Congratulations to the children's-YA authors and illustrators of 2010!
Thank you to everyone who discussed and debated and cheered and championed this year's books!
Just for fun, here are a few of my favorites.
(a) to varying degrees, I know or have met some (but not most) of the authors/illustrators--if I discounted everyone I knew, potential picks would be so significantly reduced in number as to be meaningless;
(b) I will continue to read and feature 2010 titles in 2011 and beyond;
(c) these are highlights, not predictions, not an all-inclusive list of my favorites.
I also celebrated the paperback release of Eternal (Candlewick, 2010), which debuted at #5 on The New York Times bestseller list and #13 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list. Trailer by Shayne Leighton.
Scam Proofing Your Writing Career by Jan Fields from Kristi Holl at Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The Internet is like one of those ancient treasure troves you read about in stories. You can find wonderful things there. Or you can hit the booby traps and get squashed flatter than a flitter."
Steampunk: Full Steam Ahead by Heather M. Campbell from School Library Journal. Peek: "Steampunk is both speculative fiction that imagines technology evolved from steam-powered cogs and gears–instead of from electricity and computers–and a movement that fosters a do-it-yourself attitude and a love of beautifully crafted, yet functional, objects."
Use Photos on Your Blog and Articles by Kathy Temean from Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "One of the best ways to make your articles look appealing and to hold reader’s attention is to use images to illustrate your work. But where do you find images that you can use without getting into copyright trouble?"
How's Your Query Letter IQ? an interview with Jessica Greene of J.R. Professional Writing Services by Dianne Ochiltree from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating. Peek: "Number one, absolutely no contest, is spelling and punctuation. Surprised?"
E-Readers with Color Open Door for Pictures by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: "Publishers have been eager to sell illustrated books in digital form, particularly picture books for children, since they could eventually become a significant additional source of revenue."
Featured Sweetheart: Elaine Scott by Jeanette Larson from the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels. Peek: "When I realized that Hubble was approaching its 20th 'birthday' and the final servicing mission was headed to the telescope, the time seemed right to take a look at all the amazing science this fantastic instrument has facilitated through the years. I used my contacts at NASA and at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore to gain access to the latest information, and I am humbled that Dr. Mario Livio of STScI agreed to vet the manuscript for accuracy."
For those who missed it over the holidays: Arrested Development? Young-at-heart Austin is home to a booming Young Adult literature scene by Melanie Haupt from The Austin Chronicle (cover story). Peek: "In many ways, the wedding of Victorian gothic to Austin's buzzing eclecticism within the context of Young Adult literature – itself a crazy amalgam of genres – is the perfect metaphor for the town itself. And it just so happens that Austin is a literary hotbed for the production and consumption of YA fiction. Austin and YA lit offer something for everyone, from dark, paranormal romances featuring werearmadillos to powerfully realistic portrayals of Southern racism during the Civil Rights movement."
Thank you for all of your enthusiasm and support in 2010! I'm so grateful for the terrific fellowship, insights, and passion for the craft of writing and reading books for young readers. Here's to an even better 2011!
Vampires, Werewolves and Guardian Angels: a review of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2010) by Teri Lesesne AKA Professor Nana from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "Archetypes, motifs, and plenty of references to other vampire literature make this a terrific read for fans of the genre, too. Quincie is no shrinking violet; she is a strong young woman surrounded by danger at every turn. Lots of action and blood and gore balanced nicely with a growing romance between Quincie and Kieren."
Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Stacey O'Neale from The Young Adult Fantasy Guide. Peek: "It's [Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011)] more romantic and horrific and sexier and has more heart than the previous two books. Quincie is also a far more reliable narrator than she was in Tantalize because she's on the other side of her transformation."
Happy Birthday, Cynthia Leitich Smith from Happy Birthday Author: Where Reading and Birthdays Come Together. Peek: "I was born in a snowstorm on New Year's Eve in Kansas City." Hey, hey, it's my birthday!
And yes, a birthday on New Year's Eve definitely prompts one to evaluate where she is in life.
That's okay! Don't panic. I'm a work in progress.
Much joy and many blessings to you in the new year!
My holiday has been almost entirely spent writing. I'm working on book #4 (still untitled) in the Tantalize series.
Here, you can see the dining room table set for Christmas dinner in the foreground and my work area in the background.
Dinner is turkey, giblet stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, and corn. Dessert was bananas foster, all made by Greg, naturally.
On the 28th, fellow Austinites gathered around that same table for yet another day of writing.
Here's former Austin SCBWI RA Tim Crow with authors Jennifer Ziegler (in white) and Julie Lake (in green). Look for Jenny's Sass and Serendipity in July 2011 from Delacorte.
On the other side of the table, we have Greg with authors April Lurie and Chris Barton. Bethany Hegedus also joined us, a little later in the day. Look for Chris's Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities in April 2011 from Dial.
Menu: armadillo eggs, chicken enchiladas, homemade salsa, tortilla chips, tamales, fruit, cranberry apple casserole, chocolate-covered pretzels, and cookies! The armadillo eggs (cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeno peppers, wrapped in bacon) were brought by Tim.
My present from Greg was Mr. Monk Is Cleaned Out by Lee Goldberg (Obsidian, 2010). I adore these parallel stories that tie into the series at various points.
In return, I gave Greg Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dehaene (Penguin, 2010). From the promotional copy: "The act of reading is so easily taken for granted that we forget what an astounding feat it is. How can a few black marks on white paper evoke an entire universe of meanings? It's even more amazing when we consider that we read using a primate brain that evolved to serve an entirely different purpose. In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene explores every aspect of this human invention, from its origins to its neural underpinnings. A world authority on the subject, Dehaene reveals the hidden logic of spelling, describes pioneering research on how we process languages, and takes us into a new appreciation of the brain and its wondrous capacity to adapt."
Enter to win a illustrator-autographed copy of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2011)! The book will include a customized drawing--the winner can pick the buffalo's pose!
To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Buffalo" in the subject line. Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win. Deadline: Dec. 31. Sponsored by the illustrator; world-wide entries.
The citizens of Atlantis are stuck selling cotton candy on the boardwalk, and only our hero can help
Thatcher Hill is bored stiff of his summer job dusting the fake mermaids and shrunken heads at his uncle's seaside Museum of Curiosities. But when a mysterious girl steals an artifact from the museum, Thatcher's summer becomes an adventure that takes him from the top of the Ferris wheel to the depths of the sea.
Following the thief, he learns that she is a princess of the lost Atlantis. Her people have been cursed by an evil witch to drift at sea all winter and wash up on shore each summer to an even more terrible fate—working the midway games and food stands on the boardwalk.
Can Thatcher help save them before he, too, succumbs to the witch's curse?
With sharp, witty writing that reads like a middle-grade Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Greg van Eekhout's first book for young readers is a wild ride packed with as many laughs as it has thrills. How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters?
Of all the characters I've written about in various stories, Thatcher, the boy in Kid vs. Squid, was probably the easiest to discover. I actually didn't feel like I was discovering him. It was more like he showed up on the page, already talking, and I just had to listen to him.
His best weapon is his smart alec mouth, and my biggest challenge writing him was getting him to shut up.
But Trudy McGee, who started out as Thatcher's sidekick, kind of threatened to take over the book. She's sort of a detective/superhero, and she's all about solving problems, taking action, throwing fire crackers, whatever it takes to get the job done.
Both characters could dominate a scene, Thatcher with his wisecracks and Trudy with her backpack full of crime-fighting gear. And whenever I had the two of them on the page together, it felt like watching a pair of actors improvise. All I had to do was nudge them along to keep the story moving.
Most of the time, writing doesn't work like that for me, but these two characters made it easy.
Most of the other characters in Kid vs. Squid came about just by imagining who would live in a town cursed by the severed head of a witch from Atlantis. It just made sense that there'd be jellyfish boys riding bikes, and that the king of Atlantis would be working the popcorn stand.
A couple of characters, though, fell in my lap out of real life. I was on the beach one day when this guy walked out of the surf, completely draped in kelp. So much kelp that it looked as if he was made of kelp! So I took that image and made up the evil witch's henchmen, the kelp guys.
Real life is weird!
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 think most kids start out as fantasy fans, even if the fantasy they're into isn't necessarily Tolkien-style with swords and wizards and eating stew with elves. Dr. Seuss is fantasy. "Toy Story" is fantasy. Spider-Man is fantasy. Most entertainment for kids features an elevated reality in which people have abilities that we don't have in real life or the laws of physics don't resemble what goes on in the real world or animals talk.
A walking, talking sea sponge? Total fantasy. So basically, I've been a fantasy fan all my life.
My inspiration comes from so many sources that it's really hard to narrow it down to any particular books, but just off the top of my head, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (Simon & Schuster, 1962) stands out. I like the idea that you don't have to go somewhere else to experience fantasy, that there's weird stuff going on all around us, maybe out in the open, maybe in the shadows, and Bradbury often takes that approach.
Probably, though, the more immediately visible influences on my work are comic books and cheesy '70s and '80s Saturday morning cartoons.
How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?
I'm lucky in that my local indie bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, has been incredibly supportive. They've had me to the store twice for signings, and they've gotten me on panels at Comic-Con, and they set up my first school visit.
I'm a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of self-promotion, so my approach is just to do things that I enjoy. Answering interview questions is fun. And I like meeting readers face-to-face. So even if turns out that making appearances doesn't have any real measurable impact on my sales, at least I've gotten to meet people who've read my book or might potentially read my book, and that's it's own reward.
Kirkus Reviews cheers, "Drawing together a memorable supporting cast that ranges from a half-human Atlantean princess to a genial shark-man ('Howdy-do. Swim with us to shore or we’ll eat your legs'), van Eekhout chivvies the plot along at a lively pace to a hold-your-breath climax and a deftly choreographed resolution."
School Library Journal cheers, "Van Eekhout carefully balances his tongue in his cheek with some really creepy situations, and the result is a humorous fantasy that will rush over young readers like a tidal wave."