Saturday, September 18, 2010

Guest Post: Arthur Slade on How to Put the “Steam” in Steampunk

By Arthur Slade

I wrote a steampunk novel. I didn’t mean to, but I did. What I first wanted to do was write a “Jules Vernian/Charles Dickensian/H.G. Wellsian Adventure” that drew from the classics of Victorian literature.

Turns out I was writing steampunk. It’s a lot easier to say, and it makes the book sound cooler. What is steampunk, you ask?

Hey, it’s science fiction inspired by the aesthetics and atmosphere of the Victorian era.

My series is called The Hunchback Assignments (Wendy Lamb, 2009-) and is the story of a shape-changing hunchback who becomes a special agent for the British Empire (in fact, the sequel, The Dark Deeps (Wendy Lamb, 2010) is out this week and this post on Cynsations is the second day of my blog tour).

In the books, there are villains with steam-powered limbs, airships, electric submarines, special gadgets and enough cockney to warm the cockles of your heart.

Along the way, I learned a few “rules” about steampunk.

Here are two of them that will punkify your writing.

1. Get to know Queen Victoria.

Not so much the queen herself (though she was fascinating; did you know she was buried with plaster-cast hands of her dead husband and her favorite relatives?).

No, I mean, get to know the era. What did people wear? What were the politics of the time? Was there really such a thing as a spring-loaded top hat (yes, it would collapse down so you could hide it under your opera seat)?

All of this information can be the springboard for your amazing imagination.

2. Use the steam-powered Internet to your advantage.

Want to know what a double-barreled, Victorian-era elephant gun looks like? Just look it up on eBay. Buy one if you really want to see. Most anything you can imagine is on sale somewhere on the Internet.

Also, Googlebooks is an amazing asset. You can find books about steam-powered tractors or the Roman Empire, all written pre-1874, so you know what people thought about those topics back then.

Or do you want to find that perfect slang word but aren't sure where to look? Try the Slang Dictionary. It was written in 1874, is searchable, and you’ll find all sorts of lovely descriptions of the way people really used to talk. Did you know that a Bone-Grubber is someone who hunts for bones to sell at the rag-shops? Look it up in the aforementioned dictionary.

And don’t forget Google Earth: I recently had a scene where my characters are traveling by airship across Australia at about 4,000 feet. To get a feel for what that would look like, I went to Google Earth, zoomed to Australia, set the altitude at 4,000 feet and used that view as my inspiration for describing the land below.

There, now you know how to write steampunk. Isn’t it easy?

You could be penning the next Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse, 2009) or Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins, 2004). Zounds! Snap to! But I do have one more piece of advice. Forget all the claptrap and drivel that I've told you.

Well, use what helps you. Because steampunk, like all fiction, is creative, malleable and always changing. Just put on your goggles and strap into your airship and fly.

Cynsational Notes

Enter to Win a Copy of
The Dark Deeps! Random House is offering four copies. To enter, just email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Hunchback" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to privately message me with the title in the header or comment on this post. Deadline: midnight CST, Sept. 21. U.S. entries only.

Join Arthur on the remainder of his tour: Sunday at Free the Princess, Monday at Age of Steam, Tuesday at Suvudu, Wednesday at Steampunk Tribune and Thursday at Steampunk Scholar.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Voice: Eden Maguire on Beautiful Dead (Book 1 - Jonas)

Eden Maguire is the first-time author of Beautiful Dead (Book 1 - Jonas)(Sourcebooks, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Not alive. Not dead. Somewhere in between lie the Beautiful Dead.

Something strange is happening at Ellerton High. Phoenix is the fourth teenager to die within a year. His street-fight stabbing follows the deaths of Jonas, Summer, and Arizona in equally strange and sudden circumstances. Rumors of ghosts and strange happenings rip through the small community as it comes to terms with shock and loss.

Darina, Phoenix’s grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can’t escape her intense heartache or the impossible apparitions of those that are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echos inside her head...

And then one day Phoenix appears to Darina. He tells her that she must help Jonas—the first of the four to die—right the wrong linked to his death. Only with her help can Jonas finally rest in peace. Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

How did you discover and get to know your protagonists?

I created Darina as my first-person narrator because I wanted my reader to share her point of view and totally identify with her. She's pretty close to my own persona at 16--sensitive, a little angry at the world, rebellious, insecure but also determined and brave.

Are you a plotter or a plunger?

I outline my books in some detail. But the actual writing of the book always takes me to places I don't expect--characters come alive and make their own decisions!

As a fantasy and paranormal romance writer, what attracted you to these literary tradition?

This has to be Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (1847)! It's an amazing book which expresses wild, romantic passion. It takes readers beyond the real world into territory where fierce, unbridled passion defied even death.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book?

I'm doing much more online promotion than I expected--a blog tour for Sourcebooks, plus multiple online interviews. This has been set up by both U.K. and U.S. publishers.

It feels positive to have this level of interaction with my readers, but it is time consuming and needs to be worked in around my next delivery deadline!

Beautiful Dead Book 1: Jonas - Chapter 1 Excerpt

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Nightfall Scary Story Writing Contest from Lerner Books. Peek: "After reading Thaw—our free Night Fall™ eBook—we want you to become an author and create a creepy ending to a scary story just like the tales told in our new Night Fall series." The winner will receive two complete sets of all six books in the Night Fall™ series—one for the winner and one for the winner's school library; editorial advice in a letter from the editorial director of Darby Creek. Plus, the winning story will be published on the Lerner Books Blog, and the winner's name will become a character name in an upcoming Night Fall™ novel. See more information.

Featured Sweetheart: Jeanette Larson by P.J. Hoover from the Texas Sweethearts. Peek: "While many of us want to 'own' all our books and information, we can't and that's where libraries come in. My local library prints out my 'savings; on the date due slip. I can easily save thousands of dollars a year by using the library. It's the best bang for our tax bucks!" Read a Cynsations interview with Jeanette.

Glass Houses, Elephants, and the Internet by Danyelle Leafty from Carolyn Kaufman at QueryTracker. Peek: "I don't really talk much about politics or religion. I have plenty of opinions on them, but I save those discussions for real life. Also, I don't put up pictures of my kids, name them, or even really discuss them."

From Publishers Weekly: Kevin Lewis will join Disney Book Group’s Disney-Hyperion Books as executive editor, where he will acquire and edit picture books, as well as middle-grade and young adult novels. He will report to Stephanie Owens Lurie, editorial director at Disney-Hyperion.

Poetry on the 2010 IBBY Honour List by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "This list provides a 'welcome opportunity to study and review the production of children’s books' around the world--the best each country has to offer an international audience." Read a Cynsations interview with Sylvia. See also Poetry for Children.

Top 10 Productivity Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid by Sage Cohen from Writer's Digest. Peek: "It’s easy to focus on the negative in writing and in life. But when we turn our attention to what’s working and what we appreciate from moment to moment, our sails turn into the wind." Source: Lupe Ruiz-Flores.

How Does Your Garden Grow? Digging into the Details of Craft and Career, sponsored by SCBWI-Illinois, is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 13 Wojcik Conference Center at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Speakers include: Marilyn Brigham, editor, Marshall Cavendish; Katherine Jacobs, associate editor, Roaring Brook; Tamra Tuller, editor, Philomel; Andrea Welch, editor, Beach Lane; Jennifer Mattson, associate agent, Andrea Brown Literary; Edward Necarsulmer, director of the Children’s Department, McIntosh & Otis. Note: I've had the honor of speaking at this conference in the past, and it's a wonderful event!

It's Okay Not to Be Happy All the Time by Kate Fall from Author2Author. Peek: "I couldn't take all the disappointment anymore and I broke down to my husband. Ugh, I've been writing for so long, why aren't I better at it?!"

Succeeding as a Writer: Confidence and Determination by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker. Peek: "If feeling good about what you'd written was as far as any of this went, all would be well. But so many of us have this urge, this drive, this need to get published. And what is that all about anyways?"

Lisa Railsback and Sarajo Frieden Interview by Laurie Beth Schneider from From the Mixed-up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "Noonie definitely feels misunderstood, and that her art is misinterpreted. Through my process of revisions, though, Noonie also comes to realize that she is misunderstanding the people, and the world, around her. They may not necessarily love art, or get her art, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love her and support her."

Losing Out on a Hot Commodity
by Mary Kole from Peek: "It isn’t my job to gush over a book or tell the author how brilliant they are (though I often do). It’s my job to sell that book. So if I think I can do my job, I offer representation. But I also caution the writer that there are no guarantees." See also Mary on Does Your Day Job Matter? Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

Seven Keys to Writing Good Dialogue by Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "When the dialogue is carrying exposition and trying to tell the reader too much, characters end up saying a lot of very unnatural and unwieldy things." Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

How to Sell a Book? Good Old Word of Mouth by Lynn Neary from NPR. Peek: "Getting everyone within the company talking about the book is the first step in building the buzz. The next step is spreading that excitement to the outside world." Source: April Henry.

Follow the Voice by Jim Murphy from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "I remember early on in my career when I was still doing very detailed outlines and having to struggle to follow my inner voice's suggestions. It seemed like terrible violation of the outline to abandon it's carefully worked out route, a little like ignoring the professor's instructions on what had to be in a term paper." Note: Jim is the Winner of the 2010 Margaret A. Edwards Award, which "honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, that have been popular over a period of time. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world."

Random House announced a partnership with digital media agency Smashing Ideas to develop book-based children’s Apps for mobile devices. Smashing Ideas is a developer of immersive, interactive experiences for all screens, building digital products and destinations around brand characters in the children and youth markets. Random House Children’s Books will work in close collaboration with Smashing Ideas’ newly formed ePublishing group—led by the co-creator and developer of the smash hit, Alice for iPad—and with key Random House children’s books authors, illustrators and brands to produce innovative digital products that marry story, design, and technology.

Candlewick Partners with Toon Books: New imprint launches in October by Publishers Weekly Staff from Publishers Weely. Peek: "Toon Books, which are leveled books for emerging readers, are vetted by educators; the books feature original stories and characters created by veteran children’s book authors, renowned cartoonists, and new authors."

Reading Like a Writer: Picture Book Pairs by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: "Each has characters with strong bonds, friendship or familial, with striking differences in personality, whose central conflict stems from this uniqueness and whose resolutions bring the duos that much closer together."

Penguin Adds Poptropica Imprint by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Brallier, who founded the children’s imprint Planet Dexter in 1995, will serve as the Poptropica imprint editor. His goal, he says, is to 'carry the DNA,' or spirit, of Poptropica over to print. The imprint will launch with a Poptropica guidebook, which will be followed by eight graphic novels that will be released beginning in 2012."

Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog by Nina Lindsay and Johnathan Hunt from School Library Journal is active again. Note: if you search "mock Caldecott," "mock Newbery," or "mock Printz," you'll also pull up a lot of new links. Source (for link and advice): Bookshelves of Doom.

How to Create a Character from Holly Lisle. Peek: "Don't start your character off with a name or a physical description." Source: April Henry.

Jane Yolen Writes 300th Book: Award-Winning Children's Author Writes About Desire to Type Faster by Jane Yolen from the Huffington Post. Peek: "The responses I have gotten from friends, family, and fans on the news of my 300th book runs the gamut from: 'You have got to be kidding!' to 'Anything good there?' to 'You are a National Treasure/Goddess/Diva.' But almost everyone adds, 'Do you remember writing them all?'" Read a Cynsations interview with Jane.

Three Mistakes Illustrators Make in Their Portfolios from Escape from Illustration Island. Peek: "One mistake that many Illustrators make is to fall prey to the temptation of including certain pieces in their portfolio simply because it has been published, even if the quality is inferior to the rest of their work, or it simply doesn’t fit."

How To Connect with a Critique Group by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "There are a lot of pluses to online groups. They open you up a broader range of writers, because you don’t have to worry about coordinating meeting locations and times."

Scholastic Book Clubs Classrooms Care literacy program has put more than 10 million books in the hands of kids since 2001. This school year, with the "United States of Reading" theme of state pride and giving locally, the focus will be on giving voice to America's teachers, students and parents as they participate in the program. A new Classrooms Care blog and social network opportunities via the Classrooms Care site, will provide teachers with news, tips, activities, quizzes and chance to engage with peers in every state. Through their blog they are encouraging parents and teachers to submit from their kids: (a) a fun fact about their state; (b) a tip on how to get more kids reading; (c) an activity idea demonstrating state pride.

Dark Song by Gail Giles (Little, Brown, 2010) Giveaway from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. See link for details on how to enter. Deadline: Sept. 24. Read a Cynsations guest post by Gail on Writer's Block.

On Requested Manuscripts by Sara Crowe from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Now that my list is pretty full, and that I am not taking on many more new clients, I've also become more demanding of each requested manuscript. I know that for both the author's sake and mine, I have to fall madly in love with it to be the right agent for it." Read a Cynsations interview with Sara.

Inside the Writer's Studio with Sundee T. Frazier: an interview by Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: "Honestly, having babies has helped! I have limited time to write, so when I get a chance to be alone with my computer, I try to make the most of it. I’ve got no time to fool around, procrastinate, or stop at Starbucks on the way to the library for my twice-a-week evening writing sessions."

The Promotional Quantity by Eric at Pimp My Novel. Peek: "A promotional quantity is the number of copies a store or chain needs to take in order for them to have enough to put the book into co-op placement." Note: congratulations to Eric on his 300th post!

How You Can Tell How Well Your Book is Selling by Rachelle Gardner from Rants & Ramblings on Life as a Literary Agent. Peek: "This is sometimes a tough one for authors."

Summer Edward's Caribbean Children's Literature: "The premiere blog for Caribbean children's and YA (young adult) books, illustration, reviews, giveaways, author interviews, publishing tips, etcetera, etcetera." Note: this week, Summer highlights Edwidge Danticat's first children's picture book, Eight Days: A Story of Haiti (Orchard, 2010) and asks, "Is it easier as a writer of color, to make it in the world of adult fiction than it is to make it as a children's writer?" and if so, why? See post. Source: Color Online.

On Self-doubt and Getting It Written Instead of Getting It Right by Author/Agent Mandy Hubbard. Peek: "It won't disappear just because you've sold a book. In fact, it might get worse. Because you'll look at the total-piece-of-junk you think you're writing, and then you'll go to your shelf and you'll pick up your published book."

Women Writers of Color: Cindy Pon from Color Online. Peek: "I'm really a believer in being active through positive action." Read a Cynsations interview with Cindy.

Listen Up for Candlewick on Brilliance Audio from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Candlewick on Brilliance Audio is the name of the new imprint announced today by Candlewick Press and Brilliance Audio. The companies have joined forces in an innovative agreement that enables Brilliance Audio to publish and distribute audiobook editions of select Candlewick Press titles. " Note: the first list shipped last month.

Congratulations to Austinite Jennifer Ziegler on selling the film rights to How Not To Be Popular (Delacorte, 2008) to Amy Green of the Toronto-based company One Eye Open (via agent Erin Murphy and Luke Sandler at her co-agency, Gotham Group).

Joseph Bruchac's Hidden Roots by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. The book went out of print, however Joseph "was able to get rights to it, and he's bringing it out through his own press, Bowman Books. It'll have a new cover and he's worked on a better presentation of the form that appears on page 112-113 of the hardcover edition with the tree on the front." See Debbie's in-depth discussion of the book.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Alien Invasions and Other Inconveniences by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2010). Note: In a blurb for this novel, I said, "Wry, fierce, richly imagined—-the total conquest of humanity has never been so entertaining."

Author Mindi Scott talks about rejection in publishing and other aspects of her life. See disclaimers.

An Interview with Cheryl Rainfield from Daytime Toronto about Scars (WestSide, 2010).

Cheerios is distributing six million books on its boxes, starting in November. The winning titles are: All The World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (Beach Lane, 2009); Jump! by Scott M. Fischer (Simon & Schuster, 2010); No T. Rex in the Library by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa (McElderry, 2010); Chaucer's First Winter by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2009); The Purple Kangaroo by Michael Ian Black and Peter Brown (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Here's a peek at All the World:

More Personally

The launch party for Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! by K.A. (Kari) Holt, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Roaring Brook, 2010) was at 2 p.m. Sunday at BookPeople in Austin. The event featured a face painter. Here, author Kari has been bitten by a zombie!

In true zombie fashion, Kari served eyeballs, fingers, brains, brain juice, and cookies.

BookKids event coordinator Mandy Brooks is in the spooky spirit!

And so am I! (Don't I look scary? Greg and I went out to dinner at Shoal Creek Saloon afterward, and our waitress exclaimed, "What got a hold of your face?!" Note: the saloon was flooded about a foot in the main room, about a foot in the party room by Tropical Storm Hermine; the staff just shrugged it off.

Kari did a reading and judged a haiku contest, won by author Jo Whittemore.

Here's Jo (dark hair) talking to Emma Virjan (in black), Jessica Lee Anderson (in red), her husband, and Bethany Hegedus is up front (in green).

See also Kari (and P.J. Hoover) on The Top Ten Ways to Make a Group Write-In Successful from The Spectacle.

In other news, thanks to Donna Cooner at YA Muses for the recent Follow Friday shout out! Most appreciated.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest Post: Gail Giles on Writer's Block

By Gail Giles

Blocked. No exit.

You’ve even tried tunneling. No luck.

Been there? I’ve always been so prissy. “I’m never blocked. I have a method.”

Yes, indeedy do, I have a method and it’s great. When it works. It’s the Hemingway, method and I recommend it.

When you are writing you stop your work in the middle of a chapter in the middle of a paragraph in the middle of a sentence. The next day you are certain you can finish the sentence, pretty darn sure you can finish the paragraph, and kind of sure you can finish the chapter, and by then, you are on your way.

It’s kind of a killer to end your day at a completion point (chapter ending, perhaps). You feel so done, and it’s hard to pick it back up. But you are champing at the bit to finish that sentence.

However, when the sentence is goshawful unholy crapola that sounds like it was written by a third grader on speed...

Right now I have a manuscript. I refuse to call this thing a "story" right now. In fact, it’s just a bunch of pages. I can’t seem to move it forward, I can’t seem to let it go and start something else, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

There are no trees to even make a forest. Nary a sapling. My muse is cavorting in Iceland or somewhere with randy gnomes and the Hemingway method is...well, useless.

This has gone on for so long, I dread that I’ll have to bring out the big guns.

Yes, it’s that bad. My other muse. The ghost, the shade, of that Dominican nun of my tortured elementary school youth (play that creepy music) Sister Vincencia.

She wore the full penguin habit and stuck fear into any fourth grader by simply lowering her nose and gazing at the poor child over her spectacles.

Work was complete forthwith and with no mumbling. No looking away from the paper. No nothing.

Shivering in fear was allowed.

She’ll get me working by sheer terror if nothing else.

Yep, I going to have to go there. I don’t like to go there. Not often. Not for long. But need the big guns to stare down the block.

New Release

Dark Song by Gail Giles (Little, Brown, 2010) is now available. From the promotional copy:

Mark said he heard the dark song when he creeped houses. The song the predator's heart sings when it hears the heart of the prey. I heard it now. Mark said it had always been in me. Lurking. Waiting for me to hear.

Ames is not the person she was a few months ago. Her father lost his job, and her family is crumbling apart. Now, all she has is Marc. Marc, who loves her more than anything. Marc, who owns a gun collection. And he'll stop at nothing--even using his guns--to get what he wants.

Ames feels her parents have betrayed her with their lies and self-absorption, but is she prepared to make the ultimate betrayal against them?

Cynsational Notes

Interview - Gail Giles on What Happened to Cass McBride? (Little, Brown, 2006) and Right Behind You (Little, Brown, 2007) from uhbboekpromotie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Voice: Chiêu Anh Urban on Raindrops: A Shower of Colors

Chiêu Anh Urban is the first-time author of Raindrops: A Shower of Colors, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Sterling, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Look—a rainbow of colors is showering down on the animals!

This very simple, beautiful, and innovative concept book shows children how primary colors magically blend to create secondary ones. Die-cut raindrops with a see-through shaded acetate appear throughout; when the acetates are layered on top of each other, a new color emerges!

So it’s easy to see—and understand—how blue and red make purple; red and yellow make orange; blue and yellow make green . . . . and how, all together, they create a gorgeous rainbow!

The delightful art showcases a cute and cuddly-looking group of animals trying to escape the rain—and each one has an adorable accessory, be it a pinwheel, fancy hat, or bright umbrella.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The creative process was a lot of fun. When I was a child, I made little book dummies to play with, and crafted many ideas and playthings using paper. It was how I entertained myself; a creative time I really enjoyed. I still love art, crafting, and developing ideas. It is my hobby and something I look forward to doing when I get the chance.

When my kids were in preschool, I decided to design a hands-on book to teach them about colors. I didn’t want a book that simply tells how primary colors (red, blue and yellow) blend to make secondary ones (purple, orange and green); I wanted to demonstrate this visually, as a novelty book.

I have a background in graphic design, and love experimenting and working with different materials. Acetate is one of my favorites, and I knew that layering it would be a great way to show how colors blend.

I’m around children a lot, with my own, their classmates, and friends. So naturally, they were a big part of my inspiration. I recognized that animals and creatures fascinate them, making ideal characters for a concept book about colors.

Books about animals, sea creatures, and insects were great resources.

I often shared my thoughts and ideas with the kids. Young children are amazingly honest and love to show their emotions and excitement. They were my critique group!

While my proposal was under consideration, the editor asked me if I could work the acetate into the final page, which displays the rainbow. At first, I was stumped. Each page represents a color, and it takes three pages to demonstrate a color blend. So how could I incorporate this concept into a rainbow with many colors?

It took some brainstorming, and after many mock-ups, I finally got it. I positioned the colors and features from the blue butterfly, red robin and white cloud on the previous page to fall under the yellow sky acetate on the next page. This layering effect emerged into three new colors that make-up the rainbow on the final spread.

I was pleased with the results, which look effortless, and I do wonder how many readers even notice the subtle color transition.

As a board book author, you have succeeded in a tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

I love board books, and have collected a nice library full of them for my children. They are fun to look at and hold. I guess I’m a big kid at heart. When I’m at the bookstore and library, I gravitate to those thick, chunky books and see what it is about each one that appeals to me.

Many board books are created in-house, already in picture-book format, or of a licensed character. You’ll want to develop a concept and story that is fresh.

Believe in your work and keep crafting.

It is helpful to make mock-ups of your ideas. Seeing, holding, and hearing how a book reads from beginning to end is far more effective than looking at sketches on paper.

When you think you’ve finished the best piece possible, set it aside for a while and come back to it. You will have a new perspective and probably want to revise again.

Visit bookstores to see which publishers have board book titles and if they would be a good fit for your project.

Have patience, keep revising, and creating; your time spent will be well worth it.

Cynsational Notes

Chiêu Anh Urban received a BFA in Communication Arts and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. She has worked for an advertising agency and software firm designing corporate branding and advertising, and is now an independent graphic designer who works from her home studio in Laytonsville, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and three daughters. She enjoys art and drawing with her children.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guest Post: Teri S. Lesesne on Forging Good Connections for Readers

By Teri S. Lesesne

When I read, I am constantly connecting my current book to others I have read.

For instance, when I read Cynthia’s Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), I recalled Annette Curtis Klause’s The Silver Kiss (Delacorte, 1990) and Tobin Anderson’s Thirsty (Candlewick, 1997), other novels about vampires that I had read in the past and admired.

My synapses fire like mad when I read, forging connections between books. That is how my newest professional book, Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be (Heinemann, 2010)(forward by James Blasingame) began.

The book is intended to help educators (teachers and librarians) help tweens and teens see the connections between and among books.

The idea for the book actually came from my granddaughter, Natalie, now 17. One summer we were driving cross country to visit relatives. At the time, Nat was about 12. She had read all of the Harry Potter books (1997-2007) and wanted something new.

I bought her the C.S. Lewis Narnia books (1950-1956) all in one rather imposing paperback edition. Natalie read happily as we drove.

At one point, she sat up and blurted out, “Hey! J.K. Rowling stole some of the stuff for Harry Potter from C. S. Lewis. Is that legal?”

These are the moments that thrill literacy folks like me. What Natalie was seeing was not Rowling plagiarizing Lewis; she was making connections: she saw archetypes (though it would be years before she used that word to describe what connected the two series) and motifs.

As much as Natalie’s observations delighted me, I knew she was one of the rare tweens (and even teens now) who makes those connections. Too many of her classmates fail to see the connections between and among texts.

So, I began playing with some ideas that might allow educators to model and reinforce those connections. Then we did some remodeling around our house and the ladder analogy took shape.

We had all sorts of ladders in the house. Some were the shorter, stepstool variety; others were more like scaffolding. Some reached a few more feet into the air and one had extensions that allowed workers to reach the tall ceilings. Ladders, then, could help students connect two or three books (stepstools) or could help them reach further (extension) or even read more deeply of one author or genre (scaffolding).

Using this analogy, then, educators can make recommendations of books that take students from their current interests to books that might grow more complex and challenging.

Students could read and enjoy graphic novel series like Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Knopf, 2009) and BabyMouse by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm (Random House, 2005-) and then move onto Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury, 2008) and Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese (First Second, 2007) and ultimately to David Small’s GN memoir, Stitches: A Memoir (W.W. Norton, 2009).

Ladders could also help students read more deeply within the science fiction genre, for example, by showing them books by David Lubar (True Talents (Starscape, 2007)) and David Macinnis Gill (Black Hole Sun (Greenwillow, 2010)).

They are a tool only, something to assist educators as they help create and sustain readers.

Cynsational Notes

Read a sample chapter (PDF) or visit this wiki for some sample ladders and more information.

Teri S. Lesesne's books also include Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time, Grades 4-12 (Stenhouse, 2003) and Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Life-Long Readers (Stenhouse, 2006). You can subscribe to her LJ at The Goddess of YA Literature.

Teri was the recipient of the 2007 ALAN Award. She's taught middle school and is currently a Professor in the Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Voice: Pamela Ellen Ferguson on Sunshine Picklelime

Pamela Ellen Ferguson is the first-time author of Sunshine Picklelime, illustrated by Christian Slade (Random House, 2010). From the promotional copy:

PJ Picklelime lives in a village very close to you. Meadows are knee-deep in wildflowers in early springtime. Summers are hot and dreamy when golden peaches the size of melons hang from the trees. Snow drifts like powdered sugar down the mountainside in winter.

Life in PJ Picklelime's village is always a little out of the ordinary...just like PJ herself.

There's the day that Lemon Pie, a yellow warbler, came to live in her bushy crop of black hair and the morning when PJ cut her hair to help mop up an oil spill. There's the afternoon she made sweet, memory-filled lemonade that drew people from blocks away, and the night she chatted with owls in a barn full of honey.

But PJ's spring is not all roses and rainbows, and after Lemon Pie flies away, PJ's parents split up, and a friend dies unexpectedly, PJ turns to her neighbors, with their philosophies from all over the world, for help in understanding. Can PJ find a way to recover her sunshine?

Pamela Ferguson's debut children's novel is a treat to read, a light-hearted tale of magical realism that moves between joy and sorrow to find meaning in the roller-coaster experiences of life.

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

PJ Picklelime jumped into my life quite by chance during editorial sessions with co-author and dear friend Debra Duncan Persinger, PhD while we crafted the anthology Sand to Sky – Conversations with Teachers of Asian Medicine (iUniverse, 2008) during 2006.

Both Debra and I had the sort of uncontrollably wildly bushy hair that was the despair of our mothers. We joked about this over editorial breakfasts of toast and lime marmalade and lunches of cheese-and-pickle sandwiches. Our hair could have nested birds!

The name Pickle+Lime just popped into my head! I said what fun it would be to craft a story around our musings and a very active and strong-minded little girl called "PJ Picklelime."

Debra said, "Get cracking!"

I had never written anything for children before (my nine prior books were all adult fiction and nonfiction, including major textbooks in my field of Asian Medicine). However, I used to create endless stories for my nieces when they were kids. One of my specializations is in Asian Bodywork Therapy is Pediatrics, so I have worked with kids of different ages for several years, though I've never met anyone like PJ!

Initially, I thought I would just write a short story about PJ Picklelime who hides and rehabs a lost yellow warbler called "Lemon Pie" in her bushy hair. But nine-year-old PJ refused to let me go.

And how prophetic that was. Because in my first story, written in 2006, an oil spill off PJ's local beach prompts her to cut off her tangled curls to help fill hair booms needed to mop up the oil spill--exactly like the currently rallying cry from San Francisco based organization Matter of Trust for hair to help fill booms to mop up the Gulf oil disaster.

That opening theme went on to set the book. PJ continues to help rehab other birds and animals, who become secondary characters. Lemon Pie, the yellow warbler, helps rehab gulls orphaned by the oil spill before he journeys across the ocean to new adventures off the east coast of Southern Africa. One scene rolled into another quite spontaneously in my imagination.

As oceans have played a large part in my upbringing in Cornwall (UK) and Cape Town (South Africa) and countless ocean crossings, it was a joy to bring the characters of the ocean and seagulls into PJ's life.

Human secondary characters evolved easily out of the very global collection of neighbors and friends surrounding PJ in a village of computer experts employed by a company in a country I never actually identify. PJ interacts with Mrs. Patel from Madras, India, Mrs. Martins from Cape Town, South Africa, Ms. Lenz from Basel, Switzerland, and Mr Santos from Seville Spain, among a range of neighbors and teachers from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist backgrounds. As my own life has been global, I loved crafting such a mixed microcosm of characters.

All play a crucial role in PJ's eventual mystical quest when she grapples her way through her parents' separation and the sudden death of a friend.

In many ways, I discovered that PJ asks the same questions and seeks the same eclectic range of wise friends and animals that I sought as a nine year old. She also races around on a bicycle and does crazy things like sliding out of her window at night to look at the moon and search for owls. I was like that as a child. But my protagonist really created herself with very little effort on my part!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

Interestingly enough, one of the reviewers of Sunshine Picklelime on praised my involvement of tech details, none of which were domineering but happened quite spontaneously during the writing.

My great editor, Jen Arena at Random House, advised me to avoid specific brand names, which made perfect sense, but turned out to be quite a challenge when a brand name (like Flip) also described the camera. We overcame this by using terms like "a little palm-size camcorder." Yes, the kids in Sunshine Picklelime listen to music on their laptop in a tree house, they upload their news clips from camcorder to local media websites, they use cell phones, but not obsessively so.

Tech items date very quickly. So, it's vital to use terms and items that won't date too quickly, but balance themselves in universal thoughts, and descriptions that won't date at all, like fun lessons in nature or the weather.

Also PJ Picklelime watches in fascination when neighbor Mrs Patel uses a stick shift in her VW Beetle--quite a contrast to PJ's parents' cars with their automatic gears. We forget that young kids grow up with modern gadgets but actually get a kick out of seeing things that work in different ways. Writers can certainly weave these contrasts into modern texts quite effectively.

The six-year-old daughter of a friend of mine was fascinated recently by my old 1990 Toyota--where she used a handle instead of a button to "roll the windows up or down" and she could push or pull the door lock. Nothing happened automatically. Doors didn't lock or open collectively but had to be done individually. She was so excited, she called her Dad to describe all of the above in detail regarding "Pam's cool car."

This was wonderfully surprising for me as it meant I was on the right track when my character PJ was fascinated by an old VW with a stick shift!

So, no, I don't worry at all about my book becoming outdated.

Similarly, a friend emailed me from Rome, Italy to say her grandson was fascinated by the long metal activator she used to light her gas stove. His parents' stove lit up at the push of a button.

So maybe this will encourage more writers to spark the imagination of their young readers with a few technical contrasts from the past. I think I'll throw a little portable clackity-clack typewriter owned by some eccentric character into my next book, to show a contrast to, say, an iPad!

In short, writers don't need to fall over themselves to include super high-tech gadgets. Just let them appear spontaneously in appropriate moments. As writing for children is a gift for anyone with a florid imagination, authors can have a lot of fun creating super high-tech items not yet on the market. Or, to be environmentally conscious, introduce characters who use items like solar-powered radios or laptops.

Writers can also craft some forward-looking comment like, "she knew her daughter would be using an item X the size of a thumbnail when she reached college."

Or, if a character uses earphones obsessively for work, study, communicating with friends, etc., a parent could express anxiety about the impact on their hearing down the line (yes, a very real problem), not to mention the dangers of listening to iPods or taking phone calls while walking or cycling in traffic.

So, by adding some real concern, or some character insight prompted by a specific tech item, or by building humor into a scene involving some ridiculous misuse of a high-tech item--"Grandpa kept telling the TomTom to switch CDs"--a writer can devise ways to move the story along without a fear of sounding dated.

Cynsational Notes

From Random House: Only a person who has lived as richly as Pamela Ellen Ferguson could create such a textured work of fiction. She was born in Mexico, grew up in Britain and South Africa, and has lived and worked in over a dozen world capitals.

A former journalist in London's Fleet Street, she is now a leading instructor in Zen Shiatsu, and her books for adults, both fiction and nonfiction, have been translated into several languages.

Pamela lives in Austin, Texas, surrounded by a garden with cacti as tall as trees. Sunshine Picklelime is her first book for children.

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