Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spooky News & Links

And Another Awesome Author Visit: Claudia Gray from And Another Book Read. Peek: "I see some of myself in virtually all the characters. I think that's fairly important, really--to identify with everyone, at least a little bit. (Maybe not Erich, though.)"

Fiction with Fangs by Tanita Davis (TadMack) and Sarah Stevenson (a.fortis) from The Edge of the Forest. Peek: "Yes, all discussion of hotties aside...and pushing aside our biases...we thought we'd share with you what :01 First Second has been up to vampire-wise, along with a few other bloodsucker tales which have had us...uh...drooling." Check out what else is new at The Edge.

Casting the Spell: Fairy Tales in Novel Form by Terrell A. Young and Barbara A. Ward from Book Links. Peek: "These enchanting novels based on fairy tales will have teens and tweens asking for more."

Back to the Janes: Castellucci and Rugg on Janes in Love by Jack Smith from Newsarama. Peek: "I love it when a gentleman comes and says that they picked it up for their wife, daughter, niece, girlfriend, who never read a graphic novel before, or were resistant to comics and that those ladies enjoyed it so much that they were open to checking out other comics. I also really love that many of those gentlemen enjoyed the Plain Janes themselves. That's the best." Read a Cynsations interview with Cecil.

Futuristic, Speculative, Science Fiction and Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults by Jen Robinson at Jen Robinson's Book Page.

Midnighters in Japan by Scott Westerfeld at Westerblog. Peek: "What I love about these interpretations is how they’re simultaneously literal and surreal. All three use scenes directly from the book, but they also have a trippiness about them: the close up on the raindrops, the huge moon, the distended human figures." Read a Cynsations interview with Scott.

More Personally

Slumber Party @ Teen Fest: April Lurie (author interview)(MySpace), Jennifer Ziegler (author interview)(MySpace), and Cynthia Leitich Smith will join forces in a "lively, intimate discussion about books and writing for teen girls" at noon Aug. 2 at Carver Branch Library/Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas. The event will include a book signing, "games, snacks, beauty tips, and even a passionate reading contest. Pajamas and pillows optional!"

Austin SCBWI's "A Day with an Editor" featuring Jill Santopolo, author and senior editor at Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith will be Sept. 13. "Mark your calendars now and prepare to register early as this event is expected to be a sellout. Registrations will open around July 1, and registration forms will be available at Austin SCBWI." Note: Jill is interested in literary novels, quirky middle grades, and picture books. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is the author of Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure (Scholastic/Orchard, 2008).

In the U.S. and Canada, Tantalize is available in prose from Candlewick Press (the paperback release date is July 22!) and on audio from Listening Library. You also can order it from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand. The novel will be released by Walker U.K. this fall, and more oversees editions are pending--I'm just waiting for the final paperwork to announce another one.

Ashley features a lovely new Tantalize banner at her MySpace page! She also models the Sanguini's T-shirt and the novel in her pics! Surf by to see for yourself! Thanks, Ashley!

Speaking of MySpace, I've polished up my page a bit! Check it out! Visit Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace!

Thank you to Donna Gephart at Wild about Words for recommending Cynsations! Read a Cynsations interview with Donna!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Austin's Latest YA Star: Margo Rabb

The Austin YA Lit community is swooning over the lovely and brilliant MR, who recently moved to town from NYC.

I had the pleasure of meeting her at SB's (another red-hot new star) launch party June 14 at BookPeople, chatting afterward at The Shoal Creek Saloon, and, even better, having her all to myself for a leisurely lunch at Hyde Park Bar & Grill. Central Texans, please make a point of seeking her out at book events!

Note: do not eat the chicken wings at the saloon.

On a side note, huge congratulations to BY!

Author Interviews: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Guess who's out and about on the Web? I'm honored to announce two new interviews:

(1) Cynthia Leitich Smith: An Interview with an Internet Icon & Legend from Mary Hershey and Robin LaFevers at Shrinking Violet Promotions.

Peek: "I enjoy the blogs as a way of 'pajama outreach'--you don't have to put on dry-clean-only clothes and get in the car/plane to do it. But it's a personal choice. If you feel burdened by the idea of blogging, then you don't have to (and probably shouldn't). Put the energy into something that feeds you instead. On the other hand, if it sounds attractive, I recommend..."

(2) Cynthia Leitich Smith Interview from Carol at Bookluver--Carol's Reviews.

Peek: "The purpose of that first draft is just to get to know the characters and their world, explore the themes, and so forth. The fact that it's going to be trashed anyway takes a lot of pressure off. I can just write and see what happens."

Please surf by and leave a comment or two!

Thank you Mary, Robin, and Carol!

Spooky Notes

Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) goes on sale in soft cover next month--July 22, 2008! The back matter includes an excerpt from Eternal (Candlewick, 2009), told from the point of view of the female lead. Note: there also is a male lead, and the story is told in alternating points of view by those two characters.

I'm also happy to report that I've received sample pages for Eternal, which include the interior art elements, and they look gorgeous.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Spooky News, Links & Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of the Australian edition of Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer (Allen & Unwin, 2008)(published in the U.S. by HarperCollins, 2008)!

From the promotional copy: "This is the story of five sisters. Beauty longs for love. Mim holds a secret tightly. Stevie is tempestuous and impulsive. Fancy talks too much and understands too little. And Autumn, the youngest sister, struggles to discover who she is. None of the Herbert girls is aware of the mild-looking man who has become obsessed with them--until the day one sister doesn't come home."

"Mazer's latest novel would give Alfred Hitchcock a run for his money." --Kirkus Reviews

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name and snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 23! Please also type "Missing Girl" in the subject line.

Reminder

In celebration of summer reading, I'm giving away autographed sets of 25 Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) bookmarks to five YA public librarians.

One of those mailings also will include a copy of the Tantalize audio, and one will include a Sanguini's T-shirt (Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in the book). Due to popular response, I may add another T-shirt and audio.

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name, the name of your library, and the library snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 30! Please also type "Summer Reading" in the subject line. Note: prizes will be sent on a rolling basis.

More News, Links, & Giveaways

Thanks for the positive response to this week's Cynsations interview with author Brian James! Good news: you can learn more about him in another interview, this one from Imperial Beach Teens of the Imperial Beach Library (Imperial Beach, California)! Plus, this month, the IBTs are giving away copies of both of Brian's new releases Zombie Blondes and Thief! Peek: [On surviving the teen years] "I was very confused, angry and scared most of the time and the way I handled that was do a lot of stupid things. I often look back and realize that it's a near miracle I survived."

LOL Cat Contest To Win Spiderwick DVD Books from Holly Black. Holly says: "I have been given six copies of the Spiderwick Chronicles DVD by the good folks at Paramount. I also have one Collector's Trunk with the five original Spiderwick chapter books and the notebook bundled inside." Deadline June 29. See more information.

Huge Giveaway: Amanda at A Patchwork of Books is giving away five copies of Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Henry Holt, 2008). Read a Cynsations interview with Mary about the novel.

Night Road by A.M. Jenkins (HarperCollins, 2008): a recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith of GregLSBlog. Peek: "For years, Cole has held himself aloof from the community, but now he's called back to handle an "accident:" an accidentally-created and newly-formed heme named Gordo." Read Cynsations interviews with Greg and A.M. Jenkins.

"Bad Writing Days" by Justine Larbalestier at Justine Larbalestier: Writing, Reading, Eating, Drinking, Sport. Peek: "When we are in that kind of state it's best not to remind us that the day before we thought it was the best book ever written. All you can do is nod and smile and make sympathetic noises and offer us food or liquid we find particularly comforting."

Attention Austinites

BookWoman (5501 North Lamar #A-105, between North Loop and Koenig Lane) is hiring a part-time bookseller. Peek: "We are looking for a committed and energetic feminist who loves her local feminist bookstore and loves books (especially by and about women) and is able to talk about them, who works well with and around people, has excellent customer service skills, is self-motivated, hard-working, as well as detail-oriented; and has the ability to multi-task -- including data entry, publisher interface, and store upkeep." Application deadline: June 23. See more information.

Slumber Party @ Teen Fest: April Lurie (author interview)(MySpace), Jennifer Ziegler (author interview)(MySpace), and Cynthia Leitich Smith will join forces in a "lively, intimate discussion about books and writing for teen girls" at noon Aug. 2 at Carver Branch Library/Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas. The event will include a book signing, "games, snacks, beauty tips, and even a passionate reading contest. Pajamas and pillows optional!"

Austin SCBWI's "A Day with an Editor" featuring Jill Santopolo, author and senior editor at Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith will be Sept. 13. "Mark your calendars now and prepare to register early as this event is expected to be a sellout. Registrations will open around July 1, and registration forms will be available at Austin SCBWI." Note: Jill is interested in literary novels, quirky middle grades, and picture books. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is the author of Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure (Scholastic/Orchard, 2008). Don't miss today's new interview with Jill at Through the Tollbooth.

Finally

Question of the Week Thursday: Heather Brewer from Robin Friedman's JerseyFresh Tude. Robin asks: "What has it been like to experience the enormous success of your new series?"

On a related note: "This video is about what it's like to be Heather Brewer's son."


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Author Interview: Brian James on Zombie Blondes

Brian James on Brian James: "I was born in Virginia on January 7, 1976. I never really knew my real father, he and my mother split up when I was one year old.

"My mom was only 19 when I was born, and she raised me and my older brother by herself for the first few years of my life. We moved around a lot, living with family. We moved in with her boyfriend when I was four and stayed there for two years. He was really abusive, and I think that shaped a lot of my impressions at the time. She finally left him and ended up marrying my step-father shortly after.

"My step-father was great, and with him, we more or less lived the suburban life. I ended up with two sisters and two more brothers.

"Being in a big family often meant going unnoticed, which left me a lot of time to figure things out on my own...both good and bad. There were a lot of ups and downs, and things going on that confused me. I guess even as a little kid, I tended to work those out by telling myself stories...which naturally progressed into writing them down.

"In high school, I never took much interest in writing or reading. Not until I was 16 or 17. At that point, I made a new best friend who really turned me on to books and kept giving more and more things to read. I ended up senior year in high school taking mostly English classes and loving it. I moved to New York City with I was 18, and I ended up majoring in English Literature at NYU.

"I never took a creative writing class of any kind, I always assumed I'd learn more about how to write effectively by studying great books and then developing a style without anyone's help so that it would be unlike anyone else. I also studied psychology, which I found very helpful. Learning why people act the way they do to certain situations gave me a new insight on developing characters.

"Most of my early influences were music. I've a been huge fan of music since I was little, and since I didn't read for pleasure until I was 16 or so, song lyrics were the biggest influence on me at first. Kurt Cobain, Axl Rose, Syd Barrett, when I was starting, and even today Elliot Smith, John Frusciante and others. There are also a lot of authors that influenced my writing, William Burroughs, Irvine Welsh, Lewis Carroll, and John Fante.

"I published my first book when I was 23 and have since published four novels and about ten children's books. I have three more novels planned over the next two years and about ten more children's books.

"I lived in New York for ten years before moving to the Catskill region in upstate New York two years ago."

How would you describe yourself as a teenager?

Others would have said I was a freak. I never thought so. But being overtly punk in a suburban town in the early '90s was a good way to get labeled "freak." I wasn't quiet about it either. I lashed out quite a bit. Looking back on it all, I would say I was definitely troubled. In a lot of ways, it's pretty amazing I survived past the age of eighteen.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most? What might you do differently, given the opportunity?

I was always interested in writing. But all through high school and college, I only ever shared any of it with a few select friends. I was always too embarrassed to show anyone else.

Because of that experience of really developing my style in isolation, I think I've been able a pretty unique way of writing. But it also stunted my editorial skills quite a bit.

Thankfully, I made the smart decision to take an internship in the editorial department of a major publishing house during my senior year of college. There I learned a lot about how writing is shaped into something great. I applied what I learned to my own writing after that.

If I could do it all over again, I think would've tried to be more open to other peoples' suggestions and criticisms earlier on in my development.

What is it about young people as fictional heroes and/or as an audience that especially appeals to you?

As far as character is concerned, I think young protagonists are exciting. There's opportunity to create emotionally dynamic characters whose actions would be less believable when projected onto an adult character.

As for an audience, I think teens are great for the same reason. They're really open to understanding different points of view. I also think they respond to a work of fiction on much more personal level sometimes, and as a writer, it's great to know your work has real meaning to its readers.

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

It was pretty much a sprint all the way. My first novel was sold when I was 23. I got extremely lucky. Having worked in publishing, I had a few connections that worked out quite well.

Could you please update us on your recent back-list and/or current titles, highlighting as you see fit?

I have another novel that is coming out around the same time. It's a book called Thief (Scholastic 2008). It's about a girl in NYC foster care who steals for her guardian. It's a companion book to a novel I wrote years ago called Tomorrow, Maybe (Scholastic, 2003). It's the second time I've done a companion set, where a character from one book goes on to narrate a later book. It was interesting to revisit a character after such a long break, but it came well.

I also just finished a new manuscript called The Heights, a modern reworking of Wuthering Heights, that should come out next year.

How have you grown as a writer over time? What do you see as your strengths? In what areas do you feel as though you must still push yourself?

I think as an artist, it's important to keep improving and pushing yourself. My strength has always been voice and making a character feel real.

I've always been more excited about language and character more than plot, and, therefore, that's the area that I always have to work hardest on. I usually rework a plot outline several times before I write a story. Zombie Blondes is really the first book of mine that has plot at the forefront, and it was really fun for me to work on it because of that.

Congratulations on the release of Zombie Blondes (Feiwel & Friends, June 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sure. It's sort of my take on a horror novel. I wanted to write a horror novel that felt extremely real. So the main character Hannah isn't unlike the characters of my previous books, which would fall into the realistic fiction genre. She's a girl who moves around a lot and has trouble fitting in wherever she goes. The book deals with a lot of the normal problems of being in high school, but Hannah has the unfortunate luck to happen upon a school attended primarily by zombies who are very clever and devious when it comes to hiding themselves.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

The initial inspiration actually came from Jean Feiwel. I'd worked with her in the past, and she had come up with the title Zombie Blondes but without a story. She got in touch and asked if I had any ideas.

I loved the title right away, but at first it seemed so far out of the range of what I normally write. But then the idea stuck around and the story started to take shape in my mind. I envisioned it as a cross between the movies "Heathers" (1989) and "The Lost Boys" (1987).

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

We started discussing the idea in the summer of 2006, and I wrote the book that fall and winter. There wasn't much time between then and now, since it was an idea conceived together with the publisher.

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

The main literary challenge to the book was figuring out how to capture the intensity of the scary scenes. Movies have the luxury of using music and quick camera cuts to shock the audience. I had to figure out a way to do that in a novel.

As for research, I lived most of it. I had recently moved from New York City to a small town in the middle of nowhere (which bears a strong resemblance to the town in the book). So Hannah's feelings were based heavily on my own.

So, I'm curious... Do you have a particularly intriguing history with zombies? Blondes? Both?

The zombies were based some images I'd been looking out by different artists and the songs of Roky Erickson. There are a couple of hidden nods to him in the book.

The zombies also represent a lot of my personal opinions about our society, and in that sense, I'm sorry to say, we all have experience with zombies.

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

I would try to focus on smaller themes. I used to set out to write an epic every time I sat down. Because of that, and my lack of experience, I often got lost in the story and let it spiral out of control.

What advice do you have for YA horror novelists?

Remember that sometimes the scariest things are realistic. If you can capture the horror of the everyday moments, then it magnifies the actual horror elements of the story.

What do you do when you're not in the book world?

I'm music junkie. I have a CD collection numbering in the thousands. So I'm always searching for new finds and listening to library I have.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My new novel, The Heights, which I mentioned earlier. I've also started another horror story that focuses on the survivors a plague. And I've been kicking around another story idea about a former child star who's self-destructing in his teen years.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite

Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P. C. Cast (BenBella, 2008) will be available exclusively at Borders as of this August.

This vampire-themed YA anthology will include short stories by P. C. Cast, L. J. Smith, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kristin Cast, Rachel Caine (author interview), Tanith Lee, Nancy Holder, Richelle Mead, and Claudia Gray.

My short story, "Haunted Love," is set in a fictional, small Texas town, which exists in the same fantasy universe as Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) and Eternal (Candlewick, 2009).

Cynsational Notes

Authors in the Corner: Cynthia Leitich Smith: a new interview from From the Corners of Megan's Mind. Peek: "'I don't think I'd be writing Gothics today if it weren't for Joss Whedon's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997)."

Check out the new play list for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) on my MySpace page. Thanks to members of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace for their song suggestions.

Are you a public librarian? See the giveaway of signed Tantalize bookmarks (scroll to read)!

Spooky News & Links

Evernight Contest #6 from author Claudia Gray. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to Amazon and a chance to name a character in the fourth Evernight (HarperCollins) novel. Deadline June 30. See more information. Read Claudia's LJ. From her FAQ: "Why not vampires? I used to check books of folklore out of the library and read for hours. Then there was Anne Rice, then there was 'Buffy,' then there was 'Moonlight'—basically, if it had vampires in it, particularly if it wasn't flat-out horror, I wanted to check it out. "

More News & Links

Interview with Mary E. Pearson by Debbi Michiko Florence. Peek: "Since I don’t outline or ever know for sure how a story will play out, it becomes very much a trusting process with lots of doubt sprinkled in along the way." Read a Cynsations interview with Mary. See also Mary E. Pearson on Inspiration from Teen Book Review. Peek: "'There is a Jack London quote that says, 'You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.'"

"Kathi Appelt--Writing The Underneath" from Kimberly Willis Holt (author interview) at Jambalaya--A Little of This and That. Peek: "In some ways this story was like taffy. I kept stretching it and pulling it and stretching it and pulling it some more, and at times pushing it further and further out. I revisited the region in which it took place, east Texas, tromped around in those pine forests." Don't miss part two. See also a recommendation of The Underneath from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog. Peek: "...a gripping story of cats, dogs, cruelty, love, and ancient and contemporary evil."
"The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination" from Harvard Magazine. "J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address...at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association."

Q and A with Susan Beth Pfeffer by Lynda Brill Comerford, Children's Bookshelf -- Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Writing has been my career for my entire life. I had my first book published when I was 20 and still in college. But out of all my books, these last two have been the most fun for me to write." Read a Cynsations interview with Susan.

"Teen Ink is a national teen magazine, book and website featuring teen writing, information, art, photos, poetry, teen issues and more. All articles are written by teen authors who are students at schools. Teen Ink is also a book series published by HCI Teens. More than 25,000 teens have been published in the magazine and its companion Poetry Journal. Teen Ink runs a London Summer Program for teenage writers."

Attention Texans

Attention Austinites: debut author Shana Burg is hosting a launch party for A Thousand Never Evers (Delacorte, 2008) from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin. Note: don't miss Shana's "Workshops for Students" and "Professional Development for Teachers."

Austin SCBWI's "A Day with an Editor" featuring Jill Santopolo, author and senior editor at Laura Geringer/HarperCollins, and Cynthia Leitich Smith will be Sept. 13. "Mark your calendars now and prepare to register early as this event is expected to be a sellout. Registrations will open around July 1, and registration forms will be available at Austin SCBWI." Note: Jill is interested in literary novels, quirky middle grades, and picture books. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and is the author of Alec Flint, Super Sleuth: The Nina, The Pinta and the Vanishing Treasure (Scholastic/Orchard, 2008).

Tantalizing Tidbits

Authors in the Corner: Cynthia Leitich Smith: a new interview from From the Corners of Megan's Mind. Peek: "'I don't think I'd be writing Gothics today if it weren't for Joss Whedon's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate (Delacorte, 1997)."

Check out the new play list for Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) on my MySpace page. Thanks to members of Tantalize Fans Unite! at MySpace for their song suggestions.

Reminder: In celebration of summer reading, I'm giving away autographed sets of 25 Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) bookmarks to five YA public librarians.

One of those mailings also will include a copy of the Tantalize audio, and one will include a Sanguini's T-shirt (Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in the book).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name, the name of your library, and the library snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 30! Please also type "Summer Reading" in the subject line. Note: prizes will be sent on a rolling basis.

Check out the Tantalize Reading Group Guide and the Tantalize Research Bibliographies. Watch the Tantalize Book Trailer, and listen to an excerpt of the audio book edition by actress Kim Mai Guest from Listening Library.

Finally

At an ABC news affiliate, authors Jane O'Connor, MAC, and Scott Westerfeld (author interview) offer summer reading tips. Source: Big A, Little A.



Book trailer for Gone by Michael Grant(HarperCollins, 2008)(author podcast; page includes previous podcasts with: E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski and Lauren Myracle; Melissa Marr; Anna Godbersen; and Meg Cabot).




Watch This Book: In bid to boost sales, authors try viral videos; Plugging a novel on roller skates by Lauren Mechling. Note: originally published last weekend in The Wall Street Journal. Peek: "In a book industry flooded with titles and facing sluggish sales, a growing number of authors are going to dramatic lengths to attract attention. The latest tactic: producing and starring in zany videos aimed at the YouTube audience." Note: different focus than the movie-like trailers. Source: Melissa Walker.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dancing with the Star Wars Stars



Source: Peg Kerr's Journal.

In other news, GLS blogs about the perfect crime.

I'm not sure there's a difference between the two.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Author Interview: Franny Billingsley on Big Bad Bunny

Franny Billingsley on Franny Billingsley: "Franny was successfully rehabilitated from the practice of law 25 years ago and has never once relapsed. In the intervening couple of decades, she's published two fantasy novels for upper-elementary and junior-high readers, Well Wished Wished (Atheneum, 1997) and The Folk Keeper (Atheneum, 1999).

"Her picture book, Big Bad Bunny (Atheneum, 2008), has just been released, so she's developing a school-and-library program for K-3rd grades and having a blast memorizing all the words to Little Bunny Foo Foo.

"Her novel-in-progress, The Chime Child (working title), has had an elephantine gestation, but she hopes it will be released in the fall of 2009."

I last interviewed you in June 2000, not long after the release of The Folk Keeper (Atheneum, 1999), which was published two years after your debut novel, Well Wished (Atheneum, 1997). It merits noting that The Folk Keeper was winner of the 2000 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in fiction. Looking back, what have each of those novels come to mean to you over time?

It took me an astonishingly long time to realize that the novels, although very different in many ways (tone, reading level, point of view, etc.), share something that goes to the core of each story: in each, the protagonist is looking for her skin.

If Corinna, the half-selkie, half-human protagonist of The Folk Keeper, finds her sealskin, she'll not only be able to shift from her human form to that of a seal, she'll have the option of redefining her identity, ‹choosing to live as a creature of the sea rather than as a creature of land.

When Nuria, the harum-scarum, high-energy protagonist of Well Wished, gets stuck in the body of a girl whose personality and physical relationship to the world are completely opposite to that of Nuria's, ‹of a girl who, in fact, can't even walk‹, Nuria has the opportunity to find out who she is at her core. Who is she when she's divorced from the physical vessel in which she used to reside? Can she, for example, still sing? Why is it that her dog recognizes her?

So they are both novels that address issues of identity. And then still later, I realized that I'd twice-over written my own story, which is that of shedding my skin as corporate lawyer to try one on that fit better, the skin of a children's book writer.

How have you grown as a writer in the years since?

On a practical level, the success of Folk Keeper has made it difficult to write my new novel (which I've been writing for almost ten years).

The Folk Keeper set a bar that I've felt I had to jump over, and so when I'm writing, I keep second-guessing myself, "Oh, I'm not doing what I did in the Folk Keeper; it therefore will not be as good a book as Folk Keeper."

This kind of thinking is deadly. The success of Folk Keeper was in great part due to the fact that it's rather unlike other fantasy novels, and here I am, imitating myself! Perhaps with a great deal of chocolate and psychotherapy, I'll manage to stop.

I did, however, write a picture book, ‹something I never thought I had the ability to do; and I do think that now I am inching away from Folk Keeper and honoring the integrity of my new novel. So I'm writing differently, which, to my way of thinking, is growth.

Congratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Big Bad Bunny, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Atheneum, 2008)! Could you tell us a little about the book?

Thanks! I guess I have to say that it's yet another story about identity!

It begins with two seemingly parallel stories: Big Bad Bunny rampaging through the forest while Mama Mouse scurries through the forest to find baby mouse. I hope that as the parallel stories unfold, the audience is worried that Big Bad Bunny will "get" (whatever that means) baby mouse. But then the stories merge, and guess what?

Big Bad Bunny turns out to be baby mouse, who's sick and tired of being treated as a baby.

It's sort of a mirror image of my novel Well Wished. There, Nuria is essentially spread between two bodies‹--there's her physical self, which is now occupied by Catty (the girl who can't walk), and there's her spiritual self (for want of a better word), the part of her that includes her memories, personality, values, etc. Those now occupy Catty's body.

In Big Bad Bunny, the Well Wished situation is turned inside out: both Big Bad Bunny and baby mouse occupy the same body. There are two identities in a single body.

But don't ask me if it's Big Bad Bunny's body or baby mouse's body. I'd have to get a degree in philosophy to figure that out.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this story?

The straightforward answer is that it arose from a meeting with my writers group in which we were trying to remember the words to Little Bunny Foo Foo (for reasons I no longer recall).

One of the group members called her daughter in D.C., who took valuable time away from her government job to tell us the words (so we are probably to blame for the country being in such a mess). When we read the words aloud, I really took them in for the first time, and it came to me what a funny idea it was to have a mice-boinking rabbit; and thus the seed was planted.

But after I'd written Big Bad Bunny and it was being illustrated, I went through some old computer files and saw a draft of a big bad bunny story that I'd written years earlier! So I'd had the idea for ages, forgotten it, then came back to it. I have no idea of what sparked that earlier draft or, indeed, any memory of writing it. Hmm, the human brain is certainly mysterious.

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

I wrote it in the summer of 2004; my editor accepted it right away and soon thereafter (late summer/early fall) lined up Brian Karas to illustrate it. I guess the major events were receiving and commenting on a series of increasingly-polished sketches and paintings from Brian. It was a low-maintenance publication experience. The book was published in Feb '08.

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

It felt easy; it felt like a gift. It was basically a two-draft book.

There was the first draft, which had no spine, and the second draft, which did. The spine just came to me; I don't really know how. The work my editor and I did together amounted to little word fidgets, nothing more.

If you ask me, Brian did all the heavy lifting. He faced the challenge of depicting Big Bad Bunny and baby mouse so that you couldn't tell they were one and the same, but at the same time, sharing enough similarities that when Big Bad Bunny's identity is revealed the reader will have that satisfying "Aha!" moment‹--the moment when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Brian did lots of drafts (if that's what one calls the stages of an illustrator's process), and with each new draft, he and I and our editor talked about how to tweak it to make it still more subtle and, at the same time, more obvious.

Talking is easy: it was Brian who had to actually do the work! I think he did a fantastic job: I'm so glad my editor thought of pairing him with my manuscript.

In 2000, you told me, "I don't think I'll ever write for younger than a middle-grader reader." What changed?

That comment came from a notion I had that I'd never have any picture-book-sized ideas. I used to think that I was built to be a marathoner. ‹I'm slow and steady and long-winded ‹and that I didn't have what it takes to be a sprinter. And I do still sort of believe that. I certainly believe that there are narrative forms that fit certain people better than others.

Someone once told me (although I've never checked on the truth of it) that Henry James wanted to write a play but could never carry it off; and it makes sense to me that takes one kind of DNA stew to write a novel versus and another kind to write a play (which I guess doesn't quite work as a metaphor as, to my knowledge, no stew has ever succeeded in writing anything
at all).

So how did I break free of my DNA? How did I jump out of this metaphorically-unsuccessful stew? I think it was three things.

One is that I was so frustrated with my novel-in-progress (on which I had then been working for a mere six years) that I had to turn to a successful project or I'd explode.

Second, the goofiness of the idea of a big bad bunny generated a lot of energy; and I remember thinking that giving it a shot wouldn't be a huge investment. I could scribble for a few weeks, and if it went nowhere, no big deal.

Third, I'd also read lots of picture books (more on that below), and I knew that I had an understanding of picture books even if I didn't have an innate instinct for them.

How did you go about learning to write a picture book?

I didn't set myself to learn: I realized that I already knew. I was lucky ‹I learned without knowing that I was learning.

I had managed the children's-book section of an independent bookstore for 12 years, and part of my job was doing two story-hours a week. I think the essence of what makes a good picture book got into my bones. I saw what worked, I saw what flopped. I saw how pattern can captivate and engage kids; I saw how kids love goofy ideas, etc.

So when I set myself to put this goofy idea into picture-book form, the structure came very naturally, as did my leaving room for the illustrator to tell his part of the story.

Had I not read so many picture books, I'm sure I would have thought I had to explain everything.

What about the process surprised you? Delighted you? Made you want to pull out your hair?

Neither of my novels felt as though it were a gift. Writing them made me feel as though I were digging in a quarry with a teaspoon. So the ease with which this came was a terrific surprise. You don't always have to suffer in the name of art! You don't have to cut off your ear!

I have no illusions that, should I undertake another picture book, it will be as flow-y and fun as this one was. But it's for sure easier (for me) to write and structure 500 words than 40,000.

Big Bad Bunny reminds me a bit of Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Harper & Row, 1963). It's the exploration of imagination and reassuring mother's love that triggers the connection in my mind. Were there children's picture books that especially inspired you? If so, which ones and why?

Thank you! I'd never thought about that before until you, and then someone else, mentioned it.

I do love the lovey-dovey books (as one of my friends calls them), but only those that have some punch to them ‹as Where The Wild Things Are certainly does.

One lovey-dovey book I really admire is So Much by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, 1994). I've learned a lot from that book--‹fantastic language, wonderful pattern.

I adore Pete's Pizza by William Steig (HarperCollins, 1998), which is a very different look at parental love‹. Talk about the transformative power of the imagination, not to mention a fantastically goofy idea!

I also love books in which there's conflict between parent (or parent stand-in) and kid, such as The Baby Blue Cat Who Said No! by Ainslie Pryor‹ (Viking, 1998)(out of print). The kids love anticipating the coming of the "no!" and then yelling it out. And the Baby Blue Cat has the last word (which is "no!"). ‹I love that!

Another somewhat different twist on the same idea is Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994). Again, the kid stand-in (the gorilla, in this case) gets what s/he wants‹--ha!

Maybe it's that I like books that are subversive in nature, that challenge the usual power hierarchy, as in the two just mentioned, and also in Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1997). The sympathetic kid gets what she needs by turning the tables on the bully kid, in a way that her mother (blind to what's going on) would certainly not approve.

I also love books in which the kids, themselves, drive away the monsters, such as in The Secret in the Matchbox by Val Willis, illustrated by John Shelley (FSG, 1998)(out of print) or Go Away Big Green Monster by Edward R. Emberley (Little Brown, 1993). Big Green Monster is sheer genius. Why didn't I write that?

Anyway, I think there are bits of all those ideas in Big Bad Bunny.

What do you love about being a writer?

I don't know that I could do anything else very well. I'm the kind of person who dwells a lot in her head, her imagination, and I don't pay much attention what's going on in the outside world. So a job that requires that I live in my imagination is perfect.

I love making something out of nothing, surrounding it with the just-right details to make it seem as though this invented world must exist, weaving the threads together so that there are no chinks or holes through which the reader could peer to see the machinery cranking away behind the scenes.

What for you are its greatest challenges?

It's the same thing, really, making something out of nothing. When I begin a new novel, it takes ages for it to feel "right." I blunder along for a long time‹, years--‹choosing names, choosing settings, figuring out the nature of the magic, etc.

At the beginning, it all seems so made up, not organic to the story, and I often despair that I'll never hit upon the right combination of details that will feel true to me (it's a kind of an I-know-it-when-I see-it thing).

But I keep at it, and then the "true" details come bubbling to the surface, and the more true ones there are, the more easily others appear. And that's when I start to believe in the story and start to believe that others might believe in the story, and it becomes fun‹-magic.

Do you have a critique group or work only with your editor? If the former, what makes the group work for you and why? What advice do you have for writers in working with peers?

I do have a critique group‹--it's very important to me. It's not just that I receive valuable feedback on my writing, although I do, it's a place where I can get lots of support and shots of love and reality checks (e.g. just because I haven't heard from my editor for a week doesn't mean that she hates me!), and advice about fabulous new books to read, and great vats of humor and chocolate. I always leave feeling more hopeful and ready to take on the next writing challenge.

As for advice, two things are important to me about a writing group.

You want to be sure that the members share in a general your understanding about writing and books. This does not at all mean that, for example, if you're published, they have to be published. It means that you share a common vocabulary and sensibility. It means that they understand the art and craft of how a book is put together and can intelligently and articulately and kindly tell you what needs to change for the book to work best.

Getting feedback from people who think very differently from you or else just don't get what it is that you do (for example, I write fantasy, and lots of people just don't "get" fantasy) can be really hurtful to your writing. You certainly don't have to take every suggestion, not even from your editor, but generally you want to be able to trust the response of your group.

The other thing has to do with group dynamics. Some groups don't work out because someone needs to be the boss, to run the show, and power struggles emerge. I don't know how you guard against that, but it's something to be aware of. I've been extraordinarily lucky in that regard.

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

This is what I think is most important: keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep writing, keep submitting, don't give up, keep . . . .

What advice do you have for fellow picture book writers?

I guess I can only suggest that they do what I did: read a million picture books (more or less). Read them aloud for the getting-it-in-your-bones thing I mentioned.

If there are a few spare children around, use them! See how easily (or not) you can get them to participate in the story, ‹i.e., will they chime in on the predictable pattered bits? See what they love (just see what happens if you mention diapers...).

Even without a kid audience, read your draft(s) aloud to see how it sounds, how easy it is to predict the pattern, try to analyze the fun (diaper) quotient, etc. And then read a million more.

What do you do when you're not in the book world?

Nothing very exciting. Taking care of two kids (18 and 13) takes some time, as does the hideously quotidian issue of having to shop and prepare food (I love to eat but I hate the steps leading thereto). Two dogs also take some time, but their meals are easy; and unlike my children, they think I'm a goddess!

I haven't read as much as I'd like recently, or kept up with what's new in children's books. I used to be very on top of that.

I'm looking forward to a house renovation next year‹, and I really mean looking forward! Because I'm stuck in my imagination, I'm always re-envisioning spaces; and I've been re-envisioning our own space for a long time now. I love both the vision and the carrying out of it, which will include stencils applied by my own fair hand, the one that probably ought to be writing.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The tentatively-titled The Chime Child, which is the albatross that's been digging its talons (do they have talons?) into my shoulder for ten long years.

I also have a chapter book in the works (third-grade-ish) and another fantasy that I hope will be funny, light-hearted‹, which is not how one would describe either Well Wished or the Folk Keeper.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Spooky News, Links & Giveaways

In celebration of summer reading, I'm also giving away autographed sets of 25 Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008) bookmarks to five YA public librarians.

One of those mailings also will include a copy of the Tantalize audio, and one will include a Sanguini's T-shirt (Sanguini's is the fictional vampire restaurant in the book).

To enter the giveaway, email me (scroll for address) with your name, the name of your library, and the library snail/street mail address by 10 p.m. CST June 30! Please also type "Summer Reading" in the subject line. Note: prizes will be sent on a rolling basis.

Check out the Tantalize Reading Group Guide and the Tantalize Research Bibliographies. Watch the Tantalize Book Trailer, and listen to an excerpt of the audio book edition by actress Kim Mai Guest from Listening Library.

See also "Memoirs of a Writer's Summertime Reading" from The Bridge, Austin Public Library Programs for Youth (p. 2)(PDF file), a 2002 article I wrote about how important public library summer reading programs were to me as a young reader.

The winner of the Feast of Fools: The Morganville Vampires (Book Four) by Rachel Caine (NAL/ Jam, 2008)(sample chapter) giveaway was Zach, a YA reader in Missouri!

More Giveaways

Blue Bloods Poetry Contest: Author Melissa de la Cruz is awarding 35 copies of the Blue Bloods: Revelations four-chapter samplers. [Read a Cynsations interview with Melissa.]

Directly from Melissa:

Here are the rules:

1.You can enter as many poems as possible, but can only win once.

2. Poems can be in any form: free verse, haiku, villanelle, epic, Dr. Seuss-style, what-have-you.

3. Poems should be spell-checked. If your words are spelled correctly that gives you huge ups. I don't mind misuse of capitalization so much--e.e. cummings never capitalized and did niFTy things like THis. But I do have to say, it is easier to
read correctly capitalized verse. So, up to you.

4. Poems should be about the Blue Bloods universe. Or in the voice of a Blue Bloods character. Up to you. You could pen a poem about Jack's hotness, Mimi's bitchiness, a ballad to Schuyler and Oliver, or about Michael and Gabrielle, anything you can come up with. Or you could write a poem in the voice of a character. Just make a note of who is supposed to be speaking.

5. I'm looking for creativity and polish, but also humor and originality. I was a huge poetry-entrant when I was in high school (and won a bunch), so I think this is a fun experiment.

6. We'll post the best poems on the site of course. We will have a grand prize, a first runner-up and a third-runner up, who will receive goodie-bags from my vast goodie-bag closet as well as the chapter samplers.

7. Poems are due by June 20th.

8. Poems should be e-mailed to: melissadlcoffice@gmail.com with the subject header: "Poetry Contest."

Archer's Quest Quest: author Linda Sue Park celebrates the redesign and relaunch of her official site (by Theo Black) with a giveaway of ten paperback copies of Archer's Quest (Random House/Dell/Yearling, 2008). Deadline: midnight EST, June 8. Read an interview with Linda Sue about Archer's Quest.

June 2008 YA Book Giveaways at TeensReadToo.

More News & Links

ACLU Files Suit in Librarian Harry Potter Case by Joan Oleck from School Library Journal. Peek: "Smith, a Southern Baptist who believes that the Potter books encourage children to worship the occult, claims that after she declined to attend the celebration, where librarians were asked to dress as wizards." Note: the plaintiff is no relation. Source: Not Just for Kids.

Dead Girl Walking by Linda Joy Singleton (Flux, 2008). From the promotional copy: "Linda Joy Singleton, author of the successful Seer books, returns with another hot paranormal series." Coming in September; check out the sneak peek at Flux. Read Linda Joy's LJ, and visit her page at MySpace. Read a Cynsations interview with Linda Joy Singleton on The Seer series.

Congratulations to Perry Moore, whose novel Hero (Hyperion, 2007), winner of the 2008 Lammy for Best YA Novel with GLBTQ Content, Published in 2007 and to Brent Hartinger, winner in the bisexual-book category for Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Zombies & Bride of the Soul-Sucking Zombies (HarperCollins, 2007)(author interview).

Question of the Week Thursday: Robin Friedman asks Lisa Schroeder: "What did you do in the way of promotion?" Peek: "Because I work 32 hours a week at a day job, I don’t have a ton of time for promotional type activities. So I decided six months or so before my novel came out that I needed to make the Internet my best friend."

The Official Minion Horde Summer Reading List by Heather Brewer at Bleeding Ink. Peek: "The official list (alphabetized just for you) of books, comics, and manga that a Minion just can't miss out on." Note: top-notch for speculative fiction fans.

More Personally

I have joined the ranks of authors on Facebook. Please include include in friend requests that you're a Cynsational reader. You can also find me at my MySpace page.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Author Interview: Sarah Prineas on The Magic Thief

Learn more about Sarah Prineas at her author site, her LJ, and from the Class of 2k8! Also visit www.magicthief.com, a microsite celebrating the novel with games, contest, wallpaper, and more!

How would you describe yourself as a young reader?

Lacking. Which is not to say that I didn't read because I did,
voraciously. But I didn't discover fantasy until I was an adult, and as a kid I would have loved it. If I found a book I loved, I read and re-read it until it became part of me.

Could you tell us about your apprenticeship as a writer? What helped you the most?

I started writing in 2000 when I had a new baby and was living in Germany where my husband had a postdoctoral appointment in physics.

During that time I was supposed to be working on my dissertation (I have a PhD in English), but it was not going well, and writing fiction was a way for me to procrastinate and feel productive at the same time. For a long time I wrote fantasy for adults—short stories and one unpublishable novel.

In late 2005, I started The Magic Thief, and something about writing for children was perfect for me; maybe I found my voice. In May 2006, I went to a novel critique workshop called Blue Heaven, held on an island in Ohio (yes!), and got the support and encouragement from writer colleagues that prompted me to get an agent.

The two key pieces of writing advice I got along the way were: 1) The Protagonist Must Protag; and 2) Never Surrender!

What is it about young people as fictional heroes and/or as an audience that especially appeals to you?

My kid readers are awesome because they are completely honest. It's like there are no barriers, no "cool" factor, they just tell you how they feel. Meeting kid readers for the first time blew me away, made me realize—yes!—this is why I'm doing this writing gig.

I like writing kid protagonists because if a kid has agency in his or her own life, as many kid protags do, there's dramatic tension inherent in that situation. The kid gets to act in the world, and not necessarily with a protector or parent or guardian to intercede for him or her. I love the possibilities that opens up.

The other thing is, a kid protagonist gets to act in the world without the same kinds of responsibilities that weigh on an adult protagonist; it's liberating, I think.

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

It was pretty much a sprint, once I figured out that I should be writing for kids. I wrote Magic Thief in one mad rush during late 2005 early 2006, took it to that novel workshop I mentioned above, got an agent (via a referral), and after I'd finished cleaning the novel up a bit, she submitted it and sold it by the end of 2006. So, it was just over a year from the day I started the book to the day my agent sold it.

Then things got even sprint-ier! HarperCollins originally scheduled the book for publication in spring 2009, but after some exciting international rights interest, they bumped up publication to spring 2008. That put the book onto a "crash" publication schedule starting in June 2007. I did edits in two weeks (while I had Lyme disease…which I caught from a cursed tick on that Ohio island), and the book was rushed into production. Despite the rush, it turned out really well; Harper makes beautiful books!

Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel, The Magic Thief (HarperCollins, June 2008)! Could you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! In Wellmet, a fantasy city similar to early-Victorian London, Conn, a scruffy kid with a dark past, picks the pocket of a cranky wizard, Nevery, and steals the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus and deploy magic. Conn becomes absolutely certain that he is meant to be Nevery's apprentice—if only he can stay out of trouble long enough. He also discovers a plot to steal the city's supply of magic. Conn and Nevery set off on an adventure involving danger, excitement, biscuits, the most amazing locus magicalicus in the world, Underlord minions, misery eels, pugilistic displays, truth-telling drugs, getting everything you ever wanted and losing it again, and crossing a (mostly) frozen river on a night of stars as bright as daggers.

The novel is the first book in a trilogy; Conn's adventures continue in book two, The Magic Thief: Lost. In book three, The Magic Thief: Found, there are dragons.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

As I said, I'd been writing fantasy for adults. I had the first two lines of the book--"A thief is a lot like a wizard. I have quick hands, and I can make things disappear"—in a file on my hard-drive for over a year, but I didn't have a character or story to put with them.

Then I was reading the Letters-to-the-Editor page of the December 2005 Cricket magazine, and a kid's letter asked for more stories with wizards and magic, and for more two-part stories. Chapter one of The Magic Thief was the story I wrote in response to that letter (Cricket is still considering the story for publication!), but once I had that written I realized that Conn's story was novel sized. And when I finished the novel, I realized it was trilogy sized…

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

The book was ridiculously fun to write. I had to cook bacon and biscuits for research, and visit my husband's physics lab for inspiration—the Device in the book is based on his lab equipment. I did some research on early Industrial-Age London, because the city of Wellmet is (very) loosely based on that. I also started writing on a laptop for the first time while working on this book, and became a Mac person, and I'm sure that helped me write faster.

Do you outline first? Do you just begin writing and see where it goes? Or, put another way, are you a plotter or a plunger and why?

I'm totally a plunger, or an "organic writer," as I call it. The story "grows" as I write it. I love writing as an act of discovery, writing into the void, trusting that I can come up with what comes next. The key for this succeeding, for me, is having a protagonist who protags, who motivates the plot through his actions.

I have a general idea of where the story needs to go, but for the specifics I just create a situation and then ask, "Okay, what would Conn do?" The kid knows how to get himself into trouble, which his writer appreciates.

What is it like being a debut novelist in 2008? What has surprised you the most?

Oh, the whole process has been an incredible learning experience. I am fascinated by how publishing works.

Fairly early on, my editor sent me a book called Dear Genius, the letters of venerable HarperCollins editor Ursula Nordstrom to her authors. From reading that book, I learned that publishing is a business, but it's run by people who passionately love books, who can be, as Nordstrom describes, "shimmering with happiness" at discovering a new manuscript.

I love that our publishers are romantic about books. I've seen this attitude throughout the publishing process, when I've talked to booksellers and teachers and librarians and sales reps.

It's a business, yes, but it runs on the joy of reading and the love of books. This really was a surprise to me.

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

Get involved in the children's writing community earlier. I came to publishing from the adult fantasy/science fiction world. From the etiquette to the expectations to the sense of community—it's all very different. I did get involved in the Class of 2K8, which has been nice.

Do you work within a community of writers (a critique or workshop group), with an editorial agent, or solo before submitting to a publisher? Why? What are the benefits to you?

I have four or five trusted first readers—these are all good friends from the adult sf/f world. We read and critique each others' novels.

I also go to the Blue Heaven workshop every year for another round of helpful critique. Then my agent, who used to be an editor, kicks my novel's butt (she once had me cut 40 pages from the first third of a book!). Then the book goes to my editor at HarperCollins, and by that point it doesn't need a whole lot of work.

I just looked back at my query letter for book one, and when I submitted The Magic Thief to my agent, it was 88,000 words long. The final manuscript was around 55,000 words. I don't remember cutting that much, but evidently I did… That's where I benefit most from critique—readers telling me what to cut. Sometimes things are clearer, I've learned, if I explain them less.

What advice do you have for fantasy novelists?

Believe. In his Introduction to Shakespeare, poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge talked about "suspension of disbelief." You've probably heard that term before, and it's the idea that somebody watching a play or reading a book can "forget" their mundane situation long enough to sort-of pretend that the play or book is real.

But Tolkien said that fantasy writers don't just create suspension of disbelief, they create something even more powerful and amazing; they create belief. I think a fantasy writer has to immerse herself in her world, to believe in it so completely that she can convey the reality of that imagined world to her reader. When a reader engages with a thoroughly "believed" world, she can transcend reality, and comes back to our world changed. I'm totally with Tolkien that fantasy novels can change the world.

As a reader, so far what is your favorite YA novel of 2008?

This is such a hard question! I've been reading tons of YA and MG this year, trying to educate myself about this genre that's still fairly new to me. And there's soooo much good stuff. Some recent books that I've really grooved on (and I'm getting to some of them late!) include Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Peter Cameron's Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Catherine Gilbert Murdock's The Dairy Queen, A.M. Jenkins' Repossessed, and Pat Murphy's The Wild Girls. Oh, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (I can't wait to read Twisted; that's up next). See, this isn't answering your question; none of these books are from 2008, are they? Some books I can't wait to get my paws on include Ingrid Law's Savvy, Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season, and Kristin Cashore's Graceling.

What do you do when you're not in the book world?

Well, I'm a mom to two kids, Maud (age 12) and Theo (age 8), and the partner of my husband, John. I play the piano and run and read LiveJournal and check email.

In the past, I taught for the University of Iowa Honors Program, but now I just work half time as their Scholarship Coordinator, helping very high-achieving students apply for the major awards like the Rhodes and Fulbright and Truman scholarships. My writing really is a full-time job, but I haven't been able to give up the day job because I love working with students so much.

What can your fans look forward to next?

My fans! What a concept. I don't think I have any yet…but up next is the second book of the Magic Thief trilogy, due out a year after the first book, and then the third book.

After that, I'd like to do some more Wellmet-world books, and I've got a couple of stand-alone novel ideas, and an idea for a whole new fantasy world. Any of these would be fun to write. Depends on the vagaries of publishing, I suppose…

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just thanks to Cynthia for putting together these interview questions and thanks to you, reader, for taking the time to read my responses to them.