejection by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings: A place to ponder books, as well as how the words get on the page. Peek: "There is nothing wrong with having a personal reaction to a rejection. You just need to keep it personal and private."

Let's Get Sensual by Tami Lewis Brown at Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "This week we'll explore sensory detail beyond the basics. How does the right sensory detail build voice? What effects can you create by describing smell, taste, touch, sound and the old standby what your point of view character sees? Do different readers perceive sensory detail differently? How do you avoid sensory overload?" Note: first in a week-long series of posts.

Marvelous Marketer: Wendy Loggia (Delacorte/RHCB) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "Like most editors, the voice is what immediately hooks me. A fast-paced plot doesn’t hurt, either. Think women’s fiction—for teens, a la Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot. Would like a great paranormal..."

Helping Those Who Talk Less Get Heard More: Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead from Mary Hershey at Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "You also don't have to be an extrovert to do it well; instead, you can let your quiet strengths shine through and do it your way. This book is about helping you find your way. " See also My Comfort Zone (It's Actually Very Tiny) by Kristen Tracy at Crowe's Nest.

Book Review: Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd by Susan Carpenter from the Los Angeles Times. Peek: "The A-list writers are at the top of their game in this young-adult short story collection of all things nerdy." Note: Geektastic (Little, Brown) is edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci and includes my short story "The Wrath of Dawn," co-authored by Greg Leitich Smith.

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Taeeun Yoo from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "’s called Only a Witch Can Fly (published by Feiwel & Friends in August), and it’s by the prolific and talented Alison McGhee. The illustrations were done by Taeeun Yoo, who has illustrated enough picture books to count on one hand, but whose work I very much like."

Books & Resources for Native American Heritage Month 2009 from Elaine Magliaro from Wild Rose Reader. A listing of resource links.

Fixing a Stalled Career by Jessica at BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency. Peek: "Earning out your advance only matters to the publisher who paid the advance. What others are going to be interested in is your sales track record." Note: the agency specializes in "adult" literature, and you can't always transfer wisdom from adult to youth publishing, but this post offers global publishing insights that may prove helpful.

The Good Books: Writing Religion for Young Adults by Micol Ostow from Jewish Book Council. Peek: "The best reviews I’ve read have talked about the book taking Judaism and relating it to teens in a contemporary way, as opposed to the canon of didacticism that permeates classic Jewish kid-lit." Read a Cynsations interview with Micol.

Mongoose Madness Classroom Contest from Bruce Hale. Peek: "You can win a virtual author visit (via Skype) with author Bruce Hale, or a classroom set of the Chet Gecko mysteries, or a paperback Chet Gecko mystery for everyone in your class." Deadline: midnight Nov. 13. See details. Read a Cynsations interview with Bruce.

Haven Giveaway from Beverly Patt at the Class of 2k9. Deadline: Nov. 9. From the promotional copy: "With his Christmas wish for an ATV dashed, Rudy Morris isn’t sure how he fits into his family anymore. Latonya Dennis just wants a family to fit into. Their paths cross on Christmas Day, when Latonya ends up as the annual orphan at the Morris household. But Latonya doesn’t disappear from their lives the day after Christmas like the other orphans have. She pulls Rudy and his best friend, Stark, into a scheme to fix up a rusty, old ATV and use it to help her run away from her group home, The Haven. Rudy reluctantly agrees but as the day draws near, his own feelings for her get in the way. What’s a getaway driver to do?" Read a Cynsations interview with Beverly.

Featured Blogger: Jacket Knack's Julie Larios...
from Alice's CWIM Blog. Peek: "Julie Larios maintains Jacket Knack along with co-blogger Carol Brendler (a writer with an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts). The pair offer weekly posts focusing on children's books cover art." Read a Cynsations interview with Julie.

Storysleuths: "Writers Allyson Valentine Schrier and Meg Lippert read like writers, investigating award-winning children's literature for clues about how to improve their own writing." Note: new in the kidlitosphere!

A World in Your Backyard: Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me by Jennifer M. Brown from School Library Journal. Peek: "I think that life gets much more complicated at 12. At that age I did have friends who were boys. But what I found was—not so much confusion about whether we were boyfriend and girlfriend or just regular friends—for me, 12 was the age at which things started to change, whether I wanted them to or not." Source: April Henry.

Mean Girls in YA Lit: a multi-voice discussion at Chasing Ray. From contributor Margo Rabb: "As an adult, it's usually fairly easy to brush off criticisms and avoid people who you don't get along with. As a teen, the tiniest comment from an insensitive girl or boy can send you into a tailspin, and you may remember it for the rest of your life."

Cover Stories: Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr from Melissa Walker at readergirlz. Peek: "To me, her face and expression were all wrong. Her hands were too small and delicate. She was too pretty. Just not Deanna." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Stories from Candor: Episode One: Poised: a podcast from author Pam Bachorz to tie into Candor (Egmont, 2009). In this new series of audio podcasts, listen to the secret diary of Campbell Banks as he builds Candor, Florida. In this episode, Campbell discusses last-minute preparations for the first people to move into Candor, including how he'll prepare his own family for moving from Chicago. He also shares details on how he'll brainwash his town's new residents. Note: so far six total podcast episodes have been released. Read a Cynsations interview with Pam.

"I Didn't Know You Liked Wonder Woman" by Robin Friedman, author of The Importance of Wings from Unabridged/Charlesbridge. Peek: "I met the late Paul Zindel... Offhandedly he commented that all of his books are autobiographical." Read a Cynsations interview with Robin.

Anneographies from author Anne Bustard. Highlights picture book biographies for children, each posted on the subject's birthday. Those with unknown birthdays are spliced in throughout the year. Read a Cynsations interview with Anne.

Screening Room

Watch this book trailer for Ivy and Bean: Doomed to Dance by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Chronicle, 2009):

In the video below, Lorraine García-Nakata, Publisher & Executive Director, of Children's Book Press talks about the mission of her house (which is a nonprofit and invites donations). Source: Rene Colato Lainez at La Bloga.

The Multicultural Minute: Food from

More Personally

Please note that I'm on revision deadline and wait on sending all non-essential messages until further notice--thanks!

Guest Post: Cynthia Leitich Smith from readergirlz. Peek: "how should I weigh the need to convey a contemporary setting with the risk of dating the book too quickly?" See also Little Willow at Slayground on Getting Dated or Not.

Let Your Inner Werewolf Out: recommended reads, including Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), by Barbara Bell from the San Jose Examiner. See also recommended children's-YA books with Native American themes, also from Barbara at the Examiner (scroll for list).

Even More Personally

I graduated with a B.S.J. from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. Here's a peek from a proud Jayhawk! Peek: "KU's main campus in Lawrence, Kansas occupies 1,000 acres on and around historic Mount Oread in Lawrence, a community of more than 80,000 in the forested hills of eastern Kansas." Note: I'm also a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.

Cynsational Events

"Going with Your Gut:" a presentation by Liz Garton Scanlon at 11 a.m. Nov. 7 at the monthly Austin SCBWI meeting at BookPeople. Peek: "We practice our craft. We study the field. We dot our i’s and cross our t’s. But it’s intuition that guides great art, and sometimes in the course of our careful study and practiced efforts, we ignore our own personal muse at the expense of our best work. Let’s talk about paying attention to the most important voice of all."

SCBWI-Illinois' Fifth Annual Prairie Writer's Day: Brick by Brick: The Architecture of Our Stories will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Speakers include: Stacy Cantor, associate editor at Walker; Nick Eliopulos, associate editor at Random House; T.S. Ferguson, assistant editor at Little, Brown; Yolanda LeRoy, editorial director at Charlesbridge; Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author and Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member; and Michael Stearns, agent and co-founder of Upstart Crow Literary.

Destination Publication: An Awesome Austin Conference for Writers and Illustrators is scheduled for Jan. 30 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Keynote speakers are Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson and Caldecott Honor author-illustrator Marla Frazee, who will also offer an illustrator breakout and portfolio reviews. Presentations and critiques will be offered by editor Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, author-editor Lisa Graff of FSG, agent Andrea Cascardi of Transatlantic Literary, agent Mark McVeigh of The McVeigh Agency, and agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd. Advanced critique break-out sessions will be led by editor Stacy Cantor of Bloomsbury. In addition, Cheryl and author Sara Lewis Holmes will speak on the editor-and-author relationship, and Marla and author Liz Garton Scanlon will speak on the illustrator-and-author relationship. Note: Sara and Liz also will be offering manuscript critiques. Illustrator Patrice Barton will offer portfolio reviews. Additional authors on the speaker-and-critique faculty include Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Shana Burg, P.J. Hoover, Jacqueline Kelly, Philip Yates, Jennifer Ziegler. See registration form, information packet, and conference schedule (all PDF files)!

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. The faculty includes author Cynthia Leitich Smith, assistant editor Ruta Rimas of Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, creative director Patrick Collins of Henry Holt, senior editor Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster, senior editor Lisa Ann Sandell of Scholastic, and agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Deborah Noyes

Learn about Deborah Noyes and her new releases, Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical and African Acrostics: A World in Edgeways with poems by Avis Harley (both Candlewick, 2009).

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

For a daydreamer, there's no better work. I get to be a mental traveler, chair-bound maybe but always on the move, always exploring, discovering, uncovering, collecting, picking characters' psychological and emotional locks.

I'm also crazy about--can't get enough of--historical research, immersing myself in other times and places.

Finally, as a writer, I have an excuse to be alone when I need to be. In our uber-connected world, people think you're nuts (or at least antisocial) when you not only enjoy but require solitude. By its nature, our work lets you retreat and recharge on a regular basis. The time away, the mental travel, makes me a better person, parent, and friend, and lets me be more present when I'm present.

So far, what's the most fun you've ever had working on a book? Why?

Every book has its joys and challenges, but for sheer fun, I'd say my recent picture book with poet Avis Harley, a collection of acrostic poems that I photo-illustrated.

It let me indulge so many creative loves in one project. I think of myself as a writer first and foremost, but I'm also an editor/anthologist and photographer. Maybe because I wear different hats, my favorite part of the process has become, over the years, collaboration itself.

By day I'm an editor at Candlewick, where I work with phenomenal authors and illustrators, but I also collaborate with an amazing team of editors, designers, and art directors.

I've learned nearly everything I know about the creative process from these people, and to work in an unfamiliar area (Acrostics was my first full-on outing as an "illustrator") under their care was a gift.

Likewise to be entrusted with another author's words, to turn my visual eye to Avis's wry and clever poems. My editor even invited me to write a photographer's note, so the writer-me got to participate.

But the most exciting thing was the trip itself, the chance to train my lens on the wild creatures of Namibia. Animals are a huge part of my life and my thinking. They're my favorite photographic subjects and show up--alive or dead, as in The Ghosts of Kerfol (Candlewick, 2008), literally or metaphorically--in almost every book I write.

And while I love my creative work more than I can say, there's a part of me that's always wondered what it would be like to trek around photographing orangutans for "National Geographic" or to do fieldwork like my childhood idols Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

With Acrostics, I was able to step over into that "parallel" life while still keeping the other foot firmly planted in this one.

Cynsational Notes

Take a peek at some "outtakes" from African Acrostics, courtesy of Deborah, used with permission. Do not copy.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children's-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.

Five Questions with Scholastic Editor-Author Lisa Ann Sandell

5 Questions with Lisa Ann Sandell: "On Our Minds asks [author and] senior editor at Scholastic, Lisa Ann Sandell 5 simple questions about YA and what it's like to be an editor."

Cynsational Notes

Lisa is on the faculty of the 2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference, scheduled for Feb. 20, 2010, at the Merrell Center in Katy. Other faculty members include: Ruta Rimas of Balzar & Bray; Patrick Collins of Henry Holt; Alexandra Cooper of Simon & Schuster; literary agent Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc.; Nancy Feresten of National Geographic; and author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Lisa's latest release (as an author) is A Map of the Known World (Scholastic, 2009). Read an excerpt.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

New Voice: Joy Preble on Dreaming Anastasia

Joy Preble is the first-time author of Dreaming Anastasia (Sourcebooks, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn't.

Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.

In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn't know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college—until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman.

The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams...

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you’re debuting this year?

Not surprisingly, I devoured books as a child. I was a bookish little girl--so much so that my parents eventually gave up trying to stop me from reading at the dinner table and just let me bring a book to sit next to me or in my lap at all times. (That habit has stuck – I honestly feel a little ill at ease if I'm eating without something to read)

As for my reading tastes, I was pretty much an omnivore; fiction, biography, back of the cereal didn't much matter.

That being said, I am not at all surprised that my muse delivered the seeds for Dreaming Anastasia into my brain as a somewhat cross genre fantasy/romance/alternate history/grrl power-ish reverse fairy tale.

I suppose it is what comes of reading a steady diet of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962), Nancy Drew mysteries (1930-), Andrew Lang's Fairy Books (1889-1910), some of the Narnia books [by C. S. Lewis (HarperCollins, 1949-1954), the Oz books [by L. Frank Baum (George M. Hill, 1900-)], Edgar Eager's Half Magic and Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family and old biographies of kick ass women like Nellie Bly and Babe Didrickson Zaharias.

It is no surprise that I grew up wanting my female heroes strong and funny and willing to do what it takes to get the job done.

And okay, I know this question doesn't really ask this, but I also have to say that the potent combination of all of those works added to the more recent cultural influence of The Almighty Whedonverse absolutely assured that I would create a first novel that has many powerful female characters, including but not limited to an ordinary high school junior, a not-so-dead princess, and even Baba Yaga, the legendary Russian folklore witch.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

I think any novel evolves over the course of its drafts. Or at least this one did!

Thematically, I think that once I'd created my protagonist Anne--because it was her voice that actually came to me first--I knew that at the very least I'd be writing the classic journey tale.

Girl thinks her life is ordinary; handsome stranger tells her "nope, not so much ordinary." More crazy power with ensuing wackiness. Girl embarks on mission to save someone, and stuff happens that she never quite expected.

That was probably always my plan in one form or another--that I would take this girl and throw fantastic obstacles at her and a really hot guy and all sorts of other stuff and see how she reacts. But beyond that, a couple of things really did evolve in unexpected ways for me.

One was that once you resolve to write a story about the possibility of changing history, you realize that to some degree you're writing a form of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818, 1831). That is--just because you might be able to do something (build your own man; stop a seventeen-year-old girl from being murdered)--doesn't necessarily mean you should. And the slippery moral slope that results from the attempt has this huge ripple effect.

So suddenly, I had a story that wasn't just playful "what if." It was darker and more serious and more thoughtful.

And certainly that is something very universal, whether we're talking about bio-ethical issues such as stem-cell usage or transplants or cloning, or more fanciful stuff like what if Anastasia really wasn't quite so dead.

The other theme that evolved as I began to weave in Russian folkloric elements was this amazing duality of my characters. Particularly the witch Baba Yaga, both in classic storytelling and in Dreaming Anastasia, is a character who is very hard to pin down.

As Anne's friend Tess actually asks somewhere in the middle of the story, "Is she a good witch or a bad witch?" Honestly, she's a little of both, which is about all I'll give away.

Again, I think that has very universal application. We live in complicated times. Lots of gray areas. And I loved that I was able to play with that in many, many ways during the course of the story, both with my good guys and my villains.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. First-timers may also be featured in more traditional author interviews over the course of the year.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Texas Book Festival 2009

The Texas Book Festival took place Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 in Austin.

According to the official website, "The first festival took place at the Capitol in November 1996; the festival has quickly evolved into one of the premier literary events in the country, annually hosting over 200 Texas and nationally known authors."

It was an honor to participate as a featured author for Eternal (Candlewick, 2009)!

At the opening of the event, the novel is displayed on a signing table with Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), and Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000)--all of which were featured titles at previous Texas Book Festivals.

Thank you to TBF literary director Clay Smith, panel escort Breanna, moderator April Lurie, the festival volunteers, everyone who came to my session and/or signing, and the Austin area Barnes & Noble booksellers for their efforts in conjunction with the book sale! Special thanks to the Austin children's-YA writing community for its enthusiasm and support!

Here's a peek at the festivities!

Author Jessica Lee Anderson, author-illustrator Don Tate, and author April Lurie at the children's author reception at TBF literary director Clay Smith's house. Jessica's Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009) was a featured book at the festival. Thanks again to April for the terrific job she did the next day, moderating my panel!

Author-illustrator Janie Bynum and debut author Jill S. Alexander. Jill's The Sweetheart of Prosper County (Feiwel & Friends) was a featured book.

Janie's latest release is The Twelve Days of Christmas in Texas (Sterling, 2009), and it was a featured book, too.

Debut author K.A. "Kari" Holt, author Liz Garton Scanlon, and Greg Leitich Smith. Kari's Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House) and Liz's All The World, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane) both were featured books.

Debut author Samantha R. Vamos and Greg. Samantha's Before You Were Here, Mi Amor, illustrated by Santiago Cohen (Viking) was a featured book.

Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Benjamin's Last Night I Sang to the Monster (Cinco Puntos) was a featured book. Note: I'm a huge fan of many of the TBF authors, but, as a fan girl, it was a particular delight to meet Benjamin.

"The Tattooed Ladies of TLA"--this new calendar is a must-buy! Support Texas libraries!

A kiss from author Kelly Bennett. Kelly's new book is Dance, Y'all, Dance, illustrated by Terri Murphy (Bright Sky).

Austin authors Sarah Bird and Jacqueline Kelly. Jacqueline's debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Henry Holt) was a featured book.

Author Diana Lopez. Diana's Confetti Girl (Little, Brown) was a featured book.

Author Heather Hepler. Heather's The Cupcake Queen (Dutton) was a featured book.

Author Kathi Appelt with her husband. Congratulations to Kathi for winning the Writers' League of Texas Teddy Award for The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008)!

My co-panelists Dina and Daniel Nayeri. Dina and Daniel's Another Faust (Candlewick) was a featured book. The Nayeris are a sister-brother team, debut authors, and highly recommended as speakers and all-around cool people.

The Debut: Sibling Authors, Daniel and Dina Nayeri by Rocco Staino from School Library Journal. Peek: "...the debut novel from the brother-and-sister writing team of Daniel and Dina Nayeri, is a retelling of the Faustian tale in which bargains are made with the Devil."

Highlight of my signing--spooky nails by YA reader Brittany! The book is Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009), which includes my short story "Haunted Love." Note: P.C. also was a featured author at the festival.

Afterward, Daniel, Dina, April, and Greg at The Driskill.

Author-editor-expert-goddess Anita Silvey at Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill. Anita's Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Children's Book (Roaring Brook) was a featured book.

Co-panelists and YA authors Jessica, Libba Bray, and Sara Zarr. Libba's Going Bovine and Sara's Once Was Lost (Little, Brown) were both featured books. Note: see information on Jessica's book above.

Author Jane Ann Peddicord and Erin Edwards.

In the signing tent, author Jo Whittemore, her husband, and Erin read Chicken Dance by Tammi Sauer (Sterling). Chicken Dance was a featured book.

Mission accomplished, it's time to hit the town with Varian Johnson, April, Sara, Greg, Erin, Anita, Jessica, and her husband. (I'm walking behind, chatting with Emily from BookPeople, our red-hottest young voice on the YA scene).

Anita, Sara, Varian, and Emily at the Roaring Fork.

Greg, Erin, and Jessica at the Roaring Fork.

Cynsational Notes

Texas Book Festival: a report with photos from Greg Leitich Smith. Peek: "Jane Smiley approached, and I blurted, 'Hi! I love Moo (Knopf, 1995)!' Jacqueline Kelly also expressed admiration for that book, although much more serenely." Note: that would be Greg's fan-boy moment.

A Weekend of Fabulous Fs: a report with photos from Jo Whittemore. Peek: "Of course, the Austin writing community showed up to cheer and heckle as needed." Note: happy belated birthday, Jo!

A more novel approach: Texas Book Festival's focus on fiction reflects Austin's writing community. By Jeff Salamon from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "The sense of fraternity that has long marked Austin's music scene now seems to have infected the literary community, whose members show up in droves for each others' events." Note: thanks to Jeff for all of his efforts as book editor at the Statesman; congratulations to him on his new job at Texas Monthly!

Non-writer/illustrator significant others are not named out of respect for their privacy (and in case they're playing hooky from their day jobs to cheer on their honeys).
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