Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cybils, Voices Rising, Tantalize, and Princess Nevermore

Check out the 2007 nominees for the Cybils in non-fiction picture books, fantasy and science fiction, graphic novels, middle grade-YA non-fiction, middle grade fiction, YA fiction, fiction picture books, and poetry! Get and customize the Cybils widget for your blog or site at JacketFlap! Note: I'm honored that Tantalize is included among the nominees.

Tantalize is also listed among 100 Sizzling Titles at Voices Rising of Cleveland.

Holiday Shopping?

Princess Nevermore Shop at CafePress: check out tops and tees, mugs, buttons, and bears in celebration of Princess Nevermore (Darby Creek, 2006) and Cam's Quest (Darby Creek, 2007), both by Dian Curtis Regan. Read a Cynsations interview with Dian.

Sanguini's Shops at CafePress and Printfection: tees, mouse pads, cutting boards, mugs, magnets, stickers and more in celebration of the fictional vampire restaurant from my latest book, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Read an interview with Sanguini's logo designer Gene Brenek. See also the bibliographies highlighting some of my background reading in preparation for writing the novel (more specifically Gothic fantasy and shape-shifters).

More Personally

Thanks so much to Carolyn and everyone at Westlake High (outside Austin) who participated in my online author visit on Nov. 20! What fun! Note: we used a chat program called Skype that was highly conducive to the event. Learn more about my online author programs and Virtual Visits with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers at Toni Buzzeo's site.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Turkey, Revision, and Books

With my early December deadline howling, GLS and I spent much of the holiday weekend reading my WIP aloud. Today I plan to key in changes. Then I'll read and copy edit one more time before sending off the mss to Candlewick.

We did, however, break for fancy food. For breakfast, we had salmon sashimi, sliced hearts of palm, and deviled eggs. For dinner, we enjoyed turkey, stuffing, green-bean casserole, white corn, and cranberry sauce. Quite yummy.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Writing Full Time

I'm off the road for a good long while now. As much as I enjoyed my various fall speaking events, it's lovely to be able to settle into my final revision of the new novel.

At some point this season, I fell wildly in love with the story. Though I've always liked and believed in the characters, that was long coming (I think) because this has been my busiest year.

I've read through once this weekend, and there's one more art element that I'd like to try, to see if it will smooth a time jump. Then it's mostly a matter of polishing and fact checking. I need to pay particular attention to the calendar within the story. I've moved the time line twice. Thanks to AB for her recent read and encouragement.

Spooky News & Links

My report on the Norman, Oklahoma event is on Cynsations, along with a Native heritage book-and-poster giveaway.

A Moment of Geekery from Barry Lyga (author interview).

"TMS science teacher mixes learning and fun" by Rebecca Lackie from the Taylor Daily Press. Fun, upbeat article focusing on the efforts of teacher and Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spooky News & Links

Enter the November drawing for sets of terrific titles for your youth book club from the Kids' Book Club Book by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krump (Tarcher, 2007). This month's titles are: Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2000) for grades 4 and up, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1997) for grades 5 and up, and A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb (Houghton Mifflin, 2005) for grades 9 and up. Learn more about these books. Up to 15 books per club; entry deadline Nov. 30.

Two new articles for Stephenie Meyer fans: Valley mom sinks her teeth into Gothic romance and finds international fame by Jaimee Rose from the Arizona Republic. See also Series Gets the Blood Racing by Malene Arpe from the Star. Source: Vampire Wire. Read a Cynsations interview with Stephenie.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Author Interview: Alex Flinn on Beastly

From HarperCollins: "Alex Flinn loves fairy tales and made her two daughters sit through several dozen versions of Beauty and the Beast while she wrote this book...then quizzed them on how they thought a beast would meet girls in New York City. She is the author of five previous books: Breathing Underwater (HarperCollins, 2001)(author interview), an American Library Association Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults; Breaking Point (HarperCollins, 2003)(author interview), an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers; Nothing to Lose (HarperCollins, 2005), an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; Fade to Black (HarperCollins, 2004); and Diva (HarperCollins, 2006). She lives in Miami." Read an author essay by Alex.

We last spoke in September 2005, after the release of Fade to Black (HarperCollins, 2005). Could you briefly remind us what it's about?

Fade to Black is about a hate crime against an HIV-positive students. 17-year-old, HIV-positive Alex Crusan has moved to the town of Pinedale and pretty much been ostracized. One Monday morning, an assailant attacks his car as he's driving, breaking the windows and sending Alex to the hospital. The book is written in multiple viewpoints--suspect, victim, witness.

Do you have any updates for us on this title?

Fade to Black, like Breathing Underwater, has become a popular school read, particularly among reluctant readers. It was recently chosen as an International Reading Association Young Adult Choice, a list I particularly relish because it is 30 reader-selected books, so making the list is a guarantee of teen appeal. Here's the full list (PDF).

At that time, you were looking forward to the release of Diva (HarperCollins, 2006). Likewise, could you tell us about this novel and update us on its release and life to date?

Diva is about Caitlin, who just lost thirty pounds and also broke up with her abusive boyfriend, Nick, and is trying to make a fresh start by trying out for a performing arts high school. She is an aspiring opera singer. The novel follows Caitlin's first semester at the school, along with her relationship with Nick, food, and her mother. It is a companion to Breathing Underwater.

It was just released in paperback with a really cool "Extras" section, including an "Are You a Diva?" quiz, as well as a section about how the book relates to my own life as a teen opera singer and performing arts school attendee.

Congratulations on the publication of Beastly (HarperCollins, 2007)(excerpt)! What is the book about?

Beastly is a modern Beauty and the Beast, set in New York City, Manhattan and Brooklyn specifically. Kyle Kingsbury is a prince in his upper-crust prep school, popular, handsome, wealthy, son of a network newscaster. Then, he angers a girl in his class, who turns out to be a witch. She changes him into a beast and tells him he will remain that way forever unless he can find true love in two years. Desperate and abandoned by his wealthy father and his friends, he tries various means (including MySpace) to meet his true love.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Being a mom, I've spent a lot of time on fairy and folk tales, including Beauty and the Beast. The traditional story left me with a lot of questions, including, "Where was the Beast's family when all this was happening?" and "Why would Beauty's father allow her to come and live with the Beast?" Generally, I felt bad for the Beast and wanted to give him a voice.

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed books with the theme of beauty and ugliness, particularly The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). I included these books in Beastly and hope that, in this way, younger readers will discover them.

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

I started writing the book in 2005. It was one of those books that sort of took on a life of its own, with scenes coming to me, out of context, at odd moments. It is the only book I can recall writing where every moment was really pure joy.

I finished much of the first draft by candlelight, following Hurricane Wilma in October, 2005, and wrote the final chapters in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri, where I was attending the YASIG conference (For some reason, I've done some good writing in Kansas City--I've only been there twice, but I also remember writing pivotal scenes in Breathing Underwater when I went there as a lawyer). Revision took about a year after that.

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

The biggest challenge was making it true to the original tale while still being special and different. I used the French le Prince de Beaumont version of the story as the main basis, which is probably the most familiar version to American audiences, but I also read numerous other versions, particularly Betsy Hearne's excellent book, Beauties and Beasts.

Certain elements are common to most versions--the Beast's garden; an act of thievery (usually of a red flower, but in my version the flower is not specifically what is being stolen) on the part of Beauty's father; Beauty being offered to the Beast in exchange for the Father's freedom; a magic mirror, or sometimes, reflective water in which one can watch others, and in which Beauty eventually sees her father; the Beast unselfishly allowing Beauty to break the agreement and return to her father.

In some versions, the Beast has servants, and I knew Kyle would have them in my version because he was otherwise so alone and because he needed wise elders from whom to learn. The book is, essentially, a book about selfishness and learning to be unselfish, so Kyle must learn that selflessness from somebody.

You're well known as an author of contemporary realistic young adult fiction. Why did you decide to write a fantasy novel?

Because it is the novel I wanted to write. I couldn't get it out of my head.

That said, I think this book will probably appeal to readers who liked my other novels. It is realistic in every way except one.

How was the process alike and different from writing your previous manuscripts?

Oddly, the main difference between writing this book and writing others was that this book took place in New York, so I had to learn about locales I hadn't written about before. I knew the Beast would have a castle, so I searched New York real estate ads for the perfect Park Slope brownstone (You can find photos of the Park Slope neighborhood in Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny books (Hyperion)). I also learned a lot about the New York subway system, which baffles me every time I visit the city, but which my character, of course, knows like the back of his hand.

How did it "grow" you as a writer?

It taught me to go where my muse took me. I really balked at writing this book because it was not what I write and, to a degree, I felt I was abandoning my core audience.

As it turned out, I think this book will appeal to that audience--at least from the reaction I get at schools I visit--so I was able to do something different while still appealing to my core reader. I do firmly believe that the book you want to write is always the right book to write.

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

Looking back, I'm actually pretty pleased with who I was as a beginning writer. I knew nothing about the market, so I just wrote what I wanted and what I would have liked to have read when I was in seventh or eighth grade, which is pretty much the advice I give beginning writers I meet.

If anything, I'd like to be able to un-know the stuff I know now. I enjoyed writing so much more before I really knew about reviews and committees and all the adults your book has to impress to get to the reader I envisioned.

What recent books would you suggest for study and why?

Some books I really loved include Inexcuseable by Chris Lynch (Atheneum/Ginee Seo, 2005) and The Rules of Survial (Dial, 2006)(excerpt)(author interview), as well as the fantasy titles below.

And on fantasy specifically?

The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsly (Atheneum, 1999)(author interview) is the book I most often mention to writers as a must-read YA fantasy. I love how the author plunges the reader directly into the character's world (which is populated with both selkies and gremlin-like folk) and makes it seem almost like historical fiction, rather than fantasy.

Generally, I've never been a big fan of the type of high fantasy that features characters in magical worlds, doing battle with forces of evil or creatures of different types (Narnia, the Hobbit). I've read a lot of these books, but they're not my favorite.

I love books that take place in the sort of real world, with some element off-kilter. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series (The Lightning Thief, etc.)(author interview), in which the characters are descended from mythological gods, is a prime example, and also a rare fantasy book that appeals to virtually every element of the YA audience. It is non-intimidating, even to reluctant readers. I hope Beastly can be that way.

Recent retellings I've particularly enjoyed include Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (both HarperCollins), Mette Ivie Harrison's Mira, Mirror (Viking, 2004) and The Princess and the Hound (Eos, 2007)(which, the author tells me, was not meant as a retelling, but which contained elements of both The Princess and the Pea and Beauty and the Beast), and Gail Carson Levine's Fairest (HarperCollins)(author interview).

We first talked in 2001 about the publication of Breathing Underwater (HarperCollins, 2001), which was your debut novel and one of the break-out books of the year. What changes--for better or worse--have you seen in publishing since then? How have you adapted or stayed the course in response?

When Breathing Underwater was published, the main market for hardcover YA was libraries and schools. Yes, the books were carried in bookstores but bookstore sales were more of an added side dish than the main course. Now, there are bookstore sales for YA, but generally only for certain types of YA, typically high fantasy or chick lit, which appeal respectively to gifted kids and/or girls.

The market for books like I write is still the same as it always was, but I worry that that market is now a disappointment to publishers, due to the higher bookstore sales of these two genres. I commend my publisher and some others, who continue to publish books like mine, particularly books which appeal to boys, which are never going to sell 100,000 hardcover copies but which are still needed in the world and which teachers and librarians can recommend to kids.

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

I fit everything in where I can, and sometimes, it is overwhelming.

What one promotion tip would you like to share with fellow authors?

A lot of authors I know do not like to do bookstore signings. I am actually a big fan of the things, because they can have reverberations which the author might not even realize when they are doing them.

If you look at a bookstore signing purely as far as books sold at the event, it is never worth the author's time. So you really can't look at it that way. What you have to look at it as is goodwill and relationship building--getting to know the bookseller, who might be a bookseller at a conference and recommend your books there or who might tell bookseller friends in other towns about your books, which he only read because you were speaking at his store.

Also, if a teacher attends the signing and, based on seeing you speak, decides to use your book with her class, that equals hundreds or even thousands of copies over the years. And if it goes well with her class, she might tell her friends, and they tell their friends, and so on, and so on.

Even if people don't actually attend the signing, the bookseller's promotion of the signing (assuming they did some) will publicize your book and may cause people to buy it at another time. One local bookseller I know has authors sign fifty stock copies at every event--and they sell them. So, to me, getting yourself out there and putting your book in the universe, is definitely worth a few hours.

That said, I don't do bookstore signings unless I feel the bookseller has some plan to get people there or I can get people there myself. I'm also not eating my heart out over my publisher not sending me on a multi-city tour because the cost/benefit analysis of bookstore signings is different if you have to devote substantial amounts of time to the event.

I generally only travel out of town for paid events or large conferences such as NCTE or ALA. However, I do local signings and signings in neighboring counties, and if I happen to be in a city that has good bookstores, I try to set up an event. I think it's worth it.

What do you do when you're not writing?

I read a lot. I have a book discussion group which I recently founded (or, actually, jump-started--we were a group who had met through a mothers of preschoolers organization, but now that our kids are older, we hadn't been meeting).

This month, we are reading The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Penguin, 2005), and yesterday, we went to see "The Jane Austen Book Club" as a group. It was kind of fun because the ten of us were the only people in the theater, so we talked a lot about the movie, during the movie (which, obviously, I can't approve if there are other people present).

I also enjoy running and biking.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am working on a modern Sleeping Beauty retelling. After that, I plan to write another realistic book.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Spooky News & Links

REMINDER: Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26th conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. According to RA Tim Crow, "Not only will critiques and pitches be available for an additional fee, but we are expanding the number of slots available this year, so you can have a second or third manuscript critiqued." See details at Austin SCBWI (scroll to the bottom of the page); registration opened Nov. 1. IMPORTANT NOTE: Due to ISP issues, the Austin SCBWI website has been temporarily off-line of late, please keep trying! Critique spots are limited and going fast!

BookPeople in Austin, Texas, is hiring for several positions. If you are interested in applying for a job, please visit the store soon and fill out an application. Available jobs: part-time and full-time holiday cashiers; part-time information tech; part-time events leaders.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults has added Martine Leavitt to the faculty. Martine is the author of seven books for young readers, most recently Keturah and Lord Death (Front Street, 2006), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Listen to author Deborah Lynn Jacobs at Right Now! Podcast. Read a Cynsations interview with Deborah.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Author Interview: Alan Gratz on Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery

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

It was definitely not a sprint. I began writing for young readers in earnest in 1998 while I was working in the Joseph-Beth Booksellers art department as an ad copy writer and designer.

The first kids' manuscript I wrote was called "After School Heroes." It was a middle grade novel about a group of teenage superheroes who save their city after all the adult superheroes are taken down by a super-villain.

While that one was collecting rejection letters, I wrote my second manuscript a romantic YA comedy called "Inventing Julia," about a high schooler who invents a fake "long distance girlfriend" for himself so real girls will find him more attractive.

Neither of those book have ever sold, despite serious bites along the way from editors. I've pretty much given up on "After School Heroes," but I took "Inventing Julia" to a novel revision workshop with Darcy Pattison (author interview) last summer and I plan to rework it and send it into the ring one more time.

Samurai Shortstop (Dial, 2006) was the third book I wrote for young readers, and the first one I sold. That acceptance came in 2004, so it took me six years of writing and submitting to finally make a sale.

Your first novel was Samurai Shortstop (Dial, 2006)(excerpt). Could you tell us about the book?

Here's the quickie blurb I give at parties and book festivals: Samurai Shortstop is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy in 1890s Tokyo who learns to blend baseball with bushido--the samurai way of the warrior--to prove to his father there is still room for ancient samurai traditions in a new and changing Japan. That's it in a nutshell.

If I need a quicker description, like when I'm talking to teenage boys, I usually say, "It's about baseball and samurai swords." That usually does the trick.

What was it like for you, being a first-time author?

It was fantastic of course, but this was something I'd been working for, and, if you'll forgive the hubris, planning for.

I don't think it's a bad thing to anticipate success. In fact, I think that's one of the ways to become truly successful. Even before I got the phone call from Dial to say they wanted Samurai Shortstop, I was reading books about marketing and contract negotiation.

It may sound like I was putting the cart before the horse, but during those six years before Samurai sold I had been going to writing workshops, getting professional critiques, reading books about writing--in short, doing everything I could do to become a better writer.

I had faith in my growth as a writer and believed (as I still do) that persistence and hard work was all that stood between me and being published.

That's not to say I didn't have a lot to learn as a first-time author. I made missteps with agents and with contracts, and I had the bad idea to try and follow Samurai Shortstop with another historical novel that ended up being banished to the bottom of my filing cabinet, never to see the light of day.

But my preparation allowed me and my wife to sit down the day I sold Samurai and write out a marketing plan that we began implementing a whole year before Samurai was even published, and my aggressive writing schedule meant I had already started writing the book that would eventually be my second sale--Something Rotten (Dial, 2007).

Do I sound like an arrogant jerk with all my talk of anticipating success? Jeez, I hope not. Trust me, I was horrified the entire time that I was writing books no one but my wife would ever read. I had to keep telling myself I was eventually going to sell one or else the horrible self-doubt I felt on a daily (hourly!) basis would have consumed me.

Congratulations on the publication of Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery (Dial, 2007)! Could you fill us in on the story?

Thanks! I'm still working on a Samurai-like blurb, but here's what I've got so far: Something Rotten is Shakespeare's "Hamlet" rewritten as a contemporary young adult murder mystery set in fictional Denmark, Tennessee, with the minor character of Horatio recast as a wry, sarcastic, seventeen-year-old detective.

I should add that Something Rotten is now officially the first book in a series, to be followed next fall by Something Wicked, based on "Macbeth," and in the fall of 2009 by Something Foolish, based on "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and all starring teenage detective Horatio Wilkes.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book? Were there any literary influences?

I created the character of Horatio Wilkes almost seventeen years ago to the day he'll first see print, which is cool because he's seventeen years old in the book, too.

Horatio was created for a Mystery and Detective Fiction class I took as an undergrad at the University of Tennessee. It was easily one of the best and most influential writing courses I ever had. When developing my detective, which was one of our assignments, I looked to the character of Horatio from Hamlet for inspiration. I like that Horatio is grounded where Hamlet always has his head in lofty philosophical inner debate.

That famous line from Hamlet, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," is supposed to come off as a condescending remark, pegging Horatio as unimaginative, but I've always liked that it points to Horatio's pragmatism.

For all Hamlet's philosophizing and dreaming, who is it who's left standing at the end of the play? Horatio, that's who. I'll take that kind of philosophy any day.

So my Horatio had his namesake's practical world view and healthy skepticism, but I never could find the right story for him. He began as a forensic anthropologist at a southern university, then morphed into a newspaper columnist, then a movie theater owner. All adult characters, and all failures fictionally.

Then years later when I was focused on writing for young readers, it dawned on me that the snarky, sarcastic Horatio I knew so well would make a perfect teenager. But what about a story?

For that, I again turned to Shakespeare since he'd already written the perfect story for Horatio, although halfway through my version Horatio takes the reins from Hamlet and steers the plot toward a different conclusion. (Still mirroring the play as much as possible along the way of course.)

My other major influence was someone with as much of a gift for the English language of his day as Shakespeare had in his--Raymond Chandler. I am a huge fan of Chandler's Philip Marlowe, and I channeled him when writing for Horatio. It's not a pastiche really, more of an homage. I like to call Something Rotten "Hardboiled Hamlet," or perhaps "Pulp Shakespeare."

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

Wow--for Something Rotten, I can actually trace the spark for the protagonist back to 1990-1991, and I'm quite positive I have a writing journal where I explore the idea of rewriting Hamlet as a contemporary murder mystery as far back as 1996. That's a long time to be working on a story!

But of course I wasn't working on it the whole time--just letting it percolate. Once or twice I set out to write it--before I had even made Horatio a young adult--and I even flirted with the idea of writing a Macbeth novel first. (The notes for which of course went toward the writing of Something Rotten's sequel.)

The real planning and outlining of Something Rotten didn't begin until after I finished Samurai Shortstop in 2002. I had all of Something Rotten outlined and the first chapter written when I sold Samurai Shortstop, and then, as I mentioned before, I got the not-so-bright-in-retrospect idea to set Something Rotten aside and write a historical novel set in ancient Egypt.

Maybe it was better in the long run that I got my forced, panicked second effort out of the way on something besides Rotten; that way I was able to return to it without the stress and pressure that so often haunts writers on their second novels.

Once I committed to writing Something Rotten, it took me almost no time at all, relatively speaking. The first draft was done in a matter of three months, the editing process lasted only a month more, and my fantastic editor Liz at Dial snapped it up. That was 2006, and here it is coming out in fall of 2007.

Between that time, though, we went through, by my count, seven rounds of revision to make sure my mystery actually worked and that the book was my own and not Shakespeare's--or Chandler's, for that matter.

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

Well, turning Shakespeare's six-hour philosophical opus into a young adult page turner was a challenge, but I overcame that by focusing on the really pulpy parts of the story--some of which, like Ophelia's drowning--originally happen off stage.

I also had to be fairly intimate with the play as a whole, which meant multiple re-readings and deconstructions, all of which was fun for me because I really do enjoy Shakespeare. Perhaps not surprisingly then, my greatest challenge was learning not to be a complete slave to the play. "The play's the thing" gambit was a particular bugaboo.

To mirror Hamlet (with a modern twist, of course), I originally had Hamilton Prince show his Uncle Claude a DVD of "The Lion King" (which itself has Shakespearean undertones) to goad him into revealing his guilty nature, as Hamlet does with the Murder of Gonzago in Shakespeare's play. The scene never worked.

Seriously, even in Shakespeare's day, what kind of killer is going to get scared of watching a fictional parallel to his own crime and reveal his guilt by turning white and stumbling from the room? And what kind of proof is that, anyway? Maybe he just had some bad fish for dinner.

But I digress. Ultimately, I found a different way to use a play to reveal Claude's guilt (after a few attempts) that is far more realistic and dramatically satisfying. I also had to add a few things that were not in the play to make my story work, and what turned out to be my favorite scene in the book--a snappy conversation between Horatio and a colorful flunky--has no parallel whatsoever to Hamlet, although it owes a great deal to the spirit of Raymond Chandler.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

I love that everything for teenagers is so immediate and monumental. "This is the best day of my entire life." "I wish I'd never been born." "I will love this girl forever." "I will never love anyone ever again."

It's a bizarre time in our lives, when the future is wide open and unwritten and yet the present feels so consuming and indelible. It's a fun time to write about and to write for because the emotions and passions run so high.

I also feel very strongly that we need young adult fiction. We need books that give teenagers something to read in that ever-shrinking period between childhood and adulthood, something that is intelligent and mature enough to appeal to the "adult" in young adults, and yet still entertaining and riveting enough to keep the "young" part of them engaged as well.

What should mystery writers keep in mind about this audience?

The most difficult thing about writing a YA murder mystery is developing teenage villains who actually kill. As you might guess, this is a pretty tricky business.

In Something Rotten, the killer is an adult so I avoid that issue, but in the sequel, Something Wicked, the killer is a teenager Horatio's age. Teens certainly kill people in real life, but any time you write about teenagers killing anyone, everybody sits up a little straighter and pays attention. Teen violence is a hot-button issue, and there are many people who believe exposing teens to violence in movies and video games and books makes them into violent people.

I disagree with that--I believe that violent people are violent people, and don't need any prompting from media to be so--but many of the people who do believe that are the gatekeepers of the world, the teachers and librarians and parents who put books in kids' hands--or take them away.

At some point of course you want to stay true to your own story and say "gatekeepers be damned," but realistically, it's something you have to think about.

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

I'm not sure it would have mattered, because I'm sure I wouldn't have listened!

I know I wasn't listening in college when I got what would turn out to be the best writing advice of my career. My favorite creative writing professor turned a story back to me with a comment I remember to this day. He wrote, "Alan, you are a terrific writer but you lack discipline." The only part of that I heard then was "Alan, you're a terrific writer," and I frittered away the next ten years playing at writing.

It wasn't until I knuckled down and treated writing not like an art but a craft that I was finally able to succeed. Still, as I said, you couldn't have told me that fifteen, twenty years ago.

So if I could go back in a time machine, pop out, and say one thing to my younger self before having to leave, it would probably be, "Outline everything before you start to write!" Either that or, "Bet everything you own on the Tennessee Volunteers to win the 1998 college football championship!"

What do you do when you're not writing?

What do I do when I'm not writing? Beat myself up for not writing!

Seriously, it's very hard for me to relax and enjoy myself when I'm not writing, because I always feel like I'm wasting my time if I'm not.

My favorite "wastes of time" are watching shows like "Project Runway" and "Firefly" with my wife and "Batman" and "Justice League" with my daughter, eating Mellow Mushroom pizza, reading anything and everything, watching baseball, and playing computer, video, and board games. But being able to separate my work time from my free time has always been difficult for me.

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

This is becoming increasingly difficult as I'm being invited to more and more schools and libraries. That's a great thing, and I love doing them, but school visits can take two-to-three days away from my writing schedule.

Since I'm a full-time writer we're talking about twelve-to-eighteen hours of writing time I'm missing, and those hours add up as deadlines loom.

The only real answer is making the most of the time I do have in my office. I cannot afford to take a day off waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead, I now create very detailed outlines for my books before I ever get going (remember my advice to my younger self?) so that when I am finally ready to write I can sit down, open my notebook to the next chapter, and get going.

Working from a detailed outline, I can often finish a 7-10 page chapter a day. That's the discipline my college professor was talking about oh-so long ago--the discipline it took me a decade to understand and develop.

At some point, I suppose, I'll have to turn down some school visits or ask for a larger honorarium to make the interruptions more affordable, but I hate the thought of doing fewer events.

As for promotion, I could use a full-time assistant for that but I can't afford one, so I have to spend my evenings on the computer creating press kits and web sites and postcard mailings. At least that's work I can do with a baseball game or a "Columbo" rerun on the television!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I have fans!? Well, regardless, next up is the paperback of Samurai Shortstop in February 2008, then Something Wicked, the sequel to Something Rotten, next fall. After that, 2009 will be a busy year for me--I've got a middle grade historical baseball novel called The Brooklyn Nine due out in the spring, a story in an anthology of "Locker Room Tales" in the summer, and the third Horatio novel, Something Foolish, due fall of 2009. And somewhere in all this I also have a young adult novel coming out from Knopf that tells the story of Nemo before he became the infamous captain of the Nautilus!

Cynsational Notes

Visit Alan's official site, learn more about him, and read his blog!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Spooky News & Links

Listen to a new podcast interview with me, zeroing in on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007) from LibraryLoft (PLCMC Teen Page).

Austinites! Check out the new Galaxy Cafe at 1000 West Lynn in Clarksville. The wraps are yummy healthy delicious.

The Fabulous Geezersisters' Weblog: Two sisters in their 50s — one in Poland, the other in Texas — take on the world. Again. Note: sisters include Austin YA author RP.

Meredith's Journal at Faces in the Street. MD is the founder of Austin SCBWI. Note: whether you know the family or not, the slide show is highly recommended.

It was a great honor to offer a keynote talk last Saturday at the Twenty-Fifth Annual Children's Book Festival and the Twenty-First Annual Young Adult Conference hosted by The Department of Library Science at Sam Houston State University Nov. 3 in Huntsville. Featured speakers were: Joan Bauer, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, and Mo Willems. See Teri's report at The Goddess of YA Literature. It's incredibly hard work putting together a conference of this level and enthusiasm--much thanks! Note: I'm forgiving my normal full-blown event report due to deadline pressure.

I'd likewise like to thank Clay and everyone who planned and worked the Texas Book Festival Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 in Austin. I was among the YA authors featured at the Not-For-Required Reading Event from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse. Authors also included: Sherman Alexie, Jacques Couvillon, Adrienne Kress, April Lurie (author interview), Perry Moore, Neal Shusterman, and Brian Yansky (author interview). I also participated with authors Adrienne Kress and April Lurie on the "Tough Girls" panel, moderated by author Julie Lake on Sunday. Thanks also to Julie for a wonderful job! Note: vote for the Texas Book Festival as your favorite Austin festival! Note: see note above.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Author Interview: Deborah Noyes on The Restless Dead

We last spoke in October 2006 about the release of One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)(author site). Do you have any updates for us on the book?

One Kingdom's an oddity in so many ways: it's a book of nonfiction that dwells on myth, story, and superstition as much science; it waxes personal and philosophical; it asks more questions than it answers; it has black-and-white photographs in a Technicolor world.

The adult market would tag it "creative" nonfiction, but I don't know that we really acknowledge that category in our market (feeling too keenly, perhaps, our responsibility to young presenting facts impartially?)

So I wasn't sure how it would be received. The feedback's been great, though, and it was selected as an ALA Best Book and for an ASPCA Henry Bergh Award. It's been beyond gratifying to find that kind of support for my first nonfiction project, especially for a book as difficult to classify as this one. It gave me the courage to try again.

What have you been working on since then?

Funny you should ask. Another photo-illustrated nonfiction book--Encyclopedia of the End: Mysterious Death in Fact, Fancy, Folklore, and More--as well as a book of linked short stories (or a novel-in-stories) called The Ghosts of Kerfol, inspired by a short story by Edith Wharton. Both are YA and due out next fall. I have a picture book releasing this fall, Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China (Candlewick, 2007)(excerpt/inside spread), which is gorgeously illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Congratulations on the release of The Restless Dead (Candlewick, 2007)! Could you tell us about this new title?

It's a companion book to an earlier anthology, Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, and features stories about the undead... ghosts, vampires, and so on... by M.T. Anderson, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Herbie Brennan, Nancy Etchemendy, Annette Curtis Klause, Kelly Link, Marcus Sedgwick, and Chris Wooding.

As both a reader and an editor, I'm drawn to the place where popular/genre and literary intersect, and these writers, great stylists and masters of the weird, really delivered. For me, anthologies are an excuse to invite a bunch of writers I admire out to play. It's like throwing a party, only you don't have to clean your house first or empty ashtrays.

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

These authors are all such pros; they made my job easy. I try to include a mix of established names and newer or lesser-known voices, male-female, North American/British/Australian, etc. These are publishing considerations you need to weigh, but there's chemical equation or tally running through my head, both when I set out and as people begin to accept or decline the invitation to contribute. It's all pretty intuitive, and there are always writers I wish I could have invited, or realize I should have invited, or would have invited IF...

Mostly I'm motivated by curiosity. What happens when you put Neil Gaiman and Joan Aiken together in the same book? How is this author going to interpret "undead" in relation to that one?

What challenges are inherent in putting together an anthology?

You set out with all these variables in mind, but in the end, the challenge and the fun come of not knowing where you'll end up. You can try and predict the outcome, take an educated guess based on your knowledge of the various contributors', their work to date, their interests. But in the end these are artists and storytellers, and they're going to surprise you. I've been nothing but happily surprised, but that doesn't mean you don't suffer nerves along the way.

Some anthologists harvest from the canon, take what's already out there and republish it in exciting new combinations. I see the appeal of that. But for me what makes these books worth doing is the same thing that makes them a little unnerving to do: when you solicit an original story, you just don't know what you're going to get. And you can't predict the overall chemistry. Call me a thrill seeker, but I've also been fortunate.

How do you explain the wide appeal of Gothic fantasy/horror?

I know you've said that growing up is "intrinsically horrific," and I think that's true. Extremity's the norm for many young adults. It's an intense time. If you're ever going to fathom blood lust, or feel like a ghost in your own skin, or harbor a monster in your thoughts, it's circa age sixteen. And no matter how happy or well-balanced you are at home or at school, you're forging an adult identity in a sometimes-fearful world.

At the very least you're incurably busy and possibly bored with preparing for a grown-up life you can't quite imagine yet, and this stuff is fun. It's extreme. It grabs you by the collar. It makes your pulse race and pulls you off center in a way you can control...because you can close the book. You can right your world again. (A feat we can't always manage in the workaday world.)

What can your readers look forward to next?

I head to Namibia at the end of the month [note: she's currently there] to photograph animals for a collection of acrostic poetry about African wildlife. This is exciting for me on so many levels, not least because I get the chance to illustrate someone else's work, layer onto another writer's vision. It's a bit like being an editor, I guess, which is my day job. These things are all related, and the more I experiment with different roles, the more I value the creative process, the collaborative process, from whatever angle.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Spooky News & Links

Donna Jo Napoli's unlikely journey to literary success: interview by Linda M. Castellitto from BookPage. Here's a sneak peek: "I so enjoy giving my readers something to taste and hear and feel," Napoli says. "I pay a lot of attention to the senses."

"New Moon" rises in YALSA's 2007 Teens' Top Ten from the American Library Association.

Uninvited by Amanda Marrone at the YA Authors Cafe. Here's a sneak peek: "I researched vampire facts—I was always a vampire lover, but I wanted to dig deeper. I found some fun things I didn’t know—you can kill a vampire by immersing it in water, or hire a Bulgarian sorcerer to do it for you!" Read a Cynsations interview with Amanda.

Spooky News & Links

Austin SCBWI offers a great line-up for its April 26th conference. Speakers include: author and editor Deborah Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick Press (author-editor interview); Alvina Ling from Little Brown (personal blog); agent Erin Murphy (interview from by Pam Mingle from Kite Tales, Rocky Mountain chapter, SCBWI); artist's agent Christina Tugeau; and writing professor Peter Jacobi. According to RA Tim Crow, "Not only will critiques and pitches be available for an additional fee, but we are expanding the number of slots available this year, so you can have a second or third manuscript critiqued." See details at Austin SCBWI (scroll to the bottom of the page); registration opens Nov. 1.

More News & Links

Author Interview: Marta Acosta on Happy Hour at Casa Dracula and Midnight Brunch from my Gothic-fantasy-and-writing-life blog, Spookycyn. This interview is half of a discussion that the two of us are having vamp to vamp, blog to blog. See also her brand new interview with me, and leave a comment at Cynsations LJ to win a prize. Winners will be chosen on Friday!

More Personally

It was an honor to be featured Oct. 29 as one of 31 Flavorite Authors by the Readergirlz! I enjoyed chatting about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Thank you to YALSA and Readergirlz!

Attending the Texas Book Festival Nov. 3 and Nov. 4 in Austin? I will be among the YA authors featured at the Not-For-Required Reading Event from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (1120 S. Lamar). Authors also will include: Sherman Alexie, Jacques Couvillon, Adrienne Kress, April Lurie (author interview), Perry Moore, Neal Shusterman, and Brian Yansky (author interview). Note: I'll be a little late as I'm driving in from Huntsville that evening with Greg and Mo. I'll also participate with authors Adrienne Kress and April Lurie on the "Tough Girls" panel, moderated by author Julie Lake, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4 in Capitol Extension Room E2.012. See schedules for Saturday and Sunday.