Thanks so much for visiting HipWriterMama, my blog about children's books, authors and readergirlz!

It's time for a change. I've decided to focus my attention on my writing blog, www.vivianleemahoney.com. Hope to see you there!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

R.L. LaFever's ARC Giveaway Deadline is November 30th

If you haven't had a chance to read R.L. LaFever's fabulous interview, go right here. By the way, there's a contest, for a chance to win an ARC of Theodosia - Eyes of Horus, Book 3 of the Theodosia series. Thank you, Robin!

So, pass the word! The deadline to enter for a chance to win is tomorrow, November 30th. All you have to do to enter Robin's THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS ARC Giveaway, is answer the following question in the Comments section [CLICK here]:
Please keep it clean, folks.

Good luck!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beth Kephart's readergirlz writing contest #4: writing from life

The fabulous Beth Kephart, author-in-residence for readergirlz, posted the final readergirlz writing contest:
"...a challenge that asks you to look at something familiar and transform it into the unexpected. Check out the video posted here. Send your best work to kephartblogATcomcastDOTnet. The winner will receive an advanced reading copy of The Heart is Not a Size (which is due out in March from HarperTeen). The winning work will be posted on this site. Our deadline is December 30, 2009."
And in case you're wondering, here's the winner for Beth's writing contest #3! Congratulations, Kiera!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: Celebrate Life With The Gratitude Dance

I thought I'd share this great video made by The GratiDudes.

Can you imagine jumping up from your seat and breaking out into a Gratitude Dance during Thanksgiving Dinner? How many relatives would get up and dance? Are they the people you expected?

Yup. I've already got a smile on my face.

Don't let the bad stuff get you down. I know. I know. Easy to say. Hard to do at times in the midst of horrific world events, questions about national policies, and uncertain economic times. Add to this equation the daily grind of life, and sometimes, it's plain difficult to see the good that's been there all along.

No matter what difficulties life throws at us, I've got to believe, there is hope and gratitude lighting the way--for ALL of us.

This Thanksgiving, let's celebrate life's moments and let the spirit of gratitude lift us up.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beth Kephart, readergirlz author-in-residence: Writing Contest Deadline November 25th

Beth Kephart, our first author-in-residence at readergirlz, has been posting monthly blogs in which she discusses the art (and the joys, and the frustrations) of writing, along with writing prompts and related contests. Here is Beth's third writing prompt:
"In this readergirlz challenge, the premise is simple: Find a photograph of yourself as a young child on the verge of some new knowledge or turning point. Write a paragraph about that photograph/that moment in present tense, as if you are experiencing that moment for the first time. Then write about that photograph/that moment in past tense, with the gift of retrospection. Ask yourself what you gain from working in the present tense, and what is gained by reflection; include your thoughts on this with your submission."
Send your entry to kephartblog AT comcast DOT net by tomorrow, November 25th, 2009. The author of the winning paragraph will receive a signed copy of Beth's beautiful novel Nothing but Ghosts, a novel about a young girl who, in learning to live past her mother's unexpected passing, involves herself in decoding the mystery that envelops the recluse down the road. The past and the present collide in Ghosts.


readergirlz LIVE! chat with Marlene Carvell, Author of Sweetgrass Basket Tonight!!

Psst! Here's a secret to pass along. SWEETGRASS BASKET author Marlene Carvell will be featured at the readergirlz LIVE! chat tonight at 6pmPacific time/9pm Eastern time. Let's see how quickly we can spread the word. See you at the readergirlz blog!

Monteray Bay Aquarium: Young Women in Science (YWS)

Thanks to readergirlz and Little Willow, I found out about a program for teen girls over at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Young Women in Science (YWS) which may be of particular interest to our readergirlz still in middle school:
This week-long, summer day-camp is designed to get young women excited about and involved in science, the ocean and conservation. Through a variety of hands-on field activities, we strive to increase their knowledge and to spark a personal connection with the natural world that will lead them to become future stewards of the ocean. Kids get the opportunity to explore ocean habitats by joining in activities such as surface scuba diving, boogie boarding and kayaking.

We aim to serve young women regardless of primary language or economic background. We offer three camps in the summer that are conducted in both English and Spanish. Young women entering grades 6, 7 or 8, who reside in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, are eligible to apply.
Send an email to teenprograms@mbayaq.org to find out about the YWS program, as well as other Monterey Bay Aquarium teen programs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

WBBT Schedule Recap: November 16 - 20

In case you've missed any of the fantastic line-up of writers and illustrators in last week's Winter Blog Blast Tour (WBBT), what are you waiting for? Make the time and read these interviews. They are thought-provoking and full of good stuff.

Here's the schedule:

Monday, November 16th
Jim Ottaviani at Chasing Ray
Courtney Sheinmel at Bildungsroman
Derek Landy at Finding Wonderland
Mary E. Pearson at Miss Erin
Megan Whalen Turner at HipWriterMama
Frances Hardinge at Fuse #8

Tuesday, November 17th
Ann Marie Fleming at Chasing Ray
Laurie Faria Stolarz at Bildungsroman
Patrick Carman at Miss Erin
Jacqueline Kelly at HipWriterMama
Dan Santat at Fuse #8
Nova Ren Suma at Shelf Elf

Wednesday, November 18th
Sy Montgomery (Part 1) at Chasing Ray
Jacqui Robbins at Bildungsroman
Sarwat Chadda at Finding Wonderland
Cynthia Leitich Smith at HipWriterMama
Beth Kephart at Shelf Elf
Annie Barrows at Great Kid Books

Thursday, November 19th
Sy Montgomery (Part 2) at Chasing Ray
Laini Taylor at Shelf Elf
Jim DiBartolo at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Amanda Marrone at Writing & Ruminating
Thomas Randall at Bildungsroman
Michael Hague at Fuse #8

Friday, November 20th
Lisa Schroeder at Writing & Ruminating
Alan DeNiro at Shaken & Stirred
Joan Holub at Bildungsroman
Pam Bachorz at MotherReader
Sheba Karim at Finding Wonderland
R.L. LaFevers at HipWriterMama

A special thank you to Megan Whalen Turner, Jacqueline Kelly, Cynthia Leitich Smith and R. L. LaFevers, for taking the time and sharing their thoughts on their work, life experiences that influenced their writing, and thoughts on writing. It was such an honor to have them here on my blog.

Hope you enjoyed these interviews!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cynsational WBBT Giveaway by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Have you been following the fantastic discussion in the Comments section of Cynthia Leitich Smith's WBBT interview? You must check it out.

While you're at it, the deadline for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsational WBBT Giveaway is Sunday, November 22nd. Enter for a chance to win a copy of any of Cynthia Leitich Smith's books.
"I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information)."
Thank you, Cynthia!

Friday, November 20, 2009

WBBT: Fantastical Power with R. L. LaFevers and an ARC Giveaway

I'm a huge fan of Robin LaFevers. She's a wonderful resource on writing craft and actually shares her writing process on her blog. Robin, under the name of R. L. LaFevers, is also the author of a wonderful series, well actually two, that my children adore. And that is magical in my book.

We first discovered THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS at the beginning of this year. Spy Girl, my reluctant reader, loved Theodosia's take-charge spirit and fearlessness, the magic and adventure. She asked for the second book right away.

I couldn't believe it.

My reluctant reader wanted to read more.

Do you know how incredible this is, to find a book, let alone a book series, that keeps Spy Girl riveted to the page--especially since she has to read 40 books by the end of this school year for her fifth-grade Reading class, and all she is thinking of is the overwhelming number of 40, and by the way, is the book going to be as good as THE PERCY JACKSON series or THE DIARY OF A WIMPY KID series? THEODOSIA holds her own and passes Spy Girl's test. Big Time. Without being compared to anything. Now that is something in my household.

Ninja Girl, my big reader, wanted something adventurous but "a little less scary." Sweet NATHANIEL FLUDD, who had to face his own fears and find his inner hero, came to the rescue. Man. I don't have the heart to tell her she has to wait until the summer for the next book.

Check out the awards:

THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS (April 2007): A Junior Library Guild Selection; A Booksense Summer Pick; Agatha Award Nominee; West Virginia Children’s Book Award Nominees 2008-2009; Michigan Library Association 2007 Mitten Award Honor Title.

THEODOSIA AND THE STAFF OF OSIRIS (November 2008): Winter 2008-2009 Kid’s Indie Next List.

NATHANIEL FLUDD (September 2009): A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Robin kindly offered to host a THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS (book release date April 2010) ARC Giveaway. This is the 3rd book in the Theodosia series. Let the singing begin. All you have to do is answer a question in the Comments section at the end of this interview: If you could create your own secret society, what would it be? Please keep this clean. DEADLINE, Monday, November 30th, 11pm EST. Winner will be announced December 1st.

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Robin to my blog today...


HWM: Why children's books? How did you get your “break” into children's books?
R. L. LaFevers: Kids are so much more open to the world of possibilities around them than many adults. Their minds are fresh and eager and willing to go along on an adventure. They are soaking up everything like little sponges, trying on ideas and philosophies, worldviews and ideologies—often without even realizing it.

Also, I’ve had a rather satisfying adulthood, whereas my childhood was another matter. I felt powerless, voiceless, swept along by events I barely understood and couldn’t control. For me, those were the ages that were most ripe with material and issues that act as good story fodder.

My break came at an SCBWI National Conference where I had signed up for a manuscript critique. My critiquer was a new agent, Erin Murphy, who liked the manuscript enough to offer representation. Needless to say, it was my best conference EVER.

HWM: For some reason, I thought THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS was your first book. Come to find out, you’ve written five other books before Theodosia--spanning werewolves, falcons, and a special sword. Tell us a little bit about your writing career.
R. L. LaFevers:You are not alone in thinking THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENT OF CHAOS was my first book. For some reason, when it was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly they referred to it as a debut. I’ve felt a bit guilty about that ever since, but really, it wasn’t my fault.

My first five books were all boy books and centered around more traditional fantasy concepts. Not only was it the kind of fantasy I loved while growing up, but also it was the kind my sons couldn’t get enough of. Since I was raising boys, I was hyper-aware of what they looked for and couldn’t find it in reading material. I wrote to fill that void.

For the longest time I thought it was selfish and self-involved to write from who I was as a child, or for my own entertainment. How presumptuous of me to assume that what I felt or what fascinated me would be of any interest to anyone else! The rationale that boys like my sons needed books like these helped me feel less selfish about writing. Unfortunately, I don’t think one’s strongest stories necessarily come from that rationalizing type of place.

I first heard the idea of being a “selfish artist” from Laurie Halse Anderson when she spoke at SCBWI National, a number of years ago. Even with her good advice, it took me a long time and a number of books to get that really, as writers, that’s one of the most vital things we have to offer our audience; our truth, our reality, our idea of Other. THEODOSIA was the first book I wrote from a selfish artist place—my story, written to please me and to heck with the rest. I think there is a hugely important lesson in there that it has turned out to be my most successful book, by far.

HWM: I looked at the published dates of your books and am in awe. It appears you’ve written a few books in a close time span. I’m sure there are writers out there who will want to know, how did you do this and keep all the worlds and voices straight, while keeping yourself sane?
R. L. LaFevers: When I sold THE FORGING OF THE BLADE, the publisher wanted a trilogy, which of course I was only to happy to go along with. Since it was targeted at that younger middle grade reader, we didn’t want our audience to outgrow the books, so they decided to publish them in quick succession.

Right about that time the company I worked for was relocating to the Midwest, so I quit my PT job and just focused on writing the trilogy. It was still pretty grueling, in no small part because I hadn’t planned well or ever written a series before, so I had a number of corners I’d painted myself into and had to wiggle out of along the way.

In fact, the trilogy become such a slog that I needed to find a way to renew my love of writing—to reconnect with why I started writing in the first place; the creative joy rather than the hard slog it had become. So I started a new project, just for me, that would be a book written just to entertain and please myself. I’d work on the trilogy during the week, and allow myself to play with my new story on the weekends as a means of creative renewal. (That book was THEODOSIA, btw.)

Part of the key to working on multiple projects at once is having the works-in-progress be in different stages. I might be doing brainstorming and world building on one book, while revising another. I usually only write the first draft of one project at a time, though.

Also the tone and feel of a book factors hugely in this. For example, I can work on a THEODOSIA book and a NATHANIEL FLUDD book at the same time, but not my dark medieval YA. The tone and feel of that project is just too far away from the others to be able to jump back and forth.

As for sane, well, the jury is still out on that one.

HWM: Why do you write fantasy? Historical fantasy?
R. L. LaFevers: I can’t seem to NOT write fantasy. I’ve tried to write realistic fiction, but a whiff of fantasy always sneaks in, so in some sense, it’s just a part of my world view. Seeing the small magics and mysteries around me makes life vastly more interesting.

Also, one of the themes I’m drawn to is the issue of personal power and taking kids from feeling powerless to a place where they begin to feel as if they have some power over their lives. Fantastical power is a lovely, subtext-laden vehicle for personal power.

I lean toward historical fantasy because I like to write about those times when magic and reality meet, and I think they meet in history. It fascinates me how so many of our modern fantasy conventions are actually culled from old myths, forgotten religions, and ancient cultures.

HWM: I love Theodosia. How did you go about creating her character and voice?
R. L. LaFevers: THEODOSIA was born of a number of my own experiences as a child. I really allowed myself to go back and wallow in my own eleven-year-old self, to remember and feel what it was like to be eleven and what my huge frustrations were at the time. And then I just let her run with that.

One of the things I was constantly accused of at that age was being too sensitive. So many of the things I noticed or found worrisome were dismissed as unimportant by the adults around me. However, kids are so much more open to the world around them, in ways we adults have forgotten or discarded, and I wanted to explore that, reconnect with that. I decided the perfect revenge would be to write a book where those very traits in a girl would be her shining strengths, the very things that allowed her to save her parents and her country.

I also think one of the most difficult thing we ask of kids is for them to be mature and responsible and to take care of things, yet we rarely give them the true power or authority to accomplish those tasks. So I wanted to play with that concept as well. I wanted to illustrate that Catch-22 kids can often find themselves, needing on some level to take care of their parents or siblings, yet be very poorly equipped to do that.

HWM: My children are thrilled to hear another Theodosia book will be out next spring. And also an audiobook is in the works! What can you tell us?
R. L. LaFevers:Yes, we’re hugely excited about the audio book! Audible contracted to do all three THEODOSIA books in audio, and they are in the process of recording them right now. That’s all I know.

Theo’s third adventure is called THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS and takes her even further into the world of secret societies, sacred artifacts, and ancient mysteries. It also introduces one of my favorite characters, the Egyptian magician Awi Bubu.

HWM: Except for Theodosia, your other protagonists are boys. How do you keep the voices authentic (male/female)?
R. L. LaFevers: Oddly enough, for a long time I felt more comfortable with boy voices than with girls. I had seven brothers while growing up, I am the mother of sons and was surrounded by boys for years. I feel like I get them and the way they communicate. And even though I’m a girl, girls can be a bit of a mystery to me. During my school years I felt like an outsider and was puzzled by the cliques and politics of girlfriends.

If you’ve been around boys all your life as I have, the distinction is pretty clear. A lot of it is about stepping into the skin of the character and seeing and feeling the world from his viewpoint, wearing his filters, and using his speech patterns. I don’t write about a boy or a girl. While I have the pen in my hand I am that boy or girl and try to see the world through their eyes and filters. Although I will admit that each boy character I write tends to possess one characteristic of a boy I have known. This acts as an entry point for me to access his boy-ness.

HWM: You have a wonderful way of world-building in your books. What were the challenges and surprises you found along the way?
R. L. LaFevers: One of the greatest challenges of world building is knowing what to put in and what to leave out. I always maintain that writers have to know 100% of the details of the world they’re building, but might only use about 20% of those details in the book. All the rest of the world building is used to inform the worldview and perspective of the characters.

Some tools I use when building a world are loads of research, character journaling, collaging, and detail brainstorming. I really think key details—like the contents of Theodosia’s curse removal kit—help bring the world to life.

HWM: What types of research do you do for your books?
R. L. LaFevers: Tons. In fact, my husband jokes that I am a writer so I have an excuse to do research, and he’s only half kidding. The truth is, I am mad about research and it is probably one of the reasons I write historical fantasy—all that lovely research!

I would have loved to travel to London and Egypt and Arabia, but my budget doesn’t allow for that. Instead, I relied on a number of research books on Victorian and Edwardian London, Egypt, archaeology, ancient Egyptian magic, myths, legends, and bestiaries. Also, I would never have been able to write some of these books except in the Age of Google. I was surprised at how much detail I could find on the internet, information I couldn’t find in books; pictures of the British Museum near the turn of the century, old archival photographs of Cairo and Luxor in 1907, when lifts went into operation in London. I was even able to find old street maps of London so that I could get the locations of things correct, although I did use artistic license with a couple of them.

HWM: FLight OF THE PHOENIX, the first book of your NATHANIEL FLUDD, BEASTOLOGIST series was just released last month. I think we were the first ones to buy your book from our local bookstore. What did you do to celebrate?
R. L. LaFevers: To celebrate, I went to Texas and did a two week round of school visits and a book signing event, as well as a couple of drive-by signings. It was a fabulous opportunity to share the book with thousands of young kids. Having written so many books, and so many of them series, I tend to shy away from doing too many launches here in my hometown. I don’t want the local booksellers to get LaFevers fatigue.

HWM: NATHANIEL FLUDD is your youngest protagonist. What were the challenges for writing for a younger age group?
R. L. LaFevers: There were a lot of challenges in writing young! One was keeping it short, as I knew I wanted it to be a shorter book. And the second was staying true to what a younger kid would notice, react to, feel. Once again, for me, the secret seems to be climbing into the skin of the character. I really spent some time with my own ten-year-old self, as well as re-connected with who my sons and their friends were at ten-years-old in a visceral way. What were their fears and hopes and worries? What kept them up late at night? When they were feeling timid, how did that timidity affect how they viewed things? What held enough power over them that they would be compelled to take action, even though they thought they were too afraid to do so?

Really, I think the key to connection with any given character is to access some of our own age-specific memories. Not the stories we remember being told about our childhood, but with actual, visceral childhood memories of ourselves at a given age. Not because every character is a thinly disguised version of ourselves, but so we can shift our mind back to those age-specific feelings and world view.

HWM:I understand from your blog that you’re writing a new book -- this time, a YA! Are you able to tell us anything about it?
R. L. LaFevers: Oh, my beloved YA. I’m still pretty close lipped about it because it’s only ¾ of the way done and I won’t be able to get back to it until I’ve finished Theo Four. But I will say it draws heavily on the bones of fairy tale and old Celtic myth, and takes place in late medieval France. And it’s very, very dark, and also, I hope, very, very romantic, in an old world, rip-your-heart-out sense of the word, not the calf eyes/mooning sense of the word. I’ve been working on it off and on for four years, three of which it took my editor and agent to convince me I really could write it as a YA and not burn in hell. (My internal editor is a cranky old Catholic nun. SO not helpful.) But the trick for me was again, going back and remembering what thrilled me at fourteen and fifteen, and once I was in that place, of course, this was a YA. For YA it is SO critical to put that well meaning adult aside and access our inner sullen/rebellious/slutty teen.

HWM: You’re very involved with helping out other writers. You offer up writing advice on your blog and you’re part of the Shrinking Violets Promotions team and fAiRy GoDsIsTeRs, iNk... How do you find the time and what have you found to be the most rewarding about these projects?
R. L. LaFevers: Well, you’re very kind to say so, but it’s not hard to find time to do the things you love to do, and I love talking to other writers about writing, so that’s easy! The most rewarding thing has absolutely been the people I’ve met and the communities that build up around the blogs.

HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end of the story? How long does it take for you to figure out the end?
R. L. LaFevers: Oh the beginning. I adore the beginning because the story is so full of possibilities. I can take this road, or that one, or play with this element or throw in that. But by the end of the first act, the story has begun to take shape and one has committed to certain directions.

However, when I begin a story, I do often know the final climax scene and the resolution scene. Mostly. The part that I struggle with the most is from the mid-point to that climax scene—keeping the tension, building it in a steady climb to the big ka-boom.

HWM: What is your writing routine?
R. L. LaFevers: I pretty much get up every morning, grab a cup of coffee, then begin while my subconscious is still accessible. I write either with an Alpha Smart (because it doesn’t let me edit very well and the keyboard shape is easier on my wrists) or by long hand, usually for two or three hours. If I’m just starting a book, a lot of that time is spent brainstorming, journaling, playing with different plot ideas, world building, or asking key questions in the hope that they will unlock the secrets of my character.

Another important thing about my process is that I don’t write every day; I don’t believe that’s necessary. I need fallow periods, so I take them when needed. I also tend to do what some would call outlining, but I think of as more of just thinking up scenes and what will happen next far enough in advance that I don’t spend hours spinning my wheels. A lot of that is mostly assembling and creating and building the material I will need as I write the story.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
R. L. LaFevers: The best single piece of writing advice I ever heard was from Susan Elisabeth Phillips when she spoke at an RWA conference. She said, very simply, "Protect the work." This is probably the best because it is the most all encompassing. Protect the work, whether from your internal editor, from misguided ideas of what the market wants or needs, or from misguided input. It can also mean to protect it from our own ignorance or lack of craft tools.

HWM: What advice would you give to all those NaNoWriMo writers out there?
R. L. LaFevers: Don’t stress. It’s only a game to get you really focused, nothing more that that. Simply by doing NaNo you’ve proved that you are committed to this idea of writing, that you are compelled to put words to paper. Enjoy it. By the same token, if doing NaNo doesn’t work for you, or your work from it is unusable, don’t despair. That might just mean that slamming through a quick and dirty first draft isn’t YOUR process. Lots of writers shudder at that approach, so it just means you’re one of them and not one of those who thrives on that. But don’t walk away! Continue to experiment with all sorts of different approaches and processes. You never know when you’ll find one that sticks.

Also? Nothing is wasted. Not even stuff that appears to be pure dreck. It’s important to know what doesn’t work so we can get that much closer to what does.

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
R. L. LaFevers: I received a letter from a mother who had bought THE FORGING OF THE BLADE books to read to her younger son. Her older son was twelve-years-old and a rabid NON-reader. However, soon he started listening in. Even better, she later found him reading the books under his covers with a flashlight—the first fiction books he’d read on his own. THAT, I thought, THAT is what keeps us writers slogging forward. The best review ever.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your tween years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
R. L. LaFevers: Theodosia, absolutely. She says and thinks all the things I wished I could have had the gumption to say.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
R. L. LaFevers: Life’s little absurdities—luckily there is no shortage of those.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
R. L. LaFevers: Wait. What? You mean I’m NOT a superhero??

Thank you, Robin!


Other Places To Find Robin:

Remember, if you'd like to enter Robin's THEODOSIA AND THE EYES OF HORUS ARC Giveaway, answer this question in the Comments section below:

If you could create your own secret society, what would it be?
Please keep it clean, folks.

[Edited] DEADLINE, Monday, November 30th at 11pm EST. Winner will be announced on December 1st.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WBBT: Writing the True with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Cynsational WBBT Book Giveaway!

One of the first blogs I discovered, when I started blogging almost three years ago, was Cynsations. Then I quickly found Cynthia Leitich Smith's website. Between these two resources (talk about organized and easy to navigate), one can pretty much find anything worth knowing in the children's book world.

I'd read Cynthia's books TANTALIZE and ETERNAL, but thanks to readergirlz, I discovered more of Cynthia's books: JINGLE DANCER, INDIAN SHOES, RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME.

Let me tell you, Cynthia Leitich Smith has received so many awards and honors for her work, it would fill up pages. Here's an easy link to find out about Cynthia's books and awards.

Here's some awards Cynthia has received for her last two books:

TANTALIZE: Borders Original Voices Nominee, March 2007; Featured title, 2007 National Book Festival; 2007-2008 Tayshas List; Chapters (Canada) Junior Advisory Board (JAB) pick; Featured title, 2007 Texas Book Festival; BBYA nominee; Featured title, 2007 Kansas Book Festival; Cybils nominee; Featured title, Readergirlz 31 Flavorite Authors for Teens.

ETERNAL: YALSA’s 2009 Teens Top Ten Nominee; February 2009 Book of the Month, Native America Calling; February 2009; Featured Title, “My Borders Monthly”

Cynthia Leitich Smith is simply incredible. It's been an honor to have her here on my blog. Wait until you read what she has to say. So come on, grab your favorite beverage and hang out awhile.

But wait! This just in! Cynthia is hosting a Cynsational WBBT Giveaway in celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. "I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22." Thank you, Cynthia!

Please welcome Cynthia Leitich Smith...


HWM: Why children’s books? How did you get your “break” into getting published?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: My mom was the person who first suggested that I try writing for young readers, and at first, I was reluctant. I was a recent law school graduate, in my late twenties, trying so hard to be whatever a grown-up was. I thought I wanted to shake off everything about being a kid.

But my mom had begun taking me to the public library when I was a little girl and did so—up until about fourth grade—more Saturdays than not. I read avidly and anything…children’s books (especially the Newbery winners), superhero comics, my dad’s TARZAN paperbacks, even my mom’s paperback romances on the sly.

So, in my twenties, living in Chicago, I haunted bookstores. I remember going upstairs at a large indie bookstore in the Loop and noticing Angela Shelf Medearis’s DANCING WITH THE INDIANS (Holiday House, 1993) and then, weeks later, finding Annette Curtis Klause’s BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE at Borders on North Michigan Avenue.

Each was a revelation—DANCING WITH THE INDIANS because it featured Native characters who weren’t bad guys, and BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE because it absolutely beckoned to me.

At the time, I was working as a law clerk in the Office of the General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Social Security Administration (there was a reassignment in there somewhere), and I was sitting at my desk in a federal office in Chicago, on the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing. It affected me deeply—because of the horror of the tragedy itself and, I think, because I have such strong Oklahoma ties.

The atmosphere wasn’t like it was after 911. There wasn’t this idea of an ongoing threat (arguably there should’ve been), but rather people were eager to explain away the incident as the work of “fringe” men who’d been caught. I didn’t have any fear of working in federal building, but the bombing had reminded me of the brevity and preciousness of life.

I took a long walk home and found myself talking the whole thing over with some ducks in Lake Michigan (ducks are excellent listeners). I could hear myself saying that there was nothing I valued more than youth literature. I wanted to be a part of that world. Now.

So, with the blessing of my sainted husband, and not so much as one word down on paper, I quit my day job. (Don’t try this at home).

My “break” into publishing was organic. I had a picture book manuscript, “Something Bigger,” pulled out of the slush pile by Rosemary Brosnan’s assistant at the now-defunct Lodestar. Rosemary asked for a revision, and I sent her another picture book manuscript, “Jenna, Jingle Dancer” to consider while I worked on that.

JINGLE DANCER (2000) was eventually published by Rosemary at Morrow/HarperCollins, and “Something Bigger” turned into one of the short stories in my chapter collection, INDIAN SHOES (HarperCollins, 2002).

That said, it was my emphasis on the craft of writing, rather than on publishing as a business that got me there. My “break” was reading, writing, revising, becoming active in a critique group, and taking classes from author Kathi Appelt.

HWM: You’ve written contemporary Native Indian books for children, short stories, as well as fantasy. What do enjoy about these different genres?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: What I love most about writing across formats is how they inform each other.

I’m always vaguely flabbergasted by folks who begin as fantasists because the burden is so much higher. You have to succeed at all of the same elements as you do in realistic fiction and, at the same time, craft a resonant, integral, and internally consistent fantasy element. I couldn’t have written fantasy without having mastered the skills of realistic fiction first. I’m sure of it.

The short story as a form has been the greatest gift to me. It’s more containable and feels less risky than the novel. The time commitment is less. The psychological and publishing pressures are less.

I first tried humor, “boy” voice, and upper YA, for example, in the short form. Don’t get me wrong, the short story is a wonderful end unto itself. But it’s also a tremendous lab for experimentation and confidence building.

I would like someday to write a grounded fantasy with a Native protagonist that appeals to mainstream teens and rings true to Indian readers and allows them to better imagine themselves as heroes in magical and make-believe worlds.

HWM: November is all about celebrating Native American Heritage Month over at readergirlz. I was shocked how difficult it was to find good books, that treated Native Indians with respect, rather than as a stereotype. Why do you think this is the case, even in 2009?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Big question. It’s a combination of reasons.

The first is that many folks in the United States—including some in youth literature--are still in an active state of denial (or ignorance) about the nation’s history with regard to Native people and our reality today. Especially the former is painful—after all, we’re talking about child abuse, rape, land theft, and genocidal efforts.

Perhaps because of misplaced ancestral guilt, it’s easier for some to believe that we all had a great time together at the first Thanksgiving and then Native people either (a) became savage warriors who had to be exterminated or (b) mysteriously died out through no one’s fault.

Certainly, that’s—to a significant degree—what’s still taught in American schools.

Of course there are some terrific teachers and school librarians trying to counteract this, but possibly the majority of Americans are carrying false information about Indians, delivered by our educational system itself.

I’ve had my share of school visits where the very young students had already been taught that Native people were either scary or extinct or both—taught not only at school and through books but also from other media and influential adults.

Grandma says, “My, aren’t you the savage little Indian!” (I overheard this in a bookstore, said to a young child who was misbehaving.).

To further complicate matters, a significant number of people who think of themselves as open-minded tend to equate “Native American” with either (a) supernatural, super-ecological largely inhuman creatures or (b) a tragic, defeated and dying people whose glories (and achievements) exist only in the misty past.

It’s a mess.

That’s the big-picture challenge.

Extend that to books, and often you’re looking at authors (a) who’ve been raised in that mainstream (sometimes contradictory) belief system, (b) who honestly don’t begin to realize how off-base many/most of their assumptions are, (c) who’re consulting “original” resources drafted by enemies of Native people, and (d) are trying to connect with a mainstream audience that shares many of their same biases. You get the idea.

It’s entirely possible to write across race successfully. I do it, and I have no intention of stopping. Miranda, the protagonist from ETERNAL (Candlewick, 2007) is Asian (Chinese), and I’m not. Kieren, the protagonist from TANTALIZE: KIEREN’S STORY (Candlewick, 2011) is Mexican American, and I’m not. And I fully realize that we’re humans. We all make mistakes.

But in writing cross-culturally about Native people, it’s critical for non-Indians to begin as if they know absolutely nothing, take a significant amount of time to acquaint themselves with the truth, and proceed in a patient, open-hearted, and respectful manner. It can be done. I’ve had friends and students and colleagues who’ve done it. But you have to stretch, perhaps more than you might realize at the beginning.

That said, writers are only a part of the equation. For the reasons I mentioned above, readers—including gatekeepers—may be more likely to find that an inaccurate book that embraces popular stereotypes rings “true” to them than one that reflects Native realities.

For example, over the years I’ve had several readers mention—some in a questioning way—my inclusion of Native characters with a higher education in my books. Cousin Elizabeth from JINGLE DANCER is an attorney. Aunt Georgia from RAIN IS NOT MY INDIAN NAME (HarperCollins, 2001) is a retired school teacher and a science teacher at that.

The final big reason is numbers and interest level. Native people are 1.5 percent of the population. As I mentioned, there are certainly writers who succeed in writing cross-culturally about American Indians, but when it comes to writers from within the communities, the pool is small. We need to nurture interest and aptitude where we find it.

Likewise, our numbers of Native teachers, librarians, reviewers, editors, agents, marketing people, and bloggers are small and in some cases non-existent or at least statistically non-existent.

We need more friends, more loud mouths who advocate for quality Native voices and visions and well-executed cross-cultural additions to the body of youth literature.

HWM: What made you venture into Gothic fantasy?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’m spooky by nature. Scary stories have appealed to me since junior high, and I was writing the kind of books I love to read.

I also have a love of the European classics. I took honors English in high school and completed a concentration in English at the University of Kansas.

I also had strong feelings about the quintessential vampire-mythology novel DRACULA by Bram Stoker (1897), especially the character of Mina Harker and what had happened to her since.

By today’s feminist standards, there are certain elements of Mina’s depiction—such as being sent to bed by her husband (to protect her supposedly delicate sensibilities)—that are appalling. But big picture, you could make an argument that she is the protagonist. That windbag Van Helsing gets all the credit, but it’s Mina who props up the soggy men after Lucy’s death and organizes all the information and tracks the monster, using Dracula’s power over her against him.

She can even use that newfangled device, the typewriter.

In the 1931 movie “Dracula,” starring Bela Lugosi, Mina is just “the girl,” “the victim.” That’s it. She doesn’t help in any way. She may be dangerous in a sexual way, if the vampiric infection takes.

(Throughout the history of literary/film vampires, much is made of the juxtaposition between the virgin (or at least sanctified) female victim and the demonic woman with any sexuality. That interested me too.)

In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” starring Winona Ryder, Mina is the reincarnated late wife of the Count, and falls in love with him again, even after he’s threatened the life of her beloved Jonathan Harker, murdered Mina’s much-adored best friend since childhood, Lucy, and is revealed as a demonic undead serial killer.

Yikes, how much weaker could she get?

Gothic fantasy traditionally deals with gender and power, and I wanted to write about that theme. And as I dug farther into Gothic literary history, I realized that its other core themes—including the “dark” other (which back in the day meant “Eastern European”), invasion, and plague—were still as pertinent today as they’d been in the 1800s.

HWM: You’ve written from both the female and male POV. What are the challenges for each one?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I focus more on writing the individual than the gender, but I was intimidated at first of trying a male POV protagonist, especially because my husband, Greg Leitich Smith, is a fellow author and has been known to remark on “boy” voices that don’t ring true to him.

Writing a male voice is something that I tried first in a YA short stories—“A Real Live Blond Cherokee and His Equally Annoyed Soul Mate,” which appeared in MOCCASIN THUNDER: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES FOR TODAY, edited by Lori Marie Carlson (HarperCollins, 2005) and “Riding with Rosa,” which appeared in “Cicada” magazine (Vol. 7, No. 4, March/April 2005).

HWM: When you wrote TANTALIZE, did you know there would be companion books, ETERNAL and BLESSED?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I hoped. I hoped enough that I wrote the book with that in mind. But I also knew it was a long shot. From a publishing perspective, a book series doesn’t come easily, and at that time, my previous sales figures were quite respectable for a literary trade multicultural author, but they didn’t exactly signal a likelihood of a “big” bookstore, multi-book sale.

Fortunately, the success of TANTALIZE opened up the possibility for more books in the series—both prose and graphic—including quite arguably the rest of Quincie’s story.

Sometimes you just have to go for it.

HWM: You have a wonderful way of adding humor in your books. Are you a naturally funny person?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I’m hysterical. No, really, I do often use humor when I speak, both at the podium and informally. When people laugh together, it’s the greatest meeting of the minds.

HWM: What types of research do you do for your books?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: With the Gothics, which are the most recent, I studied the original folklore from around the world and early literature up to present day, including books for adults and young adults and film and pop culture.

For TANTALIZE, I spent hours pouring through Eastern European cookbooks, including historical cookbooks. For both TANTALIZE and ETERNAL, I walked the paths of my heroes through their settings, cameras in hand. I’ve also spent quality time researching the Ice Age animals—from bears to armadillos—that inspired my shape-shifters and spent a lot of time talking to the Big Boss about guardian and arch angels.

HWM: It must be wonderful exploring first love as a theme in your books. Do you believe in love at first sight? Or are you more a fan of get to know the person?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I absolutely believe it’s critical to get to know the person before giving away part of your heart or building them into someone they might not be.

On the other hand, I first met Greg at a law school party in Ann Arbor, and I distinctly remember looking across the crowded yard, my gaze resting on him, and thinking, I am going marry that guy. And I did.

So, I guess it’s important to love yourself first, to take care of yourself, but be open to magic when it appears.

HWM: What can you tell us about BLESSED? Or any other writing projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: BLESSED picks up where we left off with Quincie at the end of TANTALIZE and crosses over the casts of TANTALIZE and ETERNAL. A graphic novel adaptation of TANTALIZE, from Kieren’s point of view and including lots of new scenes, is also in the works.

On the children’s fiction front, I look forward to next year’s release of HOLLER LOUDLY (Dutton), a humorous original southwestern tall tale, illustrated by Barry Gott.

HWM: You’re very involved with encouraging and helping other writers, through your blog and website. How do you find the time and what have you found to be the most rewarding about these projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I work on my blog far in advance. Though there’s always some timely information, at least in the weekly round-up of news and links, most of the features are pre-formatted months in advance. Right now, Cynsations posts are pre-formatted through Jan. 14, 2010.

When I quit my day job to become a writer, it was a commitment not only to my own work but to the body of literature and the community that creates and connects it.

I’m so pleased that Cynsations and www.cynthialeitichsmith.com (hopefully) make some contribution to the conversation of books, and I’m honored to shine a light on my colleagues. I sometimes talk to authors who’ve pinned their definition of success on this or that award or income point, and, well, awards are great and I need to eat…but I just feel amazed that I get to be a part of this inspiring, faerie-dusted world.

HWM: You're also a faculty member at the Vermont College of Fine Arts - Writing for Children & Young Adults MFA Program. Is it hard to separate the teacher from the writer when you work on your projects?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Not really, but it’s an interesting question. Mostly, I try to unlock what my students’ vision for their writing might be—perhaps even before they’ve fully realized it—and then try to figure out strategies to best facilitate their improvement and eventual success.

HWM: What do you like writing the most: the beginning, middle or end of the story? How long does it take for you to figure out the end?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: I often know the end before I begin writing. Middles can be deadly. I have an MTV generation attention span, and much of my readership has a Wii attention span.

Reversals are key.

HWM: What is your writing routine?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: It’s totally dependent on the other demands on my time. I often feel like author Cynthia Leitich Smith—with all of her travel, speaking, promotion, teaching--is the biggest obstacle to writer Cyn.

But I typically post to my blogs and catch up on social networks and email correspondence in the morning. Then I write in the afternoons and evenings and on weekends and holidays. People always feel sorry for me when I say that. But I love to write at Christmastime. I love it.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: It’s advice I gave to myself actually. When I was in my early apprenticeship, I read all of Paula Danziger’s books in order of publication. From the beginning, her writing was solid and kid-friendly and funny and engaging, but I could see her craft develop over time. I decided that my only goal would be to keep improving—even if that meant taking some scary risks and maybe even stumbling all the way.

HWM: What advice would you give to all those NaNoWriMo writers out there?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: When you’re done with the draft, print it, read it, then throw away the draft and delete the file. First drafts are all about discovery. Take the lessons learned from that exercise, and then get to work on draft number two.

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: A girl reader had written me after reading TANTALIZE to say that she was infuriated by Quincie’s independence—“true love means giving up EVERYTHING!!!! so the boy will love you!!!!”

She wrote back a couple of months later to apologize for “yelling” at me. She said that she’d been in an abusive relationship, that her girlfriends had all urged her to stay in it because the boy was cute and “at least you have somebody.”

TANTALIZE, and especially Quincie’s value system, shook her up. The girl wanted me to know that she’d broken up with the boy with “the temper when he drank.”

My books have a feminist undercurrent, though I’m not writing Slayers (“Buffy” fan that I am). My female heroes are much more “everyday” girls than that. And I err on the side of the theme, pushing aside the message per se.

But you know, I’m glad that girl isn’t with that abuser anymore. And if my hero Quincie had even the tiniest thing to do with that, I say bully for both of them!

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your tween years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Miranda from ETERNAL, so we would both have the courage to step on stage sooner.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: My rambunctious kitties, my awesome writer buds, the goddess that is Libba Bray, the combinations of bumper stickers on Austin bumpers, and hummingbirds. I just adore hummingbirds.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Cynthia Leitich Smith: Most of all, I would want to be able to speak dolphin because dolphins are in the know, and I bet they could make me laugh too.

Thank you so much, Cynthia!

Other Places to Find Cynthia Leitich Smith:

Remember, Cynthia is hosting a Cynsational WBBT Giveaway in celebration of the Winter Blog Blast Tour. "I'm offering a signed copy of any of my books (winner's choice) to one of the folks who thoughtfully comments at my WBBT interview and then emails me (cynthia@cynthialeitichsmith.com) to let me know (so I have your contact information). Deadline: midnight CST Nov. 22."

For more WBBT interviews, check out Chasing Ray's Master List.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WBBT: Writing with Jacqueline Kelly

I was pleased when I heard The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was on the Mock Newbery reading list in my fifth-grader's class. Spy Girl loves science and I'm hoping she'll enjoy reading this book as much as I did.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has only been out since May, and already, it has garnered much recognition with good reviews: Booklist, Starred; Bulletin-Center Child Books; Chicago Tribune; Horn Book; Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review; New York Times; Publishers Weekly, Starred; School Library Journal, Starred Review; and Washington Post Book World.

And this just in! The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was just picked for the Lone Star List (recommended reading list for Grades 6-8 from the Texas Library Association) for next year. Congratulations, Jacqueline!

Author Jacqueline Kelly (Photo credit: Deanna Roy) graciously agreed to stop by and talk about her debut novel.

[Quick Update: Jacqueline stopped by and left a comment: I have had bookmarks printed with the cover on them, so if you'd like a signed bookmark, or several for your students, just let me know how you'd like them signed and where to send them. jackie.callie@sbcglobal.net]

Please welcome Jacqueline Kelly...


HWM: How did you get your "break" into getting published?
Jacqueline Kelly: I entered a partial manuscript in the Writers' League of Texas annual Agents & Editors Conference competition a few years ago and I won. Marcy Posner is the agent who judged the final round and she picked me as the winner. She has been representing me ever since. I love working with her, she's very funny (and funny is good!).

HWM: Your writing is beautiful -- poetry and rich imagery really set the stage for the science, explorations, and wonderful characters. Did you have to experiment with the use of language or did you already have an idea of how you were going to write this book?
Jacqueline Kelly: I have taken various short writing classes and seminars over the years, but what has been most helpful to my writing is simply being a voracious reader my whole life. I've run into a few people along the way who want to be writers but don't read much. I don't get this. Plus it's not going to happen. I always tell young people when I talk at their schools, you can't be a good writer without being a big-time reader.

HWM: What inspired The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate?
Jacqueline Kelly: The entire book was inspired by the huge 150-year-old Victorian farmhouse in Fentress that I fell in love with and bought many years ago. It had been built by the Harwood family and had never been out of their family until I bought it. Falling in love with old houses is an extremely expensive habit. Unfortunately, I ran out of money before I could completely fix it up, and the house is inadequately air conditioned. Some of the rooms have old window units and some don't. I was lying under the AC in the parlor one really hot day wondering how people stood the heat in the house a hundred years earlier, with no air conditioning at all. The house suddenly started speaking to me about life in those days; the whole family, including Callie, sprang to life at that moment. I originally wrote about her in a short story, but my writing group told me that I had to turn the story into a novel.

(By the way, I promised the house that if I made money from the book, I would fix it up and restore it to its former glory. So keep that in mind this holiday season.)

HWM: Callie is a charming, intelligent girl with a lot of spunk. How did you go about creating her character?
Jacqueline Kelly: Callie is a combination of me and my mother. We both hate to cook, sew, and do any kind of housework. It must be genetic. I also need to add that my mother is very funny, and not at all like the mother in the novel.

HWM: I love how you describe Callie's relationships with her family members--most particularly, her relationship with her grandfather. Most children's books tend to gloss over family relationships. Why did you feel it was important to show the different connections?
Jacqueline Kelly: The family connections mean a lot to me for a couple of reasons. I'm an only child, and although I loved growing up as one, now that I'm an adult, I wish I had brothers and sisters. I just don't understand people who are on bad terms--or no terms--with their sibs. I also grew up half a world away from my grandparents, and only saw them once a decade or so. I would have loved the chance to know my grandfather better.

HWM: Who was the hardest character to create? The easiest?
Jacqueline Kelly: I found the hardest characters to work on were the four brothers apart from Harry and Travis. I found it difficult to give them each a separate personality. The easiest to create were Callie and Granddaddy. I could hear them carrying on long conversations in my mind.

HWM: Will we see more of Callie?
Jacqueline Kelly: I'm not yet sure if I'm going to write a sequel. I had a good idea for one a few days ago, but I don't yet know if it's enough to propel me all the way through another book about her.

HWM: What do you focus on in your school presentations?
Jacqueline Kelly: At school visits, I talk a lot about where the writer gets her ideas for stories. I also try and get the group to compose a 5-10 minute short story out loud with me, and I work in brief talks about character, tension, description, etc., all the elements a writer has to juggle in her story.

HWM: What has been the biggest surprise of your writing career?
Jacqueline Kelly: The biggest surprise of my writing career has been how much fun it is to meet fans of the book. People have just been lovely with their praise.

HWM: What other writing projects are in the works?
Jacqueline Kelly: I'm working on The Willows Redux, a sequel to The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. It's "comfort" literature, and one of those rare books that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults. Unfortunately, I'm finding that not many kids these days are reading the original, which is a shame, as it's a great book with wonderful characters. But I'm having too much fun to stop writing!

HWM: What is your writing routine?
Jacqueline Kelly: I try to write each morning between 9 and 12, but my schedule frequently won't permit it. I work either in long-hand or on a laptop, it doesn't really matter to me. I carry around a small notebook in my purse so that I can jot down ideas and lines that come to me out of the blue. If you're an aspiring writer, you should always have at least a file card in your pocket so you can grab hold of the good ideas as they fly by.

Thank you so much, Jacqueline!


Other places to find Jacqueline Kelly:
Jacqueline Kelly's website
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate facebook page
MacMillan author interview
School Library Journal interview
Book Nut (Melissa's Book Review) interview
GMA's Picks for Teen Summer 2009 Reading

[Quick Update: Jacqueline stopped by and left a comment: I have had bookmarks printed with the cover on them, so if you'd like a signed bookmark, or several for your students, just let me know how you'd like them signed and where to send them. jackie.callie@sbcglobal.net]

For more WBBT interviews, click here to go to Chasing Ray's Master Schedule.

Monday, November 16, 2009

WBBT: Plotting with Megan Whalen Turner

Three years ago, I discovered The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I loved the intrigue, the clever foreshadowing, the characterizations and plotting. When I finished reading the next two books -- The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia -- I knew I needed to read these three books again, more slowly, to study the characters, the plotting, the subtle revelations, the prose.


Check out all the awards and honors...

Instead of Three Wishes: Booklist Editors' Choice List (Best books of 1995); 1996-97 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Master List.

The Thief: Newbery Honor Book Award, 1997; American Library Association List of Notable Books, 1997; Best Books for Young Adults, 1997 (Young Adult Library Services Association); Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Blue Ribbon List (Best books of 1996); Horn Book Fanfare List (Best books of 1996); Books for the Teen Age, 1997 (68th Annual Exhibition, Nathan Straus Young Adult Center, New York Public Library); Selection of the Junior Library Guild; Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Master List, 1997-98.

The Queen of Attolia: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Blue Ribbon List (Best books of 2000); New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age, 2001; Parents' Choice 2000 Fiction Gold Award; Parent's Guide Honor Award, 2000; A Chosen Book of the Cooperative Children's Book Center, 2001.

The King of Attolia: Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Masterlist (Vermont); Horn Book Fanfare List (Best books of 2006); School Library Journal Best Books of 2006; 2007 Top Ten Books for Young Adults, Young Adult Library Services Association (Yalsa); Finalist for the Andre Norton Award, 2007.
So I'll admit it. I adore these books and am pretty much in awe of Megan Whalen Turner. Megan was kind enough to humor me in my fangirl moment and took the time to stop by and chat. You're going to love what she has to say.
Without further ado, please welcome Megan Whalen Turner...

HWM: How did you get your “break” into getting published?

Megan Whalen Turner: I owe it all to Diana Wynne Jones. She recommended my work to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow.

HWM: You’ve written a number of short stories. What do you enjoy about this style of writing?
Megan Whalen Turner: I love how much a short story can hold—a world as big as that in any novel, but seen through a peephole. Like a knothole in a wooden fence, it focuses your attention. Joan Aiken wrote the best short stories and I've just spent the last half hour online trying to find an interview she gave a couple of years ago about her own work so that I could use her answer instead of having to think up one of my own. Unfortunately, my only copy of it is on newsprint packed in a box back in Ohio, while I am in California and will be until next summer. Another little lesson in why I should make electronic copies of important stuff.

Aiken, if I remember correctly, said that she thought the most successful short stories have events on at least two separate levels occuring inside them. No matter how brief the story, one plotline can't carry it. Until I read that, I hadn't realized how true it was. She also said that short story writing depended on a certain frame of mind and she wasn't sure she'd ever be in that state again. I think that is true for myself as well. As much as I love short stories, they come rarely—like little presents left on the doorstep. There's no ordering them online with guaranteed delivery, no matter how much I save up for it.

HWM: The Thief was published in 1996 and is well-loved by many. What inspired this book?
Megan Whalen Turner: There are so many different sources that feed a book, it's impossible to trace them all. I did have an idea in mind about a group of people traveling together with one severely undervalued member of the party, but I couldn't start writing until I decided on the setting. I took a trip to Greece and realized it was the landscape I was looking for. It gave me the second plotline for the book. I could have a thief go off and steal something, but I didn't think I had a story until I had hold of the larger events affecting Sounis, Eddis and Attolia.

HWM: Did you know The Thief would become a series or did the series evolve after the book was published?
Megan Whalen Turner: I didn't know I would write a sequel for The Thief until Barbara Barstow a Cuyahoga County Librarian asked me for one. As soon as she asked, though, I began thinking about what happened to Gen next. I considered writing another book and another and another about Gen pulling off a string of bigger and better and more clever tricks, but I realized pretty quickly that the next significant event in his story would be getting caught—because he would continue to take bigger and bigger risks until he finally was.

HWM: I loved how you wove in mythology, offerings to the gods, political intrigue, and the psyche in your books, while at the same time, adding a watch and firearms to show a more modern time. How much research did you have to do to create this incredible world?
Megan Whalen Turner: There were some college classes on Greek Thought and Literature, and a trip to Greece, and a fair amount of recreational reading, but most of it about Ancient Greece. My research into the time period I had in mind for the story—somewhere in the 1500's or so—was mostly reading about Western Europe. There is very little history at the layman's level about Greece after the fall of the Roman Empire and before, well. . . okay, there's just not much for the casual reader after the Roman Empire. You would think that the whole peninsula just evaporated. There are spectacularly dense scholarly histories, of course, but there are two problems with those. One, ugh. And two, too much research gets in the way of telling stories.

HWM: What were the challenges and surprises you discovered during your world building?
Megan Whalen Turner: Do you have any idea how HARD it is to write a sequel? Any? Really? I would tell you, but if I think too much about it, I have to go lie down.

HWM: Even though the Attolia books are a series, each book truly reads as a stand-alone, which is a rarity. How do you plot out your work so the reader is satisfied with the book ending instead of frustrated they have to wait for the next book?
Megan Whalen Turner: It's bad enough that I take so long to produce a book. Think what would happen if the book didn't have an ending. No, wait. Don't think about. Think about something else.

All I can say is that endings are very important to me as a reader and so they are important to me as a writer. I really resent stories without endings. I was once very flattered to be lumped in the same category as
Frank Stockton, but that's because of The Griffin and the Minor Cannon. Don't get me started on "The Lady or the Tiger?"

HWM: You have created incredible characters that spring to life -- Gen, the Queen of Eddis, the Queen of Attolia, the Magus, Costis. What are important things you look for as your character grows? When do you know you need to flesh out more of the character?
Megan Whalen Turner: It's more important, I think, to know when I need to flesh them out less. The reader doesn't really need to know the entire, plodding, story of Costis's life. They need to know just enough to believe that the rest of his life is there, somewhere out of sight.

But please don't take that as advice. Just because it is true for me doesn't mean that it is true for others. No one would ever say to
Susanna Clarke that she should cut out that needless backstory in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

HWM: I am excited to hear a fourth book to the Attolia series, A Conspiracy of Kings, is due to be published this spring (March 2010). What can you tell us?
Megan Whalen Turner: Well, I can tell you that it is about Sophos who has been noticeably absent since The Thief. He has changed a great deal in the last few years. It's also about Gen, who hasn't changed much at all, at least not in important ways. He frets. He sulks. He has the occasional temper tantrum, but comes through in the pinch. There are a couple of teasers up at the Greenwillow facebook page and I think there may be a longer excerpt up at some point.

HWM: Will this be the final book in the series?
Megan Whalen Turner: Oh, no. There should be two more books after this one. I just have to go lie down first.

HWM: What other projects are you working on that you can share?
Megan Whalen Turner: I've been working on my website. I hope to upgrade it from terribly dull to only moderately dull. In my defense I have to say that it was created last century. No one but the occasional librarian was reading anything on the web and I thought they'd like an easy way to locate all the reviews of my books. Now everybody has websites like jewel boxes or videogames and mine is as exciting as a reference book on the vowel shift in Old English. Actually—I'd like to have that reference book. It's more like a reference book on farm implements published in 1950.

HWM: I have to ask this -- Will you be on Twitter or facebook anytime soon? What about blogging?
Megan Whalen Turner: Well, there's the website upgrade, and I think I may be posting things occasionally at a Facebook page, but I won't be blogging on a reliable basis.

HWM: What is your writing routine?
Megan Whalen Turner: Routinely, I wish I had one.

HWM: Do you outline or write free-form?
Megan Whalen Turner: I don't outline, but I don't sit down in front of a computer with an idea and type until I see where it takes me, either. I usually have the story in my head, and tell it out loud before I sit down to translate what is in my head into words on a screen. I think of the first pass as a sketch rather than an outline.

HWM: What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
Megan Whalen Turner: "Write." My husband said that. He repeats it regularly. Sometimes with exclamation points. Occasionally in all caps.

HWM: What is your most memorable fan moment?
Megan Whalen Turner: emerald-happy made these for me. Note that Eugenides has a hook in the first picture, but not in the second.

But see, his hands don't match, do they? That's because in the second picture it is his fake hand. They are held in place with little magnets and you can swap them out. The set also comes with a tiny sword for him to hold. Are they not made of win?

Not everybody sends me dolls, it's true, but my fans have been so great, so patient, so supportive, and so much fun. I can't say how honored I feel that they like my books.

HWM: If you found a way to go back to your tween years as one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Megan Whalen Turner: You mean, if I could be ten again as Sophos, or Eugenides, or Eddis? I'd definitely choose to be Eddis as a ten year old. But that would be Eddis in her world. Eddis in fifth grade at Cranston Calvert Elementary School, not so much. Fifth grade once was more than enough for me.

HWM: What makes you laugh?
Megan Whalen Turner: The idea of Eddis in fifth grade at Cranston-Calvert, frankly. Or Eugenides. Hoo-boy.

HWM: If you were a superhero, what powers would you want and why?
Megan Whalen Turner: As much as I would like to have super strength or invisibility, I think I'd like to fly most.

Thank you so much, Megan!


Other Places to Find Megan Whalen Turner:
Megan's Website
Excerpt from Instead of Three Wishes
Excerpt from The Thief
Excerpt from The Queen of Attolia
Excerpt from The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings teaser
Another teaser for A Conspiracy of Kings
Interview with Shannon Hale:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Sounis (book discussion and fan group for The Attolia series, with links to fan fiction and Readaloud recordings)

[Note: This interview, in part, was made possible by my involvement in readergirlz, and Megan Whalen Turner's visit to Kristin Cashore's readergirlz LiveChat. So thank you to the fab readergirlz and wonderful Kristin Cashore, who unknowingly put the possibility of this interview in my mind. And thank you again, Megan, for agreeing to this interview!]

For more WBBT interviews, click here to go to Chasing Ray's Master List