Friday, July 23, 2010

Lake House Writing Retreat

I joined three fellow Austin writers--Bethany Hegedus, Julie Lake, and Donna Bowman Bratton--last weekend for wonderful writing retreat at Donna's family's lake house in Kingsland, Texas.

It's about an hour and twenty minutes northwest of Austin--a nice, sunny drive.

We settled in Friday night over homemade spaghetti and caught up on each other's news.

Here's the sun room where I spent all day Saturday working on the Eternal graphic novel (Candlewick, forthcoming). I was at the computer early, and we all put in a full day.

It's soothing to be away from the distractions of home--the ringing phone, the pile of laundry, the pressing errands to run. Adios, Internet!

Being at the lake house was extraordinarily productive and yet restful.

I didn't snag a lake-front room, but I did end up in the California King with a private bathroom. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. Lakes are spooky at night. Well, at least if you've just listened to Donna's ghost stories!

Here's Julie on the pier.

Bethany in her bedroom.

and Donna at the dining room table. A warm and gracious hostess, Donna treated us to pancakes, yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, bacon, the ultimate deli sandwich spread....

Spoiled. She absolutely spoiled us.

On Saturday night, we indulged in a well-deserved dinner at the Junction House Restaurant. I had the grilled shrimp and catfish combo.

Some of you may remember the house from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."


Sunday morning, we read in turn from our works in progress.

In the absence of illustrations, I was a bit baffled as to how to do a reading for a graphic novel. Finally, I decided to provide my own drawings for clarity and held up each to correspond with the applicable character dialogue. Pictured above are Zachary, Radford, Harrison, and Freddy from Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010).

No worries, the incredibly talented Ming Doyle is illustrating the actual graphic novel adaptations of the series.

Cynsational Notes

Envious of our writing retreat? You don't have to be!

Donna's family is open to renting out the lake house--which sleeps six-to-eight--on a word-of-mouth basis to members of the children's-YA writing and literature community. Write her directly for more information.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Don't Take Yourself Out of the Game by Diana Peterfreund. Peek: "If you’ve written and polished the book, what a bunch of writers think about its marketability is not important. Submitting it is the only way you can get a real answer." Source: Saundra Mitchell.

How to Write When You’re Scared Spitless by Jean Sarauer from writetodone. Peek: "Fear is a shape shifter. Although it’s easy to spot when it’s smacking us around in a full-frontal assault, sometimes it’s masked in behaviors like mindless eating or dawdling in the face of deadlines. These forms of fear may seem harmless, but they undermine our work and health and need to be seen for what they are." Source: YA Highway.

Interview: Little, Brown Editor Jennifer Hunt by Alice Pope from Alice Pope's SCBWI Market Blog. Peek: "Voice is first and foremost, because I feel it’s the most difficult thing to teach or master. And as an editor, if I feel someone’s able to catch my attention with a great voice, it gives me a great deal of confidence that we can conquer any other problem their manuscript might have."

A History of Jewish Children's Books - Part One adapted by Barbara Krasner from a speech by Lisa Silverman. Peek: "Before 1888, if there was a book about something Jewish, it was not in English. As Jewish immigrants adapted to American life, and English became their first language, the Jewish Publication Society began seeking authors who could write in English about subjects that would appeal to children whose experience as American Jews was different from previous generations."

Promotion by Lucienne Diver from Authorial, agently and personal ramblings. Peek: "Prep your pitch, post cards, press releases or whathaveyou to go out a few months early, about the time when the catalogues with your cover are on people's desks and orders are being placed. Follow up with a similar promotional mailing just as your book comes out." Read a Cynsations interview with Lucienne.

Bethany Hegedus: Writer Friendly, Bookshelf Approved: a new blog from the author of Between Us Baxters (WestSide, 2009) and Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte, 2010). Peek: "Look for posts on a behind the scenes look at my editing work at Hunger Mountain, brief interviews with authors, featured book trailers, little essays on reading like a writer, little insights (maybe big insights but I only promise small ah-has) and a glimpse into my life as a writer: tales from the road, struggles with works-in-progress, pics of authors I meet, and anything and everything in between."

A Writer's Responsibility by Carrie Jones from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Kids deserve the best possible stories. That’s a big responsibility." See also A Writer's Responsibility: It's a Book Thing.

Why The Next Big Pop-Culture Wave After Cupcakes Might Be Libraries by Linda Holmes from NPR. Peek: "Libraries will give you things for free. Hi, have you noticed how much hardcover books cost? Not a Netflix person? They will hand you things for free. That's not an especially hard concept to sell." Source: Caroline Hickey from The Longstockings.

Do Unpublished Writers Have To Blog? by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "It’s the familiar scenario: You’re an unpublished writer chasing publication. You don’t have a book or a deal to blog about yet, but you’ve heard that writers need platform and Internet presence, and you’ve heard that blogs get you friends and traffic and riches and unicorns, and you’ve also heard about this Twitter thing. Yet it sounds overwhelming." Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

From Page to Screen: Ramona and Beezus movie by Rocco Staino from The Horn Book. Peek: "...director Elizabeth Allen has created a heartwarming tribute to Ramona and Beezus and to the American family. Despite the injection of some updated language (“my dad is sketchy”), the film captures images that Cleary fans will fondly recognize, such as Ramona in a scuba mask or Beezus as a bridesmaid at her aunt’s wedding." See the official "Ramona and Beezus" movie site.

On Rejection by Susan Beth Pfeffer from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I know I’m a different writer today because of those two years of dashed hopes and continuous failures. Maybe not a better writer, but a different one." Source: Elizabeth Scott. See also Thick Skin by Jennifer R. Hubbard from writerjenn.

Taking the "Eek" Out of Critique Groups by Mary Ann Rodman from Greetings from Nowhere: Ramblings About Writing for Children (and Sometimes Some Other Stuff) from Barbara O'Connor. Peek: "A critique group is a small group of writers of the same genre (both of my current groups consist entirely of children's writers.), who meet on a regular basis to read and offer feedback on each others work. Unlike that awful acting class, the criticism is specific and non-judgmental."

Kristina Springer: a new official site from the author of The Expressologist (FSG, 2009) and My Fake Boyfriend is Better Than Yours (FSG, 2010).

Thanks to Nightreader at R&B: Read and Blog for featuring the Native Youth Lit widget from JacketFlap. Native American children's-YA authors and illustrators appreciate your support!

YA Speculative Fiction "Boy" Books: a bibliography by Leah Cypress from The Enchanted Inkpot. Note: I recommended Brian Yansky's Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, Oct 2010).

Author Harvey E. Oyer III, who attended my SCBWI Florida marketing workshop at Disney World in Orlando, writes that The Adventures of Charlie Pierce: True Life Stories of a Young Explorer has been selected as the book for the 2010 Read Together in South Florida and will be read this fall by approximately 16,000 fourth graders.

Top Ten Things I've Learned Since Becoming a Best-selling Author by Ellen Hopkins from Writers Digest. Peek: "...while I always write with my core audience in mind, I will never write in fear of censorship."

Top Ten Myths About Our E-Book Future by Nathan Bransford from Curtis Brown. Peek: "The avalanche is already here. Go to Amazon and you'll find a million books for sale with more uploaded every day, and yet we're all still able to find the books we want to read." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Adoption in Children's and Young Adult Books: a bibliography compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Children's Literature Resources. Note: we're always looking for books related to the topic bibliography on the site; they don't have to be front list titles, so long as they're in print.

A Chat with Christina Gonzalez, Author of The Red Umbrella by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Providing for 14,000 children who were now separated from their parents, their country and their culture was no easy task, but, thanks to the generosity of the American spirit, many families stepped forward and offered their homes to these children. It makes me proud to be an American! (Okay, did I just break out into song?)" Note: Mitali is giving away a signed and personalized copy of The Red Umbrella (Knopf, 2010). Deadline: July 28. Read a Cynsations interview with Christina and watch the book trailer.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Halo by Alexandra Adornetto (Feiwel and Friends, 2010). Source: The Compulsive Reader.



In the video below, Rita Williams-Garcia Talks about One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010) from Kathi Appelt.



More Personally

The two documents under the letter from my brilliant Candlewick editor are the pass pages for Blessed and the copy edits for Tantalize: Kieren's Story, the graphic novel being illustrated by the fantabulous Ming Doyle. I'm working on both over the weekend. Look for ARCs and cover art announcements soon!

Surf over to author Donna Gephart's blog, Wild About Words, to read my guest post: Promote Your Book Like a Pro -- Cynthia Leitich Smith -- Top 6 1/2 List. Peek: "Give yourself deadlines, and do what you can before the release date. Put together your readers' guide and media kit. Order bling. Hire a web designer or publicist. Contact bloggers. Plan the launch party. Work now to make it easier on yourself later."

I was honored by last Sunday's mention of my Gothic fantasy series by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "We'd be remiss to write from Austin about vampire lit and not mention our own home-grown supernatural star, Cynthia Leitich Smith." As a journalist and proud Austinite, it's terrific to feel a little love from the hometown paper.

Thanks to Book Club at facebook for reading Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Cristina Brandao on Book Club.

Highlight of the week included a review of the U.K. edition of Eternal (Walker Books) by Lauren Strachan of Craigmount High. Lauren writes, "The book jumped straight into the action and was immediately really good. ...I'd recommend it to all of my friends."


Please note that I'm not available to read works in progress. If you're looking for a professional writing coach or book doctor, visit Perspiration: Professional Critiques.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart (Delacorte, 2010). Just email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "How to Survive Middle School" 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 July 31. Note: U.S. entries only.

Cynsational Events

The Austin SCBWI Diversity in Kid Lit Panel Discussion will feature author-illustrator Don Tate, illustrator Mike Benny, author Varian Johnson, author Lila Guzman, author/librarian Jeanette Larson and take place at 11 a.m. Aug. 14 at at BookPeople in Austin.

Author Pamela Ellen Ferguson will be presenting and signing Sunshine Picklelime, illustrated by Christian Slade (Random House, 2010) at 2 p.m. Aug. 15 at BookPeople in Austin.

The launch party for Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! by K.A. Holt, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Roaring Brook, Aug. 2010) will be at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at BookPeople in Austin.

Southwest Texas SCBWI Fall Editor Day will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 18 at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Featured speakers are Sarah Shumway, HarperCollins editor; Julie Ham, Charlesbridge associate editor, and Carmen Tafolla, award-winning author. See more information.

The Five Tribes Story Conference and Festival will be Sept. 24 and Sept. 25 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Peek: "According to one of the conference planners, Tim Tingle, the event will “focus on the stories of the Five Tribes of Oklahoma, with a great opening line-up of tellers, writers, and academic thinkers in the field."

Picture Perfect! A Spit-Polish Workshop at St. Edwards University, featuring famed Lisa Wheeler as Keynote Speaker is scheduled for Oct. 9 and sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Faculty also will include Sarah Sullivan, Stephanie Greene, Don Tate, and Laura Jennings. See more information (PDF).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Voice: Shannon Delany on 13 to Life

Shannon Delany is the first-time author of 13 to Life (St. Martin's, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Something strange is stalking the small town of Junction…

When junior Jess Gillmansen gets called out of class by Guidance, she can only presume it’s for one of two reasons. Either they’ve finally figured out who wrote the scathing anti-jock editorial in the school newspaper, or they’re hosting yet another intervention for her about her mom.

She’s relieved to discover Guidance just wants her to show a new student around—but he comes with issues of his own, including a police escort.


The newest member of Junction High, Pietr Rusakova has secrets to hide--secrets that will bring big trouble to the small town of Junction—secrets including dramatic changes he’s undergoing that will surely end his life early.

What is it like, to be a debut author in 2010? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

Being a debut author in 2010 is frightening most days, overwhelming others. But I love that I’m so awake and aware. But being at this point at this moment in history is a challenge.

Starting as a cell-phone novelist, I’m keenly aware of the way technology is changing the publishing industry and communication overall. I feel an intense need to be a part of all of that—to be involved and on the edge of all the changes, but being in the thick of the social media revolution and being an author is a balancing act.

How “present” and “public” should an author really be? How much do we market ourselves versus our books? As necessary as a website and a blog seems to be now, and as great as it is to chat with readers and librarians through Facebook "like" pages and Twitter, I think being too available—too present—is a risk, too. There’s something to be said for the allure of mystery. Perhaps being too accessible will make writers who are savvy in social media seem less valuable.

The biggest surprise has been that there are so many debut authors going through almost the same exact things I’m dealing with. With all the connectivity, no one’s ever really alone on the publishing journey.

As a paranormal writer, how did you go about building your world?

I decided the best way to build Junction and Farthington—the two main towns making up 13 to Life’s world—was by seeing them through my narrator’s eyes.

My narrator, Jessie, has grown up in Junction. She’s lived a rather unremarkable life (at least in her opinion) until her mother dies. And like most people, Jessie views her world with her particular vision while carrying her particular baggage.

Her world doesn’t show her anything paranormal until the first night in the story, in part because she’s never thought her world might include the paranormal. It’s startling when she realizes there’s something odd going on in her town, and she does what many of us would do initially: she dismisses it. As Jessie’s eyes gradually open, so do readers’ eyes.

As I wrote the first novel, the world around Jessie broadened and deepened. Jessie gets an even better sense of just how weird the world is in the second book (coming January 2011).

Cynsational Notes

From the author's website: In 2008, Shannon's greatly abbreviated version of 13 to Life (written in just five weeks) won the grand prize in the first-ever cell phone novel contest in the western world through Textnovel.com. Then St. Martin’s Press offered her a contract for a series the characters. Shannon expanded on the cell phone novel version, adding the subplots and characters.

Previously a teacher and now a farmer raising heritage livestock, Shannon lives and writes in Upstate New York.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Voice: Marianne Malone on The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Marianne Malone is the first-time author of The Sixty-Eight Rooms (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms.

Housed deep within the Art Institute of Chicago, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisite – almost eerily realistic miniature rooms. Each of the rooms is designed in the style of a different time and place, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks.

Some might even say the rooms are magical.


Imagine... What if, on a field trip, you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you were small enough to sneak inside and explore the rooms’ secrets? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind?

Ruthie Stewart and Jack Tucker are best friends in sixth grade. Ruthie has the feeling that nothing exciting ever happens in her life, while Jack experiences every day as an adventure.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms is the story of an adventure they have together. It starts with a field trip and ends with…well, Ruthie will never say “nothing exciting ever happens” again!


If you love fantasy and adventure and magic, with a little mystery-solving thrown in, The Sixty-Eight Rooms will be a book you can’t put down.


What is it like to be a debut author in 2010? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

I agree with people who say we are at a sea-change moment in the world; I don't know where we are in the process, and maybe its my age, but it appears the world of my childhood is fading.

Here I sit at my computer, (really, so small!) with constant notifications coming in from gmail, facebook, news sources. I can Skype anywhere in the world. My cell phone can ring, vibrate, bring me a text or an image. This is 2010, and it has arrived with dizzying speed. My book is about none of it, although my characters use cell phones and computers.

Of course, all of these technologies have affected how a book gets published, launched and publicized; this very blog a case in point.

When I sat down to write this - my first - book, I considered nothing about what would happen to it after I wrote it. Perhaps I was naive, or blissfully ignorant. I was teaching art at the time (in a wonderful school for girls), and I simply hoped that some of my students would like the book, maybe it could be published, and some other kids would like it as well. I thought a lot about what sort of books I loved as a child and what books my own three children were attached to.

It didn't occur to me that a whole army of adults, professionals in the field, would have to join in and support my book, that the book would be posted on blogs and websites and links could be sent in a millisecond. I think not knowing all this was liberating. And I think what came as the biggest surprise was discovering just how big a production it is to get a book out there.

Writing the sequel has presented a different set of challenges because now I am older and wiser. But fortunately, my wonderful editor, Shana Corey, and everyone I've worked with at Random House have been great guides for me. It also feels as though the main characters in the story are also there with me, so I am not alone.

I suppose what I love most about publishing at this moment has something to do with the kind of book I am publishing. One might call it "old-fashioned." But after teaching for over a decade (in grades fifth through eighth), I discovered that even as times change (and texting and facebook entered the classroom!) kids don't really change. At least the younger ones.

The books that I loved, growing up in the sixties, are still beloved. The classics work. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (HarperCollins, 1952) and From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum, 1968) remain popular.

As a teacher, a parent, and now a writer, I enjoy the responsibility we have to children, to offer stories that engage their imaginations, to offer characters they can relate to. It's that generative process of passing something good on to our children. So even as the world changes so fast we could lose our balance, we don't let them fall.

Oh, and I'm surprised that there is a Kindle version of my book - they didn't even exist when I started writing!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simple free your inner kid or adolescent? And if it seemed to come by magic how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Yes, it certainly seems like magic, the creative process! Even though I've written a story with two main characters, Ruthie and Jack, who are best friends, the story is told from Ruthie's point of view.

I think, ultimately, that Ruthie is some version of me in sixth grade. She yearns to live in a more interesting apartment, without having to share a room with her sister.

The theme of place resonates with many people, and I discovered this to hold true even among my young students. They would decorate their "cubbies" (instead of lockers) as small interiors, or themed spaces. It was delightful.

When describing Ruthie's frame of mind throughout the story, I knew young readers would relate.

I can't say I did character exercises or anything so systematic. However, I have a daughter who has done quite a bit of improv acting who has explained the process to me; I think my writing process has a lot in common with that.

Basically, you find yourself in a situation, you accept the premise, and then you must respond in character. In order to do that one must, of course, be able to empathize - get out of oneself to portray other characters and let their personalities exist.

The language that my characters use - I hope - will be familiar to readers. Having taught for over a decade means I can hear how kids speak; it is certainly not a foreign language to me.

To some extent, I do tap into my inner sixth grader when I'm writing. But the individual personality of all the characters in the book has to shine through, so I have to tap into them as well!

It all comes from your own head, in the end, so the mystery of how one's subconscious organizes the conscious self is the key.

In fact, the entire story appeared in my head after taking a nap. I can't say I dreamed it exactly, but the characters and the main arch of the story simply arrived, like a package on the doorstep!

When I was an art teacher, I used to divide the course into two parts: skill acquisition and creativity building. The latter was the trickier, even though the students believed that was the fun part. I used to give them materials - often found objects that were not traditional art materials - and have them make anything. The only requirement was that it not look like the object they started with.

The idea of making something out of nothing is so useful (and I will get on my soapbox about arts education now); creativity is problem solving in its most basic form. Without it, we don't go to the moon, invent antibiotics, and write books!

Everyone must find their own way into the creative process. I've heard of writers who set an alarm for 3 a.m., wake up, write for a few hours, then go back to bed. Some can only write in the evening, others can only work in total silence, etc.

I realized late in life that I have stories and characters floating around in my head all the time.

Sadly, something about the education I had made me not like writing until well after leaving formal schooling. Only then did the activity of writing became pleasurable to me. The freedom to put into words a world that is of my own making, filled with characters I have created, brings immense satisfaction.

On a practical note, I never finish a writing session without making notes about how the next session will start. I don't necessarily follow the notes precisely, but for me, it alleviates the fear of writers block; I've left myself a little gift for the next day.

Cynsational Notes

Book trailer by Mooresville Public Library (Mooresville, Indiana):

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Author Feature: Francisco X. Stork

Francisco X. Stork on Francisco X. Stork:

"I was born in Monterrey, Mexico; to a single mother (I never met my biological father).

"When I was six my mother married a retired American citizen traveling through Mexico. Charlie Stork married my mother and, three years later, brought us to El Paso, Texas.

"Charlie died when I was thirteen years old in an automobile accident, and my mother and I moved to the housing projects of El Paso. I was able to get a series of scholarships that allowed me to get an education.

"From Jesuit High School, I went to Spring Hill College, a small Jesuit College in Mobile, Alabama; where I majored in English and Philosophy.

"After Spring Hill, I got a Danforth Fellowship that allowed me to study Latin American literature at Harvard. But although I loved the teaching part, writing the kind of scholarly papers that graduate school required was not for me.

"I thought it would be easier for me to write novels, if I was able to support myself some other way, so I went Columbia Law School and have been practicing law for 28 years.

"I wanted to write since I was in the first grade when my teacher in Mexico would put me in front of the class and I would make up stories. I kept journals since high school and wrote pretty much every day (and still do), but it was only until I was forty that I started to write my first novel. It was published five years later by a small press after countless rejections and revisions."

What were you like as a YA reader? Who were your favorite authors? What were your favorite titles?

When I was a freshman in high school my English teacher gave me a list of the one hundred greatest books, and I went through the list, one book after another, starting with Antigone. I loved Cervantes, and I loved all the Russian authors. I loved all of J.D. Salinger's works.

What first inspired you to write for teens?

My second novel, Behind the Eyes (Dutton, 2006), had a sixteen-year-old protagonist and when the book was rejected by the adult publishers, Faye Bender, my agent, sent it to YA publishers, and it was immediately accepted. So, at first I didn't write intentionally for teens.

But now I see a purpose behind that first acceptance, and I think I will probably always have teen characters in my books. I identify with them so much, and I appreciate the significance of that stage of life.

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

My first book, The Way of the Jaguar (Bilingual Review Press, 2000)(an adult book), took five or six years to get published. I would send out a draft and get rejections.

One time, I got a rejection letter that said the book was an unpolished gem, and the publisher told me what didn't work for her. I trusted what she said, and I went back and basically rewrote the book based on her insight.

After I finished it, it was published by Bilingual Review Press out of Arizona State University and then it won a Chicano/Latino Literary Prize. The book got a favorable review in Publishers Weekly, which was read by Faye. She called me and offered to be my agent for the next book. Once you have a good agent like her, publication is a little easier.

Congratulations on the success of Marcelo in the Real World (Arthur A. Levine, 2009)!

I'm happy and surprised at how well Marcelo has done and particularly on the Schneider Family Award bestowed on the book. Most of all, I've been overwhelmed by the number of people that were touched in a special way by the book.

Congratulations on the release of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors (Arthur A. Levine, 2010)! Could you tell us about this novel?

The novel is the story of a friendship between two very different young men. Pancho, a Mexican-American boy bent of avenging his sister's death, and D.Q., a highly philosophical Anglo boy who has brain cancer.

Their paths cross in an orphanage in Las Cruces, New Mexico; where Pancho is given the job of being D.Q.'s assistant.

D. Q. wants Pancho to be a Death Warrior, a kind of lover of life in all its forms, and Pancho just wants to pursue his plans for revenge. Eventually, they end up in Albuquerque where, among other things, they both fall in love with the beautiful Marisol.

What was your initial inspiration for the story?

I was inspired by Cervantes' Don Quixote. I wanted to write about the kind of transforming relationship that Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have and so I came up with my own D.Q. and Pancho Sanchez!

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

The Last Summer of the Death Warrior happened relatively fast. I started writing it a couple of months after I finished Marcelo in the Real World.

I guess the major event was getting started. I was kind of intimidated by how well Marcelo was received, and I didn't know if I could write a book like Marcelo again. It took me a while to accept that every book is different, that every book has its own life.

At the same time, it was important to me to challenge myself to write better, to go deeper with each book, and I hope I've done so with Death Warriors.

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

We wanted the book to come out a year after Marcelo, so that was a challenge. There was one passage in the book, a scene between D.Q. and Pancho that was very difficult to get exactly right. Cheryl Klein, my amazing editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, spent a lot time on that scene.

It is a scene where D.Q. tries to explain to Pancho the kind of spiritual faith that he has, and it was hard to do because writing about spiritual matters requires a lot of work and craft. It is important that what is written come from the heart of the author, and it should be subtle and not preachy.

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

I would tell myself: "You are unhappy because you are not writing. You are not using the gift given to you."

What books by other authors would you recommend to your own fans and why?

All the books of Annie Dillard and Flannery O'Connor. They have the depth and the style.

What do you do outside the world of books?

I still need my day job as a lawyer. But hopefully, I can one day write full time!

Is there anything you would like to add?

I would like to tell beginning writers to try very hard see that writing is good, even if you don't get published.

Try to get published, of course. But love the writing process regardless.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I'm tapping into my feminine side and writing a novel about two young girls. I'm having lots of fun!

Fire by Kristin Cashore Named Winner of the Inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction

The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has announced the winner of the inaugural Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award for Young Adult Fiction.

Established in 2008 to honor the wishes of young adult author Amelia Elizabeth Walden, the award allows for the sum of $5,000 to be presented annually to the author of a young adult title selected by the ALAN Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award Committee as demonstrating a positive approach to life, widespread teen appeal, and literary merit.

The winner of the 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award is:

Fire by Kristin Cashore (Dial).


The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award finalists are:

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Arthur A. Levine);


The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (Simon & Schuster);


North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (Little, Brown);


The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander (Feiwel and Friends).


All Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award titles will be identified by an award sticker—gold for the winner and silver for the four finalists. This year’s winning title and finalists will be honored at an open reception on Nov. 22, immediately following the 2010 ALAN Workshop in Orlando.

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee would like to thank: the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Foundation; the ALAN Executive Council; the ALAN Board of Directors; past AEWA chair Dr. Wendy Glenn; NCTE; and last, but not least, the more than twenty publishers who submitted titles for consideration.

The 2010 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Committee considered 202 young adult titles throughout the process. The committee was comprised of ten members representing the university, K-12 school, and library communities.

They are: Daria Plumb, Committee Chair, classroom teacher, Riverside Academy, Dundee, Michigan; Erica Berg, classroom teacher, Rockville High School, Vernon, Connecticut; Jean Boreen, professor, Northern Arizona University, Department of English, Flagstaff, Arizona; C.J. Bott, retired classroom teacher and consultant, Solon, Ohio; Lois Buckman, librarian, Caney Creek High School, Conroe, Texas; Jeff Harr, classroom teacher, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Kent, Ohio; Jeff Kaplan, professor, University of Central Florida, College of Education, Orlando; Bonnie Kunzel, youth services and aolescent literacy consultant, Germantown, Tennessee; Teri Lesesne, professor, Sam Houston State University, Department of Library Science, Huntsville, Texas; and Barbara Ward, assistant professor, Washington State University, Department of Teaching and Learning, Richland, Washington.

For more information on the award, please visit ALAN Online: The Official Site of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Guest Post: Janice Shefelman on Researching Anna Maria's Gift

By Janice Shefelman

Much to my delight, Cynthia asked me to write something about the research I did for my latest historical novel for young readers, Anna Maria’s Gift (Random House, 2010). Delight because research is something I dearly love, especially of the past. To learn about the past and bring it alive with imagination is my passion.

As David McCullough, author of Pulitzer Prize winning John Adams (Simon & Schuster, 2001), said, “History without imagination is boring.”

What would the ruins of Knossos on Crete be without archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans’ imaginative reconstruction based on his research? Dead ruins.

My current project is to bring the people and the palace of Knossos back to life in a historical novel entitled Ariadne’s Choice, a story based on the myth of the Minotaur. Walking through and pondering those partially restored ruins took me back 3,000 years to the time of King Minos, Queen Pasiphae, and their daughter Ariadne.

As for Anna Maria’s Gift, living in Venice took me back to the 18th Century, even without imagination since the city has changed little since then.

Research began with an earlier picture book, I, Vivaldi, illustrated by my husband Tom Shefelman (Eerdmans, 2008). Tom and I both love baroque music and, most of all, Vivaldi’s music. He lived in our favorite city in the world, Venice. So, it was inevitable that we write and illustrate a biography of the man who wrote such passionate music and lived in the fantasy called Venice.

We made several extended visits and stayed in a palazzo in the square of San Giovanni in Bragora where Antonio Vivaldi was born and lived as a child. Tom played kickball with the neighborhood kids, just as Antonio longed to do but could not because of his “chest constriction.” All he could do was play the violin with the fierceness of playing ball.

When I read that Vivaldi had taught orphan girls at the Piet√† in Venice, I knew there was another story to be told. Especially when I found out that he turned those girls into an orchestra known all over Europe. Now, to be an orphan, the parents must die. Anna Maria’s mother dies before the story opens, but her father — ah, there is the tragic Chapter One when Papa lies dying of consumption.

I decided to begin the story in Cremona, a city in northern Italy where there is an ancient tradition of making the finest violins the world has ever known. Why Cremona? Because I wanted Anna Maria’s father to be one of those violin makers.

So, Tom and I traveled to Cremona, learned something of the craft of making violins and visited the home of Antonio Stradivari, who made the incredible Stradivarious instruments.

His custom was to keep an unvarnished violin in his bedroom for a month before varnishing it. He believed that while he slept his soul entered the violin. And he should know!

Thus, evolved the idea that Papa’s final gift to Anna Maria would be a violin that held his soul and voice.

Can you imagine what happens later when that violin is stolen? No, you can’t. That is why you must read Anna Maria’s Gift no matter how old you are.

Cynsational Notes

In the last photo, Janice and Tom show off Anna Maria's Gift at BookPeople in Austin.
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