Thursday, February 28, 2008

Keeping Cynthia Leitich Smith Weird

One of my MySpace pals has "tagged" me to offer up "15 weird, random things, facts, habits, or goals" about myself. It was a well-timed request as I'm in post-deadline recovery. Here goes!

I own every issue of the Wonder Woman comic published since about 1973. At a time when girls (at least in suburban Kansas City) were still told to "let the boys win" and "don't let people know you're smart," Wonder Woman was as strong as Superman, as smart as Batman, and had really kicky boots. She also emphasized the importance of relationships between women as opposed to being defined by a man. Note: I subscribe to about 100 comics a month.

When I was in elementary school, I would practice signing my name on the off-chance that someday people would want my autograph. I have no idea why. Despite my wonderful fictional role model (above), I was fairly insecure as a child. In any case, it was a very complicated signature that took a long time. Oddly enough, I do autograph books now, but in a much speedier and less fancy manner. Note: maybe it was one of those dream-it, achieve-it things.

I have seen "Star Wars: A New Hope" more than 350 times (paid admission) in movie theaters. Granted, it played at my local dollar theater for what seemed like years, but nevertheless, I was in love--not only with the story but storytelling. I studied all of the behind-the-scenes books for hours on end.

I do a great vocal impression of Kermit the Frog. I'm hesitant to admit this because it may prompt pleas to illustrate this rare and lovely talent. So, please be advised that I do so only at my discretion, usually unexpectedly, and when properly motivated. That said, it is fairly hysterical, if I do say so myself.

Authors of my favorite books as a young reader included Judy Blume, E.L. Konigsburg, and Katherine Paterson. I've since had the honor of interviewing Judy online, having a book signed by Elaine, and chatting with Katherine when she visited Vermont College of Fine Arts. My meeting with Katherine was the most recent. She shook my hand, and I made her laugh once. I wish someone had told me when I was twelve that I would someday get to do that.

My first car was a red 1967 Mustang Coupe, which I totaled in an ice storm on my way home from college finals. I distinctly remember thinking that if I died after doing all that work, I'd be really annoyed.

One summer when I worked at my local movie theater, a man with a gun broke in and stole our copy of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." I wasn't there, but it still seemed quite exciting at the time. Back then, there were fewer theaters, and we fielded all the major new releases. Lines flowed out the building. News crews came to film the crowds. I have probably popped more corn than anyone you'll ever meet. Note: check out the website and trailer for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

I studied law abroad one summer in in Paris and stayed at a dorm for American students that was located across the street from Luxembourg Garden. While I was there, I shot more than 30 rolls of film. I have only returned to Paris once, on a vacation with Greg in 2000. However, it remains one of my favorite cities.

By the time I quit my law "day" job clerking in the Office of the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/Social Security Administration at age 27, I had held jobs as a: babysitter, popcorn popper, movie-theater cashier, waitress at a Mexican restaurant, waitress at a country club, gas-station cashier, reporting intern for several small-town newspapers (and a major metropolitan daily), editorial assistant at a state university, public relations intern for a fortune 500 company, public relations intern for a non-profit, media marketing assistant for one of the world's largest privately-held corporations, telephone operator for a bank, receptionist for a law firm, intern for a federal appeals judge, summer clerk for a legal aid office, and part-time clerk for a small women's rights law firm. Note: Since then I've taken one part-time job tutoring English and another as a graduate assistant in Russian history for a private college. I now teach quarter-time at VCFA.

When I got married in Kansas City, my wedding cake was topped by a crystal daisy. (Gerbera daisies are my favorite flowers). The groom's cake was topped with a model of The Starship "Enterprise."

My phobias are heights, enclosed spaces, germs, big water, children under three, and lettuce. With the kids, I'm afraid that I'll drop them on their heads. Someone told me once that it takes a while for the skull to fuse together, and I've been nervous about it ever since. With regard to the water, I saw "Jaws" at an impressionable age (and was raised in the heartland, far from the seas). So far as the lettuce is concerned, it's really more about what might be lurking in the lettuce.

Of the U.S. Presidents, I have met Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton. I met Ford when I was a child in Vail, Colorado, and Clinton at a political fund-raiser in Iowa City.

I am very proactive about doing real-world research for my fantasies. When I was working on Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), I shot tons of film of South Congress as well as Austin's Bouldin Creek and Fairview neighborhoods and the hike-and-bike trail along Ladybird Lake. I also approached several people and asked if I could take their photos to use as models because I thought they looked like vampires or shape shifters. Everyone I spoke with was thrilled.

Hands-down, the most enthusiastic supporter of my books in my family (other than Greg) is my aunt Linda. She's a world traveler and has taken numerous photos for me to use for reference and presentations.

My favorite quirky and unexpected moment of 2007 was standing in line for a men's restroom at the White House with Holly Black (pictured)(the women's was closed). We were at a breakfast in celebration of the National Book Festival.

And that's it!

My headline is inspired by Keep Austin Weird. Therefore, I'm tagging fellow Austin area youth literature authors April at April Afloat, Don Tate at Devas T Rants and Raves, Chris at Bartography, Greg at GregLSBlog, Liz at Liz in Ink, Varian at They Call Me Mr. V, Alison at Alison's Journal, Jo at Jo's Journal, P.J. at Roots in Myth, and Jennifer at Jennifer Ziegler Word Processor.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tantalize Audio On Sale February 26

Listening Library's audio production of Tantalize goes on sale today! Actress Kim Mai Guest is reading the book.

Listen to an audio excerpt.

Learn more about the prose novel from Candlewick Press (2007).

Spooky Links

Kim Mai Guest from Anime News Network.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Eternal: the Line-Edits Revision

The line-edits revision of my upcoming YA Gothic fantasy, Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), went out via electronic copy to my editor this morning.

Eternal is set in the same universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), featuring different main characters and building on an overarching conflict in the fictional world.

Globally, I had been asked to further underscore the evolving relationship between my two alternating point-of-view characters and the back story of one of them.

With dynamics like that, insights often come to me at, say, 3 a.m. Check out the photo above of my nightstand. I keep a hard copy of the manuscript close (so it will continue to bleed into my brain) along with my little notebook, my laptop (in case electronic vibes are stronger than print), as well as a red pen, a pad of Post-It notes, and a little flashlight. What you see here is the morning-after result of one night's scribbles.

With the wee light, I don't have to wake up my husband and sometimes co-author, Greg Leitich Smith, but I've also found that turning on the lamp can douse my brainstorm.

Beyond that, much of my attention went to scene-by-scene smoothing for language and logic. I've previously shifted the timeline twice, so I triple checked that and clipped one unnecessary day. I also reorganized the flow of a few scenes and considered each word choice for impact.

One challenge that I've been aware of throughout the writing of this novel is that it's my first full-length book with a male (albeit in this case alternating) point of view. I've been working up to writing cross-gender for a while.

Two of my upper YA short stories, "A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate" from Moccasin Thunder: American Indian Stories for Today (HarperCollins, 2005) and "Riding With Rosa" from Cicada literary magazine (Vol. 7, No. 4, March/April 2005), feature first-person male protagonists.

But a novel is different. A beast. It's one thing to create a voice, another to sustain it over time.

Perhaps because Greg is likewise an avid reader and novelist, I've found myself in a remarkable number of conversations about portrayals of boys in youth literature. I've followed with great interest the related conversations at Through the Tollbooth and in the Horn Book Magazine ("Boys and Girls" (September/October 2007))(editor interview).

Having already published Tantalize, of late I've had an opportunity to speak and correspond with a lot of YA readers. I've made a point of asking about depictions of boys. Based on my anecdotal experience, with the traditional caveat about generalizations...

It seems that some boys don't believe most books by women (or, for that matter, many men) show them as they are and that, furthermore, YA lit overall has a feminine feel. This sometimes alienates them to varying degrees.

Girls, on the other hand, are just fine with that "feminine feel." When asked, many will say that they have quite enough of real-life boy attitudes/behavior to deal with, thank you. They much prefer boys in books to be the way they wish their real-life counterparts were.

So, what does that mean (other than the fact that it's impossible to please everyone)?

I'd bet the majority of my readers are girls. But I get enough of a response from guys to know they're a significant part of my audience, too. I also have to wonder if the leanings of adults in youth literature mirror their younger gender counterparts. If so, that becomes a gatekeeper issue.

It's interesting! An intriguing topic in the greater conversation of books. Certainly, authors should be aware of any gender biases in the body of literature.

But as a writer, how do I apply all this?

I keep in mind that I may be inclined to undercut and/or misrepresent my male protagonist's gender-related perspective. I watch out for that. I also watch out for my trying to overcompensate. I listen to Greg when he double takes at a word choice or reaction. I carefully consider my editor's feedback.

But mostly, I stay true to the individual character. Who he is. Where he's coming from. How he feels and why. In this last draft, I made more of an effort to clarify his motivations. Readers will understand his behavior/point of view, even if a few don't always agree with it.

Reading aloud for flow, typos, missing words, and so forth is my last step. The read-aloud is necessary in part because I've already read the manuscript quietly so many times. At this point, I'm prone to reading what I meant for the text to say, not what it actually does. Actually, that's such a big problem that I can't even read the manuscript aloud myself. So, Greg does it for me.

This past weekend, he read Eternal to me in our second-floor reading room (see Greg above with Leo, who's perched on the back of the sofa futon, and grumpy Mercury on the leather ottoman) while I followed along, red pen likewise in hand.

It took about nine hours, spread over Saturday and Sunday, pausing occasionally to double check a previous reference in the manuscript, find a better word, or resolve a question/inconsistency.

Greg began with a glass of water, then switched to hot tea with honey, and finished with a thematically appropriate glass of red wine.

Once we finished, I keyed in changes, which took longer than it might have because I verified the spelling of every proper name in the manuscript along the way. Only one was incorrect.

Here are the current manuscript stats:

Words: 57,687

Pages: 273 (including two-page author's note)

Weight: 2.8 pounds

References to Blood: 120

Spooky Links

Eternal: the Cut-and-Paste Report from Spookycyn.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bone, Copyedits, Blue is for Nightmares, Spiderwick, Tantalize Fan Trailer

Cartoonist Jeff Smith rocks the world of graphic novels: interview by Linda M. Castellitto from BookPage. Here's a sneak peek: "Librarians and teachers have let me know they are getting reluctant readers to read with Bone. So people can actually see there are benefits to graphic novels, vs. the stigma that always was attached to comics... I knew it wasn't true. I learned to read because of comics." Visit Boneville. Note: As a pre-schooler, I learned to read with comics from the nearest convenience store and picture books from my local public library.

Did You Know Red Pencil is Harder to Erase than Gray Pencil? from Janni Lee Simner's LJ, Desert Dispatches. Brief insights into the copy editing stage; very on mark (so to speak). Note: I'm doing the same thing this weekend myself.

School Advice from Blue Is For Nightmares series characters at Laurie Faria Stolarz's website. Read Laurie's LJ. Read a Cynsations interview with Laurie.

More Personally

I highly recommend "The Spiderwick Chronicles" movie, based on the book series from Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi! I saw it last weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar here in Austin. The storyline, acting, and effects are all fantastic. You'll want to buy the DVD later, but don't wait until then to watch the film. Especially with the amazing effects, it's well worth seeing on the big screen! Learn more about The Spiderwick Chronicles. Read a Cynsations interview with Holly.

This week's social highlight was an absolutely delightful two-hour lunch with SB, debut author of A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008), at Suzi's China Grill on Shoal Creek.

SB is new to the Austin writing for youth community and interested in lining up school visits for the 2008-2009 school year.

I had my favorite lunch menu item--Hunan shrimp with vegetables and brown rice. I also brought home my fried chicken leg and crab won ton for GLS.

My thanks to J, a member of Tantalize Fans Unite! (a reader-created group) at MySpace, for designing a couple of Tantalize-inspired book trailers. Jamie is age 14 and hails from Kentucky. She also is a writer. See trailer one (highlighting the transformation aspect) and trailer two, which draws more on the murder mystery.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Racing the Dark

Catching Up With Alaya Dawn Johnson from Coe Booth at The Longstockings. Here's a sneak peek: "There's a certain element of the invisibility of privilege, I suppose. But if nothing else, the more fantasy that's published with non-white characters, the more non-white fans will feel welcome in the genre." Visit The Longstockings at MySpace!

More Personally

GLS cooked the following Valentine's Day dinner: boiled shrimp and hearts of palm over Romaine and radicchio with asiago and cracked peppercorn dressing, lobster tails, baked potatoes, and dark-chocolate-covered strawberries. He gave me cat-themed bottle cap magnets and taco-shaped soap from Eclectic. I gave him two heart-shaped silver plates from Prima Dora.

Then we watched "13 Going on 30" on DVD.

The week's highlights also included lunch with KA at P.F. Chang's, and today I look forward to VJ's signing at Barnes & Noble Round Rock.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Spooky News & Links

Winners of the the recent Cynsations giveaway of Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Razorbill, 2007)(excerpt) were YA readers in Palm Desert, California; Australia; Miami; and Granite City, Illinois.

Congratulations to the winners! Thanks to Razorbill for donating the books! Read a Cynsations round-table interview with the Razorbill editors.

Read Richelle's LJ (Even Redheads Get the Blues).

More News & Links

Blurb Etiquette by Justine Larbalestier. Read a Cynsations interview with Justine.

Author Name Pronunciation Guide from Wondering how to pronounce my name or lots of others? Find out! Source: BookMoot.

Remember my recent post on Spookycyn and Cynsations LJ about authors Varian Johnson, Suzanne Crowley, and Suzanne Harper? See also Varian's own post on his SCBWI event.

More Personally

Thanks to Prof. Stiles and her Young Adult Literature class at Concordia University in Austin for their hospitality and wonderful questions last night. It was a great honor to visit with author April Lurie and discuss our own books and the field more globally. Read a Cynsations interview with April. Visit April's blog and her MySpace page!

Cynthia Leitich Smith on Fantasy, YA, and Vampires from Writers Interviewing Writers. Here's a sneak peek: "You can write with less subtlety because that fantasy layer already gives the reader enough distance to see more clearly. Say you're talking about a hero feeling as if she's on verge of damnation. In a fantasy novel, you can go ahead and show the literal gates of hell."

Listening Library's audio production of Tantalize goes on sale Feb. 26! Actress Kim Mai Guest is reading the book. Listen to an audio excerpt.

Learn more about the text novel from Candlewick Press.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Author Interview: Rosemary Clement-Moore on Prom Dates from Hell

Rosemary Clement-Moore on Rosemary Clement-Moore: "Rosemary Clement-Moore is the author of smart, funny supernatural mystery novels. The first in a series about a psychic girl detective, Prom Dates From Hell, is available now from Random House/Delacorte Press (2006), and the second, Hell Week, comes out this summer. Her eclectic resume includes jobs as a telephone operator, Chuck E. Cheese costumed character, ranch hand, dog groomer, wedding singer, hair model, actress, stage-hand, director, and playwright. She now writes full time, which allows her to work in her pajamas and break every afternoon to play Guitar Hero." Note: Rosemary is a graduate of Texas Christian University and makes her home in Arlington, Texas. Visit Rosemary's LJ and MySpace page!

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

I was a voracious reader as a kid, and I can't remember a time in my life when I wasn't scribbling stories or writing plays. How I ended up with a master's degree in science is a long story. I worked at various jobs--a real odd mix, actually--and wrote as a "hobby." I scribbled stories and started a lot of novels, but when I came to actually following through and finished a book length project...let's just say I had commitment issues.

Plus, I had a creative outlet because I worked in a theatre. Writing and directing taught me a lot about storytelling, pacing, and dialogue. But it also filled that need to tell a story, and sidetracked me from the work of writing a novel.

Anyway. I quit my job to take care of my dad while he was ill, and after he passed away, I decided to get back on the writing track. I joined a writers' group and started to think like a professional writer. I gave myself to the end of the summer to write as my full-time job, and by Labor Day I had a manuscript. Then the book sold by Thanksgiving.

So I guess you can say I had a lot of training, and stretching, and finding my stride. Then when I finally got my rear end on the track, it was definitely a sprint.

Was there anything during your apprenticeship that you felt was especially helpful? Was there anything you wish you'd skipped?

I don't regret any of the time I spent "sidetracked" from my goal. Education is never wasted, and I used those science degrees all the time. I worked with teens, so that gave me an ear for the YA voice. There's huge crossover of writing and acting skills, only with writing you don't have to stay on a diet. And the whole time I was always writing, always reading, and building skills I would use to (eventually!) write my novels.

Sometimes I think if I'd gotten my rear in gear earlier, imagine where I could be by now. Maybe I'd be one of those people published at 19 or 20. But maybe not. The sum of my experiences--not just the unfinished books, or the plays or the short stories, but the schooling and the years I lived on a ranch, and the time I spent caring for my dad--made me the person who was finally able to finish a novel at all.

Congratulations on the publication of Prom Dates from Hell (Delacorte, 2007)! Where did you get the initial idea for this book?

I had been chewing on what I love in books and movies, particularly the idea that all this mundane stuff that happens all the time (like the ridiculous excesses of the prom) can have a supernatural origin or resonance. My subconscious must have been working on that, because I woke up with in the middle of the night with the first scene in my head, and scribbled down about five pages of the first chapter. Only, I did it without my glasses, so in the morning, I couldn't read much of what I'd written. Fortunately, I remembered enough to reconstruct it. I still have those scribbles, and the first paragraph, as published, is nearly verbatim to what I scrawled in the dark that night.

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

That was the spark. I had only recently joined an excellent critique group and had planned to read something from one of my many started novels. But I read the first chapter of the middle-of-the-night book instead. After the meeting, this ferocious woman came up to me and said that if I didn't finish that book she was going to kick my butt. I was terrified of her.

The woman was Candace Havens, author of grown up chick lit fantasy novels, and she has become one of my dearest friends. She's not really at all scary, but I did need a kick in the pants. I had to stop thinking like a hobbyist and apply the drive I'd put into any other "real" job (I'd had enough of them!) into writing. I finished the book in six weeks, took another six weeks to revise it, and sent my first query letter out the first of September.

I conducted my agent search like a tactical campaign, and by the beginning of October, I had representation from a stellar agent who'd been at the top of my list. She asked me for a few minor revisions, and I stayed up for three days straight knocking those out. The manuscript went out, garnered a couple of quick rejections, and then a couple (!!) of offers. It sold by the middle of November. (Which shows the major advantage of having an agent: good or bad, it can make things go more quickly.)

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

I was working on my "vintage" iBook--the first clamshell ones, with the colored edges. It was already old and cranky, but in the course of writing the book, the "i," the "e," and the delete key stopped working. Which was a problem, because the book was in first person.

I hooked up an external keyboard and kept going. Whenever the document would get too big, the computer would crash, so I had to start each chapter in a new document, and I could never have more than two open at a time. When I started the revision, the trackpad gave up the ghost, so I had to attach a mouse, too. Then I had to take all those things off to back up my files, because the computer only had one USB port, and I needed that for the external floppy disc drive. (A flash drive wouldn't fit in the port.) It was a challenge to even find floppy discs anymore!

What was it like to be a debut author in 2007? What moments stood out?

Seeing the book on the shelf is surreal. Sometimes I'll run across it unexpectedly, and I think: Hmmm, that cover looks really familiar. Oh yeah! It's mine!

Even better is when you catch someone actually buying the book. I was in the café at Barnes and Noble and a girl was going to the counter with her mother, book in hand, to buy it when they got their snack. I asked if she would like me to sign it for her, and she didn’t believe I was the author. She squinted at the jacket photo, peered at me, then squealed, "Oh my gosh! You really wrote this book!" I felt like such a celebrity.

Are you doing anything special to promote your work?

I wish I was better at publicity. I'd like to do a new website for the paperback release of Prom Dates From Hell. It's got a brand new cover, which I love, and a series title. Maggie Quinn: Girl versus Evil. The second book, Hell Week, comes out in August 08.

What do you love about the writing process and why?

I love getting to be anyone I want for the length of the book. Journalist, astronaut, archaeologist. It's the ultimate role-playing game, or like getting to perform every role in a play. And I adore doing research. The weirder the subject, the better. Perfect for someone who couldn't decide what to study in school.

What about do you wish you could skip and why?

I hate all the second guessing that I do when it comes to the nitty-gritty details of the plot. I like mapping out the destination, but not really the right turn left turn stuff. Should this section go this way or that way? What's the best order in which to reveal this information? Should I have that fight scene in chapter 15 or after the chase scene?

How about publishing? What do you love about it? What do you abhor? And again, in both cases, why?

One thing I have to reconcile is the fact that there is so much that you, as the author, cannot control. Marketing, distribution, competition, trends and fads... The only thing that is totally in your hands is the product. You write good books, and hope that the rest takes care of itself.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Keep three journals:

One to record your thoughts and senses and emotions as you go through different experiences; these are things you'll want to bring into your writing, to give it authenticity and depth.

Two, keep a writing journal, where you experiment with different styles or voices. Do writing exercises often, either with prompts (like an assignment to write a certain way) or just free writing (writing whatever comes to your mind for 10-20 minutes without stopping).

And last, keep an idea journal, where you record random things that strike you as interesting. It may be observations about the couple you see leaving each other in the airport, or snatches of dialogue you think are funny or touching. "What if?" questions, and intriguing trivia that you run across. These things can spark all kinds of story ideas.

Inspiration doesn't come from the blue; it comes from all the things you experience and store in your head, without realizing it. A journal gives you a way to flip back through and access those things.

And when you're ready to get serious about writing for publication, remember that you have to start working like a professional, even if you haven't sold anything yet. That means writing every day, and holding yourself accountable for your product. Find a support group--it's easier that way.

How about those interested in writing for the young adult audience in particular?

An authentic voice is one of the most critical things in a YA book. You have to really get into character as a teen and write from that place, not from the perspective of an adult writing what you think a teen would sound like. Find your inner teen; remember what it was like to feel like you had your whole life, endless possibilities, in front of you. Fads and slang will change, but certain things never will. Find those things and ground your viewpoint there.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Thank you for interviewing me in your blog. One thing I do love about publishing and authors is the support and camaraderie of awesome folks like yourself!

Marly's Ghost by David Levithan, illustrated by Brian Selznick

Until very recently, my favorite book of all time was the 1959 Newbery Medal book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958). I still love it, and I will always love it.

But now, I have a new favorite: Marly's Ghost by David Levithan, illustrated by Brian Selznick (Dial, 2005). I first read the novel some months ago and have been waiting impatiently until just before Valentine's Day to highlight it.

From the promotional copy: "When Ben’s girlfriend, Marly, dies, he feels his life is over. What could possibly matter now when Marly is gone? So when Valentine's Day approaches, it makes sense that this day that was once so meaningful to Ben leaves him feeling bitter and hollow. But then Marly shows up—or at least her ghost does--along with three others spirits. Now Ben must take a painful journey through Valentine's Days past, present, and future, and what he discovers will change him forever."

I read so many wonderful books. What is it about this novel? What for me puts it above the rest?

It's always a deeply personal equation--what the reader brings to the story, what the story brings to the reader.

I appreciate a great ghost story. I also love contemporary retellings of classics. I am oddly enchanted by Dickens in general and A Christmas Carol (1843) in particular. And I'm an optimistic romantic.

David's writing is top notch, his "remix" approach is delightful, and Brian's illustrations are a reminder of why he is one of our most acclaimed illustrators.

But more specifically, David has somehow evoked for me what love is and magically translated it into story. The result is healing, inspiring, and, yes, a little bit spooky.

Happy (Almost) Valentine's Day!

Spooky Notes

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton Mifflin, 1958). From the promotional copy: "Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1867. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met. Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when it seems she must give up, she finds a kindred spirit. But Kit's friendship with Hannah Tupper, believed by the colonists to be a witch, proves more taboo than she could have imagined and ultimately forces Kit to choose between her heart and her duty. Elizabeth George Speare's Newbery Award-winning novel portrays a heroine whom readers will admire for her unwavering sense of truth as well as her infinite capacity to love."

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Varian Johnson, Suzanne Crowley, Suzanne Harper

Yesterday, Varian Johnson spoke to about sixty people on "Pie Charts and Footnotes and Doodles--Oh My!" at the monthly meeting of Austin SCBWI, which was held at Barnes & Noble Westlake.

Here's the promotional description: "It is becoming increasingly common for children's and young adult authors to veer away from the traditional 'narrative and dialogue' format and instead use supplementary 'stuff' in their novels--elements like footnotes, diagrams, email, doodles, etc. If properly used these supplementary items add depth to the novel. If used incorrectly, they can alienate the reader. This presentation--consisting of real advice from authors that have successfully incorporated extra elements into their novels--will help authors learn how to better use these supplementary tools to enhance their own manuscripts."

Varian did a first-rate job on the topic, using examples from his own work and other recently published books. He also provided a handout that included eight tips, an optional writing exercise, and a bibliography. The presentation was conversational, substantive, and inspiring. Varian is highly recommended as a speaker!

Afterward his talk, Varian signed copies of his debut YA novel My Life as a Rhombus (Flux, 2008). Read a recent Cynsations interview with Varian (and his co-founders) about The Brown Bookshelf. See also Varian's own post on the event; he's offered to send copies of the handout to anyone who emails him.

Published authors/illustrators in attendance included BY, FH, BA, MM, JL, DT, JAP, AL, JW, SB, AB, SC, EM, PY, JL, and GLS. Afterward, a few of us grabbed lunch at La Madeleine French Bakery and Restaurant, which is located in the same shopping center, just down the hill. I had the ham-and-mushroom omelet.

Next month's Austin SCBWI meeting at 10:30 a.m. on March 29 will feature Brian Anderson, author of the Zack Proton series (Aladdin, 2006-). Brian will be talking about "Lessons from Film Making." Read a Cynsations interview with Brian.

GLS and I also greatly enjoyed meeting Suzanne Crowley this week. Susanne is the deubt author of The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous (Greenwillow, 2007). We met Suzanne, who is based in the Fort Worth area, for appetizers at Z Tejas Southwestern Grill on Friday afternoon. We split the Grilled Shrimp & Guacamole Tostada Bites (herb-and-pumpkin-seed tostada rounds, topped with pesto-grilled shrimp, fresh guacamole and a dash of chipotle), Grilled Jumbo Quesadillas (stuffed with smoked chicken), and Tejas Trio (Tejas Trio Chile con queso, salsa picante and guacamole with tortilla chips). Suzanne was in town for school visits and a stock signing at BookPeople.

I also had recent the good fortune to meet another author, Suzanne Harper. She's originally from the Austin area (her family is still here) and now makes her home in New York.

Last week, we got together for Katz's and had a wonderful visit. Suzanne is the author of The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney (HarperCollins, 2007) and The Juliet Club (HarperCollins, 2008).

I had scrambled eggs and a slice of turkey ham for breakfast.

On the writing front, I'm working on line edits for Eternal, and GLS and I are polishing up a revision of a short story for an anthology coming soon from HB and CC.

Our culinary experiment of late was dinner early Wednesday night at The Melting Pot, which is located downtown, near the convention center. It's a fondue restaurant like Gejas in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The service is top notch, and we were seated in a private room for two off the main dining area.

We began with a Swiss cheese fondue, served with a variety of cut breads, vegetables (the celery was oddly tasty), and green apples. I elected lobster as my main course and was served two generous tails to cook in coq au vin sauce. A hearty bowl of mushrooms, sliced red potatoes, and squash were offered on the side.

We were too stuffed to try dessert, but I'll be back for the dark chocolate fondue.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Author Interview: Deborah LeBlanc on the Horror Writers Assocation

Deborah LeBlanc is an award-winning author from Lafayette, Louisiana. She is also a business owner, a licensed death-scene investigator, and an active member of two national paranormal investigation teams. Deborah's unique experiences, enthusiasm, and high-energy level make her a much sought after speaker at writers' conferences across the nation. She also takes her passion for literacy and a powerful ability to motivate to high schools around the country.

She is the president of the Horror Writers Association, president of the Writers' Guild of Acadiana, president of Mystery Writers of America's Southwest Chapter, and an active member of Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Women Writers, and International Thriller Writers Inc.

In 2004, she created the LeBlanc Literacy Challenge, an annual, national campaign designed to encourage more people to read.

Her most recent novels are: Family Inheritance, Grave Intent, A House Divided, and Morbid Curiosity. Deborah's next release, Water Witch, is scheduled to be on bookstore shelves in December 2008.

Congratulations on the release of Morbid Curiosity (Dorchester, 2007)! Could you tell us about the book and what inspired it?

Morbid Curiosity is about a set of sixteen-year-old twin girls whose lives are turned upside down after their father dies and their mother is committed to a hospital after she attempts suicide. Without parents, the girls are eventually shipped off to Mississippi to live with grandparents they hardly know, and it's there they decide to take control of their lives by way of Chaos Magic. The one thing they don't count on conjuring up, though, is their own death sentence.

The inspiration for this story came while I was doing research on shamans for another book. I found a link on a website marked "sigils," and curiosity sent me clicking away. The information I discovered on sigils and Chaos Magic blew me away. The intense measures that many practitioners (most of them teens) use to "charge" and "feed" their sigils is nothing short of horrifying. Some claim to have gone so far as committing murder. I couldn't not do a story on that.

If you could go back in time to your beginning writer self, what advice would you give her?

My immediate advice would be, "Run, Forest, run!" LOL...

In all seriousness, from an "outsider's" perspective, writing looks like the easiest job in the world. In truth, it's one of the toughest. It requires a lot of self-discipline, determination, and an unrelenting commitment to continuously improving your craft. Aside from that, there are tons of nay-sayers out there waiting to tell you why it's impossible to get published.

My advice to "her" now would be the same advice I gave "her" back then: "Quit worrying about what everyone says. Just tell a great story in the best way possible. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself...period."

What advice do you have for fellow writers on the subject of writing horror specifically?

My advice would be to really consider the aspect of fear and what causes it. To me, horror isn't just about blood, guts, and gore. It's about getting into a reader/viewer's psyche and touching their core phobias, their hidden and unspoken fears.

How do you balance your writing life with the responsibilities of being an author?

It's not that difficult for me to balance writing and all the things that go along with it, like promotions. What gets tough is balancing writing and all that goes along with it along with life in general. You know, like sleeping, making time to put gas in your car, maintaining relationships, going to the bathroom, etc.

You're the president of the Horror Writers Association. When was the group established, and what is its purpose?

HWA was incorporated in March 1987, and its core purpose is to encourage public interest in Horror and Dark Fantasy literature. Our aim is to foster an appreciation of good Horror and Dark Fantasy literature, both for pleasure and information, thus broadening the intellectual and cultural horizons of the general public and the members of the organization.

Could you describe the membership and who is eligible to join?

There are three classes of membership within HWA; Active, Affiliate, and Associate.

Active members must be professional writers in the field of Horror or Dark Fantasy. The definition of "professional writers" can be found on our website under membership requirements.

Affiliate members include writers in the field of Horror or Dark Fantasy who have not yet met the definition of "professional." Any person who professes a serious professional interest in horror fiction is eligible to become an affiliate member of HWA. Once again, the definition of "serious professional interest" can be found on HWA's website under membership requirements.

Associate members include individuals working as professionals other than writers in the field of Horror or Dark Fantasy. Those other professions consist of: illustrators; literary agents; booksellers; and anthologists. Also, any institution with a legitimate interest in Horror or Dark Fantasy literature, such as high schools, colleges, universities, libraries, broadcasting organizations, film producers, publishers, and similar institutions, or an individual associated with such an institution, is eligible to become an associate member of HWA.

What opportunities are available to members?

Whether you're an aspiring writer working toward your all-important first pro-level sale or a seasoned novelist with a dozen books to your credit, HWA can help further your career through networking, mentoring, information trading, and promotional resources.

If you're a producer, publisher, editor, or agent, you'll find our networking resources invaluable for finding dedicated, productive writers to add to your stable. And if you're a librarian or bookseller, you'll have an inside track on talented writers, hot new books, and likely award winners.

How do children's and young adult authors fit into the mix?

They fit into the mix in the same way they do in any national and/or international writing organization. They're a vital part of the whole. They're nurturing our future adult readers.

Could you tell us about On Writing Horror: A Handbook of the Horror Writers Association edited by Mort Castle (Writer's Digest, 2006)?

In the second edition of On Writing Horror, greats like Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Jack Ketchum, and many others tell you everything you need to know to successfully write and publish horror novels and short stories.

It includes exclusive information and guidance from 58 of the biggest names in horror writing, things like:

• The art of crafting visceral violence, from Jack Ketchum;

• Why horror classics like Dracula, The Exorcist, and Hell House are as scary as ever, from Robert Weinberg;

• Tips for avoiding one of the biggest death knells in horror writing--predicable clichés--from Ramsey Campbell;

• How to use character and setting to stretch the limits of credibility, from Mort Castle.

What new directions do you anticipate?

In my opinion, HWA is on a path that will lead to significant growth. We're constantly looking for ways to improve and increase member benefits, enhance our professionalism, and strengthen our presence in the publishing world.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Spooky News, Links & Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Razorbill, 2007)(excerpt)! From the promotional copy:

"Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with an unbreakable bond to the earth's magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest and most dangerous vampires--the ones who never die.

"The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir; she is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making her one of them.

"After two years of illicit freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir's Academy, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. Rose will continue her Dhampir education. Lissa will go back to being Queen of the elite Moroi social scene. And both girls will resume breaking hearts.

"Fear made Lissa and Rose run away from St. Vladimir's--but their world is fraught with danger both inside and out of the Academy's iron gates. Here, the cutthroat ranks of the Moroi perform unspeakable rituals and their secretive nature and love of the night creates an enigmatic world full of social complexities. Rose and Lissa must navigate through this dangerous world, confront the temptation of forbidden romance, and never once let their guard down, lest the Strigoi make Lissa one of them forever..."

Learn more about Richelle, read her LJ (Even Redheads Get the Blues), and take this quiz to find out if your school is a vampire academy. Also look for Book #2, Frost Bite, on sale April 2008.

Four copies will be given away! To enter, write me with your name and address by Midnight CST Tonight! Please type "Vampire Academy" in the subject line. Good luck!

More News & Links

Tips for Teen Writers from Cassandra Clare. Here's a sneak peek: "I can only say what works for me or what I've observed, and in this post I'll talk about what I remember about being a teenage writer and what was helpful for me." Learn more about The Mortal Instruments. Visit Cassandra at MySpace!

The Superbowl of Authorial Intrusions - Cynthia Leitich Smith from L. K. Madigan at Drenched in Words. Note: I'm still blushing from the flattering introduction. Thanks so much!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

When I'm Not Writing...

I caught myself saying that I didn't work this weekend and did a double-take at what "not working" means to me. On a weekend that I "didn't work," I answered questions for a fairly extensive author interview, did about six hours of online correspondence, cross-posted four blog entries to three of my blogs, pre-formatted three more entries, packaged up a couple of books for giveaways, autographed and packaged up three sets of bookmarks (also giveaways), and spent about six hours pouring through line edits on Eternal. GLS and I also met to go over the status of our revision for a short story to appear in an anthology from CC and HB.

But I didn't just work! GLS and I also took a field trip to...

in Bastrop. It's off Highway 71. Totally do-able as a short trip from Austin or if you're already on 71. Ten life-sized dinosaur statues (painted) are perched along a nature trail. "These statues range in size from the 6-foot long Velociraptor to the 40-foot long T-Rex." The plan is to add more steadily over time. Other highlights include a playground, fossil dig, picnic area, and gift store. Weather permitting, I recommend taking your kids or inner kid to check it out.

As long as we were in the neighborhood, we decided to have lunch afterward and take a peek at the relatively new Hyatt Lost Pines Resort. It's a ranch-style (horses!), destination hotel with a spa, shopping, and several restaurants, including Stories Fine Dining Establishment, which celebrates the literary history of Bastrop.

We went to the Firewheel Cafe, which has gorgeous stained-glass windows of Texas wildflowers, and split both the Shrimp and Green Chili Quesadilla (Chipolte aoili and roasted tomato salsa) and a Cedar Creek Wrap (smoked turkey breast, crisp bacon, black forest ham, smoked cheddar, herb spread, and kettle chips).

We were impressed by the resort and plan to return for a weekend getaway as soon as we get a chance.

The hands-down highlight of the weekend though was dinner at GB and MH's lovely home in near East Austin. D&JG also were guests. The menu:


-black pepper almonds


-salad with green olive dressing

Main Course

-bacon wrapped pork loin with rosemary

-roasted cauliflower and leeks

-black truffle mac 'n cheese


-brown sugar ice cream with spiced walnuts