Thursday, September 30, 2010

Guest Post: Jenny Moss on Maps, Tables and Timelines

By Jenny Moss

I love data. I also recognize I have OCD tendencies. Hence, my writing process involves the creation of multiple tables and timelines, and the occasional map.

Once I finish a solid draft of a book, the details can quickly overwhelm me, making me toss and turn at night and look slightly unhinged during the day.

Hallie and Whit Burnett, wife-and-husband co-editors of Story magazine, believed that some of a novelist’s success depends on his or her ability to “keep moving toward some ultimate goal in the distance on several wires, while juggling characters and plot and values at the same time, never losing sight of guidemarks or falling off.” Writing a novel can make for a crazy circus in the OCD mind.

One thing that nags at me is the possibility of inconsistency. That’s when I gleefully (and in full dork power) pull out my Microsoft Office software.

For my YA fantasy Shadow (Scholastic, 2010), in my writer’s folder on my laptop, I have many documents in addition to the drafts of the book - more files than I’ve had with any other novel. Part of the reason for this was because I was creating my own fantasy world set in a fictional kingdom I call Deor; I had a lot of details to keep straight, a lot of wires to walk.

One of my simplest and easiest-to-create files is a cheat sheet, just like the ones some professors would allow for tests in college. My objective was to put the global framework of the book on one piece of paper, so I could reference it when I needed to, getting information at a glance. (Also, for a time in the future when someone like Charlie Rose might call me and ask details about my book, I’d have a cheat sheet to refer to when I forgot the plot.)

The subtitles for my cheat sheet: "plot," "setting," "internal goal of Shadow" – who is the title character, "mythology," and "names and meaning." A cheat sheet can help the can’t-see-the-forest writer refocus on the key elements of the book and remain true to those.

On the other end of the spectrum, the file that is the largest and took the most time to create is a character chart: a table listing physical characteristics, emotional concerns, and goals of the characters. It’s only two columns: "character" (which includes "the weather" and "terrain") and "description."

To build the table, I copied and pasted references to each character from the text of the book into the "description" column of the chart, also listing the page number on which the reference was found. A row was devoted to each character.

When I finished the table, I read through the descriptions of each character, checking for consistency. Although by that time, just in the making of the table, I had already discovered most of the issues. The character chart I made for Shadow is 25 pages long.

Another worry is character relationships: Is there consistency in how the characters treat, converse with, and react to one another? Using Excel, I made a Relationship chart. The first column lists the chapters. The column headings consist of the different relationships: how does Shadow relate/see/think about Kenway, Kenway to Shadow, Fyren to Shadow, Shadow to the queen, etc.

I looked at each scene from each character’s point of view and filled in my spreadsheet. What I’d discovered – to my surprise – was that I had been fairly consistent in the way the characters reacted to one another. But there were some inconsistencies I tweaked as a result of the chart.

If you don’t feel you’re overwhelmed enough by the details of your novel, you can always throw in a road trip. If you do, a journey table can help keep things straight.

In Shadow, because the mode of travel involves walking and riding horseback in different conditions (e.g., flat dirt path, wagon-rutted road, swampy area), the travel times vary. So I took out the map of my fictional kingdom of Deor so I could add detail to it. Using graph paper and a ruler (which is a little like wearing suspenders and a belt), I made a to-scale map, placing all the towns, the type of terrain – hilly, flat, mountainous, forested, swampy – and rivers and streams.

Next, I researched travel times. How long would it take someone to ride sixty miles on horseback on a narrow trail? What if there were two people – who were not getting along very well – on one horse?

Finally, I could make my table. The first column listed all the legs of the journey, from the castle to a particular spot (which I won’t state here so as not to give anything away), from that particular spot to another – also secret – particular spot. The top row had headings for travel conditions (i.e., terrain, type of travel, and moon phase), speed of travel (gathered from research), and distance from place to place, then the resulting time, and the specific day and time of day. Unfortunately, I did this after I’d written my solid draft, which meant a lot of changes.

Timelines are also helpful for the OCD writer. I developed one for the plot of Shadow, so that I wouldn’t mix up what happened to whom and when. But I also needed a timeline listing events, referred to by the characters, but not seen by the reader. Some of these took place during the timeline of the story, but “off-stage.” Some occurred before chapter one began: the story before the story.

Other files can be created to be used for quick reference during the revision (or drafting) process, e.g., a chapter summaries chart, with one-paragraph summaries and the characters introduced in the chapters.

If you’re a fantasy writer, you might consider writing short Word files with descriptions of random things about your world. For example, for Shadow, I created files with details about my fictional kingdom, e.g., "geological and environmental Notes on Deor," "a short political history of Deor."

For an OCD writer, particularly a fantasy writer, creating your own world can be nerve-wracking. But maps, tables, and timelines can keep you from falling off in the high wire balancing act of novel writing.

Despite all this work, though, when asked questions about the book, I still forget details. But I do sleep better. And I’m ready if Charlie Rose calls and wants to know why it took Shadow so long to escape to that secret spot and what she really felt about Kenway during that particular scene. Here, let me get out my chart....

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy: "Shadow, an orphan girl, is given the duty to watch the queen's every move. When the castle is thrown into chaos after the queen is poisoned, Shadow escapes with a young knight, whom she believes was betrothed to the queen. As mystery builds, and romantic tension does, too, Shadow begins to wonder what her role in the kingdom truly is."

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Voice: Matt Myklusch on Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation

Matt Myklusch is the first-time author of Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation (Aladdin, 2010). From the promotional copy:

All Jack Blank knows is his bleak, dreary life at St. Barnaby’s Home for the Hopeless, Abandoned, Forgotten, and Lost, an orphanage that sinks further into the swampland of New Jersey with each passing year. His aptitude tests predict that he will spend a long, unhappy career as a toilet brush cleaner.

His only chance at escape comes through the comic books donated years ago to the orphanage that he secretly reads in the dark corners of the library.

Everything changes one icy gray morning when Jack receives two visitors that alter his life forever. The first is a deadly robot straight out of one of his comic books that tries its best to blow him up. The second is an emissary from a secret country called the Imagine Nation, an astonishing place where all the fantastic and unbelievable things in our world originate--including Jack.

Jack soon discovers that he has an amazing ability--one that could make him the savior of the Imagine Nation and the world beyond, or the biggest threat they've ever faced.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I am a plotter and a planner. That’s how my brain works with everything, so why should writing be any different?

For me, writing without an outline is like trying to drive cross-country armed with only a map of Delaware, Utah, and California. Certainly, it can be done, and there are plenty of writers who don’t need a map at all. They can make it from NYC to LA just by going west, but not me. I need to plan out the route so I know where I'm going. Even then, I like to have GPS so I don’t get lost.

Having said that, it's important to note that the route is not carved in stone. I might still wander off and visit random tourist attractions along the way, but only if they are really cool, like the World’s Largest Rubber Band Ball or something (located somewhere near Topeka, I believe). [Actually, it's in Lauderhill, Florida.]

I start off with a basic idea of what I want to do. I don't know where the initial spark comes from, but I usually know the broad strokes of my story... the feel of it, the three acts, the turning points, and maybe a few big moments I am trying to create and make readers care about.

Then, I write a stream-of-consciousness mess of an outline the includes everything from basic scene overviews to specific lines of dialogue to notes to myself. It starts out as something that only I can understand, but over time, I break that down into chapters and clean it up.

Eventually, I have a map to my story, but that's all it is. A road map. A guide. It's not a story yet. It's not even interesting yet. The characters are what make it interesting.

This is where a lot of new writers trip up when struggling with plot. They focus too much on plot. I used to do this all the time. I used to write stories where the characters weren’t people, they were just tools I used for advancing plot points. As readers, you and I are never going to care about tools. We want characters that fascinate us, infuriate us, make us laugh, and more.

If you don’t know what comes next in your story, sometimes you have to get to know your characters a little better. What do they want? What are they afraid of? What have they been through in life that makes them who they are?

All of this information might not even make it into your actual story, but if you know these things about your characters, then you’ll know what they would do in any given situation. You’ll know what each individual character would say and how they would say it.

I’m a plotter and a planner, but that’s just how I like to work. When I’m writing that first stream-of-consciousness outline, the question of “what comes next?” is usually answered by the characters. That’s because I know how they would react to what is going on in the story. And, this might sound weird, but even though you’re the one creating the characters, sometimes what they do can surprise you.

Any road trip you might take is only as good as the people you're going with. As a writer, you are taking your readers on a journey, but they aren’t riding with you, they are riding with your characters. At some point, you have to sit back and let your characters drive.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

With Jack Blank, I wanted to showcase the comic book world that fired my imagination as a kid, and introduce it to an audience that hasn’t seen it before.

I thought about how in the movies, it’s always just one superhero versus one villain, and the hero is usually the only superhero in the world.

It’s not like that in the comic books. In the comics, Iron-Man, Thor, Spider-Man, the X-Men… they’re all running around the same city fighting an endless supply of bad guys. It’s normal for people there to see heroes fighting villains in the middle of the street on a random Tuesday. That fully developed superhero world really doesn’t exist outside of comic books.

In this novel, I wanted to create my own superhero world. I wanted to show people who might otherwise never pick up a comic book how much fun that world could be, but I couldn’t really wrap my head around it until I drew it.

I am a very visual person, and drawing is another big part of my process. I like to really be able to see my characters and the places they inhabit. That might not have been the case if I wrote for another genre, but with superhero/fantasy-based stories, it’s ideal. Drawing really helps me get into the world of my characters, and I absolutely need to get into their world if I’m going to have any hope of leading a reader through it.

My thinking is, I have to know that place inside and out. There can’t be any ambiguity on my part, or the reader won’t know where I’m taking them. (If I can’t see it, they won’t see it).

Luckily, growing up, I spent a lot of time drawing and creating my own comic book characters. Over the years, I accumulated enough of them to fill a whole world and then some. That world became the Imagine Nation, but the question still remained, what would this world look like?

The comic book world has everything— magic, sci-fi, superheroes, kung fu, fantasy, and more. What aspects of the comic universe was I going to include? It wasn’t until I drew the city where all the heroes, villains, ninjas, aliens, and robots lived that I finally got a handle on the Imagine Nation. I started thinking about a city with different boroughs, each one dedicated to a different corner of the comic book world. That’s when things really started to click.

I think at some point every kid wants to grow up to be a superhero. That’s why I decided the best way to introduce the Imagine Nation to readers was through the eyes of a child. That led me to Jack Blank, a young orphan with a mysterious past, and a future that could see him become anything from hero to villain to lowly toilet-brush cleaner. When the time came to actually write it all, I just had one rule and that was to have fun doing it.

Spooky Notes

Matt Myklusch spends his days working for mtvU, MTV's twenty-four hour college network. A lifelong love for comic books inspired him to spend his nights and weekends writing Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, son, and trusty dog, Indy.

Matt discusses Imagine Nation from Simon & Schuster:

Matt offers advice to inspiring writers from Simon & Schuster:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Top Hotels in Austin, Texas

Austin is such a now, wow, happening place in the book world! I find that fellow authors and industry pros are always coming to town, and many of them ask where to stay.

Here's are my personal recommendations:

The Driskill Hotel (downtown; if you're looking for quiet, avoid rooms overlooking 6th Street);

Intercontinental: Stephen F. Austin (downtown);

Four Seasons Hotel: Austin (near warehouse district/lake front);

The Hotel Saint Cecilia (near south);

Mansion at Judge's Hill (beyond downtown but still north central);

Hotel San Jose (near south; if you're looking for quiet, avoid during weekends; but great for diving into the entertainment scene);

Austin Motel (ditto above).

Otherwise, the typical chains apply with the caveat that the Radisson on the lake has an excellent view of the bats (ask for a lake view and/or plan to eat at TGIFridays downstairs during bat season).

Spooky Notes

Learn about BookPeople, BookWoman, the Texas Book Festival on Oct. 16 and Oct. 17, the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19, the Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association on April 12 to April 15, 2011, and the Writers' League of Texas Agents Conference on June 10 to June 12.

Guest Post: Cinda Williams Chima on Violence in Teen Books

By Cinda Williams Chima

"What’s all this about violins on television?"

Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, "Saturday Night Live."

A few years ago, one of my colleagues at the university loaned my first novel, The Warrior Heir (Hyperion, 2006), to her mother to read.

“Oh, my,” Sue’s eighty-something mother said. “So bloody. And you seemed like such a nice girl.”

“But I am a nice girl,” I protested. I am. I’m carry-the-spider-outside nice. For a while, I was running a rabbit relocation program from my backyard, in a nonviolent attempt to keep them from savaging my lilies. I’ve given IV fluids to a guinea pig. Horror movies scare me, and I still won’t set foot in a haunted house.

That’s when I realized—each of my Heir novels begins with a prologue. And each of the prologues involves some kind of violent event--a murder, accident, or attack.

In my Seven Realms series (Hyperion, 2009-), Raisa ana’Marianna, the heir to the troubled Gray Wolf Throne, is the target of several assassination attempts. Another of the viewpoint characters, Han Alister, is accused of a series of grisly murders. When he gets in the way of a powerful wizard dynasty, they strike back ruthlessly. I don’t dwell on graphic, onstage violence, but it’s definitely there.

Hmm. Raise your hands, and step away from the keyboard.

The issue of violence in YA lit came to the fore recently with the publication of the wildly-popular Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008-2010). In a near-future dystopian world, a dictatorship maintains its grip on power by forcing children to fight to the death in televised tournaments.

In a post on Shelf Awareness, bookseller Sheryl Cotleur raised questions about the violent content of the series. Cotleur’s point was that we often focus on keeping sexual content away from young readers—should we be worried about violence as well?

The thing is, violence cannot be avoided in a story about war. Anything else is condescending. We owe it to readers to tell them the truth about that, or why should they believe anything we say? War is sometimes necessary. It is a stage on which myriad compelling stories are acted. But it is always horrible, especially for those who suffer collateral damage.

Authors who want to sidestep violence should tell a different kind of story.

I guess I’m more worried about violence without reflection—about media content that implies that those who die can be resurrected for the next episode or game. And that the good guy never ends up dead, maimed or disabled. And that we can inflict death from a distance and never pay a price for it.

Some readers aren’t prepared for a realistic depiction of war. In the Heir Trilogy (Hyperion, 2006-2008; box set 2009), wizards dominate the other magical guilds, forcing magical warriors to fight to the death in a series of tournaments known as the Game. When one of my main characters dies in battle, I was deluged with emails from unhappy readers.

Depending on how it’s handled, violence in media can either encourage or discourage violence in real life.

Are intense scenes in screen media like movies and video games more disturbing than those in books?

I guess I’m torn. In movies, viewers are passive recipients of the director’s vision, while readers are partners with writers in creating story. Because readers are more deeply embedded in the world they’ve helped create, they might be more affected by violence on the page.

On the other hand, whether the issue is sex or violence, readers self-edit to a degree, based on their experience, imagination, and personal tolerance. So it makes sense for authors to use a light hand when it comes to graphic onstage violence in books for teens.

Finally, parents, librarians, booksellers, and teachers should consider what kinds of stories will suit individual YA readers and recommend accordingly.

Cynsational Notes

The Demon King (Hyperion, 2009, 2010) is now available in paperback, and The Exiled Queen (Hyperion) releases Sept. 28.

Excerpts from each of Cinda's books are available on her website. Help for writers can be found under Tips for Writers, including a document called, “Getting Started in Writing for Teens” (PDF).

At her blog, you’ll find rants, posts on the craft of writing, and news about Cinda and her books.

In the video below, Ed Spicer interviews Cinda at the Rochester Teen Lit Festival.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Spooky News & Giveaways

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Razorbill, Jan. 11, 2011) ARC Giveaway from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. From the promotional copy:

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Contest deadline: Oct. 1. See details.

More News

What's in a Fictional Name? by Brian Meehl from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Intriguing names should definitely be tucked somewhere in a writer’s pigeon holes. The last name I added to my list was from a New York Times article about one of the first holdouts in the NFL: Pudge Heffelfinger."

Author Website Tip: make sure it's easy to find the publisher name, illustrator name, and publication date information for each of your books. It's also gracious to include related links.

Three Tips for Character Relationships by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Do you know someone who aggravates you, even while you enjoy their company?" Read a Cynsations guest post on creating book trailers by Darcy.

An Inside Look at Leap Books by Bonnie Doerr from the Class of 2k10. Peek: "We opened during the economic downturn because we believe in the authors we’ve contracted. Some of the most vibrant publishing houses today began during the depression, and, as they discovered, there’s only one way to go and that’s up."

For Those We Lose Along the Way by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violets. Peek: "I know of three authors who simply gave up after their first book, completely disillusioned and demoralized by the publishing process and the lack of support they got from their publisher, the lukewarm sales and reviews their book received." Highly recommended.

Finalists for the 2010 New Mexico Book Awards from New Mexico Book Co-op. See finalists in the picture book, activity book, young readers book, juvenile book, and YA categories. Note: especially recommended to those with a love of southwestern settings. Scroll to read an interview with finalist Kimberley Griffiths Little about The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2010) from the Mother-Daughter Book Club.

Resubmitting a Revision by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek: "So if I don’t ask you for a revision outright, what can you do? Emailing me immediately to ask if I’d be interested in seeing a revision down the line is probably not your best bet." See also Mary on Specificity of Setting.

New Agent Alert: Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company by Chuck from Guide to Literary Agents. Note: Logan is seeking children's-YA fiction.

Not Recommended for Younger Readers? by Kate Milford from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "Obviously there’s an ongoing argument between writers, young readers, and their parents about what they can handle. Or maybe the disagreement isn’t so much about what they can handle, but what they should even be thinking about. Or maybe it’s both. It’s probably both. So let’s chat."

Video Interview with Kate DiCamillo from the Minnesota Legacy Fund. Peek: "Newbery award-winning children’s author Kate DiCamillo shares her thoughts on writing, dogs, fan letters, and embarrassing first drafts." Read a Cynsations interview with Kate.

Theft is Not a Higher Form of Flattery by David Macinnis Gill from Thunderchikin. Peek: "The book is being downloaded faster than Rotarians have pop down a stack of pancakes. The difference is, the Rotarians paid for the pancakes." Read a Cynsations interview with David.

Writing on a Unicycle: Making Time for What You Love in a Life out of Balance by Deborah Brodie. Peek: "Unless writing is your day job, these tips are for you. And if you have other ideas, and the time to write them down, please send them to me so I can share them with others."

Kidlitosphere Blogger Tip: Looking to build your readership? Register your blog at JacketFlap, "a comprehensive resource for information on the children's book industry. Thousands of published authors, illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, and publishers visit JacketFlap every day."

Do Political Beliefs Impact Representation? by Jessica from BookEnds, LLC. Peek: "Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, 'No, absolutely not,' but let’s be honest."

Vision Is Ahead of Execution by Lindsey Lane from This and That. Peek: "You see, I have never written a novel before. A whole 24,000 plus word novel. I am fretting because I’ve never done it before. And because I’ve never done it before, I am thinking I will fail because I have never done it before."

Suzanne Collins Completes the Hunger Games from the Associated Press. Peek: "Inspiration, like a sudden phone call, began at home. A few years ago, Collins was surfing channels late at night and found herself switching between a reality program and news reports about the Iraq war. The images blurred in her mind. She wondered whether other viewers could tell them apart."

To Multi-book or Not to Multi-book by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Note: a discussion of pros and cons. See also Jennifer on option clauses in book contracts. Source: Elizabeth Scott. Read a Cynsations interview with Jennifer.

Series Books: a new curriculum resource center from Teaching Books. Note: focusing on series published for elementary-aged students. Note: featured books include The Birchbark House trilogy by Louise Erdrich (Hyperion-HarperCollins, 1999-2008)(author audio, related resources).

In Defense of Dead/Absent Parents in Children's Literature by Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent. Peek: "I am a former twelve-year-old, and I can remember how thrilling it was to read books where the kids were off on their own, fighting and outsmarting adults, dealing with harsh landscapes, facing their deepest fears, making unforgettable friendships, and, while I didn't know it at the time, learning how to be adults." Note: for the counterpoint, see Leila Sales on Ol' Dead Dad Syndrome from Publishers Weekly. Read a Cynsations interview with Nathan.

Slattery to Become Agent with Pippin from Publishers Weekly. Former Knopf editor Joan Slattery joins Pippin as literary agent and contracts manager.

Spooky Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Haunted by Jessica Verday (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Read an interview with Jessica from Mundie Moms.

More Personally

For those who missed it, I unveiled the cover art for Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011) this week. The novel crosses over the casts of Tantalize and Eternal and picks up where Tantalize leaves off. For news release with flap copy, a new author Q&A, and more information on the series, check out the official media kit (PDF).

This shelf shot of Eternal (Candlewick, 2009, 2010) was taken at the Houston airport and comes from Kathi Appelt.

Giveaway Winners

The winners of The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments 2 by Arthur Slade (Wendy Lamb, 2010) are Vivien in Kansas, Janine in Utah, and Nancy in Texas. Read a Cynsations guest post by Arthur on How to Put the "Steam" in Steampunk.

Texas Book Festival

Check out the schedule for Texas Book Festival on Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 in Austin.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be reading Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17, in the Children's Read Me a Story Tent. Her signing will follow immediately afterward at the Children's Signing Tent (13th and Colorado).

Greg Leitich Smith will moderate a panel, "Portals to Imagined Worlds," from 11 a.m. to noon PM Oct. 17 in Capitol Extension, Room E 2.014. Featured panelists include Brian Yansky (Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (Candlewick, 2010)); Ingrid Law (Scumble (Dial, 2010)); Carolyn Cohagan (The Lost Children (Aladdin, 2010); and Cinda Williams Chima (The Exiled Queen: A Seven Realms Novel (Hyperion, 2010)). Greg will also introduce M.T. Anderson at 3 p.m. Oct. 17, in Capitol Auditorium, Room E1.004.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Guest Post: Susan Fletcher on Waiting to Fly

By Susan Fletcher

When I was five years old, I loved stories about magic carpets, stories where people turned into swans, stories about people so light, they wafted like feathers into the air.

One day, watching a TV commercial, I saw a kid eat a bowl of Jets cereal, then hold out his arms, like wings...and fly.

Somehow, the commercial seemed real to me. I talked myself into believing that there might be a loophole in the rules that governed my world. That if I ate the right breakfast cereal, I could maybe lift off from my back porch and soar up into the sky.

I still remember standing at the edge of the porch after eating a bowl of Jets. Leaning forward: knees loose, arms stretched wide. Wishing with all my might.

Flash forward: Last July, at Vermont College of the Fine Arts, I heard Martine Leavitt talk brilliantly about the power of wish fulfillment in fantasy literature. Holly Black – also brilliant -- discussed the idea that magic in fantasy novels should make our characters’ lives harder, not easier. The idea that magic should have a price.

I think that the combination of those two things – wish fulfillment and magic with a price – underlies the appeal and the power of fantasy.

Where else but in fairy tales and fantasy can we live out our most impossible longings – to fly, to be fairest of them all, to be powerful enough to slay dragons? To have or be or do whatever we want – at the flick of a wand, the recitation of a spell, or the touch of a magic lamp?

And yet, to me, fantasy novels in which the wish fulfillment is too easy...feel hollow and unsatisfying.

In my new book, Ancient, Strange and Lovely (Atheneum, 2010), I indulged my old yearning to lift off the ground and take wing across the sky. There’s a dragon involved and a soaring flight across the mountains. So much fun to write! Vicariously, it was thrilling.

But it’s not a pleasant journey. It’s painful and cold and cramped. It’s terrifyingly dangerous. And the very gifts that make the flight possible for my protagonist, Bryn, exact a painful price: ostracism. A huge burden of responsibility. A life of isolation.

What a spoilsport! Why couldn’t I just go with joy?

Well, it’s partly about plot and tension. Superman without Kryptonite is like tennis without a net: What’s the point? If your protagonist can simply fly blithely away from danger, where’s the suspense? Who really cares what happens?

The other, deeper part has to do with that hopeful, earthbound five-year-old we left waiting at the edge of her porch. It’s about how she’s going to feel when she realizes that, no matter how desperately she yearns to lift off and swoop above her backyard, it’s never going to happen.

It’s about the fact that we, and all of our readers, hail from this same, unmagical tribe. And it’s our characters’ struggles and weaknesses and disappointments – more than their extraordinary gifts -- that make them believable and dear to us.

Cynsational Notes

Susan’s new fantasy novel, Ancient, Strange and Lovely, is the fourth in her Dragon Chronicles series. She is a member of the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of the Fine Arts.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith Cover Art, Flap Copy & New Pub Date

Here's the cover art for my YA Gothic fantasy, Blessed!

The publication date has been moved up. The novel will be available beginning Jan. 25, 2011 from Candlewick Press.

If you're a die-hard, no-spoilers person, you may want to stop reading now. If not, continue on for my latest YA author bio, followed by the flap copy.

And if you'd like even more information, check out Candlewick's Blessed media kit (PDF), featuring a news release, my latest Q&A, and extra series scoop.

About the Author

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the acclaimed and best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, and several other books for young readers.

About Blessed, she says, “Who hasn’t felt like their life is over? Like they’re all alone, facing an infernal storm? That’s when a little faith can save you, when you’re fighting the hardest to believe in yourself.”

A member of the faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in writing for children and young adults, she lives in Austin, Texas.

Flap Copy

With a wink and a nod to Bram Stoker, bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites the casts of Tantalize and Eternal in a delicious dark fantasy her fans will devour.

Quincie Morris, teen restaurateur and neophyte vampire, is in the fight of her life — or undeath.

Even as she adjusts to her new appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love — the hybrid-werewolf Kieren — of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who “blessed” her; and keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running.

She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon reveals his true nature — and his flaming sword — and they hit the road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late.

Even if they save the world, though, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?

Cynsational Notes

In related series news, two graphic novels Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Aug. 2011) and Eternal: Zachary's Story (TBA), both illustrated by Ming Doyle, are in the works as is with a fourth untitled (prose) novel that will conclude these Dracula-inspired storylines.

Readers also may want to look for two short stories set in the universe, both of which feature new characters. These are "Cat Calls," which appears in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists, and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009) and "Haunted Love," which appears in Immortal: Love Stories with Bite, edited by P.C. Cast (BenBella, 2009). If you can't find them on the shelf, ask your local bookseller or librarian for help ordering copies.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

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

By Arthur Slade

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two of them that will punkify your writing.

1. Get to know Queen Victoria.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you discover and get to know your protagonists?

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

Are you a plotter or a plunger?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Dead Book 1: Jonas - Chapter 1 Excerpt

Spooky News, Alien Invasions & Brains for Lunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooky Screening Room

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

More Personally

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

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

BookKids event coordinator Mandy Brooks is in the spooky spirit!

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Voice-Literacy Activist: Riley Carney on The Reign of the Elements series and Breaking the Chain

Riley Carney is the first-time author of The Fire Stone: Book One of The Reign of the Elements and The Water Stone: Book Two of The Reign of the Elements (both BookLight Press, 2010)(author blog). From the promotional copy of The Fire Stone:

Matt knows how to shovel hay, dig trenches, and dodge his father’s whip.

But when three terrifying creatures attack him, and he is rescued by a wizard, kidnaps a baby alorath, and is befriended by elves, Matt’s life transforms overnight from dreary to astonishing.

He unwittingly joins a quest to find the Fire Stone, one of the elusive Stones of the Elements which have the power to destroy the world, and is thrust into a string of perilous adventures.

Matt soon discovers that magic does exist and that he has extraordinary powers that can change his destiny and determine the fate of Mundaria.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I am a plotter. I wasn’t always a plotter, I became one out of necessity.

Before I wrote The Fire Stone, I had struggled for several years to write the same story. I would write about seventy pages, and then it would occur to me that I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it, and I would hit a wall. Eventually, I would begin again – but to no avail!

I did that over and over until I realized that I needed to have a plan.

When I wrote The Fire Stone, my first book, I sat down and did something I had never done before. I wrote an outline. When I actually started writing the book, I wrote the first draft in less than a month because I worked so efficiently off my outline. Now, whenever I start to write a book, I begin with an outline.

I begin with a few notes about my story, explore my characters a bit, maybe even write a page or two. Once my idea has begun to grown, I will construct the basic plot points. I start with a very bare-bones sketch of what I think might happen. Then, I begin to add to that skeleton.

I outline the story chapter by chapter, allowing up to a page of prose to describe each chapter. I begin to put in details so that everything fits together, but also so that I can remember important things that I want to add to certain scenes. Often, I’ll even add snippets of dialogue, humor, or emotion into certain scenes in the outline.

When I begin to write I give myself as much freedom as I want to add, delete, or change directions. I have changed major characters and added whole chapters to my story that weren't in my original outline. I still have the option to let my characters alter the story, but using an outline ensures that the story actually gets written.

After the story is written, it can always be edited and tweaked until it feels right. The editing process is easier than the creative process, so, my writing motto is: "just get it on the page," and the only way the writing will always get on the page is with an outline.

Beginning every book with an outline has been the reason that I’ve been able to write eight books in the past two years.

As a fantasy writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time fantasy reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I have always loved reading fantasy. I grew up with an older brother, and his love of magic and other worlds began to influence me very early in my life.

I have always been surrounded by books, movies, and toys that were fantasy and/or science fiction.

Some of my favorite fantasy books growing up were the Redwall series by Brian Jacques (Philomel, 1986-2010). I loved the idea of talking mice running an abbey and battling snakes, rats, and other foul creatures with swords and other medieval weaponry. We loved Redwall so much that we had a pet mouse named Martin after one of the main characters.

We also loved the Merlin series by T.A. Barron (Penguin Group, 1996-2000), the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer (Viking, 2001-), and, most importantly, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 1997-2007).

Books like Harry Potter transported me to new, amazing worlds where anything was possible. It was only natural that I would want to create my own enchanted stories filled with danger and adventure. I hope that I am able to help other kids love to read and to feel the same elation that I feel when I escape to a magical land.

Could you tell us about Breaking the Chain? What inspired you to found the organization, and what are its goals? What are some of the organization's accomplishments to date?

I grew up surrounded by books, and the importance of education was emphasized by my parents. I always knew reading was important.

When I was fourteen, the summer before going into high school, I learned that over 120 million kids around the world are denied access to a basic education, and that over 126 million kids, ages 5-17, work in hazardous conditions.

Additionally, in the United States, 1.2 million kids drop out of school annually. These statistics are heartbreaking, especially since there is a direct correlation between poverty and literacy.

I wanted to do whatever I could to change those statistics, so I created Breaking the Chain three years ago with the goal of breaking the chains of poverty for children by creating literacy opportunities.

Breaking the Chain has built three schools in Africa and provided water purification systems and alternative income for two of those villages.

In the United States, we created a children’s literacy center at a Women in Crisis shelter in Colorado and bought thousands of books for different reading programs around the country.

Also in the United States, we have a program called Bookin’It which has put more than 12,000 new books into classrooms in low-literacy/high-need elementary schools.

I am very excited about this program because it can have such a significant influence on children’s literacy. Most of these children do not have books in their homes, so it is imperative that they have books at school or they will never learn to read.

We focus on elementary schools because that is the most critical time for literacy; if a child does not learn to read by the fourth or fifth grade, he/she will probably remain illiterate.

I have also spoken to more than 10,000 kids over the past nine months at schools around the U.S. about literacy, risking failure to achieve dreams, the value of education, and the importance of reaching out to help others.

I hope that Breaking the Chain can continue to promote education opportunities for at-risk children for many years to come.

Currently, three billion people around the world live in extreme poverty. I hope that we can expand to affect as many children as possible, since literacy is the most important component of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Cynsational Notes

Riley, age 17, was 15 when she wrote The Fire Stone and next two books in The Reign of Elements series. She wrote the last two books in the series when she was 16 and recently completed a YA urban fantasy trilogy. Three years ago, she founded Breaking the Chain, a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating children's illiteracy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Spooky News

On the Act of Writing by Cate Tiernan from Peek: "I’m trying to interpret the world around me (and the world inside me), and I’m trying to express that in a way that others will understand, and perhaps come to see themselves in, at least a little bit."

Habits of a Working Writer by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You must begin to think like a writer–and that will lead you to acting like a writer. Then you’ll build the habits of a writer–and eventually you will get to enjoy the benefits of being a writer."

Reading Aloud: An Effective Editorial Tool by Mary Lindsey from Peek: "The human mind compensates for errors. When reading, mistakes are missed because the brain anticipates patterns and corrects inconsistencies automatically. Reading out loud forces the reader to slow the rate, which helps identify errors."

The Pirate Code of Children's Literature by Stacy Whitman, Editorial Director, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Peek: "A lot of editors will suggest that you make your protagonist a year or two older than your anticipated reader. Kids older or younger might read and love the book, but the targeted reader is probably in a narrow age band."

This is Why You Always Meet Your Deadlines by Eric from Pimp My Novel. Peek: "...this business is slow enough as-is, so as debut writers who always want to make the best of impressions, it's in your collective best interest to get your manuscripts and revisions delivered on time." Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Interview with Newbery Honor Author Kathi Appelt from Bobbi Miller. Peek: "I’ve begun to consider fantasy in a larger sweep — including tall tales, folk tales, superhero stories, magical realism, etc."

How to Deal with Contradictory Query Advice from Nathan Bransford. Peek: "Consider the source, consider the freshness of the advice, and beware of anyone who tries to tell you that there's one way and only one way to find successful publication."

SLJ's Trailie Awards Asks Readers to Vote for Their Favorite Book Trailer by SLJ staff from School Library Journal. Peek: "Voters must select the best video in six categories: publisher/author created for elementary readers (PreK-6); publisher/author created for secondary readers (7-12 grade); student created for elementary readers (PreK-6 grade); student created for secondary readers (7-12 grade); adult (anyone over 18) created for elementary readers (PreK-6 grade); and adult created for secondary readers (7-12 grade)."

Creating Your Main Character by Cynthia Watson from Carolyn Kaufman at Peek: "Does my main character behave logically, i.e., does he have common sense, worthy goals readers can relate to?"

Tweet Round-up by Alice Pope from Alice Pope's SCBWI Market Guide. Note: terrific list; well worth a careful read through. See also 12 Ways to Create Suspense by Gail Carson Levine from Ingrid's Notes.

Author Guest Post: Kimberley Griffiths Little on the Book Trailer for The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2010) from Jess at The Cozy Reader. Peek: "Nua Music wrote the original music for the trailer and created the sound design as well as doing final work on all the images to make them match in color and texture as well as producing the video and doing the opening and ending images, credits, etc." Note: Scholastic is offering the full song as a free download. Listen to "Treater Woman," and learn more about The Healing Spell.

The Importance of Sitting in One Place and Reading by Craig A. Platt from Art Bystander. Peek: "I am reading. My mouth slightly bitter from the drink I am enjoying. This is a true feeling of calm." Source: @Candlewick.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Halo by Alexandra Adornetto (Feiwel and Friends, 2010). Note: from Alexandra's bio Alexandra Adornetto was fourteen when she published her first book, The Shadow Thief, in Australia.... Alex lives in Melbourne, Australia; Halo marks her U.S. debut. "

Watch this video interview with author Alexandra Adornetto, age 18, from Macmillan Children's.

Reminder: The launch party for Brains for Lunch: A Zombie Novel in Haiku?! by K.A. (Kari) Holt, illustrated by Gahan Wilson (Roaring Brook, 2010) will be at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 at BookPeople in Austin. See also Kari's rundown of the awesome things that will be happening Sunday (including, but not limited to: giant floating ice brains, Kari: zombified).

More Personally

Happy belated anniversary to my very cute husband and sometimes co-author Greg Leitich Smith. I woke up to these roses on Saturday morning. Note: earlier this week, he announced the sale of his next novel, The Chronal Engine: Ahead of Time, to Clarion (2012); see more information.

What else? I'm pleased to announce that Turkish language editions of Tantalize and Eternal will be published by Artemis Yayinlari in Istanbul.

My favorite quirky link this week is The Alphabet Carved in Pencil Leads from jama rattigan's alphabet soup.

How They Do It: Guest Blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith on Process from Janice Hardy at The Other Side of the Story. Peek: "I do still exchange manuscripts with...Greg Leitich Smith. We met as first-year law students, and we're much more direct with each other than we'd ever be with anyone else. Imagine receiving a manuscript marked, 'No way is this going out of the house with the family name on it.'"

Holiday Catch-up

For those who may have missed a post or two over the Labor Day weekend:

Web Designer Update: Lisa Firke on the Redesign of from Cynsations. Peek: "One of the more subtle ways I’ve tried to distinguish between your role as author and your role as curator of the literature resources is the horizon line in the masthead image."

New Voice: Inara Scott on Delcroix Academy: The Candidates (Hyperion, 2010) from Cynsations. Peek: "I did not originally connect the events in my novel with current events. I wanted to challenge the dualistic paradigm usually seen in fantasy novels because I found that fascinating, not because of any particular issue in the real world. Yet at the same time...." See also Cover Stories: Inara Scott on Delcroix Academy from Melissa Walker.

And finally, I posted some pics of a party at my house in honor of Anne Bustard's and Lindsey Lane's recent completion of their MFA degrees in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Anne and Lindsey graduated in the July 2010 class. Both are published picture book authors.

Illustrators Mary Sullivan (in black and red) and C.A. "Christy" Stallop (in black and denim) chat in the foreground while illustrator Erik Kuntz and VCFA grad and author Lindsey Lane visit in the background.

Spooky Events

The Smart Chicks Kick It Tour begins in Austin with authors Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, Alyson Noel, Holly Black, Rachel Caine and Cassandra Clare at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at BookPeople. See the whole schedule from Mary E. Pearson.