Friday, March 05, 2010

Guest Post: Tom Angleberger on The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

By Tom Angleberger

This story is sort of like a fairytale.

It really begins when I was kid. A runty little "Star Wars" loving kid. Playing with action figures. Collecting cards. Dressing up as a Jawa for Halloween.

But let's skip ahead a couple of decades. I've still got the action figures and the cards, but not the Jawa costume.

One day I saw an origami Yoda online. A beautiful one. Possibly the famous Kawahata model.

Of course it grabbed my attention. In addition to my deep, pure and true love for "Star Wars," origami has always interested me, although, I've never been particularly good at it.

The origami Yoda I saw on the Web that day seemed way beyond my skills. But I decided to try and make a really simple one of my own. I messed around a little and came up with something very basic, but definitely Yoda-like. Plus, it made a perfect finger puppet.

And there was the spark! The story was forming: There's this weird kid...and he makes an origami Yoda...and he puts it on his finger and makes it talk to people...and it speaks with the wisdom of Yoda, solving all manner of middle-school difficulties.

The book started to take shape...a shape not unlike The Moonstone. Multiple narrators, each one giving their little piece of the puzzle. And a main narrator, bent on pursuing one question: Is Origami Yoda real or just a hoax?

The manuscript took the usual roller coaster ride and then--with the help of my agent Caryn Wiseman--found a home with an wonderful editor, Susan Van Metre at Abrams/Amulet.

But disappointment loomed. Susan didn't think we were going to be able to use Yoda, who after all is the rightful property of Lucasfilm.

Things looked bad. But I resigned myself to it. The whole getting-a-book-published thing had been really hard on me already. The waiting, the rejections, the SASE's that never came back.

There were times when I thought that nothing good that might come would ever outweigh the bad times I had been through.

But I was wrong.

Here comes the fairytale part. See, Susan hadn't given up. Like Han Solo ignoring the odds of flying into an asteroid field, she had sent my little story to Lucasfilm.

And legend has it that there's this kid. A kid, I've never met, but who I can only assume is awesome in every way.

His mom is in charge of Star Wars books. She gave him my manuscript to read. Back before the illustrations. Before the beautiful cover. Before I added the John Hughes movie moment to the end.

The kid read through this pile of paper and said, "Let him do it."

And they did.

Cynsational Notes

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet, March 2010): a recommendation from Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "Told in vignettes that illuminate and test Origami Yoda's powers of prescience and the Force, ...a brilliantly funny and zany novel, full of heart and wit and middle school agnosticism. Enjoy it, readers will."

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win one of five copies of Token of Darkness (Delacorte, 2010)! From the promotional copy:

Cooper Blake has everything going for him—until he wakes from a car accident with his football career in ruins and a mysterious, attractive girl by his side. Cooper doesn’t know how Samantha got there or why he can see her; all he knows is that she’s a ghost, and the shadows that surround her seem intent on destroying her.

No one from Cooper’s old life would understand what he can barely grasp himself. . . . But Delilah, the captain of the cheerleading squad, has secrets of her own, like her ability to see beyond the physical world, and her tangled history with Brent, a loner from a neighboring school who can hear strangers’ most intimate thoughts. Delilah and Brent know that Cooper is in more trouble than he realizes, and that Samantha may not be as innocent as she has led Cooper to believe. But the only way to figure out where Samantha came from will put them all in more danger than they ever dreamed possible.

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

Deadline: midnight CST March 6. Note: U.S. entries only. Sponsored by Random House.

Don't miss yesterday's Cynsations guest post on World Building by Amelia. Peek: "Once I, as the author, have a sense of the world, I need to figure out a way to communicate it to the reader without drowning them in info-dump that slows the plot."
In celebration of the release of Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins (Hyperion, 2010), enter to win a Hex Hall T-shirt (size small, medium, or large)! To enter, just email me, message me or comment me with "Hex Hall" in the subject line. Deadline: March 31. Note: U.S. entries only. Read a Cynsations interview with Rachel.

The winners of The Book of Samuel by Erik Raschke (St. Martin's, 2009) were Jane in Oregon and Patience in Florida.

The winner of Bell's Star (Horse Diaries 2) by Alison Hart, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson (Random House, 2009) was Alice in Australia. Read a Cynsations guest post by Alison on Writing About Horses.

More News

Carnival of Children's Literature ~ February, 2010 from Sally Apokedak from Whispers of Dawn. Includes author interviews, book reviews, literacy, technology, tips for writers - marketing, tips for writers - writing, tours and book experts, and widgets. Note: "Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect will host the March Carnival. Entries must be in by March 25, and the Carnival will be posted March 28. Sign up at the Carnival website!"

How I Know I'm a Writer by David B. Coe from Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels. Peek: " showed some guy in jeans and a flannel shirt sitting on a dock overlooking a placid mountain lake. He had his laptop and nothing else — no books, no papers. Nothing. It was just him and the scenery and the computer, and he was typing away. My wife and I thought it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen." Source: Shari Green from Waves and Words.

Taking Chances by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "Every time you write it’s a kind of leap of faith. You have to be brave. If your story is a strange one and it’s going to be told in a strange way, it may be harder to sell to a publisher. That’s true. But who knows what will happen then?" Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

28 Days Later: Charles R. Smith, Jr. by The Brown Bookshelf from 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "Career-wise, it’s already opened doors to projects that use photography. The old knock that photography doesn’t do well seems to be moot now." Note: congratulations to The Brown Bookshelf on a tremendous series, and thank you for all of your hard work and dedication!

YA Books Central Monthly Advertising Giveaway for Authors from YABC. Peek: "Every month, YA Books Central will be giving away one advertising spot to an author. There's nothing to buy, no hoops to jump through (though we would appreciate a link back to the site). All you have to do to enter is fill in the form every month in which you wish to enter. A winner will be randomly drawn every month and notified via email."

Nancy I. Sanders: Yes! You Can Write Children's Books: a CafePress store. Peek: "Products for the children's writer, including T-shirts, mugs, journals, tote bags, mouse pads, calendars and more! Goodies to go along with Nancy I. Sanders' series of Yes! You Can how-to-write books for the children's writer. These products will help motivate you to keep writing and make your dreams come true!" More from Nancy.

An Interview with Leda Schubert by Zu Vincent from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Music is everything. It’s rhythm, melody, silence, intensity, emotion, structure, repetition, breath, dynamics, and so much more. In some sense I hope I have internalized some of these elements enough to incorporate them in my writing, but it’s not conscious." See also Vicki Oransky Wittenstein on Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths (Boyds Mills, 2010).

Teen Fiction Cafe Celebrates Three-Year Blog Anniversary & Sara Zarr Shares Lessons Learned from the Teen Fiction Cafe. Peek: "...There can be things about your book you wish you'd done better, or different, but if a reader loves it you don't grimace and say 'Thanks, but...,' you honor that. Once it's out, in a way it's not yours any more, it's theirs." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Five Quick, Free Ways to Buzz Your Book by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Read a Cynsations interview with Mitali.

Chip On Your Shoulder by Jessica from BookEnds, LCC - A Literary Agency. Peek: "It’s natural, normal, and understandable, but it’s not going to help anyone’s cause, least of all your own, to develop a chip on your shoulder and share it with everyone." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

The Comparison Trap by Carrie Vaughn from Genreality. Peek: "It starts early, out of necessity, because we look at other writers and their careers for clues about how the business works and how to break in. We ask for advice from writers who’ve been there and follow their leads. But that also gives us a way to gauge our progress."

SLJ Battle of the Books: "a competition between 16 of the very best books for young people published in 2009, judged by some of the biggest names in children's books."

An audio interview with author Heather Brewer on Eleventh Grade Burns (Book 4, Chronicles of Vladimir Tod)(Dutton, 2010) from National Public Radio. Note: the Vladimir Tod series is recommended to readers, and Heather is recommended as a speaker.

Sylvan Dell offers free eBook copy of Pandas' Earthquake Escape by Phyllis Perry, illustrated by Susan Detwiler on its homepage during the month of March. Note: The eBook features read-aloud, auto page flip, and selectable English and Spanish text and audio. This title is also available in hardcover and paperback.

Changing the Cover of YA Books for Boys by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: "...there is another group out there that would benefit from cover changes: boys. I think Liar has many story elements that boys would enjoy, but I don't hear boys talking about it. Why? I think much of it has to do with the cover being a picture of a girl."

Interview: Libba Bray by Gillian Engberg from Booklist. Peek: "...when my son was in preschool, the school banned superhero figures because they had 'unattainable powers' that might damage the kids' developing egos. This, to me, was hilarious, and it made me think about the peculiarly American need to maintain some unrealistic happiness status quo, which to me is a recipe for unhappiness." Read a Cynsations interview with Libba.

All About Sequels by Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "If your primary writing goal is to have fun: more power to you! Write a fifteen book interconnected series and don't let anyone tell you your front lawn swallowed a neighborhood dog. If, however, your goal is to be published, writing a sequel to an unpublished, self-published, or under-published book is probably not your best strategy." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Barnyard Slam by Dian Curtis Regan, illustrated by Paul Meisel in a two-part poetry podcast by Sylvia Vardell, Professor at Texas Woman's University from Holiday House. Note: "Sylvia also talks about why and how to use poetry across the curriculum, in the classroom, and in the library." Read a Cynsations interview with Dian.

Book Trailers for All: "[t]hese folders have been created as a way for educators to share book trailers for children's and YA books. It is an extension of the group "Book Trailers for All" on Teacher Tube."

Congratulations SCBWI Golden Kite Winners Julia Durango, Ashley Bryan, Marion Dane Bauer, John Parra, Nan Marino, Catherine Reef, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and R. Gregory Christie. See the winning books and more information!

Q&A with Barefoot Books, publisher of Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing from papertigers. Peek: " of the great things about being independent in the digital world is that it offers us a way of reaching our customers far more effectively than we could when we were dependent on the traditional supply chain." Read a Cynsations interview with Tessa Strickland of Barefoot Book.

Lambda Literary: a new website from the leader in LGBT book reviews, author interviews, opinion and news since 1989. Source: Gwenda Bond.

Clare B. Dunkle: official site of the San Antonio based author of The Walls Have Eyes (Atheneum, 2009), The Sky Inside (Atheneum, 2008), By These Ten Bones (Henry Holt, 2005), and more. See Clare on Storytelling and Fiction Writing as well as The Business of Novel Writing.

Interview With Ron Koertge by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Characters tend to nag me in a way that story (or Story) never does." Read a Cynsations interview with Ron.

Decolonizing the Imagination by Zetta Elliott from The Horn Book. Peek: "I learned early on that only white children had wonderful adventures in distant lands; only white children were magically transported through time and space; only white children found the buried key that unlocked their own private Eden." Read a Cynsations interview with Zetta.

Interview with Soul Enchilada author, David Macinnis Gill by Cindy Pon from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "...when I returned to writing fiction after an indentured servitude to academic writing, I chose to write for young adults, where nothing is anathema. Want to write a traditional novel? Go ahead. Want to write an epistolary novel? Go ahead and make it netspeak if you want. Want to mix text with visual media? Sure!" Read a Cynsations interview with David.

True Grit: In tracking down the real story of a legendary hero of the Old West, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson also nabbed the Coretta Scott King Award. By Joy Fleishhacker from School Library Journal. Peek: "I did use some research materials. And I also went online and printed out some lists of Western slang and Western talk that gave me some ideas. My husband was a good source, too. We both moved here from Pennsylvania, but he had a longing to come to the Southwest..."

Cover Stories: All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab from Melissa Walker. Peek: "The model's name is Lauren, and a couple of months ago I heard from her lovely mother, who dropped me a line to tell me that was her daughter on the cover. I was excited and asked her to see if Lauren could write a little something about her experience being a cover model..."

The Making of Pouch by David Erza Stein from Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal of the Arts. Peek: "Here's a look at the making of David's new book, Pouch! (Putnam, 2009). Pouch was a 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Honor book!"

Book Trailers: I Just Can't Decide by Kristina Springer from Author2Author. Peek: "I keep struggling with whether or not book trailers are worth it. If you're savvy with moviemaker software and you're going to do it yourself..."

The Saving Maddie (Delacorte) Blog Tour by Varian Johnson from They Call Me Mr. V. Note: next Tuesday is release day and Varian's birthday! Read a Cynsations interview with Varian.

Fire Petal Bookstore Auction

New Children's Bookstore to Open Near Salt Lake City by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...after five years as an associate editor at Gibbs Smith, Witte decided early last month that the time was right to start a children's bookstore. She's already got a name picked out, Fire Petal Books, and a location, a 1,400 sq. ft. space in Centerville, Utah, just outside Salt Lake City. The only problem is that she doesn't have start-up funds."

To support this new independent children's bookstore, bid at the Fire Petal Book Auction.

Items include numerous children's-YA books as well as a query and first ten pages critique with agent Jill Cocoran, a query and first ten pages critique with agent Lauren MacLeod, a manuscript critique and 15-minute phone call with HarperCollins editor Molly O'Neil, and author critiques by Carol Lynch Williams and Sara Zarr.

Cynsational Screening Room

Highlights of the week included receiving the F&Gs for Holler Loudly by Cynthia Leitich Smith, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 2010). It's too early to share a sneak peek of that book, but in the video below, you can check out Barry's illustrations for Dino-Baseball by Lisa Wheeler (Carolrhoda, 2010).

Congratulations to Sergio Ruzzier on the release of Hey Rabbit! (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook). Kirkus Reviews raves, "The colors are soft and clear; the line is vivacious and the little anthropomorphized animals are sweet. Their satisfied imaginations fill whole pages, and friendship emanates from every wriggle." (Starred).

Below, Sergio and Rabbit visited the pre-K classes at P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, NY.

An interview with Jennifer and Matt Holm, the creators of Babymouse, a graphic novel series from Random House Children's Books. Jennifer and Matt discuss Babymouse, the character, the series, and the inspiration behind it all.

Here's a video peek into the Austin Writing Scene from P.J. Hoover. Notes: (a) I had to miss due to my cold, which is better now; (b) I love these people.

Check out the book trailer for The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan:

Check out the Awesome Adventure trailer from HarperCollins; learn more.

Readeo: "combines the best children’s books with reliable video chat to create a shared reading experience called BookChatTM where people can see, hear, read and interact with grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and others—just as you would if you were in the same room. Readeo allows families to connect and interact in a meaningful way—even when they may be far apart." Note: target market includes military families with parents serving overseas. Partners include Candlewick, Chronicle, and Simon & Schuster.

The Story Behind Readeo from Readeo on Vimeo.

More Personally

Thanks again to everyone who chimed in with congratulations after the news broke that Eternal (Candlewick) debuted this week at #5 on the New York Times paperback list! I'm still astounded, thrilled, and so appreciative of your enthusiasm and support!

Reminder: Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Jessica Rodriguez from Jessica's Vision. Peek: [on the title Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008)] "It comes from a line in the book: 'Call me werecurious, but if my mission was to arouse the boy with the beast within, I'd have to tantalize his monster.'" Note: the giveaway is now closed.

Bid to win a critique by me, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, of the first 10 pages of your novel in progress to benefit Young Adult (& Kids!) Book Central. I'll provide extensive comments on the manuscript, an overview letter, and, if applicable, suggest both additional resources for study and marketing strategies. Bidding begins at $10. Auction ends at midnight CST March 30. Bid here! See additional items & services available at the auction!

See also the Texas Sweethearts Critique opportunity at the YABC auction! Peek: "What could be more helpful than a critique to strengthen your story? Three critiques! Multiple-published members of The Texas SweetheartsJo Whittemore, P.J. Hoover, and Jessica Lee Anderson—will individually critique your query letter, synopsis, and the first ten pages."

Want more? You can join my reader groups here at MySpace and here at Facebook!

Cynsational Events

"Putting the Power in PowerPoint" with author P.J. Hoover will be at 11 a.m. March 6 at BookPeople. Peek: "Don’t think you’re savvy enough? Scared of animation? Sick of using the same old standard templates? Afraid of boring kids and adults alike? Then don’t miss out on this presentation by author P. J. "Tricia" Hoover. P.J. will dispel the burdening and fearful thoughts PowerPoint may conjure. She’ll explain how to build a fantastic PowerPoint presentation from the ground up, and how, once that first presentation is done, it can be modified and reused for others in the future. P.J. will go over the basics of creating your own custom template to personalize your presentation, and how to use animation and images to bring your presentation to life. Materials: bring an open mind and a bundle of energy." Sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Read a Cynsations interview with P.J.

Jacqueline Kelly will be be reading from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt, 2009) and signing from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 6 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Jacqueline.

Release party - author Jo Whittemore will celebrate Front Page Face-Off (Aladdin Mix, 2010) at 1 p.m. March 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Joint release party - YA authors Varian Johnson and April Lurie will be featured in a joint book signing at 2 p.m. March 27 at BookPeople in Austin. Varian will be signing Saving Maddie, and April will be signing The Less-Dead (both Delacorte, 2010). Read a Cynsations interview with April.

Oklahoma SCBWI Spring Conference will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 at Embassy Suites Hotel (1815 S. Meridian) in Oklahoma City. Faculty includes: editor Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear Press; editor Greg Ferguson, Egmont USA; associate editor Kate Fletcher, Candlewick; Stephen Fraser, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency; and senior designer (art director) Kerry Martin, Clarion. See registration form, information on writers' and illustrators' critiques, and more. Note: registration closes March 23.

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:
Release party - author Chris Barton will celebrate Shark v. Train, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Little Brown, 2010) at 1 p.m. April 24 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a Cynsations interview with Chris.

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!

Master Class/Writing Salon Event Details from Austin SCBWI. Peek: A Master Class/Writing Salon for the advanced writer, led by author Carol Lynch Williams, will be held May 15 at the Ranch House at Teravista in Round Rock, Texas. The cost is $80. Read a Cynsations interview with Carol.

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, March 04, 2010

Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith Debuts at #5 on The New York Times Best Seller List

Oh, my! Oh, wow! Oh...I'm greatly honored--and stunned--to share the news that Eternal (Candlewick) has just debuted at #5 on The New York Times Best Seller List!

Children's Best Sellers - Paperback, to be exact. The full list is available to subscribers online and will appear in Sunday's paper (March 14, 2010).

It's the first time that one of my books has made the list, and to be candid, I'm a little teary and profoundly grateful.

And absolutely wowed and thrilled and, okay, I had to have both my agent and editor assure me that it was really for real, but they both said "yes!" and so... Yowza!

Thanks so much to all of you who have supported this novel and my writing for all these years!

Big heaping thanks to my YA readers--it's a pleasure and honor to work for you! In fact, it's my dream come true!

Thanks to the booksellers--a million times over! I know it's tough on the front lines right now, and I appreciate you!

Thanks to the teachers and librarians for everything y'all do! I wouldn't never made it this far without your support, and I'm hopeful that our future will be just as sparkly!

More personally, thanks to Deborah Wayshak, Jennifer Yoon, and everyone else at Candlewick Press as well as my Ginger Knowlton and Tracy Marchini at Curtis Brown Ltd., along with manuscript readers Anne Bustard, Tim Crow, Sean Petrie, and Greg Leitich Smith!

Thanks to Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys for her web design efforts, to Shayne Leighton for designing the Eternal book trailer, and to Gene Brenek for designing the Eternal T-shirts and other goodies!

Thanks also to my creative communities in Austin, Texas (including Austin SCBWI and the Writers' League of Texas); at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and around the U.S. and world!

It's quite possible that this post will set the exclamation-point record at Cynsations! Before signing off though, I want to take just one more moment to cheer and reflect.

Congratulations to Carrie Ryan, whose novel The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Delacorte) also debuted on the paperback list! Her companion novel, The Dead-Tossed Waves (Delacorte), releases on March 9!

It also occurs to me that--with Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown) at #10--this may be the first time that two Native children's-YA authors have been on The New York Times list. How cool is that?

And, with All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane) listed at #8 among picture books, this may be the first time that two Austin-based children's-YA authors have made it in the same week. Note: Liz is the Austinite!

[I'm unsure on the "first-time" here, as All the World and Jacqueline Kelly's Newbery Honor Book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (Holt) were on the list at about the same time, but I'm not clear on whether they actually overlapped.]

And that's enough from me! Oh, wait! I have just one more thought...

Thanks to you, too, Zachary & Miranda! There's more of your story to come!

Guest Post: Author Amelia Atwater-Rhodes on World-Building

By Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

One of the most exciting challenges I face when writing fantasy is world-building.

With a brand new book in a brand new world, the challenge is to figure the world out. What cultures exist, and how do they interact? How does magic work, and what are its limitations?

This is a fun stage, though the first book in a new world is normally a mess, because I spend a lot of time walking around, looking through a character’s eyes and going, “That’s cool. What do I do with it?”

In the Forests of the Night (Laurel Leaf, 2000) was the sixth or seventh book I wrote in Nyeusigrube. It took me that long to develop the world enough in my own mind to write a coherent story within it.

Once I, as the author, have a sense of the world, I need to figure out a way to communicate it to the reader without drowning them in info-dump that slows the plot.

Imagine writing a story about a girl who has ridden horses all her life, who goes to compete at professional horse-racing. There is probably no reason that anyone in that story is going to take the time to say, "A horse is a tall animal with four hooves. It’s thinner than a cow, with slender legs…" Everyone in the story knows what a horse is; they might think or talk about technical details ("Oh, I need to remember to get new shoes for that horse"), but they will not bother to describe the animal itself. That’s fine, because most people reading the story already know what a horse is.

In fantasy, however, a writer is often faced with a circumstance where the character is encountering something that is as familiar as a horse to him, but unfamiliar to the reader. This might include animals, or land features, or cultural norms, or something else entirely.

Either way, the challenge is to somehow communicate to the reader what this thing is, and that it is normal to the character, without the narrator taking the time to make an aside that interrupts the narrative flow and seems odd for the character himself.

The Kiesha’ra Series was especially challenging in this way; I often needed to clarify the world for my editor, so she could help me figure out how to explain to the reader.

Then, of course, there is the challenge of a well-developed world: Maintaining canon.

I sometimes have people say to me, “It’s fantasy. You can do whatever you want.”

Whatever has been established for the world needs to have consistency through stories, or a very good reason for changing.

In In the Forests of the Night, Risika says there are ghosts; in Token of Darkness (Delacorte, 2010), it is an important plot-point that Ryan le Coire says ghosts do not exist. Both books are canon.

In this case, the apparent contradiction is solved by a matter of semantics: Risika isn’t a witch, and she uses the term "ghost" in a different way than Ryan does. However, since no one in Token of Darkness knows Risika (Ryan certainly knows of her, but it is unlikely that they have met), and they certainly have no access to her interior narration, I needed to find a way as writer to acknowledge and clarify the apparent contradiction without Cooper stepping aside to say, “In Forests, Risika claims…”

Some people think writing fantasy is easier, because you can do “anything.” Maybe they are right, but writing fantasy for publication is harder.

In the real world, I can assume most people are familiar with basic facts of reality.

In fantasy, even the law of gravity sometimes needs to be clarified.

Amelia's Online Tour

Surf by all the stops on Amelia's online tour!

March 1: Tales of the Ravenous Reader (direct link)

March 2: Park Avenue Princess (direct link)

March 3: The Story Siren (direct link)

March 4: Cynsations/Cynthia Leitich Smith

March 5: The Book Butterfly

March 8: Books by Their Covers

Cynsational Notes

In addition, you can also visit with Amelia this week at Random Buzzers!

See also Den of Shadows!

SCBWI Announces the Winners & Honorees of the 2010 Golden Kite Awards

The 2010 Golden Kite Awards are presented for excellence in books for young readers published in the 2009 calendar year. The award is sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.

Golden Kite Award Winners


Sea of the Dead
By Julia Durango
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Julia’s second novel, Sea of the Dead,
is a fast-paced adventure story for middle-grade readers,
which draws the reader quickly into a world loosely based on Central America,
although with an alternate history.


Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life's Song
By Ashley Bryan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

Ashley Bryan: Words to My Life’s Song is an autobiographical picture book,
which also won this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.
Ashley is a three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner.

Picture Book Text

The Longest Night
By Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ted Lewin
Holiday House

The Longest Night text tells the story of a tiny creature
whose voice summons the new day.

Picture Book Illustration

Illustrated by John Parra
(written by Pat Mora)
Lee & Low Books

John Parra’s bright and delightful illustrations
follow a young multiracial boy’s gratitude
in a bilingual celebration of family and friendship.

Golden Kite Honor Recipients


Neil Armstrong is My Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me
By Nan Marino
Roaring Brook Press

Neil librarian Nan Marino’s debut novel.


Ernest Hemmingway: A Writer's Life
By Catherine Reef
Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Catherine Reef is the author of more than
40 award-winning nonfiction books for young readers.

Picture Book Text

Bella & Bean
By Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Aileen Leijten
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

Read the Cynsations interview with Rebecca.

Picture Book Illustration

Bad News for Outlaws
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
(written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson)
Carolrhoda Books

R. Gregory Christie is a three-time Coretta Scott King Honor recipient.

The Golden Kite Awards, given annually to recognize excellence in children’s literature in the previous calendar year, grant cash prizes of $2,500 to author and illustrator winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration. Authors and illustrators will receive an expense-paid trip to Los Angeles to attend the award ceremony at the Golden Kite Luncheon at SCBWI’s Annual Summer Conference in August.

The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children’s books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Four panels of three judges each (one panel for each category, consisting of author or illustrator members of SCBWI whose own works are that of the category being judged), award the titles they feel exhibit excellence in writing or illustration, and that genuinely appeal to the interests and concerns of children.

An Honor Book plaque is awarded in each category as well. A certificate of acknowledgment is presented to the author of the picture book illustration award book and the illustrator of the picture book text award book.

General Information

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature.

The Golden Kite Awards will be presented to the winners on Sunday, August 1st at the Golden Kite Luncheon, the centerpiece event of SCBWI’s 39th Annual Conference on Writing and Illustrating for Children, taking place at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel July 30th – August 2nd, 2010.

A list of previous Golden Kite Award winners and honor books is available on the SCBWI’s website:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Author-Illustrator Interview: Salima Alikhan on The Pied Piper of Austin

Learn about author-illustrator Salima Alikhan. Peek: "My mother is from Germany, and my father was born in India and raised in Pakistan. Therefore I grew up with a very interesting mix of fairy tales in the household." Note: Salima now makes her home in Austin, Texas.

Her latest book is The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2009). From the promotional copy:

In Austin, Texas, bats seem to be everywhere!

Just when the citizens begin to fear that their flying-critter situation is spiraling out of control, a mysterious man appears and offers to help them with their problem.

At first, everyone is skeptical, especially when it seems that playing an elegant silver pipe is his solution.

But as the melodious tunes fill the Austin air, bats suddenly surround the Piper, following him as he leads them to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where they hang out of sight.

The town rejoices until the Piper returns demanding payment from the mayor.

When his request is refused, he retreats with warnings of consequences. Once again, he plays his enchanted pipe. Charming music moves through the city, but now the Piper has a new following—the children of Austin.

After the Piper and the dancing children begin to disappear just like the bats, frantic parents realize that the Piper’s threats were real. Finally, they promise to pay the Piper if he returns their beloved children.

When he agrees to the compromise, the kids return to joyful cheers and hugs. The Piper collects his payment, and he is never seen or heard from again.

This is the classic tale of the Pied Piper told with a Texas twist. The strikingly colorful illustrations will inspire children’s imaginations as much as the whimsical story itself.

What first made you decide to write for young readers?

I've always drawn and written in what I guess is the fantasy vein, which seems to lend itself naturally to children's books. It wasn't a conscious decision; it was just that what has always come out of me seems to match this particular genre.

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

It took about three years of active perseverance to break into the industry. I attended conferences. I submitted portfolio pieces, book dummies, and novels like a madman (Kinko's was my second home.)

There were lots of standard rejections, but if you don't count those, not many major pitfalls. I took rejections in stride and, weirdly enough, never cried over one (which, by the way, I think is perfectly okay to do.)

Could you update us on your back-list titles, highlighting where you see fit?

The books I've illustrated are Pieces of Another World by Mara Rockliff (Sylvan Dell, 2005, 2010), Rocky Mountain Night Before Christmas by Joe Gribnau (Pelican, 2007), and my latest, The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2009), which I wrote and illustrated.

Congratulations on the publication of The Pied Piper of Austin (Pelican, 2009)! Could you tell us about the story?

Thank you! It's a regional take on the classic fairytale. It's about the Piper, a cryptic stranger who visits Austin, gets betrayed by the (fictional) mayor, and seeks revenge.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Well, as a child I loved the fairy tales that had nothing to do with princesses---the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Puss in Boots, The Emperor's New Clothes.

And I love Austin. The Piper seemed like sort of a natural fit for Austin.

And truth be told, I love the darkness and ambiguity in the original story, the fact that there's no clean resolution. I changed that bit of course, and made it more child-friendly.

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

The inspiration was in September 2007, I think, and it was published almost exactly two years later.

No major events along the way; very smooth sailing, aside from what may have been a bigger event for one of my poor friends than it was for me---getting him to wear tights and play a wooden spoon for the Piper's reference shot pictures.

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

I usually draw out of my head, and was challenged here because I had to make things resemble actual Austin landmarks. For me, it is much harder to draw from life than imagination. I visited City Hall, the Capitol, the sculpture garden, Mount Bonnell, Barton Springs, the Congress Bridge. There are slight deviations from those places, but for the most part they are recognizable.

What about the picture book audience appeals to you?

I love kids. I've worked with them for years (I was an art teacher) and only stopped because I found the combination of teaching and doing picture books to be a little too much.

I still get to be around them when I do school visits though, which is a lot of fun.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I would assure myself that my initial hunch was right---that if I persist, learn, practice, and retain that crazy faith in myself that all writers must have (but that sometimes feels groundless before you see any reward)---I would break into the industry. So I would pat myself on the back and say, "Good job." I would also caution myself to have a little more patience.

How about if you could go back and talk to yourself when you were a beginning illustrator?

The same as above. Writing and illustrating have always been a package deal. To me, it just feels like "the work," all in one.

What is your best tip for book promotion?

Making contacts at stores you know might carry your book. In the Austin area, this is incredibly easy because there are so many small shops that cater to Austin area artists/authors.

School visits are also a huge plus. Also, for the record, scheduling them is not difficult. For my second book, I cold-called every single elementary school in Austin and had about ten visits that year, which isn't bad. Even with school budgets being cut, some can still afford to have an author out.

How do you balance your creative life as a writer-artist with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, contracts, etc.) of being an author-illustrator?

I am not organized. I could do with a schedule-monkey who lives on my shoulder and reminds me of the smaller things (eating, sleeping, actually selling the books I work so hard to make). I would then be free to live in the ether that may or may not become a story one day.

To answer fairly, though, I've been pretty ambitious about scheduling appearances and signings in the last couple years, but, like most artists, what I definitely enjoy most is being home in my PJs and creating.

Other than your own, what is your favorite recent picture book and why?

I loved Crow Call by Lois Lowry (Scholastic, 2009). I love her, I love illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline, I love the Andrew Wyeth-y palette, I love the somber, honest story.

What do you do in your spare time?

I bike, I hike, I do yoga, I hang out with my friends and beautiful kitty Esme. Most of my time, however, is spent writing and drawing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Well, I'm illustrating another book for Pelican called Lawyer's Week Before Christmas. I also have a book I wrote and illustrated out for submission, and I'm writing a YA fantasy novel. Busy, but very exciting.

Library-Loving Blog Challenge

From Jennifer Hubbard:

A group of bloggers, most of them writers, will be using their blogs, facebook accounts, or other social media to raise money for local libraries, bookmobiles, and literacy causes.

They are looking for bloggers or Facebookers to join in.

If interested, please email jennifer[at]jenniferhubbard[dot]com by March 21.

Last year, this effort raised over $1600.

This year's challenge will run from March 23 to March 27. Here's how it'll work:

Participants put up a blog post during that week (facebook or other media can be used for people who don’t blog.)

Participants agree to donate a certain amount of money for every comment they receive on that post by a certain date. (Example: "Donating 25 cents per comment to my local library, for every comment received by noon on March 27, up to a maximum of $100.")

The money goes to the local library, bookmobile, or other literacy-based charity of his/her choice. Donation caps are allowed, and participants will receive a suggested template for the blog post.

Libraries have suffered in this economy like everyone else--budget cuts are affecting all levels of government. But at the same time, library usage is increasing, not only because the books, tapes, DVDs, CDs, etc., are free to borrow, but because libraries provide so many other services--assisting people with job searches, for example.

See more information or email jennifer[at]jenniferhubbard[dot]com.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

SCBWI Bologna 2010 Agent Interview: John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY

Interview by Jenny Desmond Walters for SCBWI Bologna 2010

Your bio mentions that you began work at Scott Treimel NY literary agency the same year you completed your degree at Wesleyan University. At what point did you realize that working in children's publishing was something you wanted to do?

I worked as Wesleyan Press’s permissions manager and knew I wanted to pursue a publishing career. I sort of fell into juvenile.

Shortly after starting at STNY, I attended a Clarion party, in the middle of which I was pulled aside to where my boss and an editor were reviewing some artwork. They were so excited, giggling like kids. That's when I knew I was in the right biz.

I'm fascinated that your degree also included Russian Literature, and I have always been in awe of stories that come from this amazing country. Are there elements of Russian Literature that you particularly admire, and does your expertise in this area affect the kinds of books you enjoy working with and/or writing?

There's a lusty passion in Russian writing, especially Dostoevsky. I love his blowout dinner scenes where everyone pulls their hair and curses. I appreciate that kind of bombast and choreographed chaos.

Also the stories of Gogol and Pushkin have an ethereal quality that reminds me of Bridge to Terabithia [by Katherine Paterson (HarperCollins, 1977)] and Tuck Everlasting [by Natalie Babbitt (FSG, 1975)].

The Russians also were phenomenal with doubles and the use of subtexts (like Tolstoy reading Flaubert, or Dostoevsky reading Balzac), two devices I work at in my own writing, and am always excited to see come across my desk.

You wear an impressive number of hats in the children's publishing business and your own young adult novel, Girl Parts (Candlewick, Aug. 2010), hits the shelves this year. How would you describe the experience of being on the author-side of publication, and what would you say has been your favorite aspect of this new endeavor?

It was terrifying when my boss (also my agent) read my manuscript literally ten feet from my desk. Every time he went "hmm," I hit the ceiling.

But I think being an agent or editor is the most eye-opening job a wannabe author could have. I’ve learned so much about what makes a book successful from conception to promotion, both artistically and fiscally.

Recently, I did a reading for the folks at Candlewick, my publisher, and that was an all-time high.

I thoroughly enjoyed catching up on some of your recent tweets on Twitter. I laughed at your post about not being able to relax on a Sunday unless you’ve read 20 queries. It made me realize the heavy sense of expectation that agents must be under to work through the submissions pile.

For many writers, the idea of the slush pile causes night terrors. Can you demystify the process for us a little bit and also tell us what qualities you look for as you read?

When I receive a query, I look for three things in this order:

Firstly, did the author follow our guidelines? It may seem picayune, but it’s a litmus test of professionalism.

Secondly, I look for a strong, coherent story concept. If it’s too familiar, or too generic (i.e. "loner kid comes of age and struggles with bullies and first love"), I know we’ll have trouble selling it.

Finally, I look for precise, tight writing. If the voice is original, all the better.

Professionalism, strong story, strong writing. That’s what I (and I think all agents) look for.

Approximately how many queries do you receive each month at Scott Treimel and of those, what percentage may earn a follow-up from the agency?

We receive roughly three-hundred queries a month, and 90% are immediately rejected. Of the sample pages we read, we ask for full manuscripts maybe 20% of the time.

You have a very active online presence both as a literary agent and as a writer. Do you feel that it is more important for writers of certain genres to be accessible online or is blogging, tweeting and facebook-ing an important outlet for those writing for every age of reader?

For authors of teen books, it’s especially important. The more places readers find you and your work, the better. If you’re not wild about journalistic blogging, there are more creative ways to exploit the web. For instance, for Girl Parts, I’m developing blogs and twitter feeds from the characters' points of view. However, as an unpublished author seeking representation, your time is best spent developing your craft. Write first, tweet later.

What qualities and sets of skills do you think make an agent successful in his or her career?

I think it takes longer than I've been around to know the answer to this question. But from what I can tell: total commitment to your author, to the best book possible, and to working with publishers to create the best atmosphere for the author’s success. You have to be your client’s creative consultant, hired gun, best friend, therapist, and toughest critic. Like any job, it’s also great if you love what you do. Which I do.

In your bio, you mention that you also work on developing manuscripts. How important is it that a writer be willing to make revisions to a story, and do you suggest that writers state that willingness up front in a cover letter or is that something better discussed if a follow-up conversation takes place?

We take it as a given that writers will revise. More than ever, agents must develop manuscripts because editors can’t afford the risk of purchasing underdeveloped material.

It shocked me to learn how many drafts a manuscript goes through before it’s acquired, let alone hits the shelves. Even authors with fabulous careers and awards still need at least one fresh pair of eyes after a first draft. It’s just part of the process.

Are you currently accepting unsolicited submissions? If so, what kind of story would you love to see on your desk this year, and what does your ideal submission packet look like?

We consider all submissions (query + first 2500 words) via our website: I’m personally looking for young adult books, and I love literary as well as sci-fi (and combinations of the two make me swoon).

I'll take this opportunity to say we’ve seen far too many protagonists with super powers, secret family curses, and latent magical abilities. In other words, stories where a typical kid finds out, "Surprise! You’re special." Unless it’s a truly original take on this concept, we have to say “no” because these stories are too common.

And last, what are some of the personal or professional goals you have for attending SCBWI Bologna and the Bologna International Children’s Fair this year? Is this an important annual event for you?

Though I’ve done BEA in New York and L.A., and the London Book Fair, this is my first trip to Bologna! I’m excited to meet with STNY’s fantastic overseas co-agents (some for the first time), as well as non-U.S. editors and publishers. I would love to find non-U.S. authors looking for representation in the United States and Canada as well.

Thank you so much, John, for taking time to share your knowledge and expertise with us. We look forward to learning great things from you at this year's SCBWI Bologna event.

My pleasure!

Cynsational Notes

John M. Cusick graduated from Wesleyan University in 2007 with a Bachelor's Degree in English and Russian Literature. He began his career with STNY that year. He made his first sale in February 2009, to Flux Books. In addition to handling his own clients, John reads submissions, develops manuscripts, reviews contracts, and aids in contract negotiations. He also manages STNY's international business. He attends the London Book Fair and Book Expo America, and is a member of the SCBWI and an Associate member of the AAR. His young adult novel, Girl Parts, will be released by Candlewick in August 2010.

See also Interview with Literary Agent John Cusick from editors, agents and blogs, oh my! Peek: "As far as juvenile and teen, I adore Lewis Carroll and M.T. Anderson (wouldn't that be a fun tea party?)."

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.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...