Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Scary Movies (Not)

The good news: finished the first full read through and am pulling together a clearer, more streamlined ending.

The eh news: keying in is taking forever, and it's extraordinarily hot in the sunroom.

Context: watched "Hairspray," starring Rikki Lake, and "Erin Brochovich," starring Julia Roberts while keying in. Both enjoyable but possibly need to raid my scary movie collection for something more mood appropriate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Good Intentions

What I had meant to do today: read and cut from my last chapter then key in changes while watching two Netflix DVDs ("Erin Brochovich," starring Julia Roberts and "Hairspray." starring Rikki Lake).

What I did: go to PO Box, grocery store, Goodwill (three jackets), talk to my mama and grandmama, split a bottle of red on the terrace with Greg.

Tomorrow, I have to deal with James about the gutters and will hope for better progress. I'm thinking of killing one fewer major characters.

Next fall, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes has a new book coming out, titled Snakecharm.

Also check out: Mystery Writing With Joan Lowery Nixon. I miss JLN. She was so nice to me at my first TLA. Old-school graciousness at its best.

Monday, September 27, 2004

I Love The Nightlife

Firmly in the groove now. I can tell because I kept waking up in the night with ideas about the love story thread. I don't know if any of them will make it to the manuscript, but just in case I was afraid to go back to sleep and risk forgetting in the morning.

So, at about four a.m., I grabbed an extra yellow thank you card envelope and red pen from my desk to take back with me to the nightstand.

I have no idea why I hadn't been prepared in the first place, but I sort of forgot what it's like once you're really sucked in. Ideas just hit and you have to do something with them, if only as a precaution.

This morning, I copied them back over onto the notepad I'm keeping in the manuscript folder, and really, there's some potential there, including a logical explanation for a key character scene that otherwise would've had to have been cut entirely as part of the plot re-focus. Encouraging.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Red Ink

Page 136, halfway through this read, not enough red ink in the world. Cried through Extreme Makeover: The Home Edition.

Latest discovery: the bar at Jeffrey's in Old West Austin on West Lynn. Half price appetizers at happy hour. What can I say? It's research.

Shaun of The Dead

Cutting is ongoing. The decisions seem crystal clear. The edits definitely are improving the landscape, but... Yikes! I'm worried that when I get done nothing will be left, but that's just fear talking. It's a (too) long manuscript. This'll do wonders for the pacing.

Told my friend Sean about "Shaun of the Dead," which he's supposedly viewing today. I look forward to a full report.

Saturday, September 25, 2004


I'm trimming my manuscript, on the second section now.

I'm also taking the occasional break to watch of the the E! 101 Staralicious Makeovers segments. It seems appropriate because in some ways the novel is about two "staralicious" (great word) makeovers.

This has led me to a pop-culture breakthrough conclusion.

Michael Jackson is a vampire.

Think about it.

It's the only logical explanation.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Bat By Bat

Am I freaking out?

No, I'm sure it was just an accident that I accidentally knocked my tea glass into the granite counter, causing it to burst into a thousand fairly invisible shards all over the sink, kitchen tile, and breakfast room hardwoods.

I'm also pretty sure that even though I got up early to start working, it was really necessary for me to watch a romantic comedy ("Chasing Liberty") on DVD and talk to my mother and whatever else I managed to do until about 2 p.m.

But then I remembered that I'd already broken the whole thing into a to-do list and just started in on cutting. Shifting voice, trimming exposition, simplifying fantasy element.

That's enough to get me into it, and I can already see where additions need to go.

What I'm most worried about is adding more police scenes because of the need for the background in Crim Pro. What is the one standard 1L class that Michigan doesn't require?

You guessed it. And I didn't take it as an elective either.

I'm asking friends for recommendations, and Page has already come through with a handful of names--any of whom I'm sure would know the basics in Texas.

But big picture I'm back in. Really working with the manuscript, taking it bat by bat.

As a sidenote, Trick-Or-Treat for Unicef has expanded it's Halloween night fundraiser to a month-long national education program, raising the awareness of children about their world and how to make it better.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Gothic Beauty and Batman

Picked up my comics (for fun) and a copy of Gothic Beauty magazine (for research) today at Dragon's Lair and am pleased that everyone finally seems to accept that, even though I'm a female person, I'm not (just) buying the books for Greg. The cynic in me fears this will last only until they hire a new male salesclerk, but I love them all anyway. The Batman "War Games" crossover is quite good. Per expectations, I hate Tarantula and am most distressed about the whole Nightwing/Oracle break-up. How's that for girly?

In other news, I'm about to begin applying the office supplies.

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Dino Decapitation And Office Supplies

I'm most distressed to report that vandals pushed Mangiasaurus Rex, the dinosaur on top of Mangia's Pizza on Guadalupe Street (the drag), off the roof and onto the parking lot where his head, tail, and at least two limbs broke off! Bad vandals! Never mind that I don't eat pizza; Mangiazilla is an Austin institution. Please note that there is a $1,000 reward for any related info.


More personally, I met with Anne at Sweetish Hill about her middle grade fantasy, combed through the second two pages of my revision letter, typed up my to-do list based on the comments, and--this is very exciting--went shopping for office supplies at Office Depot on South Lamar.

I take my office supplies very seriously.

No way am I attempting to revise again without virgin office supplies.

I purchased a Globe-Weis 3.5", expandable legal three pack of wallets for the version of the manuscript in revision, red and purple two pocket Mead folders (one for the letter, the other for my to-do list), a packet of turquoise, yellow, hot pink, and purple Post-It notes as page markers (because what is life without color coding), and a package of tri-color, heart-shaped Post-Its (because I'm all about the love, baby!). However, I'm most thrilled about the package of three sheets of Mrs. Grossman's stickers in various friendly bat designs.

Dinner was chicken tacos at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard; watched the season premier of "Smallville" with much appreciation for the Margot Kidder cameo.

Junk DNA (Dialogue, Narration, Analysis)

When confronted with a revision letter, what to do is to boil down the comments into a more manageable checklist so you can evaluate and apply them. Otherwise, you try to take in the whole thing at once and become overwhelmed.

I'm noticing as I do this today, that some of the flags are related to things I thought I was supposed to be doing per the last letter and misinterpreted (dumb Cyn).

Some are related to aspects of the story I thought were well delineated, but clearly are confusing to anyone who is not me (also dumb Cyn).

And some of the flags are related to things I was doing in previous but now defunct versions of the mythology (even dumber Cyn).

This is what I mean by Junk D.N.A. It's dialogue, narration, and analysis (or exposition) that's no longer relevant after revision that you don't catch because you're too close to the manuscript.

What happens with so many readings is that you get too familiar with certain passages and your eye skims over them, even when they no longer apply, especially when the manuscript is hot. Hot, meaning something you've been working on steadily.

Right now, after five-and-a-half-months stagnant, my manuscript is ice cold and they all stand out. It's embarrassing.

I'm embarassed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


The Hallmark Channel is showing a mini-series, Frankenstein, billed as a "classic tale of undying love."

And, to think, I remember when Hallmark was making movies like Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Dinner last night with G at Katz's, one of Austin's handful of 24-hour restaurants. Something about them makes the night here so much more alive.

Hm. Make that, "It's alive! It's alive!"

Monday, September 20, 2004

Bet Me

"What happened to 'Bibbity bobbity boo'?" Cal asked Min.
"That was Disney, honey," Min said. "It wasn't a documentary."
--from Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie (St. Martin's, 2004)

Ah, at last. Just when I'd given up on the romance genre completely (other than Nicole, of course), here comes Min. A carb-eater with a healthy sense of self who isn't dying to give up all of her dreams to breed in return for a mega-SUV in the fungiburbs.

Fearful of my editorial letter, I zipped it safely into a folder and indulged in retail therapy at Top Drawer Thrift on Burnett Road by the soon-to-be-no-longer Dragon's Lair location. "All proceeds benefit Project Transitions, a 501(c)3 non-profit agency providing hospice and housing to people living with HIV/AIDS."

For $34, I found seven garmets that make me look sassy and darling. Seriously. If you're an Austinite, check it out.

Note: Dragon's Lair keeps moving farther north (to Round Rock) and farther south (to San Antonio). Sigh.

Editorial Letter

Eeeek! Did I say I was eager for my editorial letter? Yes, I did.

Here it is, this afternoon, via email, four pages, single spaced.

She tells me, among other things, not to repeat myself. Again and again and--wait!

She repeats herself, too.

Hm. She's right. It isn't necessary.

What else? Terrifying use of bold face. Bold face has never seemed so intimidating.

Okay, it's not that bad. Or bad at all. A number of the suggestions are already clicking, inspiring new imaginings. New scenes. More clarity. Ripping away all those self-protective layers. Wicked smart editor. Very helpful. Kind of personally unsettling, though, even as it's professionally empowering.

I'm supposed to show more vulnerability on the death of the parents.

My own dad died just this past month and on a date that already was set up in the novel as significant.

If anything, I may have too much vulnerability to tap into.

The Teeny Tiny Ghost And The Monster

I've been particularly dreary of late, so a recommended read for the youngest set:

The Teeny Tiny Ghost And The Monster by Kay Winters, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (HarperCollins, 2004). The third and latest in Winters' and Munsigner's Teeny Tiny Ghost Books is a not-so-frightful delight and a celebration of the creative spirit. Ages 4-up. Look also for the previous books in the series: The Teeny Tiny Ghost and Whooo's Haunting The Teeny Tiny Ghost.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Austin Setting

Though it's one of the brightest (literally and metaphorically) of literary landscapes, books set in Austin--or, for that matter, in the central time zone--are rare. This is especially true of novels about young adults; however, the fates have gifted us with a recent gem:

MY ROAD TRIP TO THE PRETTY GIRL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD by Brian Yansky (Cricket, 2003). In this journey to the self (and from Iowa to Austin), Simon’s struggling to keep things together. He’s skating the law, recently dumped, and dealing with a dad who just doesn’t understand. Overwhelmed, he hits the road to find his biological parents and wisdom about evil advertisers, scary giants, witches, ETs, friendship, nature/nurture, and, well, pretty girls. One part magic, two parts tall tale, this YA debut is one to read and remember. Ages 12-up. Yansky's novel has received tremendous attention, including nods from the Texas Institute of Letters, which honored it as the winner in the YA division, and League of Texas Writers, finalist in longer works, award programs.


I had a dream last night wherein I was sitting on a yellow, 1950s couch next to a very old woman with flowing white hair and blue eyes. She was talking, not to me, but to the distance, about nothing of consequence. Then she turned and said something that was upsetting enough (I don't remember what) for me to flee from the couch to my husband, who was sitting across the room. Her head began to shrink to the size of an orange as her hair fell out, and she become more verbal, more threatening. Looking for a weapon, I found a spoon, which I threw at her only to have it ricochet back at me. I threw it again, and this time it came back with one of her eyes in it. Again, and on the third time, it returned with a piece of her head, which stuck to my hand, and I couldn't shake it off. That's when I woke up. No more suburban chain Tex-Mex for me.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


Fear feels largely numb perhaps because the alternative would be too overwhelming. It aches in the joints and creates a hollowness in the belly. It worms its way into the neck muscles and holds them tight. It isolates. It steals your air away from you.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Books For Treats

Books For Treats is a neat trick-or-treat program, designed to encourage folks to give gently used books to kids for Halloween. Basically, feed their brains healthy stories rather than their bodies cavity-causing sweets. No bad there.

Critique group tonight at Anne's. Sean went to the conference last weekend where my new editor was speaking, so I'm especially looking forward to his report. Neither Greg nor I have anything new to share, but both of them should be closing in on full drafts to read. Possibly last drafts before sending. Very exciting.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Author's Note?

Obviously, I'm too eager to sink back into my manuscript because, essentially, I've been playing with rewriting a tentative author's note. Tentative in the sense that I've yet to mention a note to my editor at all, and she may hate the idea.

It's satisfying, though, at this stage to look at my early influences and think about how they may be reflected in the manuscript.

In the introduction to Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales (which I'm reading now and so far like best Vivian Vande Velde's "Morgan Roehmar's Boys" and M.T. Anderson's "Watch and Wake"), anthologist Deborah Noyes writes, "The differences may be academic, but it's probably more accurate to think of gothic as a room within the larger house of horror. It's decor is distinctive. It insists on the burden of the past. It also gleefully turns our ideas of good and evil on end."

In an earlier post on "horror" versus "gothic fantasy," I found myself leaning toward the latter mostly based on the poetry and connotations of the specific words. But Noyes' analysis drives more to the heart of the matter.

I have no interest in too clearly crafted good and evil stories. If fantasy is a metaphor for reality, for humanity, most everything intriguing falls somewhere in between. Certain conventions, traditions, provide a framework, a lulling familiarity, but what keeps us turning pages is the storyteller's surprise. What haunts us, changes us, is how we recognize ourselves in the otherworld.

I suppose, through the dark veil, "burden" of the past feels more true. But as a writer, I see it more as a gift, an inheritance. Even a responsibility. I hope that reading my novel will lead the audience back to the earlier gothic masters, the pre-existing folklore, the other influences juxtaposed to offer the novel it's twist. Perhaps an author's note then is a good idea, a tool to point the way through the shadows. Or maybe I'm just being self-indulgent.

Hm. If nothing else, it would give the librarians and reviewers something to chew on. They're all geeky academic sorts like me.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Promoting cynsations and spookycyn

Satisfied that I'll keep it up, I've enabled the link to spookycyn on my profile, and I've registered both blogs with such indexes as Popdex.

Essentially, spookycyn focuses on my gothic fantasy work while cynsations is more globally about writing, reading, and the life that goes with both.

Countdown to Revision

My contrite new editor told me that I should be getting my revision letter by the end of this week. (This weekend, she's at a writer's conference somewhere else in Texas--along with Sean and Stephanie, who'll hopefully fill me in.) Anyway, Deborah is speaking with Michael Stearns, whose work I adore. Nice guy, too.

The truth is that it was kind of a relief having some time to enjoy WriteFest and bask in the sale before digging back in. Plus, with my father's death, I haven't really been emotionally up to writing fiction this past month, and, in any case, the related logistical responsibilities wouldn't allow it.

Now, though, I'm looking forward to sinking back into that world. I made a few shuffling gestures over the past few days, getting my notes together, etc. Reminding myself of the back story that is unknown to my protagonist, the kind of detail that adds dimension and believability.

Planning like any good, little O-C author... I'm tempted to handle the whole thing ritualistically. You know, curl up with the letter on the day bed in the sun room, put on a creepish music CD, reread the entire mss as is and then study the letter. Yeah, that sounds just right.

Hm. I better get in gear and order some new creepish music for delivery or, better yet, cruise over to Waterloo Records and just start shopping.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


Currently reading:

Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2004). Features stories by Joan Aiken, M.T. Anderson, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Celia Rees, Janni Lee Simner, Vivian Vande Velde, and Barry Yourgrau. Worth the price of the book for the introduction, though the collection is wickedly outstanding. Highly recommended.

Surf over to: the Web site tie in to Kinley MacGregor's multi-monster verse romance novels. My fave character: Simi! (Or else, I'm sure).

Darke Place: Yvonne's Navarro's Web site. I first learned of her work by reading one of her Buffy novelizations focussing on Willow; YN is a fantastic and imaginative writer.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Annette Curtis Klause

Found a couple of sites that may be of interest:

Rupert Giles and Search Tools for Wisdom in Buffy the Vampire Slayer by GraceAnne A. DeCandido, MLS. Find out about this TV "Hero Librarian" and why The Internet Public Library has named all of its office computers after characters in the show. Also don't miss Buffy Studies.

Princess Wolf: The Unofficial Annette Curtis Klause site.

I had the honor of interviewing Annette for my site a few years ago. See as follows:

Annette Curtis Klause is the author of critically acclaimed middle grade and young adult horror and science fiction novels. Her books include ALIEN SECRETS (Delacorte, 1993), BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (Delacorte, 1999), and THE SILVER KISS (Delacorte, 1990). Most recently, her short story, "Summer of Love" is featured in THE COLOR OF ABSENCE: 12 STORIES ABOUT LOSS AND HOPE edited by James Howe (Atheneum, 2001). This interview with young adult book author Annette Curtis Klause was conducted via email in December 2001.

09/04 update: Klause fans are abuzz with rumors of a "Blood and Chocolate" movie. Cross your fangs!

What could you tell us about your childhood experiences as a writer?

Well, I was always writing, that I can say, and I still have some of those early tales.

For example, I have my very first book, GYPSY CAT. It was a chapter book about a cat owned by Gypsies (of course), and illustrated in clunky felt pen. I wrote it when I was about nine or ten. Just to show I must have always had ambitions to be a published author, I taped all the pages together on the left side, and made a front and back cover. (The tape is all yellow and crackly now.) On the back cover, I listed the names of the other books in the series--even though I hadn't written them. I did go on to write one other, but the rest of the series never came to be.

A couple of years later, when I started to write a book inspired by Jack London's novels WHITE FANG and CALL OF THE WILD, I gave it the same treatment with tape down the left side. It was called LONE WOLF. I never finished that one, though.

Teachers were very encouraging about my writing, and my parents were very supportive. My father even brought home an ancient typewriter for me to use.

I found it was a mistake to tell kids my age that I wrote, however. They just thought I was weird. The plays I wrote to put on for the class with my girlfriend made people laugh, but didn't earn me party invites; and after a student teacher let me read aloud my collected horror stories about THE BLOOD RIDDEN POOL OF SOLEN GOOM, the kids in my class actively tortured me in the school yard. I stopped sharing my writing so much after that.

Even so, a girl I knew as a young teen called me Shakespeare. I think it was supposed to be friendly teasing, but it really irritated me. I'm afraid I was an overly sensitive child.

What were you like as a teenager, writing and otherwise?

I still have a lot of the soppy love poems I wrote as a teenager. I cringe when I read them but, "He was cute, though," I say to myself, remembering the inspiration. I also have some journals and diaries I wrote. When I wasn't being smitten by unrequited love, I was trying to be witty and sophisticated. I realize how shallow I was when I read them and alternate between being embarrassed and laughing affectionately at myself. I actually kept a top ten of boys which I updated regularly. Thank God no one ever got hold of those things and used them against me.

When I was fifteen, we moved from England to the United States. It was the sixties and I became terminally cool. I wore bell-bottom jeans and a head band, and walked around barefoot in the summer. That drove my parents nuts.

"Why don't you wear something nice?" my mother would say.

"But I'm saving you so much money," I'd reply.

The Amoeba, Aiden's friends in BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE were based on my group of friends known as The Blob. We used to go to free rock concerts in the park, and some of us would talk our way in free to pay concerts by flirting with the bouncers.

Could you tell us a bit about your path to publication?

Long, winding, and rocky. Ha! Ha!

Whew! Let me think. I won't count school magazines. Well, first I had some poetry published in small science fiction magazines and a couple in Cats Magazine (don't tell serious poets), then I had a lot of rejections for my fantasy and horror short stories, and finally the leader of my writing group talked me into writing a novel. "Annette, your short stories are not short," he told me. "You want to write a novel."


I fought that for a while because I couldn't imagine finishing a whole novel, but finally I gave in. I knew I wanted to write for teenagers, so I thought about what I was into when I was 14 or 15.

I remembered a sequence of poems I wrote after reading my first vampire book. It was called THE SAGA OF THE VAMPIRE and was about two vampire brothers feuding over a teenage girl. I dug out those poems (Yes, I still have them), and when I finished laughing at how bad they were, I stole from myself.

That was the beginnings of THE SILVER KISS, my first published novel. My writing group teacher loved it so much, he asked his editor to read it, and she called me up! Wow! A real editor talked to me. But she had a serious criticism.

"You're really inside the head of the vampire," she said to me. "I can really feel where he's coming from. It's the teenage girl you need to work on. I don't know what that says about you."

I spent a year working on characterization and revising that book, then I sent it back to her. Sadly, she then didn't want to buy it for her imprint. But she had done me a big favor, nevertheless. The book was so much stronger.

I began sending it out and actually received personal letters, and another phone call! I knew I was on to something.

What finally happened was an editor from School Library Journal, (a magazine I had reviewed for, and had written some articles for) wrote to say he was now an editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, but would like to keep in touch. Editors like to hear from librarians what books kids are asking for. "Aha! Little does he know, but I have a manuscript," I thought. The rest is history.

You talk about the relationship between your work as a librarian and your writing on a page from Authors Among Us: Children's Writers Who Are Or Have Been Librarians at:

What jobs did you have before you became either a librarian or author? Did any of them teach you anything or introduce you to people who influence your work today?

Let's see. I was a waitress for a month and discovered that I hated being subservient and that Nuns don't tip much. It made me realize I should stay in college so I could do anything rather than that again.

In college I posed nude for art classes. It paid better than most student jobs. It taught me that it's pretty chilly in a "temporary" hut left over from WWII in the middle of winter when you're stark naked. I traveled with a kitchen timer and a space heater. The long poses gave me plenty of time to create poetry in my head.

The experience certainly helped me free myself from inhibitions and look at creativity in new ways. One teacher had me climbing bars up the wall (that studio used to be a gym) wearing a child's plastic GI helmet and flippers and nothing else, while he projected a rocket ship taking off on me and played at top volume the electronic version of Beethoven's 9th from the soundtrack to A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. "Capture her movements! Capture her!" he cried to his students.

I pitied them, but I was having a great time.

For a while I had a job putting security strips down the spines of books in the Graduate library. The job was called "Stripper". It was funny when one of the supervisors called out, "We need five more strippers on the 4th floor." You should have seen people's faces as we filed out. I guess that taught me that language can deceive.

My resume looked very interesting for a while.

As a librarian and author, you must read a lot. What types of children's and young adult books do you enjoy most and why? Who are some of your favorite authors and why?

Actually, I find I am reading less, because much of my spare time is taken up by writing or writing related business. I miss it. I'm afraid I am very behind, so don't expect any hot tips. Thank goodness for books on tape.

I still try to read a little of everything in children's and YA books, although I must admit a preference for the strange and unusual. I enjoy the Lemony Snickett books, for instance, since they remind me of Edward Gorey, another favorite author and illustrator, and the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey make me laugh out loud.

I love fantasy, of course. Two of my favorite fantasy writers for young people are Margaret Mahy and Diana Wynn Jones. I find both to be creative, intelligent, and skillful writers. I have just finished THE AMBER SPYGLASS by Philip Pullman. What a great end to the trilogy (HIS DARK MATERIALS), but so sad. I found the books to be wonderfully written, subversive and glorious. I am so grateful that he and his publisher give young people credit for intelligence.

I also enjoy science fiction, horror and suspense. I thought THE KILLER'S COUSIN by Nancy Werlin was a real page turner. I love a bit of romance mixed in with my fantasy and horror, which is why I like THE CHANGEOVER by Margaret Mahy and OWL IN LOVE by Patrice Kindl. I enjoy gore, so THIRSTY by M.T. ANDERSON was a hit with me. I've liked the books by Vivian van de Velde I've read because of her sense of humor, and I am jealous of her great titles--I want to steal them. I know there are tons of other books I could mention, and it would depend on the day and the mood I was in what I would come up with.

CLSCLR features a bibliography of recommended horror and suspense titles. Occasionally, we'll receive an e-mail from someone concerned that we're trying to recruit vampires (which we only do between dusk and dawn) or werewolves (which we only do on nights of a full moon)(yes, we're kidding). Have you encountered any resistance to the subject matter of your books, and if so, how have you responded to it?

Well, now and again at conferences or on speaking engagements someone will tell me that they hate any form of science fiction, fantasy and horror. They usually imply that it's because these genres are somehow inferior; I think it's because they have no imagination, poor things.

I just nod politely and agree that we all have different tastes. More often, someone will say, "I hate Science Fiction but I loved ALIEN SECRETS," or "I hate horror but I loved THE SILVER KISS."

So, I think of my books as being rather subversive; they point out to people that it only depends on the book in that genre that you happen to read. I have had no one say to me face to face that I am recruiting disciples of the devil, thankfully.

I'm a little worried about people who actually think that vampires and werewolves exist, and a writer could actually recruit them. It's nice to know that someone thinks I am that powerful but...give me a break, they are just metaphors I use for the human condition.

Have any of your books been banned or received any critical publicity, and if so, how did you respond to that?

My book THE SILVER KISS was pulled from the Sequoyah award ballot in one town in Oklahoma the year it was nominated. The award committee was furious. I won anyway--nyah nyah nyah, nyah nyah! I only found out after the fact, so I wasn't too worried. My book BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE was challenged in Greenville, South Carolina and La Porte, Texas.

Perhaps this has happened other places, too, but, these were instances where their local newspapers called me. I believe it was pulled from middle schools in Greenville, but the fight is still going on in Texas, and they have pulled my book from the middle school and high school until it's resolved. So it is like being censored.

As I have reported elsewhere, the woman who is trying to get BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE out of the schools in La Porte, Texas called me up at work to tell me it wasn't personal! That showed a great deal of either nerve or naivete on her part. I didn't know what to say at first.

What reactions to your work have you received from teens?

I will always remember my first fan letter in which a young lady said--"I, too, would surrender my neck to Simon."

"Yeah!" I thought. "Exactly."

I get letters from girls who have read my books over and over and over--what a wonderful compliment. I also get letters and e-mail from boys who are in love with Vivian--hah! and my writing group thought that was a girl book.

My husband does Internet searches on me and finds fan sites and great reviews by kids on school web pages. It's all very encouraging, and makes all the hard work worthwhile. A few girls who tracked me down by e-mail years ago still report in and tell me about their lives. I feel honored by that.

My big regret is I don't have time to answer letters very quickly. I feel guilty about that, since people took the time to write to me--but it's impossible! I don't want to send a form letter, but writing a personal letter takes time.

Two of your books are for older teenagers. It's not unusual to hear concern about the upper YA market. What do you see as its challenges and what ways would you suggest to face them?

The challenge is walking the fine line between truth and what the publishers, parents, and the more conservative librarians want to hear.

We all know that teen language is much spicier than some adults want to admit and they may experiment with some dangerous aspects of life as they find their place in the world. The challenge is to have characters that sound and act real without being accused of promoting promiscuity, bad language and rampant drug use.

I suppose balance is the answer--if one shows questionable behavior, sometimes it helps to also show the possible consequences. One can show real life behaviors considered negative as long as there is perspective in the narrative that implies this may not be the best way of handling things. I hate didactic books, though, so I am not suggesting writing moral tracts that justify illustrating lurid behavior, I only mean some subtle writing that makes it clear this is illustration not promotion. The language need only be implied ("He cursed", "She spat a foul word") many places, with a few actual swear words for effect here and there.

There is no need to include every curse word a teen may interject in conversation, as little as there is any need to include every "like", "ugh", and "Uh". (Unless you are trying to make a specific point about the character that is.)

On the other hand, some things like sexual feelings, are universally true in adolescence, and I am not about to ignore them or pretend there is something wrong. The feelings exist--it's what you do with them that counts. Sometimes people make unsound choices as they find their way, and I'm not about to condemn them for that, just show in some way what it meant for them so the reader can make an assessment.

What are the particular writing challenges of horror and sci fi stories? What suggestions do you have for writers? What appeals to you about these types of stories?

The challenge is to make over the top situations seem like they could actually happen. The way you go about this is to make all the things that surround the unusual events and situations as real as possible. Creepy stories are always more effective when they happen to believable people in everyday surroundings. Stories set in space work when the characters are normal people reacting in ways that you and I would.

I like those genres because I want to escape from the everyday world and explore possibilities. I find it much more fun to experience vicarious chills and explore the future in my mind. Why would I want to write about everyday life? I already live there. There is so much room for commenting on the human psyche when one writes horror. And in SF, one can have adventures and stretch one's perception of the universe all from a cozy chair-- the perfect way to adventure for a scaredy cat.

Of late, there has been some debate in the children's literature community about the importance or inappropriateness of stories that touch on violence or horrific themes. It's somewhat reminiscent of the withdrawal of monster movies from Hollywood after the attack on Pearl Harbor so many years ago. What is your take on this emotional dynamic as related to young adult literature?

Reading about violence and horror is a way for a person to not only clarify their stance on moral issues by exploring the alternatives (and in doing so give license to the antisocial creature within in a safe venue) but to exercise their responses to the terrible and be prepared for it in real life.

It is foolish to try and sanitize literature and the arts under some mistaken idea that one is protecting youth. Children and teens need to explore the dark side as a healthy part of growing. If a child is protecting from everything dreadful, he will have no coping mechanisms in place when finally confronted with disaster.

I don't mean that anything goes, however. I still think there are limits in what should be presented in children's literature based on a child's cognitive level and life experience. I don't want to traumatize young people. But I think they are capable of dealing with much more than some people give them credit for.

Do you have any interest in writing contemporary or historical realism?

I'm afraid every time I do, a fantastic element creeps in anyway. I just can't do it straight. The book I am writing now is historical, and has weird enough characters without going beyond reality, but I just had to insert a turn of the screw--can't help it.

For you, what is the hardest part of being a writer?

Actually writing.

What do you love about it?

Actually writing.

How is different for you to work on a novel now than it was at the beginning of your career? What have you learned over time and trial? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I spot my mistakes quicker now when it comes to overwriting, grammar, and spelling. I don't have to look things up in a grammar book as often. But it's just as hard to drag that story kicking and screaming onto the page.

It all seems so clear in my head. If only they'd invent some magical machine that could lift those scenes whole from my brain. I have learned to recognize my weaknesses and watch out for them in rewrites. I am looser in the way I construct a book and skip back and forth a little more within chapters and fill in the gaps, although I still tend to write a book chronologically.

I now do first drafts right into the computer instead of doing a hand written first draft. I couldn't live without my computer. If I'd have had to type the final version of my first book, I probably would have given up in frustration and would have never been published. I can't think of anything within my control I would have done differently.

Is it possible to find bits of you in your characters? If so, which one(s) and which bit(s)?

There are bits of me in all my characters--after all, you write what you know the best. Zoe, in THE SILVER KISS, is the shy young teenager I was who found it hard to make friends, and took long walks alone and wrote poetry. Simon, the vampire in that same book, is the side of me that felt alienated and angry because of loneliness.

Puck in ALIEN SECRETS is the side of me as a child who would sometimes do impulsive, crazy things (scaring even myself) and agonize over it later--the girl with a mouth quicker than her brain. There's still a lot of that in me.

Vivian is me in my late teens--angry, seething, frustrated, horny. There was a baser creature inside me who would get loose from the shy girl and do things carnal and wicked--and revel in it.

Where do you work now? How is the space conducive to triggering your imagination?

Often I work in the little room lined with shelves, between the kitchen and the living room, which we laughingly call the breakfast nook, although we eat all our meals there, as the dining room is full of boxes of books and may always be.

I have an office upstairs with a PC, but my husband likes to use that one, so I work on my laptop, on a folding wooden table, in front of a window looking out on the back yard.

I am perfectly happy and cozy here in this corner; I can stare out into the
changing seasons and dream. I have the table we eat on to my left and shelves to my right, and the coffee and refrigerator only a few steps away.

The cats take shifts on the table beside me sleeping or "helping". The only nuisance is having to clear off the table at mealtimes. Sometimes we eat between piles of books and magazines.

I do remove the cats, however.

What advice do you have for aspiring young authors (children and teens)?

The usual--write, write, write; read, read, read. Pay attention to how your favorite writers do what they do. Trust an experienced writer or teacher to read your work and don't freak if they actually say something constructive. You'll get nowhere if all people say is, "isn't that lovely." Listen to what people say when they critique your work. If they say things you don't like, store the information away, anyway. Look back at it later when you have had time to cool. Sometimes you'll see that it makes sense after all, and you can apply that advice to your writing. Sometimes you realize they just didn't get it and you can toss the comment aside. Remember that no first draft is perfect, and you'll spend much of your time revising. Revising is good--at least you're not staring at a blank page.

What about adults interested in breaking into publishing?

Do your research. Look over your manuscript after reading THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk & White, if you have never read that book. Research the proper form in which to submit a manuscript and write a cover letter. There are many useful books on this at the library. Look at WRITER'S MARKET and LITERARY MARKET PLACE and publisher's catalogs to decide what publisher is the right one for your book, and what their requirements for submission are. There are many strict requirements these days. You want to find a publisher who publishes the type of thing you write, but hasn't marketed anything too similar in the last few years.

Join writing organizations like The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. You can get great market information from their newsletters as well as tips on writing. Go to writing conferences and network--if an editor can put a face on your name and remember a friendly conversation, you're ahead of the game. There's lots more stuff--read up on it, don't assume.

Are you interested in speaking to teacher/librarian groups or in school visits?

Yes, in moderation since I have a full-time job and still need time to write.

Is there anything you would like to add?

No, I am all out of thoughts.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Sense Of Place

When I first began writing fiction, crafting children's books, I wrote from the places of my own childhood--Oklahoma and Kansas and Kansas City. One of my short stories was also set in Estes Park, Colorado, where I vacationed with my parents each summer. The one exception would be, Indian Shoes, the early reader chapter book set in Chicago, which I wrote in Austin, and it's the last of that phase of my work.

I can clearly remember thinking the first time I lived here that I'd love to write something set in real Austin, but I just didn't know it well enough yet. It was so different from that folksy, rural/small-town, extended-family atmosphere that defined my childhood (despite the fungiburb neighborhoods). This place and I had to sort of blend together. Marinate.

Now, looking forward, both my next YA anthology short story and my upcoming gothic fantasy novel are set in the bohemian/arts/hippie/music scene of Central/South Central Austin. Both very South Congress, in fact. They're infinitely edgier, mature, and more confident works. As is everything in development. I'm more interested and increasingly committed to the upper teen/twentysomething perspective.

I'm not sure what this means exactly. I guess you could chart it out and say that in my early stories I returned to the settings of my younger years, and, as I've developed as a writer, I'm shifting fictional stages to those that parallel my own personal growth. It's not that it's any easier to write for younger kids; it's just that my own voice seems to be settling better with older, more grown-up characters and audiences. Of all my inner ages, I seem most stuck on seventeen to eighteen.

But in any case, I don't tend to write outside my own stomping grounds. Not because I think it's a bad idea intrinsically, but just maybe because those are the realities closest to me and that gives me an advantage in crafting believability.

Which, you know, given my subject preferences, can be something of a challenge.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Hair Raising

Phrases my pal Kathi used at lunch today included "hair raising." So, don't you think that one was instigated by shape shifters? Hm. Maybe Kathi is a shape shifter and just not telling me. I could see her as a fair-haired werecat. Meow.

10 year anniversary

Ten years today of marriage for me and Greg. Woo woo! Shopping in Gruene, followed by a rest at the homestead and dinner at Kyoto (sashimi, baby!) and drinks at Shoreline Grill. But those are just the details. Big picture is ten years, and I love Greg more than ever! So my ever after is, in sum, all good.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Fiberoptic Dracula Head

Woo woo! Chills and thrills fans, today I stumbled across a fiberoptic Dracula head at Pecan Street Emporium on Sixth Street. The store also carried a Frank and other miscellaneous items scary and spook-ridden. Boogie your boo selves on down to check it out.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Boris And Bella

A picture book any gothic lit fan will adore: BORIS AND BELLA by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Gris Grimly (Harcourt, 2004). This ghoulish odd couple finds thrills on the dance floor. Great for the young and young at heart, whether it's beating or not.

In fact, I highly recommend all works by Crimi (who by the way was one of the throngs of RL Stine ghost writers), especially her literary trade picture books--even those that aren't spooky. I had the honor of joining her in a critique group back when I lived in Chicago, and the woman simply sparkles.

"Well, I Have Kind Of A Dracula Fetish"

"Well, I have kind of a Dracula fetish," I said by way of explanation to the book seller in the speculative fiction section at BookPeople tonight.

"I'm getting that," he replied, and then went on to chat me up about all manner of books Drac, including a few that aren't in print and a Van Helsing anthology that the store doesn't currently have in stock. The emphasis being on what I wanted to read more than what he had available to sell (not that the selection isn't stellar because it is).

The whole thing was very "Miracle on 34th Street" by way of Transylvania.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Horror Versus Gothic (or Dark) Fantasy

"Horror is not a genre, like the mystery, or science fiction, or the western. It is not a kind of fiction meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or book stores. Horror is an emotion." -- Douglas E. Winter

Let's think about this:

If "[h]orror is an emotion," "not a genre,"...

Hm. I've heard that gothic, or dark, fantasy is a story of what cannot happen, and horror is a story of what can. "Gothic" is generally preferred over "dark," as the idea that "dark equals bad" has a sort of negative racial connotation, which may well be in the literal literary roots, though the optimist in me hopes we're at the point where the reference reflects simply night settings.

In any case, I'm leaning toward "gothic fantasy," just because it sounds so elegant.

I got that Winter quote, by the way, from the Horror Writers Association; it's on their T-shirt. I'm thinking about ordering a couple just for fun. However, for the record, I don't think that mysteries, sci fi, or westerns should be ghettoized either. Sigh.