Friday, February 12, 2010

Illustrator Interview: Susan L. Roth on TLA's "Take a Chance on Art 2010: Disaster Relief Raffle"

Interview with Susan L. Roth

by TLA member Jeanette Larson
of Austin, Texas

Take a Chance on Art 2010: Disaster Relief Raffle sponsored by the Texas Library Association. Peek: "Big white mouse and little brown mouse are tending a garden of flowers on the May pages in Susan L. Roth’s charming board book for preschoolers, My Love for You All Year Round (Dial, 2003).

The original artwork for this spread (above), donated by the artist for the 2010 Texas Library Disaster Relief Raffle, is a multi-layered collage of colored and textured papers rich in color, shading, and detail."

Why did you decide to donate a piece of your work to the Texas Disaster Relief Fund Raffle?

There are many worthy causes, but this one seems especially important. Many times people react quickly to help acute emergencies, but after the emergency is no longer in headlines, people tend to forget. Before the victims' lives are ever back to normal, new headlines replace old ones.

This is a small thing for me to do, but I hope that it will help someone a little bit, especially those who are still in need but whose cause is out of the front-and-center spotlight.

How did you decide on which piece you would donate?

I picked this piece because I wanted it to be a cheerful piece, and I thought it would be nice if there were a publication associated with it--and it is from a cheerful book. I wanted my contribution to feel positive and hopeful.

Several of your books, including Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea, also by Greg Mortenson (Dial, 2009), deal with people helping people. Why are causes like this fund important to you?

Most days I sit in my "ivory-tower" little studio at my little desk. As I cut and tear and paste and glue, I think about how, completely by chance, I have been blessed with amazing fortune.

I have never known hunger, cold or war; my family is close to me, I have good friends; and I am able to do professionally that which I love to do and have always wanted to do.

But when things are quiet and sometimes a little repetitious, my mind wanders from my hands. I have time to consider this business of making books for children, and I do realize that pretty books and sweet books are fine for what they are, but for me, they cannot carry enough weight to rationalize the self-indulgence that they seem to demand.

One of the most important roles that I see for children's books is as vehicles for teaching our children about other peoples, cultures and places, leading them easily, comfortably, and naturally to understanding and appreciation of other peoples, cultures and places.

This is how I prefer to help people, using the only voice I have. My heavier subject matters seem to me to be logical choices as ways to do this best.

Besides, I do support the philosophies that I write about.

Share a little bit of information about the piece. How was it created, and what book is it from?

This piece does not have such a high-minded origin. The book, My Love for You All Year Round, is a modest teaching device, a concept book to teach children the months of the year. But I have tried to present this with warmth and love and, I hope, not too many of the usual clichés associated with calendars.

The flowers are so colorful and really speak to those of us who love wildflowers. How do you get such bright, rich colors?

Thank you! My papers and fabrics come from all over the world. So I guess I could say that I am leading the children to other peoples, cultures and places through the papers, even when dealing with more regular subject matters. I have gone to the sources to collect most of these art supplies since I, myself, am perpetually interested in other peoples, cultures and places.

In case someone who doesn’t win the raffle is interested, is your original art available through a gallery?

Most of my originals are still in my studio closet. Occasionally I do give a piece of art to a very special friend. More occasionally, I might sell a piece. If someone is interested in purchasing something, I can be reached though my website:

Cynsational Notes

The raffle will be April 16 during the second general session of the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio. Tickets are available online (mail by April 9) and will also be sold at the conference: $5 each or 5 for $20.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Cover Stories: Alibi Junior High by Greg Logstead from Melissa Walker at readergirlz. Peek: "My publisher asked for ideas, and unfortunately, all I could come up with was my very vague 'it should be really cool' suggestion. Which in retrospect isn't much help at all."

Enter to win copies of To Be A Slave by Julius Lester and Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin from Lee Verday at By Pen or By Sword...a blog about books, writing, and other things that matter. See more information.

Top 10 Black History Books for Youth: 2010 by Gillian Engberg from Booklist. Peek: "From 1775 Virginia to 1968 Chicago, the settings are as diverse as the subjects in these top black-history titles, all reviewed in Booklist over the past 12 months. Spotlight them in February, and share them throughout the year." Source: Anastasia Suen.

Libby Schmais on Romance... à la Française from Blog. Peek: "Maybe writing about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir seems an odd choice for a book about teens, but what I like about JP and Simone is that they are so not the poster couple for a healthy relationship, but at the same time they had a great romance."

Blurring the Lines by Kathi Appelt from Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: "If you think that we can participate in this industry without becoming advocates for children, then that is a mistaken notion. It’s our job to write for all of our citizens, not just children, but especially for children." Read a Cynsations interview with Kathi.

How to Buy Books by Sara Zarr. Peek: "You know what I love about shopping at my local independent book store? I go in there, and they know me." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Rita Williams-Garcia on the difference between MGs and YAs, girlish hearts, and more by Stephanie Greene from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I'm always working to show a reader what they haven’t considered, to force them to see it anew or at all. You say 'Black Panthers,' and there is an immediate image. You say 'female genital mutilation,' and there's an immediate and visceral association and image. A little bit of knowledge mutes the possibility of discovery. But to eyes and ears in discovery mode, it’s all new." Read an interview with Rita and her guest post about being a finalist for the National Book Award.

Inside or Outside? by Jo Whittemore from The Spectacle. Peek: " the main character someone who is already well-ensconced in the fantastical world around them or are they stepping into this for the first time?" Read a Cynsations interview with Jo.

28 Days Later: Dwayne Ferguson by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "Any creative person will tell you, you don’t control the art, it comes from and flows through you."

It's a question as old as time itself: Which is better, the Zombie or the Unicorn? Go vote! Note: You'll also learn more about Holly Black and Team Unicorn as well as Justine Larbalestier and Team Zombie. Read Cynsations interviews with Holly and Justine.

Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr: Q&A from Karen's Book Nook. Peek: "I don’t buy the notion that we have one single person in all the world that will complete us. I think there are many people who can fit into our lives in beautiful ways (and, of course, that we need to be whole and healthy before we find those perfect melds)."

Advance Story/Character by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "I think one thing that even very good writers struggle with is structure. I know, for a long time, it was one of the things that kept me from being published." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

Class of 2k10 "Feel the Love" Giveaway: features three signed books and a bunch of nifty swag, "all bundled up in a dreamy tote." Deadline: midnight Feb. 14. See more information.

Yasmin Shiraz by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "When I asked young women in the room, 'What do you like, what do you love, what do you hate?' a teen girl responded, 'I hate the girls who jumped me.' I couldn’t get her voice out of my head."

Dear Lucky Agent Contest: Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels by Chuck from Guide to Literary Agents Editor's Blog. Judge: Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Deadline: Feb. 21. See more information.

Peni R. Griffin, author of 11,000 Year Lost: an interview from Moss Green Children's Books. Peek: "I think megafauna are way cooler than dinosaurs, and the work being done today in the Americas is the most interesting archaeology you can do, turning up questions we didn’t even know how to ask. Once the Ice Age bug bites you, you stay bit." Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

Wild Geese Guides from Tracie Vaughn Zimmer. Peek: "This blog will feature interviews, discussion guides, book club activities and other reading related content for children's literature." Read a Cynsations interview with Tracie.

Texas Sweethearts Giveaway: enter to win your choice of a signed book by one of the sweethearts and a $20 online gift card to Powell's bookstore. See more information.

Random House editor Nicholaus Eliopulos on Writing the YA Novel: a report on the SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer's Day Conference by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: "The pacing must be quick and the stakes need to go up in order to keep that attention. Nothing holds a teen like a ticking clock: will the main character make it in time? What happens if he doesn’t?"

Never Right the First Time or How I Learned to Love Revision by Mary Ann Rodman from Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: "Not until I was in the MFA program at Vermont College that I learned what true revision is. How to take apart a story and put it back together, using any number of techniques."

Button Up by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Petra Mathers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) is the winner of the 2010 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. See honor books and more information by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia.

My Best of the Best List by Dawn Metcalf from Officially Twisted. Note: her must-watch list of online children's-YA book publishing/writing sites, blogs, networks, and folks.

The Call or What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation from Literary Rambles. Peek: "Do you have a plan for submission in mind already? Which houses/editors do think will be a good fit for this project?" Note: those doing agent-submissions research, should also see the sidebar of this blog.

Ask the editor: Tips for blending in the back-story from The Book Deal: An Inside View of Publishing. Peek: "Here are some of the options that make good storytelling so interesting but hard to achieve."

Apple's iPad is no book-killer: Author says technology is a threat to reading we can overcome by Katherine Paterson from The Daily News. Peek: "...we are not the first generation to fear change of this kind. Plato had Socrates argue in 'The Dialogues' that if people learned to read and write - if, in short, the populace became literate - poetry would disappear, for it was only in the oral tradition that poetry could be preserved properly."

An Accurate Definition of "Push" by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Does that mean we sit back and wait a few decades until young North Americans move beyond the primacy of racial self-identification? Not if we believe that good stories are for all readers." Congratulations to Mitali on the inclusion of Secret Keeper (Delacorte, 2009) among the 2010 Notable Books For A Global Society.

Wedding and Funerals and Everywhere in Between by Diane Roback from Children's Bookshelf - Publishers Weekly. Peek: "We asked editors about the strangest place they’ve been pitched a book, and have collected a number of their stories."

Seven (Give or Take) Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek from Jenni: "Yes, finally, I have a new historical coming out in May 2010. (Sorry, I have been very slowed down by popping out kids.) It's called Turtle in Paradise and is inspired by my Key West family. It involves diaper changing, scorpions, treasure and, well, just read it already!"

Four Tips on Promoting to Educators by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "The ArLA is mostly public school librarians who are concerned about programming special events, balancing a collection and keeping funding when it relies on politics. The ARA has a large number of classroom teachers who are concerned about teaching reading to kids. The AAIM are librarians, who must follow the state standards for teaching library skills, as well as function as the technology expert for their school." Read a Cynsations interview with Darcy.

Are We Ruled by Happy Endings? by Anna Staniszewski from Writing It Out. Peek: "While the original tale had ended tragically, the closer I got to the ending of my retelling, the more I couldn’t bear to make my characters suffer any longer. Had I gone soft? Was I caving to the pressure of happy endings? Or was the happy ending simply what the story needed?"

"It ain't browsing unless there are shelves..." by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "Now, of course, I had favorite authors and would always check if there was something new by them. But it also allowed me to 'discover" new authors I never would've 'met.'" Read a Cynsations interview with Greg. See also Meet Cathy Anderson of The Briar Patch, Bangor, Maine by Ellen Booraem from The Enchanted Inkpot.

Using Freelance Editors by Mary Kole from Peek: "...there are a lot of wonderful writers and publishing professionals who either make a career in or supplement their income with freelance editing. Their talents are many and their insights are deep. I have a lot of great respect for them and for what they do. However, I would not point all writers to freelance editors. Let me try to articulate..."

My Little Round House: The journey of a picture book from Mongolia to Canada by Helen Mixter from papertigers. Peek: "Whereas usually as a translator I work very hard to keep the voice of the original text intact and to remain as true as possible to the word for word of it, this process wasn’t really possible here."

Stuff To Know About Shen's Books: A Chat With Editor Renee Ting by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: " is impossible for me to tell the race or ethnicity of an author just from their name on a manuscript. These days, we can't assume anything from people's names. And it just seems wrong to me somehow to judge work based on any criteria other than its own merit."

The deadline for the PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer fellowship has been extended. This $5,000 fellowship goes to an author in financial need who has written at least two novels for children or young adults, and is given to support the completion of a book-length work-in-progress. Completed applications must be postmarked by March 1. See complete guidelines.

New Children's-YA Agent

Mandy Hubbard has joined the D4EO Literary Agency where she will concentrate on middle-grade and young adult fiction.

Mandy began her career in publishing as an author. Her debut novel, Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin, 2009), is in its fifth printing. She has four other books under contract, divided among Harlequin, Llewellyn Flux, and Razorbill/Penguin. Mandy also interned at The Bent Agency before joining D4EO Literary.

Mandy is interested in a broad range of middle grade/YA manuscripts, whether they be contemporary or historical, fantasy/paranormal or realistic. She loves books with a heavy focus on romance, as well as "issue books" with a strong voice. If your book has a high concept or a big hook, she wants to see it.

However, if your story includes portals to fantasy worlds, wizards or dragons, it's probably not for her. She says, "Please no chapter books, pictures books, poetry, nonfiction, or books for the adult market."

To query Mandy, send your query letter, along with the first five pages of your manuscript (both pasted into the body of an email) to See also Mandy's LJ.

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video below, Josh Berk celebrates the release of The Dark Days of Hamburger Halprin (Knopf, 2010) with a musical video.

Author Interview: Loretta Ellsworth from Shelf Elf: Read, Write, Rave. Peek: "My nephew died in a motorcycle accident, sort of a freak accident when his front tire hit a hole and the bike flipped. He had designated himself as an organ donor on his license. For a long time I couldn’t write. When I did, I found myself drawn to a story of organ donation." See the book trailer for In A Heartbeat (Walker, 2009). Read an excerpt (PDF file).

Check out the book trailer for Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Dial). Read an excerpt. Source: Blog.

In the video below, "Laurie Halse Anderson recounts the conception and building of her writing cottage. The cottage is off-grid and was built to be easy on the environment as well as warm and quiet. It was designed and built for her by her husband, who is a carpenter, and several of his friends."

In the video below, Erin Dealey presents The Writer's Rap. Music and Video by Andrew Heringer. Source: Linda Joy Singleton.

Austin SCBWI 2010: Destination Publication

Here's continuing coverage of the recent Austin SCBWI conference. See the original post.

The video below is a series of short conversations with attendees at Austin SCBWI's recent "Destination Publication" conference. It's just under 7.5 minutes long. It features established authors like Phil Yates and illustrators like Don Tate, agent-speaker Nathan Bransford, rising star illustrator Clint Young, and founding chapter members Betty X. Davis and Jerry Wermund (talking about co-founding RA Meredith Davis, mentor Kathi Appelt, and author Anne Bustard) as well as tons of newcomers, some attending their first conference.

Conference debrief by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Peek: "Still children's publishing is 'not an industry in ruins, but in transition,' he [Mark McVeigh] continued. He spoke about the emerging digital media and mobile media (Kindle, iPhone, etc.) marketplace. But he kept returning to the sovereignty of language, individual creativity — and the Emily Dickinson poem he keeps in his wallet." Read a Cynsations interview with Mark.

See SCBWI Austin 2010: Conference Report by Peni R. Griffin from Idea Garbage Sale. Peek: "Maybe I'll never need to understand how artists think for a story, but understanding visual art better is a good in itself." Read a Cynsations interview with Peni.

See also Lisa Graff on Writing and Revising from Day By Day Writer. Peek: "She said an editor is in charge of finding the true story a writer is trying to tell; because writers are so in their head, it’s often hard for them to see the story for the words. But, she pointed out, editors can’t do their best work until writers have done theirs."

See also Black and Yellow, a Sneaky Fellow by Diandra Mae from Taking Flight. Peek: "Besides the fantastic opportunities of hearing Marla Frazee speak to the conference (and to the illustrators in a breakout session), I was also able to display my portfolio and participate in a silent auction fundraiser for the Austin SCBWI's illustrators." Features insights into how Diandra decorated her frame for the auction.

More Personally

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith: a recommendation from Karen Healey's LiveJournal AKA Attention Rebellious Jezebels. Peek: "Oh my Lord, I loved it. I am about to spoil the heck out of this book, so if you absolutely cannot stand knowing anything about a book turn away, and if you want to be spoiled a little bit but don't want to know the end, I will white that out so you can risk it." Notes: (a) very, very entertaining; (b) she's not kidding about the spoilers, but as noted, there's white space before her analysis of the ending so you can wait to the read the rest if you want to.

Reminder: as of this week, Eternal is now available in the U.S. in paperback from Candlewick Press. Today, you can enter to win one of two copies. See more information.

Additional giveaways are ongoing this week at the Cynthia Leitich Smith Facebook Fan Page. Comment/message me to enter to win a copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009), Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009), and How To Be a Vampire: The Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, 2009). Note: both Immortal and Sideshow include short stories set in the Tantalize-Eternal-Blessed (forthcoming) universe.

Attention Readers in the Philippines: Tantalize is available from National Bookstore, Power Books, and Sketch Books.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire by Julius Lester (Harcourt, 2007)! To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Cupid" 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). Deadline: Feb. 12.

Enter to win one of two copies of The Book of Samuel by Erik Raschke (St. Martin's, 2009).
To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "The Book of Samuel" 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). Deadline: Feb. 28. Note: one copy of each book will be reserved for a teacher, librarian, or university professor of youth literature; the other will go to any Cynsations reader!

Cynsational Events

Author Bethany Hegedus will speak on "scene and structure" ("If You Build It, They Will Read") from 11 a.m. to noon Feb. 13 at BookPeople in conjunction with Austin SCBWI. Note: "bring a notebook and get ready to examine Aristotle's Incline and the Seven Key Scenes every book needs. Please be familiar with Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2000)..., as Bethany will discuss the Seven Key Scenes used to build this gem of a book."

"More Than Words: Making Connections With Authors and Classroom Readers and Writers," sponsored by the Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading and the Central Texas Writing Project, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 15 at Round Rock (Texas) Higher Education Center. Featured authors are: Margo Rabb; Jennifer Ziegler; April Lurie; Varian Johnson; Liz Garton Scanlon; Cynthia Leitich Smith; Don Tate; Chris Barton; Anne Bustard; and C.S. Jennings. Pre-registration ends Feb. 8. Cost: $20.00 Teachers; $10.00 Students/TC’s. Make checks payable to TAIR-CTWP Conference. Mail to: Diane Osborn; Texas State University; Department of Curriculum & Instruction; 601 University Drive; San Marcos, Texas 78666. Questions? Contact Dr. Catherine Davis or Dr. Sharon O’Neal.

2010 Houston-SCBWI Conference will be held Feb. 20 at the Merrell Center in Katy. Registration is now open. Faculty includes Cynthia Leitich Smith, award-winning author and Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty member; Ruta Rimas, assistant editor at Balzar & Bray/HarperCollins; Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt; Alexandra Cooper, senior editor at Simon & Schuster; Lisa Ann Sandell, senior editor at Scholastic; Nancy Feresten, vice president and editor-in-chief National Geographic Children's Books, and Sara Crowe, agent at Harvey Klinger. Note: "All the speakers will be doing critiques. Critique spots are limited." See registration and information.

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 10 at Alief Taylor High School, and admission is free! Speakers include keynoter Sharon Draper and:

Moments of Change: the New England SCBWI Conference will take place May 14 to May 16 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. See conference schedule, workshop descriptions, manuscript critique guidelines, and special conference offerings. Note: I usually list conference speakers/critiquers, but as you'll see from the faculty bios (all eleven pages), it's an unusually big group. I will say, however, that I'm honored to be participating as a keynote speaker!

2010 Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop is scheduled for June 14 to June 18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Peek: "Full-day participants spend their mornings in small workshops led by award-winning faculty. Both full- and half-day participants enjoy afternoon plenary sessions by national children's book editors and an agent, as well as breakout sessions by our workshop faculty and guest presenters. The keynote address and book signing are open to all conference attendees." See faculty.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: Rosemary Stimola

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010.

First, Rosemary, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for our attendees at the 2010 SCBWI Bologna conference.

I should probably admit, up front, that I spent so much time smiling alone in my office while reading about you on the Internet that I began checking to make sure no one was watching me in the process.

I was blown away by the enthusiastic comments being shared about you, and it was impossible not to feel good reading other peoples' inspiring words of praise. Even writers who had been turned down by you were big fans, repeating phrases like "rock-star agent" and "super-star agent." My favorite quote from one of your clients--"Ro is made of awesome."

Ah, that would be Ms. [Leah] Clifford and her lovely "Agents' Appreciation Day" YouTube video. I quite adored that description, made me blush!

What do you feel are some of the most successful attributes of your approach to agenting that inspire such approval from your clients?

I am ethical, honest, reasonable, responsible, timely and experienced, working always with my eye on the longer term and the best interests of my clients in mind. All serves to establish the kind of author-agent trust wanted and needed in this very important relationship.

Before becoming a literary agent you were a professor of language and literature at the City University of New York, and later you opened and operated a successful children's bookstore. How do you think these two experiences influenced you as a literary agent, and what was it that spurred you to move into the field of literary agenting?

Oh, had it not been for these two previous lives, I would not be able to do what I do today. I loved teaching and always found children's literature particularly exciting (but was not a fan of academia). Then I loved book selling and thought I would be a bookseller for eternity. We had a fabulous and exciting ten years, but the market changed and it was not as supportive of independents as it had been.

After my store closed, an editor friend suggested I consider agenting. With the aesthetic intuitions I honed as an academic and the business smarts I developed as a bookseller, I was well-armed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Sometimes as a writer, it’s too easy to get lost in the thinking of "what can I do to make this story appealing to a publisher" rather than "what do I want children to experience when reading this story." With your PhD in linguistics, specializing in children’s literature, what can you tell us about how writing should connect to children in a meaningful way?

Well, I do tend to think of language as rather musical, so, the language of a text plays a melody that must strike the right notes for me and, in my opinion, for its intended audience. It's all about how words are strung together, creating a voice and that sense of "signature" that speaks a compelling story.

On the Stimola Literary Studio website [submissions], you mention the agency "is committed to finding and nurturing new talents and, as such, remains open to unsolicited queries." Can you tell us more about what kinds of queries you’re hoping might come across your desk in 2010?

I look for the "stand out" in a concise and well-written query: a premise that intrigues, a character that appeals, an approach that breaks new ground. There is a wide spectrum for YA these days, pushing to boundaries of adult fiction and even crossing that boundary from time to time, so I am always looking for something new and wonderful in that realm.

And then, I never walk away from a pitch-perfect, character-driven middle grade with the right blend of humor and pathos.

You further elaborated in a 2006 interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith that you always welcome submissions, but, "have to be blown away by the writing, the story, the characters." Can you tell us some specific qualities you look for in the story or characters that are sure to blow you away?

Would that I could! It is the intangibles here, those gut feelings and responses that come into play. When I am compelled to read on, when I can't put a manuscript down, I know I have something special. And sometimes, you can tell from the very first paragraph.

Would you say that there is a primary method by which most of your clients approach you? For example, through an unsolicited query, at a conference, or by a recommendation?

E-queries are most common these days, and I am sorry to say, there are so many unsolicited on a daily basis, that we can only respond to those we wish to consider further. We do, however, strive to respond to all that come via referral or conference connections.

For an author who may have more than one manuscript to submit, how would you suggest he or she best communicate that to a prospective agent? Should a writer limit his or her submission to only one, or will agents want to see a sampling of an author's work?

A query should focus on one work, at least for me. A writer might note there are other works done or in progress. Listing more than one overwhelms.

You’ve stated previously that market trends often dictate what sells better at certain times. Do you notice any current trends in the market right now for a particular type of work?

Well, all things paranormal are alive and well in young adult. You would think we would have had our fill of vampires and such, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Graphic middle grades seem to have found their moment in the sun, and in a weak picture book market, most being acquired these days are spare of language, character-driven, and have commercial appeal.

One of the things I most enjoyed about the Stimola Literary Studio website is the comprehensive and appealing "clients" page. You've gone to a lot of effort to shine the spotlight on each of your clients while also providing links and easy access to their own blogs or websites.

In this emerging environment of social networking, blogging and online connectivity, what are your thoughts about the relevance of an online presence for both emerging and established writers? Is an author's web presence something that you might include in a pitch to a publisher or editor?

A web presence is essential, and the social networking of facebook, bloggers, and the like offer an opportunity to promote and literally "go viral" like never before. If web presence is a solid one, I do include link to author info in a submission, so publisher can gain an early sense of how this author may serve as his/her own best marketing tool.

What kinds of promotions or activities, if any, do you like to find your clients involved in before, while, and after you have contacted an editor about a manuscript?

Writers' conferences are always a plus, at any time.

Lastly, what advice can you give to a writer who is interested in finding an agent, but who has not, as yet, begun approaching any? What are some of the first steps on the road to finding representation?

Do your homework! Visit their websites to get a sense of who they already represent and what kinds of books fall under their realm of expertise. You want to work with someone who shares your goals, short-term and long-term. Speak to existing clients to get their take on their agent-author relationship.

And don't jump at just any offer! Make sure your agent is reputable, known, and practices business in accordance with the Association of Authors' Representatives canon of ethics.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on these questions. We look forward to learning more from you in Bologna!

See you there!

Cynsational Notes

Rosemary Stimola, a former professor of language and literature and an award-winning children's bookseller, formalized the Stimola Literary Studio in 1997, offering representation to writers and writer-illustrators of children's books.

Representing both fiction and nonfiction from preschool through young adult, she is honored to count among her clients many New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Suzanne Collins, Jodi Lynne Anderson, Lisa Papademetriou, Mary E. Pearson, Tanya Lee Stone and Matt Tavares.

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children's magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Voice: Deborah Lytton on Jane in Bloom

Deborah Lytton is the first-time author of Jane in Bloom (Dutton, 2009). From the promotional copy:

Jane's big sister, Lizzie, has always been the center of attention. No one ever pays attention to boring, plain Jane.

But when Jane’s twelfth birthday marks the beginning of Lizzie's final descent into a fatal eating disorder, Jane discovers that the only thing harder than living in her big sister’s shadow is living without her.

In the wake of tragedy, Jane learns to look through her camera lens and frame life differently, embracing her broken family and understanding that every girl has her season to blossom.

Spare and vulnerable prose marks this beautiful debut that is at once heartbreaking and uplifting.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?

I get to know my main characters by writing. I start with an idea about who the character is and what she needs to say. Then I write a few pages from her point of view so I can begin to hear her voice. This usually happens with a pen and paper rather than the computer. My imagination tends to have more freedom when I touch the pen to paper.

Next, I delve more fully into her character by creating a diary for my main character--her birthday, her favorite color, the things she likes to eat, her favorite movies and music. I might add tear-outs from magazines, if I find something that resonates with me. I spend a lot of time thinking about the character until I have a visual of her to go with her voice.

With Jane, I used works of art and music to help enhance the connection with her. I listened to Michelle Branch, "The Spirit Room," because her voice and lyrics sounded like Jane to me. And the painting, "Girl Before a Mirror" by Pablo Picasso was a visual representation for me of Jane's view of herself, with the bright colors reflecting the chaos around her.

As I worked on my first draft of Jane, I discovered more about her, and this connection allowed me to further develop her character during the revision process.

I also use my background as an actress to become one with the character emotionally, almost as if I am preparing to play the role. I speak the dialogue out loud and visualize the manuscript as if it is a film.

When I was writing Jane in Bloom, I cried with her. My tears are in the manuscript because, as I wrote Jane’s story, I experienced her pain.

I use a similar method to discover my secondary characters. Again, I use the process of putting words on the page to allow the character to breathe and come alive. But my secondary characters sometimes necessitate a bit more research. They tend to be more removed from me. And that leads me to reading first-person accounts or talking to people in similar situations. I need to feel their emotions and their perspectives to connect with them.

In Jane in Bloom, there is a secondary character who is an older woman, Ethel. And she has a passion for growing roses. I know next to nothing about flowers, so I did a lot of research on the subject. Ethel's passion for the art of growing roses flowed into an approach to life that is so optimistic. And Ethel allows Jane to bloom.

When I discovered Ethel, I also found the heart of my novel.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

I work as an attorney by day, and I am also a single mother of two young daughters. I long for the day when I can devote myself to writing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But for now, I have to fit my writing schedule around the rest of my life. And that means I mostly write when my daughters are sleeping, either late at night or in the very early morning. I find this works well for me, because when I am tired, I am less critical and more creative. The next day, I begin writing by reading through my work from the previous night and revising.

I have also learned to write without being next to the computer. I write while I am sitting in traffic, by going over my story in my head and finding and discarding ideas as I drive. When I find one I like, I jot it down on a scrap of paper while stopped at a red light.

I also think about the story before I go to sleep.

Another thing I have learned is to click into my creative mode quickly. I do this by listening to music that connects me to the story, and I also use a bulletin board or book of visuals such as art or photographs to set the scene.

I'm sure that my schedule makes me slower to complete a manuscript, but I also know that taking more time forces me to let the manuscript breathe. And in that creative space, amazing ideas are born.

On the publicity side, I have learned to be especially organized. I make lists of things I need to accomplish and try to do a few things every week. My BlackBerry has been instrumental in this. I can respond to emails quickly and easily that way, and reserve non-writing computer time for blogging and promotion on Jane in Bloom. I wish I could say I have accomplished every single goal on my lists. But I just try to do the best I can.

For others like me who are trying to work and begin a career as a writer, I want to say this--you can do it. Believe in yourself and your talent. Set realistic goals for yourself, and find creative ways to write even when you are not at the computer.

The key to this life is balance. Be fair to yourself, and play to your strengths. If you work best in the daytime, set aside every Saturday morning to write. If you are a night owl, work for a few nights in a row and then get some sleep. Remember to keep pads of paper in your car and next to your bed for those moments when brilliance strikes. And never ever give up.

Cynsational Notes

The New Voices Series is a celebration of debut authors of 2009. Note: interviews with the debut authors of 2010 are scheduled to begin soon.

A video interview with Deborah about Jane in Bloom from Stellar Media Group. Note: 9 minutes, 26 seconds.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

U.S. Paperback Release of Eternal & Giveaways

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith is now available in paperback in the U.S. from Candlewick Press. From the promotional copy:

At last, Miranda is the life of the party: all she had to do was die.

Elevated and adopted by none other than the reigning King of the Mantle of Dracul, Miranda goes from high-school theater wannabe to glamorous royal fiend overnight.

Meanwhile, her reckless and adoring guardian angel, Zachary, demoted to human guise as the princess’s personal assistant, has his work cut out for him trying to save his girl’s soul and plan the Master’s fast-approaching Death Day gala.

In alternating points of view, Miranda and Zachary navigate a cut-throat eternal aristocracy as they play out a dangerous and darkly hilarious love story for the ages.

"Suspenseful and entertaining." —The Horn Book

"Fanpires will not be disappointed with the newest addition to the genre, and the mythology is subtle enough for general fiction readers." —VOYA

"A true page-turner, I can't imagine any fan of Gothic suspense/romance not thoroughly enjoying this - and not just young adult readers either." —The Dallas Morning News

Read a sample chapter (PDF) from Candlewick.

Eternal Trailer


Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of two copies of Eternal!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "Eternal" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to comment or message me with the title in the header; if you win, I'll write you for contact information).

You will receive an extra entry for posting news of these new editions and this giveaway on your blog and/or any social networks; one extra chance for each post/tweet/link. (Include posting information and URLs with your entry).

Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 13.

Additional giveaways are ongoing this week at the Cynthia Leitich Smith Facebook Fan Page. Comment/message me to enter to win a copy of Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009), Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009), and How To Be a Vampire: The Fangs-On Guide for the Newly Undead by Amy Gray (Candlewick, 2009). Note: both Immortal and Sideshow include short stories set in the Tantalize-Eternal-Blessed universe.

Cynsational Notes

The casts of Eternal and Tantalize will crossover in Blessed (Candlewick, 2011), which picks up where Tantalize leaves off and is a more direct companion to that earlier novel. The series will continue in a still-untitled prose novel, which is a more direct companion to Eternal.

There also are graphic novel adaptations of Eternal (TBA) and Tantalize (2011) in the works from Candlewick Press, and e-book editions of both will be available on Feb. 23.

The series is widely available. But if you can't find one of these books at your local bookstore, just ask the bookseller to order them. You can also find them in many school and public libraries. Talk to your librarian, if you need to request an interlibrary loan.

Monday, February 08, 2010

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Author-Scholar Interview: Leonard Marcus

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010; photo of Leonard by Sonya Sones.

As a historian and leading authority on children's literature in America, your knowledge of the history of books for children is inspiring.

As you followed the development of children’s books through the last 300 years, do you recognize any specific elements of long-standing children’s literature that you would you say have contributed to a particular work’s ability to stand the test of time? Do any patterns emerge?

Hmm. While it's hard to generalize, I would say that one quality that the longest-lasting books have in common is that they are character-driven.

Little Women [by Louisa May Alcott (1868)] is still worth reading because once we meet Jo and her sisters we want to spend time with them. The same is true of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer [by Mark Twain (1876)] and the Little House [by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams (1932)] books, even The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [by L. Frank Baum (1900)]. The narrative voice, and the assumptions about childhood that underpin the voice, are also key.

Authors who have approached young readers with a playful (and, by implication, respectful) attitude and tone have fared better over time than those who have written from on high, with an elevating lesson of some kind up their sleeve.

John Updike once said that the relationship between a good writer for children and his or her reader is "conspiratorial in nature." A memorable book is like a confidence shared.

Are there authors today who you feel may have captured that enduring magic and may well continue to be read in a hundred years? What types of contemporary work do you think will survive the test of time?

A hundred years is a lot longer now than it used to be! More people are writing than ever, there are more distractions of other kinds than ever before, and all but the tippy top of the cream of culture feels potentially disposable.

Having said all that, I think there are a great many writers whose work has a chance of going on and on. I'll just mention a few: Emily Jenkins, Hilary McKay, Philip Pullman, the late Karla Kuskin, the late William Steig, some of Terry Pratchett, some of Paul Fleischman...

You’ve written several remarkable books of interviews with renowned children’s authors and illustrators that I feel should be required reading for many! These books are a goldmine of information for those learning about their craft.

When working on your books such as, Author Talk (Simon & Schuster, 2000), or Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book (Dutton, 2002), or your most recent release, Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy (Candlewick, 2009), who was your intended audience for these books, and did you have a sense, early on, that they would become such a tremendous resource for hopeful storytellers?

I do hope the books are read in just the way you've described. Because writing and illustrating are such solitary activities, I think it also helps just to know the life stories and struggles of the people who've come before us--especially when they are the writers and artists whose books we love.

Also, it's inspiring to know the tradition you are part of, or are hoping to be part of.

It's humbling, too, and knowing it helps you to keep what you yourself are doing in perspective, which is critical for anyone doing creative work at every stage in their career.

As for the audience, I hope that some preteens and teens are also looking at those books, especially those who have any thought of one day writing or making art.

For your book Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), which outlines the fascinating history of American children's book publishing, you mentioned previously that you worked on this project for 14 years. What is the process one employs when taking on a writing project of that magnitude? What strategies did you use to maintain your writing stamina and stay focused on the ultimate goal?

I didn't think the book would take that long, and it was only when I got started on it that I realized just what I had gotten myself into. I did know I was going to have to work on other, smaller projects at the same time, both in order to make a living and for variety's sake. This turned out to be a good arrangement.

I completed my book Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (HarperCollins, 1998), for instance, during the first few years. That wasn't exactly a small project either.

But getting through it gave me the chance to learn a lot about one of the major publishers I was going to write about in Minders--Harper--so the research did double duty for me. It was like a Double Word Score in Scrabble.

Everyone is different, but I've learned that I need to be working on more than one project at a time--a big one plus some smaller ones that are going to get done a lot sooner. That way, the experience of a sense of accomplishment always feels within reach.

In a wonderful interview with WETA’s Reading Rockets [see transcript and/or videos below], you stated that you enjoyed biographies and non-fiction from an early age. What are some of the elements that children like to find in a good nonfiction children’s book?

As a ten-year-old, I read a biography both as history and as a projection of the future life I might lead. I wanted to know my options! I think we gravitate toward this or that kind of book--biography or fantasy, say--based on our inborn temperaments. I wanted certifiably true stories. Other children want "What if?" stories.

But a biography has to tell as good a story as one you would expect to find in a fantasy or realistic novel. The only essential difference is the biographer's commitment to historical accuracy.

In that same WETA interview, you also said that becoming a parent had an impact on "the range of books that [you] would consider worthwhile." In what ways did your view about books change after becoming a parent?

I became a lot more open-minded. I realized that children like books for all sorts of reasons, only some of which have to do with literature and art. My son was born within a week of the publication of my biography of Margaret Wise Brown (Harper, 1999).

A few months later, I read Jacob Goodnight Moon (1947) for the first time and I could see right away that he was totally bored! I had never heard of that reaction to Goodnight Moon before, and here was my own son having it.

He preferred a book I had gotten in the mail as a reviewer called Where's My Squishy Ball? by Noelle Carter (Cartwheel, 1993).

I was glad to have that experience as it showed me that no book is right for every child, no matter how great its reputation. I would rather children have the chance to exercise their own judgment than be told they have to love this or that book--as if that were possible.

That's the goal that Margaret Wise Brown was working for, too, and I think she would have been delighted by my son's reaction.

Your biography, Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon: A Biography of the Author of Goodnight Moon (Harper, 1999), is a really compelling book. What was it about this author that captured your attention?

I first read Goodnight Moon in a bookstore when I was in my late 20s. I had never heard of the book before then.

I had recently moved to New York City, was writing a lot of poetry, and was hoping to get a writing career going. I wasn't sure what I wanted to write, though.

A few years earlier, as an undergraduate history major, I had written a senior honors thesis on early American children's books.

When I read Goodnight Moon that evening I responded to it first of all as a work of amazingly distilled poetry--a poem that even a two year old could understand. That kind of simplicity and clarity seemed like an ultimate achievement for a writer. I became curious about who had pulled it off.

The author bio on the back flap showed a photo of a movie-star-ish young woman who, it said, had written a great many children's books and died very young. I thought about how much I had enjoyed reading biographies as a child and how as a college student I had enjoyed writing about the history of children's books. These strands came together in the thought that I might now try to write a biography of a poet for children whose own book had sent a chill up my spine.

That of course, was just the beginning....and the more I looked into Brown's career and her life story, the more I felt that I had found a really rich subject--someone who was as questioning and creative in the way she approached her life as she was original in her writing for children. Her story also turned out to be entwined with the history of American progressive education, the avant-garde New York art scene of the 1930s and 40s, post-war American Baby Boom culture, and on and on. I felt lucky to have found a subject that led me in so many directions. Of course, that also meant more work for me!

Are there aspects of children’s literature or forms of storytelling that you think touch children’s lives more than others? What literature contributes most to the life of children and to building a love of reading?

The answer would be different for different children. For preteens and teens of today who don't see themselves as readers, I think graphic novels and funny books stand the best chance of serving as gateways to reading. For very small children, there are lots of wonderful read-aloud picture books.

The most important thing for children at the beginning is the experience of sharing a book with a loved and trusted older person. The good feeling that is conveyed by that experience is the main thing. It almost doesn't matter what book is read.

What are some of the things happening in the world of children’s literature today that you think historians might be talking about in the future?

The impact of electronic delivery systems is certainly a topic for future--and present day--historians. I happen to think that traditional books on paper will last, though maybe not certain kinds of books--not dictionaries and other reference works for instance.

Picture books stand the best chance of lasting because the physical aspects of sharing them are central to the way they are read.

Future historians will have a lot to say about comics and graphic novels and how and why they went from being vilified to being regarded as mainstream. It will be interesting to look back at all the fantasy being written now to see, more clearly than we can now, what were the real-life concerns of our time that these writers used indirection to explore.

Lastly, as a trustee of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and also as the author of Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became An American Icon Along the Way (Golden Books, 2007), you have a special awareness of how the perception of children’s book art has changed over the last several decades.

What changes have you observed, and how would you say children’s book art is regarded today?

As printing technology has improved, illustrators' options have increased. That's a good thing. So is the fact that more young artists see illustrating children's books as a worthy career goal. The field has gained greatly in status, and the talent pool has never been larger.

The Eric Carle Museum exists in part because this has been the trend. The time was right for a museum devoted to illustration. In turn, the establishment of the museum has carried the trend of greater recognition a big step further.

Japan already has a number of children's book art museums. England has one and may soon have more. We're seeing an international trend in the making, and that is all to the good!

On the dark side, the corporatization of children's book publishing and book selling has distorted the creative environment for illustrators, putting undue pressure to have a steady stream of blockbuster books and illustrations that shine and sparkle and generally scream "buy me!" Artists have less time to learn the ropes and grow.

But publishing tends to be cyclical and self-regenerating, so I think it's way too early to be pessimistic about the long term. As I said a moment ago, picture books may be the last traditional books left standing, and that means plenty of work for illustrators.

Cynsational Notes

Leonard Marcus is a rare bird—a distinguished children’s literature scholar who is also an award-winning writer for kids. His books include Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom; Golden Legacy; Minders of Make-Believe; and, most recently, Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy. Leonard is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and other publications and writes a regular column on picture books for The Horn Book. He has served as a judge of the Ragazzi Prize, the National Book Award, and on numerous other prize committees. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

See "Hopes and Dreams," a segment from his excellent interview with Reading Rockets in the video below (4 minutes, 13 seconds). Give it a moment to load, and then press play. Note: the entire interview series is available; scroll for more segments.

See also, in the video below, Leonard on "Books for a Multiracial Society" (1 minute, 50 seconds). Other segments include: "Images of Children: From Idealism to Realism;" "Goodnight Moon: a New Kind of Children's Book;" "The Golden Days of Golden Books;" "The Radicalism of Snowy Day and Stevie;" "The All-White World of Children's Books;" "The Emergence of Books for Teens;" "Does Quality Matter;" "Current Trends in Children's Literature;" "From Comic Book to Graphic Novels;" "Impact of Television on Storytelling;" "Understanding the World;" "A Matter of Temperament;" and "The High Art of Picture Books."

Jenny Desmond Walters is the founding regional advisor of the SCBWI Korea chapter. She is an experienced education professional with a love of learning and literature. She has worked in public television developing curriculum and promoting instructional programs, as well as worked extensively with educational publishers and learning materials companies. For the last several years, Jenny has lived in east Asia where she has become an avid writer and observer of life in Japan and Korea. Her articles have been published in national children's magazines and writing journals, and she has been a member of SCBWI for more than 10 years. Jenny currently resides in Seoul with her husband and three daughters, and she rarely runs out of interesting stories to write.

The SCBWI Bologna 2010 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference in conjunction with Cynsations. To register, visit the SCBWI Bologna Biennial Conference 2010. Note: Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.
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