Friday, December 18, 2009

New Voice: Saundra Mitchell on Shadowed Summer

Saundra Mitchell is the first-time author of Shadowed Summer (Delacorte, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Iris is ready for another hot, routine summer in her small Louisiana town, hanging around the Red Stripe grocery with her best friend, Collette, and traipsing through the cemetery telling each other spooky stories and pretending to cast spells. Except this summer, Iris doesn't have to make up a story. This summer, one falls right in her lap.

Years ago, before Iris was born, a local boy named Elijah Landry disappeared. All that remained of him were whispers and hushed gossip in the church pews. Until this summer.

A ghost begins to haunt Iris, and she's certain it's the ghost of Elijah. What really happened to him? And why, of all people, has he chosen Iris to come back to?

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

I was the latest in a long line of women poor in cash but rich in books.

My grandmother, who spent her childhood struggling through the Depression, cared about two things: making sure I had an orange on Christmas, and checking to see if I'd read A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (Grosset & Dunlap, 1909) yet. She waxed long and passionate about books, a love she passed on to my mother.

Mom had a huge collection at home--everything from romance to horror to literature to non-fiction. She claims she took me to get my first library card the day she found seven-year-old me, attempting to read either Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (Macmillan, 1944) or The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes (Methuen, 1913.) Whichever it was--it was 1980, and if you can't tell by the dates of the books--our wealth really was in pages.

Books passed down, books collected at yard sales, books borrowed from the library--I remember long summers of my aunts and my mother and my grandmother, all sprawled out in the back yard under the maples, each with their respective novels.

And because we had hardship with our books, as I got older, I sought out stories that reflected my neighborhood, my life.

I found Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins, 1977), and that helped me make sense of my father, who seemed to disappear from our family when his father passed away. It was a book I came back to when my young cousin accidentally shot himself; a book I came back to again when my younger brother died.

Bridge to Terabithia was the first book I read that told me: sometimes bad things just happen, and not just to you. It made me feel less alone.

So did The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Viking Press, 1967). Oh man, it was good reading about characters who were scraping, too. Who knew what it was like to be hungry, and pressed out of college, and given up on before you ever started.

There's a lot of noble poverty in fiction--maybe that makes other people feel better. But The Outsiders made me feel better, because I knew the kids who had to drop out to work. I knew the kids who got kicked around by their parents--they slept on our couch when they couldn't find anywhere else to sleep. Reading about other lives that looked like mine, that made me feel less alone, too.

Then there was It by Stephen King (Viking, 1986.) First of all, it absolutely cemented my distrust of clowns, but secondly, what a revelation it was! That was the book that taught me to hide ordinary monsters in extraordinary ones, the book where I discovered you can talk about the most hideous things if you fang them and put them down a sewer, and steal away a little kid's inhaler that turns out to be filled with water anyway.

If Bridge and Outsiders made me feel less alone, It hinted that if I wanted to, if I dared to, I could say something and other people might hear it.

Which is where The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause (Dell, 1992) finished defining me as a reader turning into an author. The ideas that It gave me, that a book could be real and honest, and bigger than scrubby, dirty, inglorious life at the same time--that's what I found in The Silver Kiss. It was everything that interested me--broken people, the confession that sometimes things just are, and an end is an end--happy is where you find it--that there are monsters, and sometimes it's us--it really was everything; it was everything I believed in one slim volume.

And that's what I had in mind when I sat down, many years later, to write Shadowed Summer. A book that clings in young memory like A Girl of the Limberlost did for my grandmother, like Outsiders and Terabithia did for me--a book about the monsters we see, and the monsters we are, like It. A book that offers the relief of an end, even if it's not the happily ever after end, like The Silver Kiss.

Those four books kept me company as I grew up, and they're the four books that made my own first novel possible.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Aside from specific titles, I've always been drawn to the idea of the paranormal, the supernatural, all things unexplained. There's so much room in there for the imagination to escape--and it's a delicious way to try to understand what is--by looking at what isn't.

I was a frequent guest of the Dewey 130s in the library--that's where Hans Holzer's ghost hunting guides could be found. How to develop ESP, stories about the Bermuda Triangle, the chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, oh, and the vicious, wicked Bell Witch! But I loved fiction too--I could slip into a good, paranormal story as easily as I put on shoes.

Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson (Viking Press, 1975) absolutely convinced me that if I tried hard enough, I could go back in time. I spent hours lying in bed, trying to erase now from myself, trying to get back to see the coronation of Elizabeth I, to see Tutankhamun gaze out at the already-ancient pyramids, to just see the whole world before it became the world I knew.

So it's not surprising that Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan (Laurel Leaf, 1981) became my next favorite- astral projection! I spent hours trying to do that, too--which of course, led to ghosts.

If there's a soul in me to get out, what happens to that when my body is done? Ghosts have become a lifelong fascination for me, because they straddle the universe--what it is to be alive, what it means to be dead.

They ask the most essential, most human questions of all, and there's so much variety. Sentimental to terrifying, longing to joyful--no matter what I'm in the mood for, I can find it in a ghost story. It's bulletproof for me.

There's an anthology that I can no longer recall the title--but there was a wonderful story about a water ghost in it. And I sit, and I think about it-- the moment the ghost glided out onto the ice and froze. It's so vivid, I can see it--all these years later, it's still so vivid, it feels real.

I love just about everything Betty Ren Wright ever wrote; Mary Downing Hahn, Lois Duncan. I love Stephen King, whose ghosts always seem to be contained in some damaged, longing character.

The paranormal continues to captivate me. Even when it's frightening, it's a strange and beautiful place to think about what it means to be alive. I don't think I can ever get tired of it.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making?

All the way on the other end, almost the opposite from writing books, is promoting books. There's nothing mystical about it, there are no arcane signs or glorious portents. It's straight-up work. I've always been a kind of an ox--I just go and go and go until there is simply nowhere else to go, and that's how I've approached promoting my novel.

After Random House's catalog came out--signaling that people could start ordering my book--I sent postcards to booksellers and libraries and schools. I couldn't stop at a hundred or two, though. In the end, I sent about 800 postcards--every single one with a handwritten message on them--to every children's indie in the U.S. and Canada, to every indie in my state and the state where my book is set, to every store specializing in horror or mystery.

I sent postcards to every single public library in my state, to every single middle and high school in my state, too. I sent postcards to the entire active membership of the Horror Writers Association!

And after the book came out, I sent more postcards--to ghost hunting societies and paranormal clubs. But by then, I also sent copies of my book. Signed copies, probably 150 total, to reviewers and bloggers, to stores that weren't stocking me in the hopes they would. To libraries, for contests, for anything. If it was a legitimate cause, I'd send a book!

To all those reviewers and bloggers, I also offered myself up for interviews and guest blogs. My general rule is--if it's on the Internet, the answer is "yes." I can't often make personal appearances, but I can show up online. I've only had to say "no" once, and I'd like to try to keep it at that number.

So my advice for other debuts is--say "yes" as much as possible. Give away as many books as you can afford to. And don't stop just because your book came out four months ago. Eventually opportunities dwindle, but as long as there's something you can do, you should do it.

Because it's my belief that people can't buy a book if they don't know about it. Sometimes it's pleasure--getting to write guest blogs is a favorite of mine; sometimes it's a pain--writing something on every postcard is a nightmare.

But that's what I do when I'm not writing the next book--I'm saying "yes" to the last one.

I'm an ox. And I think that works!

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.

Read a previous Cynsations interview with Saundra about Shadowed Summer.

View a book trailer for Shadowed Summer:

View Shadowed Summer Secrets #1: an insight into a decision she made while writing the novel, set in virtual Ondine, La.

See also Shadowed Summer Secrets #2.

And Shadowed Secrets #3.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of The 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2008)(22nd Annual Edition)!

From the promotional copy:

The 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children's publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives.

It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "CWIM" 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 write you for contact information, if you win).


Enter to win one of three signed copies of Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott (Marshall Cavendish, 2009), one of three copies of The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein by Libby Schmais (Delacorte, 2009), and/or one of three signed copies of Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith (Little, Brown, 2005)!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Watersmeet" and/or "The Pillow Book of Lotus Lowenstein" and/or "Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo" 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 write you for contact information, if you win). Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; those eligible in these categories should indicate their affiliations in the body of their entry messages. The other two will go to any Cynsations readers!

Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 31.

More News & Giveaways

Interview with Malinda Lo by Liz Burns from YALSA. Peek: "The first draft of Ash was actually straight—Ash fell in love with the prince. I gave that draft to a friend to read, and she told me that she felt that Ash didn’t have much chemistry with the prince. She did, however, seem to really like this other woman in the book!" Read a Cynsations interview with Malinda.

Writing Advice with Health Implications by J.L. Bell from Oz and Ends. Peek: "Specific terms and varied phrasing aren’t just the hallmarks of lively writing. They’re also markers of a healthy mind."

Worrying Out of Order by Will Hindmarch from Ecstatic Days. Peek: "I’ve been hopping from story to story, from novel to novella, chasing whatever piece of intelligence I’ve gleaned that day that might lead to a successful sale, to another reader, to another buck. I’ve forgotten, sometimes, that it isn’t all about me. It’s about the story. It’s about delivering for the reader." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Submissions Guidelines from Tu Publishing: Multicultural Fantasy and Science Fiction for Children and Young Adults. Peek: "Tu Publishing is pleased to announce that we will be officially open for submissions from writers on Jan. 1, 2010. We are a small press focusing on multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults. We are specifically looking for novels for readers ages 8 to 18." See also Transracial Writing for the Sincere by Nisi Shawl from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Ten Wills and Won'ts that Make Lee & Low a Special Place to Publish from The Open Book: the Lee & Low Books Blog. Peek: "We will work extremely hard to make sure every book we publish is culturally authentic in both text and illustrations. That’s what we do best."

Thoughts at the End of the Semester on Teaching Writing from Liz Garton Scanlon. Peek: "Workshops are richest when there are many voices. I've resisted 'required commenting' for a long time, but I think I'm going to experiment with a new format next semester to get every single student to speak up more regularly."

Holiday Gift-Giving Ideas by YA Authors Melissa Walker, Lauren Myracle, and Jessica Lee Anderson from Emily at BookKids! from the Crazy Folks at BookPeople. Highlights for tweens include Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez (Little, Brown, 2009), suggested by Jessica. See more Holiday Gift-Giving Ideas from authors Kristin Clark Venuti, Greg Leitich Smith, and Lauren Baratz-Logsted, also from BookKids.

Skype An Author Network: "[t]he to provide K-12 teachers and librarians with a way to connect authors, books, and young readers through virtual visits." Sponsored by author Mona Kerby and library media specialist Sarah Chauncey.

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Literary Agent Tina Wexler by Alice Pope from Alice's CWIM Blog. Peek: "I represent mostly YA and MG (and adult non-fiction too). Within those categories, I'm interested in most everything: magical realism/paranormal, mysteries, adventure, suspense, contemporary, and some non-fiction for teens. I tend to shy away from high fantasy and poetry collections, but I love novels in verse."

10 Tips on Writing Picture Books by Jean Reidy from Guide to Literary Agents: Editor's Blog. Peek: "....thoughts on the Top 10 Picture Book Takeaways from the Rocky Mountain SCBWI Conference. The panel she's writing about was led by kids' book editor Allyn Johnston [of Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster) and kids' book illustrator Marla Frazee." Source: Cheryl Rainfield.

Novel Ideas: Weaving Structure and Theme by Zu Vincent from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Here’s how Jeanne Dutton, author of Freaked (HarperTeen, 2009); Sydney Salter author of Jungle Crossing, (Harcourt, 2009); and Lauren Bjorkman, author of My Invented Life (Henry Holt, 2009), approached the structural challenges of writing their novels, and how these challenges have informed their next books." See also Writing Timeless Yet Topical Fiction with Suzanne Morgan Williams.

The Pricker Boy by Reade Scott Whinnem (Random House, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: " intensely compelling and creepy novel...."

Favorites of 2009 by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "Today, I'll offer my list of 18 of my favorite poetry books for young people this year--the most unique, most distinctive, most appealing books of poetry, in my opinion." Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

Children's books 2009: It's all good! says Jon Scieszka: A report from the National Ambassador of Young People's Literature. from the Los Angeles Times. Peek: "My platform has been to reach reluctant readers. And one of the best ways I found to motivate them is to connect them with reading that interests them, to expand the definition of reading to include humor, science fiction/fantasy, nonfiction, graphic novels, wordless books, audio books and comic books." See also National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Must Go! also by Jon from the Huffington Post.

The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor (FSG, 2009): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "And so they have the makings of an adventure. Well, a small adventure. One that won't get them into trouble. Not much, anyway." Read a Cynsations interview with Barbara.

Marvelous Marketer: Christy Webster (Random House Children's Books) from Shelli at Market My Words. Peek: "If they did mention some credentials that would have a real impact on whether we’d take the book, then I'd definitely do some research to make sure it’s legit and find out more about what it is and how it could work for a book. But honestly, that’s a pretty rare thing. With the vast majority of kids' books, we’re looking for a great story, not an area of expertise."

Butterfly Heart Books: official website of children's author Roni Capin Rivera-Ashford. Her books include My Nana's Remedies/Los remedios de mi nana and Hip, Hip, Hooray, It's Monsoon Day!/¡Ajúa, ya llegó el chubasco! (both published by The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum). Note: Roni writes with news that she is the author chosen for the 2009 Winner of the Judy Goddard/Libraries, Ltd. Award for an Arizona Children's Author/Illustrator and that she anticipates adding a Spanish-language portion to her site after the first of the year.

Give Back to the Writers' League of Texas: "We invite you to remember us this holiday season or as part of your tax planning for 2009. Your generosity can ensure that the WLT can continue to meet your needs as a writer and support you with a creative community of fellow writers, no matter where you are in your writing career or where you live in Texas."

Quantity Improves Quality by Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Two years ago at a workshop, award-winning writer Jane Yolen made a statement that stunned the group of fourteen published writers who attended."

Character Invention by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "I believe in creating a character in an organic way without any preconceived notions about what he/she might become as he/she evolves in a manuscript." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Author Interview - Courtney Sheinmel from Book Chic. Peek: "There was an address at the end of the article, for readers who wanted to send donations to the [Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS] Foundation, and I sent ten dollars from my babysitting money. And that became my monthly routine: sending ten dollar donations."

An Interview with Laurent Linn: Art Director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "It's truly the artist’s overall style, really. The medium, the color palettes, composition, character and scene design.... All these elements, put together with the artist's personal vision and talents, add up to one's unique 'voice' or 'style.'" Note: "the latest in our series of exclusive SCBWI Team Blog pre-conference interviews with SCBWI Winter Conference speakers and keynoters." Source: Alice's CWIM Blog.

All About Writing Contests from Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "Know what you're entering. Know what happens to your work in the event you win (or even/especially if you don't win). Make sure you're completely comfortable with it." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Discover the Life of the Children's Book Agent with Jill Corcoran (Dec. 9 to Dec. 11): an interview/workshop moderated by Jan Fields from the Institute of Children's Literature. Peek: "Editors email me at night, on weekends, on holidays. They work their buns off trying to find the best manuscripts and once they find the best, making them even better."

"Kirkus Alive" by former owner of Kirkus Reviews, Barbara Bader, courtesy of Roger Sutton at Read Roger. Peek: "After more than seven decades, from the depths of the Great Depression to the day after the Great Recession, was the demise of Kirkus inevitable?"

Screening Room

The Multicultural Minute: Christmas Stories by Renee Ting at Shen's Books.

Note: "Renee Ting is the President and Publisher of Shen's Books. She is the author of The Prince's Diary and the blog, Renee's Book of the Day." "Shen's Books is a publisher of multicultural children’s literature that emphasizes cultural diversity and tolerance, with a focus on introducing children to the cultures of Asia."

Awesome Austin Scene

Mark G. Mitchell, Don Tate, Brian Anderson, and Tim Crow.

Mark has a terrific blog, How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Don recently signed with The McVeigh Agency. Brian is the author of the Zack Proton graphic-format chapter book series from Aladdin, and Tim is an educator and the outgoing Austin SCBWI regional advisor.

Mark, Don, and Varian Johnson.

Varian looks forward to the release of Saving Maddie (Delacorte, 2010).

Bethany Hegedus, Brian, and K.A. "Kari" Holt.

Bethany (Between Us Baxters (WestSide)) and Kari (Mike Stellar: Nerves of Steel (Random House)) are both 2009 debut authors.

Liz Garton Scanlon, Donna Bowman Bratton, and Carmen Oliver.

Liz's All the World (Beach Lane) is one of the most buzzed picture books of 2009. Donna and Carmen are published in children's magazine writing and are leaders in Austin SCBWI.

Greg Leitich Smith, Jerri Romine, Liz, P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, Jennifer Ziegler, and Jessica Lee Anderson.

Jerri is an educator and a rising talent in Austin SCBWI. Tricia looks forward to the release of The Necropolis (Blooming Tree/CBAY, 2010), the third book in The Forgotten Worlds trilogy. Jennifer recently signed with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, which has a new website. Jessica formed The Texas Sweethearts with Tricia and Jo Whittemore. Jessica's new release is Border Crossing (Milkweed, 2009).

Jerri and Tricia.

Bethany Hegedus and Chris Barton.

Chris's debut picture book The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors (Charlesbridge) is one of the hottest titles of 2009.

Greg Leitich Smith, Lindsey Lane, and Meredith Davis.

For the holidays, Greg recommends books by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, Neal Shusterman, R.L. LaFevers, Joan Bauer, Reade Scott Whinnem, and David Macinnis Gill at BookKids! from the Crazy Folks at BookPeople.

Lindsey and Meredith are both students in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Don and Brian.

Tim and Betty X. Davis.

Betty is published in children's magazines.

Julie Lake is the author of Galveston's Summer of the Storm (TCU Press, 2003).

I hereby nominate Hemlock for Austin children's-YA writer mascot!

More Personally

Eternal: a recommendation from By the Book Reviews. Peek: "This book was great! There was always something exciting going on, and it was very easy to stay sucked into this book!"

Andrew Smith interviews YA author Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Scribblers Chronicle. Note: I talk about common threads in mythologies, the dark fantasy/paranormal "trend," where stories come from, and my current deadline. Peek: " of the best ways for people to process fear is from a safe distance and in the pages of a horror novel. As Annette Curtis Klause has said, it helps them to build 'coping mechanisms.' It’s what the heart hungers for, the heart of the artist and the heart of the audience."

2009 Holiday Gift Guide from Reading in Color. Note: recommendations for those who appreciate a diversity of characters/culture in their YA book reading diets. Note: I'm honored to see Eternal (Candlewick, 2009) on the list!

Cynsational Events

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)! Note: only 35 spots are still available--Austin SCBWI conferences always sell out! Register today!

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, December 17, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Carolyn Crimi

Learn about Carolyn Crimi, and visit her team blog, Three Silly Chicks.

Carolyn's latest book is Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates, illustrated by John Manders (Candlewick, 2009).

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

One of the joys of being a writer is being able to write wherever you want. Most days I write while sitting on the big red sofa in my living room.

In fact, I’m writing this from that very spot. I usually have my pug Emerson snoring by my side. I like to put fresh flowers on the coffee table. Sometimes I play a jazz CD—Miles Davis works for me. I always have a huge a pot of coffee brewing.

This is bliss. Absolute bliss. Coffee + dog + jazz + flowers = one happy writer.

Sometimes, though, I feel the need to shake things up, so I might bring my laptop to the café near my house. I live in a college town, so this particular cafe is frequented by over-caffeinated students writing furiously on their laptops. You don't go to this café to chat with friends.

Heaven forbid! I think they might even kick people out for that. If I'm between projects, I bring a book of writing exercises and try some of the jump-start ideas.

The smell of coffee brewing and the sight of these stressed out students makes for a great working atmosphere.

In the summer, I enjoy writing on my screened-in porch. I can see my garden and listen to the birds while I write.

Are you jealous of me right now?

Because if I didn’t know me better I’d be jealous of me right now.

I have also had great luck writing in airports. I happen to love airports. Such hustle! Such bustle! More importantly, there’s not a whole lot to do in airports except eat bad tortilla wraps and stand in line for the bathroom. So I flip open a notebook and get to work.

I have yet to drive to the airport just to work on a story, but perhaps some day I'll try that.

It's important to me that my writing space feels comfortable and inviting. I know some writers believe in writing spaces with no view—like a basement or a closet—but I'd feel like I was being punished if I tried to write in such an atmosphere.

I want my writing space to whisper, "Look, Carolyn! See how comfy this sofa is? Don't you just want to plunk yourself down and write here? Come on, it's eeeasy…"

As for time, well, anytime after 10 a.m. is okay with me. Early morning hours are for birds and paperboys.

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

You mean besides the boatloads of money? The Maserati, the yacht, and the manicurist on call? Hmm. I guess I would have to say that school visits are the cherry on my author sundae.

Yes, of course, I love the act of writing—the buzz and the hum of crafting the perfect metaphor or line of dialogue. That’s a high that I can’t get anywhere else.

But there is nothing like a fabulous school visit. When a school visit goes really well—and they usually do—I am apt to feel sorry for anyone who isn't me that day.

On those perfect days I find myself looking out into the audience and thinking, they’re paying me for this? I love making kids laugh. It’s addictive.

I love it the way I love chocolate and Bruce Springsteen.

During the first part of my visit I put on a silly "story-hunting hat" that always gets a laugh.

Then, a little later, I show my dog wearing his story-hunting hats. That's when I begin to worry that these poor children might have some sort of group seizure. They laugh so hard that I think, oh, my, is this even healthy? Can one actually die of laughter?

But then I think, what a great way to go!

So far I have not lost a student, but it's been close.

(I have considered doing a school visit that just features pictures of my dog in various hats. I'm not sure I can sell principals on this idea, though. Perhaps if I can somehow tie it in to the Six Traits of Writing? Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.)

Now, if it were just about making kids laugh, I'd stop doing school visits and start hiring myself out as a clown. I'd probably make more money, and hey, I already own the silly hat. The laughter is great, but I also like to think that, in some small way, I'm making a difference in these kids' lives.

During that 45-minute session, I am showing them that books and writing are fun. That coming up with new story ideas is a laugh riot. That writing can be hard, but it's also worth the effort. That real people—not bleached, tanned, skinny supermodels—write books that they enjoy.

And then there’s that one student who approaches me after everyone else has gone back to the classroom. That one student who wants to be an author. We talk about writing and books for a while. I like to think these kids go home that day believing that they might grow up to be authors, too.

Here’s the thing--there’s always that one student. Even if there’s a fire drill in the middle of my session and there are five subs talking in the back of the room and the mic stops working and the building loses electricity, I can still count on making a difference with that one student.

That’s enough for me. It fills me up with all kinds of gooey goodness. Kinda like chocolate and Bruce Springsteen, only better.

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

I was on a panel recently, and the moderator asked us which book was the most difficult to write. I held up my latest book, Henry and The Crazed Chicken Pirates. I went on and on about the difficulties with this book and how I almost gave up.

The audience was not impressed. I could see it in their faces. I know exactly what they were thinking.

How hard can it be?

For crying out loud, it’s just a picture book!

Maybe she’s a little…dimwitted.

Yeah, well.

Henry and the Crazed Chicken Pirates is a sequel. I have not read anything about writing the picture book sequel, and really, there should be a book on it. Or at least an article. Something.

If you are writing a sequel to a longer book--say, a middle grade novel--you have at least a page or two to catch the reader up with what went on in the first book. Actually, I’m sure some writers can weave this information into the first five chapters.

But I had a paragraph. One lousy paragraph. And I sweated it out.

I think I rewrote that first paragraph at least 15 times.

Another challenge with writing picture book sequels is that picture book characters are flat.

They are a distilled representation of humanity. Henry is a reader with every ounce of his little bunny self, and I wasn’t sure how much mileage I had out of that.

I didn't want to write another book about how Henry saved the day with his book smarts. That idea bored me silly.

So in this book I decided that instead of just having Henry love reading books, I’d have him write his own book, too. It seemed like a natural progression for a book lover.

These are just some of the challenges I faced. I wrote a billion different drafts, and each one was very different. In the end, I actually liked how it turned out.

In fact, many months later when I read my first hardbound copy I found myself laughing out loud. Who is this funny writer? She’s so clever!

Oh, wait. It’s me!

Cynsational Notes

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

Online Promotion: Designing an Author or Illustrator Website

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys: Creative Encouragement, Copy Editing, Web Design specializes in the design of children's and young adult book author sites.

What do you think makes a good author site? What elements are essential?

Perhaps the most important thing is something the average site visitor never sees—the underlying markup and coding. (The most engaging content in the world won't be appreciated if it shows up mangled or not at all.)

Second, the purpose of the site should be clear from the first glance. It's about a person, an author, and that author's work. It should look particular and unique, and it should suit the person it's about.

Third, a site shouldn't be too fancy for its own good. Links should look like links, and sections of the site should have clear labels. Think of it this way: as a writer you work hard to make your meanings clear and valuable. Your website should reflect the same kind of care.

What considerations do you recommend to authors in selecting a designer?

Start with personal preference: Do you like the designer's other work? (Check for credits on sites you like to locate designers). Sound out the designer. Do you feel comfortable describing what you want and asking questions about how things are done? Hire someone you can talk to, whose taste and judgment you trust.

Look to hire someone who is at ease with HTML and CSS and who can tell the difference between the "golden section: (a design principle) and the "golden arches" (the ugly but well-known branding of a fast food chain).

Consider the practical: what can you afford? Think about this carefully. What’s cheapest up front might not be best. A poorly-made, cookie-cutter site won't serve you well. Budget carefully, but avoid stinting on costs. Fees vary widely, but a professional will give you an estimate up front.

What mistakes do you see in author sites as you're surfing the Web?

A lot of author sites fall into this tricky abyss where the site looks both mass-produced and amateurish—certainly not what you want.

Pitfalls include:

● Problems with type: text that's too large or too small for comfortable reading; too many different font styles; large blocks of italic or all-capped text.

● Problems with color and/or graphics: jaggy images; jarring color combinations; busy backgrounds; unnecessary or distracting animated effects; "school picture"-ish author head shots.

● Problems with performance: slow-loading pages; confusing navigation; content that's inaccessible to visitors with disabilities.

● Problems with copy: gross spelling or grammatical errors; or key information falls "below the fold" (the first span of the screen before it becomes necessary to scroll down).

What advice do you have for do-it-yourself-ers?

Take your time and keep it simple. If you’re not intimidated by technology, it can be fun. Invest in a few good tools and references and learn to use them.

Cynsational Notes

This article was originally published in the The (21rst Annual Edition) 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2008). Don't miss the previous two related posts, Market Yourself as a Speaker to Schools and Making Your Author/Illustrator Website Educator-Friendly.

The (22nd Annual Edition) 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2008) is now available. From the promotional copy: "The 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children's publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives. It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Craft, Career & Cheer: Bonny Becker

Bonny Becker is the award-winning author of 12 children's books, including picture books and novels. Her book A Visitor for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, 2008) was a New York Times Bestseller, Amazon's Best Picture Book of 2008, and winner of the Golden Kite Award and the E.B. White Read Aloud Award.

She has two new books out: A Birthday for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, (Candlewick, 2009), and a middle-grade novel The Magical Ms. Plum, illustrated by Amy Portnoy (Knopf, 2009).

She’s also an instructor for the MFA in Creative Writing Program for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts.

What were you like as a young reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite books?

I was the kind of reader who didn't hear the call to dinner or notice the visitor who'd come in the door or the fading evening light. I loved anything to do with magic and fantasy: Mary Poppins [by P.L. Travers (Harcourt, Brace, 1934-1988)], the Oz books [by L. Frank Baum (George M. Hill, 1900), The Chronicles of Narnia [by C.S. Lewis (HarperTrophy, 1950-1956)], Doctor Doolittle [by Hugh Lofting (1920-1952)], the Edward Eager books, The Good American Witch (very obscure book by Peggy Bacon [Macmillan, 1959])… I have to confess that I didn’t really have favorite authors because I didn’t pay attention to that. I just knew the books.

What first inspired you to write for children?

I always wanted to be a writer, but at first I kind of stumbled around in the adult world, especially with short stories. But most of those were rather angsty slices of life capped with a little epiphany. I felt phony writing that way. I could do it readily enough, but I didn't feel authentic.

Then I remembered that the books I’d read as a kid had always been my idea of a "real" book. Kids books have to commit to some view of the world and tell a complete story. They were much harder to write, but a lot more fun.

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

One of my early books was The Christmas Crocodile, illustrated by David Small (Simon & Schuster, 1998). My book illustrated by David Small! How great is that?

And it got a big, fat review in the New York Time’s Holiday Book review and was read on National Public Radio and it sold out in the stores and, instead of being duly humble and all that, I thought, "Well, of course. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?" That’s the life of an author, right? So that was my sprint.

But then came a number of books that quickly went out of print. And a long dry spell of about four years when I couldn’t sell anything. Somehow I slogged through that, but I did wonder at times if I should just give up.

Now, I feel I’m almost into a second career with the success of the Bear books and The Magical Ms. Plum just coming out.

Looking back, in terms of craft, what was the single best decision you made in terms of advancing your writing apprenticeship and why?

It was the realization and acceptance of how hard you have to work. I've always been a good writer—one of those kids who got lots of praise in school, worked on my high school newspaper, etc. Writing always came pretty easily to me, but it was hard to discover that what came easily for me wasn't going to be enough.

I had to do what wasn’t so easy. I had to listen to people tell me what was wrong with my story. And I couldn’t argue back. It was going to take many drafts. Millions and billions and trillions of drafts! Some of my stories, a lot of my stories, were going into the file drawer to stay—so disturbingly like one of those body drawers at the morgue.

If only it were as easy as sitting down and “opening a vein” as a writer* once said. At least it would flow! To me, writing is like pushing a rock up hill.

*There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. --Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

Congratulations on the release of The Magical Ms. Plum, illustrated by Amy Portnoy (Knopf, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thank you! I’m really excited about it. It's the kind of book I would have loved to read as a kid. In other words, lots of magic.

It's about a third grade schoolteacher with a magical supply closet. I like the way Kirkus Reviews described it: "Ms. Plum sends one student per chapter into her magical supply closet, which smells of 'chalk and chocolate and something lovely no one could ever quite name,' and that student comes out with a miniature version of an animal that behaves in a way that adds to the students’ understanding."

It’s sort of a mix between Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1947) with maybe a touch of Sideways Stories from Wayside School [by Louis Sachar]. I hope anyway!

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

Well, I do live just a few blocks from the high school that Betty MacDonald (author of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle) went to, so maybe that was it.

Actually, I’m not sure. It’s such a mix of things. But I guess it started with trying to figure out a story involving just one miniature animal. It was going to be a picture book, and all I knew was that this little animal goes on a rampage in a classroom. And how it morphed into this—a teacher with a supply closet and a bunch of different little animals and different kids with different hopes and fears and problems—I really don’t know!

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

I wanted the animal “familiar” that each child finds to make sense for their particular dilemma. Matching that up was fun, but tricky, too. What animal would make sense for a kid who always wore black and said "woe is me."? Or a girl who sees everything through rose-colored glasses? Was the animal appealing? What kind of things could that animal plausibly do?

Now I know why mice are so popular in kid lit. They have paws. They can do things.

Probably one of the bigger craft problems was how to keep the book from feeling too repetitive, so part of my solution was to weave in a story of one boy who spends most of the book trying to get asked to go into the closet. He seems to be the only one who never gets asked, so there’s an overall story arc for him.

Congratulations also on the release of A Birthday for Bear, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Candlewick, 2009)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Bear is his usual fastidious, grumpy self on his birthday—even denying that it is his birthday! Mouse disguises himself as the deliveryman, the postman, even as Santa Claus, trying to get Bear to admit it's his birthday and enjoy the day.

It's an early reader—four short chapters. My biggest worry was that I’d have to restrain Bear’s over-the-top vocabulary, but that wasn’t a problem. The Mouse and Bear books are in Candlewick’s Sparks line, which are "early readers" but not really "easy" or "learn-to-read" books. The idea is that advanced first grade and second grade readers who can handle bigger words and more complex syntax, still need content that appeals to someone that young.

By the way, Candlewick created a Birthday card based on A Birthday for Bear that can be send electronically or downloaded. Here’s a link if anyone would like one: Birthday Card.

It's a sequel to A Visitor for Bear (Candlewick, 2008). Picture book sequels are rare. How did this one evolve?

After I sold A Visitor for Bear, I realized how much I loved these characters and I had more stories to tell about them. I started working on another book, but before I even finished it, my editor at Candlewick, Sarah Ketchersid, asked if I’d consider doing another Mouse and Bear book. We were on the same wavelength and fortunately, Kady MacDonald Denton, the illustrator, was happy to do more with these characters, too.

People say that the picture book market is depressed, but look at you! What's your secret to success?

Luck! And a series that seems to be a great sharing experience for kids and adults. There’s a lot of interaction and spontaneous play that seems to come out with these books.

Allyn Johnston, formerly editor in chief of Harcourt Children’s Books and now with her own San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, said something great about what she looks for in a picture book manuscript: she said she pictures an adult curled up in a chair with a child on his or her lap, reading together. And she's looking for that moment, that strong emotional moment that she hopes the adult and child will share reading this book.

And I can’t tell you how much the charm of these books is due to my editor Sarah and Kady. For example, Sarah and the art director at Candlewick had the guts and vision to expand A Visitor for Bear from a standard 32-page picture book into a 52-page book, just to take full advantage of the comedic timing. And the charm of Kady’s work… well, let’s just say that I was almost literally dancing a jig when I saw her first early sketches.

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

I wish it were more about creating quality books rather than making money. I cringe when I see kids’ books that feel as if they were written, designed, and promoted as nothing more than “product.”

I don’t mind so much when a good book inspires merchandise. But when merchandise inspires the stories….

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

Exercise more and start an IRA. Oh, you mean about writing. I’d say, don’t worry so much. Most of this is out of your control. Just write the best that you can, and then write better than that and keep doing that. The rest will follow.

What do you do outside the world of writing?

Is there one? Hmmmm, I seem to be on a roll here with the one-liners.

Okay, when I do look up from my computer, I hike, bike, I keep trying to learn French, I get together with family a lot, read…

I love books and articles about physics, astronomy, and cosmology. Not so much the stuff about what makes a star—but where and when and how did the universe start and where is it going?

What can your fans look forward to next?

A Bedtime for Bear comes out next fall. Mouse goes over for Bear's first-ever sleep over and, much to Bear’s frustration, is not as quiet as a mouse at all.

And in 2011, The Sniffles for Bear comes out. Mouse is a tender attentive nurse for patient, stoic Bear (reverse all that and you’ll have it.) Then another early Mouse and Bear reader is in the works. And A Christmas for Bear is coming.

I’m also working on an older age novel—maybe a 12-14-age range. It’s quite a change to have so much room!

Cynsational Notes

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

Online Promotion: Market Yourself as an Author-Speaker to Schools

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Your website can help sell you as a speaker to school groups.

Publicist Susan Raab of Raab Associates says, “For many authors and illustrators, schools have a significant impact on their careers because they offer opportunities for doing school visits, workshops, and other events that provide substantial income separate from the revenue any given book brings in.”

You may want to create a separate “events” page, which includes information on your school visits and young author workshops. School visits are made up of one-to-five classroom or auditorium presentations during the regular class schedule. Young author workshops may be distinguished in that they take place on weekends or after school and the students involved are participating by choice.

In each case, include information on the types of programs you offer.

According to Anne Irza-Leggat, educational marketing supervisor at Candlewick Press, it’s important to include: (a) whether you do donation events; (b) your rates; (c) the number of programs you’re willing to do in a day; and (d) any preferences when it comes to student age range and audience size.

Author Tanya Lee Stone provides an "About Tanya" section, which includes three different lengths of biographies, links to interviews with her, links to articles and reviews she’s written, speaking information, and downloadable photos. “These things have really helped people access the information they need,” she says, “especially when inviting me as a speaker or having students learn more about an author.”

But not all author/illustrator visits occur in “real space.” Chat technology has made it possible for speakers to participate in an online question-and-answer session with classroom groups. Supply the same information to planners as you would for an in-person visit as well as any specific technological requirements.

Finally, the page should include information on ordering your books. Many publishers offer related pages on their own sites that can be easily linked for a complete overview.

Cynsational Notes

This article was originally published in the The (21rst Annual Edition) 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2008).

The (22nd Annual Edition) 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writer's Digest, 2008) is now available. From the promotional copy: "The 2010 Children's Writer's & Illustrators Market is the most trusted source for children's publishing information, offering more than 700 listings for book publishers, agents, magazines, and art representatives. It also contains exclusive interviews with and articles by well-respected and award-winning authors, illustrators and publishing professionals as well as nuts-and-bolts how-to information. Includes exclusive access to online listings on"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Candlewick Press to Publish a New Prose Novel in the Tantalize Series and a Graphic Novel Adaptation of Eternal

I'm pleased to announce that editor Deborah Wayshak at Candlewick Press will publish both a new prose novel and a new graphic novel adaptation in the Tantalize young adult Gothic fantasy series.

The untitled prose novel will feature pre-existing characters in the series and some new ones too.

The graphic novel will be an adaptation of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).

The series is set in a multi-creature-verse, populated by angels, ghosts, shape-shifters (of various kinds), vampires, and some nifty human beings. The stories have strong elements of romance, some humor, and nod to various classics, most notably Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).

I'm extremely excited to be writing additional books set in a spooky world that I first began to envision in 2001!

Thank you to Deborah, my agent Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd., everyone at Candlewick Press, my writing pals, and most of all, my readers for your continued support and enthusiasm!

Here's the complete series to date:

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)(a prose novel)

*Tantalize (Candlewick, 2011)(a graphic novel)

Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010)(a prose novel)

*Eternal (Candlewick, TBA)(a graphic novel)

Blessed (Candlewick, 2011)(a prose novel, which crosses over the casts of Tantalize and Eternal and picks up where Tantalize leaves off)

Untitled (Candlewick, TBA)(a prose novel to directly follow Blessed)

Cynsational Notes

Two short stories--both with original characters--also are set in the Tantalize universe:

"Cat Calls" appears in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009). Notes from the Horn Book says: "These stories reveal the stranger truths the audience is never meant to see and offer touches of humor and pathos among the thrills."

"Haunted Love" appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2008, 2009). Note: after a limited release in 2008, exclusive to Borders/Waldenbooks, this anthology is now available nationwide. Read an excerpt.

In other news, avid Cynsations readers may recall that my Candlewick editor Deborah Wayshak is also a children's-YA author, publishing under the name "Deborah Noyes" (see Sideshow anthologist above). Learn more about her in this recent interview.

Eternal Trailer


Craft, Career & Cheer: Kimberley Griffiths Little

Learn about Kimberley Griffiths Little.

In the photo, she signs a three-book contract for The Healing Spell (Scholastic, July 2010), Secret Rites of the Goddess (Scholastic, fall 2010), and The Traiteur's Daughter (Scholastic, summer 2011)!

Visit Kimberley's Wanderings: Thoughts, Musings, and the Writing Life of YA Author Kimberley Griffiths Little.

What is the one craft book that you refer to again and again? Why?

I've got shelves full of writing books, probably 50 of them, but one book that I read over and over again is The Career Novelist: A Literary Agent Offers Strategies for Success by Donald Maass [now available as a free download].

Maass is an author of a dozen books as well as a top agent in New York. He knows the business inside and out. The Career Novelist is not a book geared particularly for children's/YA writers, but it's chock-full of writing and publishing experience and advice that fits any kind of writer, no matter what genre of novelist you aspire to be.

Because we're seeing in this new 21st century a change in the way that children’s books are being bought, published, and marketed - much more like the way adult novels have traditionally been published, Maass' books become even more relevant, not less, for us children’s literature lovers.

The Career Novelist is a book I read for fun. Once you dive in, you can’t stop. Maass backs up his advice with personal experience and anecdotes that are fascinating as well as delicious.

The first chapter is called “The Dream” – how can you resist that? Every writer starts out dreaming of publishing a book and wonders/hopes she can and will have success. Maass gives you the realities of the hard work and the disappointments and the opportunities, how to choose an agent, what “the market” means, how to write in different genres and the reality of the numbers game - AKA $$$.

But the magic of this book is that Donald Maass gives you the information and tools you need to carve out your own career and make it work. It's like a shot of optimism, and he makes you believe that you really can become a novelist if you want to. Every time I read this book, I get excited all over again about the career I’ve chosen—or the career that’s chosen me.

I'm currently reading his newest book, The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great (Writer's Digest, 2009). The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. He asks the provocative question: Are you a status seeker or a storyteller?

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

"On Location in Egypt: How I Met The Queen of Sheba During Spring Break" all began one morning with two writer friends, Carolee Dean and Jana Striegel, around a meet-up for breakfast. All three of us had had books published, but were struggling, trying to sell our next projects (of which we had many in various stages) and getting more and more discouraged.

At the time, chick lit and romance were selling like hot cakes, and unfortunately, none of us had one written. Yet.

We started comparing notes on the books coming out from New York, our own extremely varied research (desert tribal people, a 16th century queen of France, and the chocolate-eating habits of the ancient Mayan people).

Giggling over eggs Benedict and jumbo muffins, we started throwing out wild and crazy ideas about a story told from three different 13 year-old girls' point of view, and soon Kimmie, Jenna, and Lena emerged from the ashes of our own projects.

Kimmie’s father was an Egyptian movie director, Jenna was a dancer hired for his latest B film being shot "on location" in the Middle East, and Lena was visiting her mother, the makeup artist, for spring break–throwing all three girls together for the first time. It’s hate at first sight.

Then the girls discover that they each own a mysterious medallion given to them from a fortune teller in Venice Beach, and when the medallions come together–watch out! The girls soon find themselves a thousand years in the past, trying not to get killed by tribal raiders and with Kimmie being married off to the sheik’s son.

We smartly planned three books in our series, each book featuring one of us--I mean our characters!--in the lead role and jetting around the world to various movie locations.

Many more hilarious breakfasts were scheduled over the next few months, complete with laptops and notes and ideas flying.

We wrote a proposal of 60 pages, many version of a hilarious synopsis, but then we all were in the process of changing agents and the project got shelved for a long time.

"On Location in Egypt" was further shelved when Jana Striegel’s breast cancer came back after twelve years, reappearing in her brain.

After fighting it for another two years, the cancer took Jana’s life, but through her medical procedures and declining health, we continued to meet and write and encourage one another.

Jana was a professional ballet dancer before she donned the writer hat, and you can read her novel, Homeroom Exercise (Holiday House, 2002), about a ballet dancer with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Writing "On Location in Egypt" changed my life in many ways. Carolee, Jana, and I were able to help each other through some enormously discouraging times, not only in our careers but in our personal lives. Writing together also brought back the fun and pure enjoyment of story and creation into our lives and work, something all three of us had been greatly missing.

How do you reach out to teachers and librarians?

With two other authors, I launched a brand new newsletter this past September. It's directly geared toward teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, and parents, and called "Spellbinders: A Newsletter for Teachers and Librarians to Help Create Lifelong Readers."

The newsletter features interviews with well-known authors as well as librarians and teachers, along with regular columns about curriculum connections, literacy in the community, and book buzz.

I also do author visits at schools and libraries and conferences. Please visit my Author Visit page on my website for details! I have a fantastic hands-on writing workshop that has proven very successful and loads of fun for grades 3-8. Don’t hesitate to email me!

In your own words, could you tell us about your latest book?

My upcoming middle-grade novel--The Healing Spell (Scholastic Press)--is about eleven-year-old Livie Mouton who is hiding the biggest secret of her life when Mamma comes home from the hospital in a coma. Her daddy is determined that Mamma will only get better surrounded by the people who love her best, but Livie is terrified of her mother's lifeless condition—and some sins are so dangerous they're better left hidden.

Summoning her courage, Livie travels into the forbidden recesses of the swamp to seek out the mysterious traiteur, hoping that if she buys a healing spell, she can bring her mother back to life. Then Livie discovers that her mamma is hiding a secret of her own...

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m currently writing The Traiteur’s Daughter (Scholastic), which is also set in the Louisiana bayous, about a girl who gets involved in a dangerous clash between the traiteur folk healers and hoodoo magic through a secret circle of girls at school.

And Secret Rites of the Goddess (Scholastic) is a sexy YA romance about the roots of belly dance and the ancient goddess temples of the Middle East. It's the YA version of The Red Tent [by Anita Diamant (Scribner, 1998)]!

Cynsational Notes

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