Friday, July 30, 2010


Holly Cupala, author of TELL ME A SECRET, has put together an incredible video of authors unleashing their own well-kept secrets. I can't tell you the number of times I laughed out loud at this one...too much fun...

The moral of my own secret? Listen to your moms, kids. (Mine is always right. Always, always, always...)

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I’m so excited about this forthcoming title, I had to post the interview with the author right away. Fellow Flux-er, Medeia Sharif, will release her debut BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. in the summer of '11. (And those of you as hungry as I am for a new POV in the YA genre will surely put this title at the top of your TBR list…)

Medeia’s here today to share a few insights on her novel in development…

Congrats on selling your debut novel to Flux! Tell us a bit about BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER.

Almira Abdul, a Middle Eastern mutt of Syrian and Iranian origins, is fifteen going on sixteen and she’s fasting for Ramadan for the first time ever. Coinciding with the holy month is her first major crush with a boy named Peter, whom her best friend Lisa also is in love with. She also has a new enemy at school, catty Shakira Malik, a fellow Muslim who trades barbs with everyone. Her dentist father proclaims that she needs braces. Along with the hectic month her grandfather, who knocks down mailboxes and garbage cans when parking, is teaching her how to drive in his tank-like car.

What was the inspiration?

At first I was going to write a children’s or MG book about a boy’s experience with Ramadan, but then the idea of a teenage girl took hold of me. Almira’s voice became loud and clear.

The YA genre as a whole seems to be so heavily populated with white females. I love that your book features a "Middle Eastern mutt." I think I speak for many fans of YA when I say I'm so hungry for a different POV! Did you ever think your main character's ethnicity would help or hurt in your search to find a publisher? How so? Did you write BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. because you saw a hole that you could help fill in the YA genre or because it was the story you felt compelled to tell?

I believe it fills a hole, and I was fairly positive that the novel would garner attention. My main character and premise is unique, but at the same time I worried that people might not relate. I felt compelled to write the novel because a) I truly adored my story idea and b) I wanted to contribute to multicultural literature.

Why Flux?

I knew about Flux before getting agent representation. I admired the covers and titles I saw on their website. Also, I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of their books.

How'd you snare the deal? Agent? Slush?

I have a wonderful agent who got me the deal, Marlene Stringer of The Stringer Literary Agency.

What's the development process been like so far? What's been the highest point?

Each step is different to me and draws out better things from both me and my manuscript. I don’t know if I’m at the highest point yet, because something new keeps popping up. Right now I think the highest point will be when I see my cover since this doesn’t seem real to me yet.

What's been the biggest surprise since you sold your book?

I’m surprised that people are reaching out to me. The YA community is warm and generous. I’ve had established authors visit my blog, tweet at me, and email me when I used to believe that authors were inaccessible. Complete strangers approach me to ask about my debut novel. This is a delightful and welcome surprise

Are you working on anything new right now?

I’m working on a sequel to BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. Also, I take breaks from it to work on a new, unrelated work-in-progress.

How has the acquisitions and development process changed the way you read?

I find myself questioning the publishing journey of the novels I read: how long did the authors take to write them and what kind of feedback did they receive to fine-tune the work? These intrusive thoughts thankfully don’t get in the way of me comprehending the text.

How has the acquisitions and development process changed the way you write? Do you think you'll pay more or less attention to the market as you draft new work?

I’m a more patient writer. With previous works I did revisions in a rush, within a few weeks with poor results. Ever since I had hope brewing in me that BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER. might be the novel that gets my foot in the door of the publishing world, I spent months revising it. Even with my current projects, I take my time on revisions. I’m better at utilizing feedback and putting a manuscript away and taking it back out to view with fresh eyes. Also, after my book deal, I tested the waters with a few critique groups and finally found one that I’m comfortable with. If I’m stuck on BESTEST or another project, they give me great advice.

As for the marketability of my work, I don’t really pay attention to trends, but I do ask myself if my new projects would be of interest to people. I’m a voracious reader, so I wonder if someone else were to write my story idea, would I be compelled to read it? If I look deep inside of myself and the answer is no, then I save the idea for later and instinctually pick another one.

What are you most looking forward to as your book nears publication?

I’m curious to see people’s reactions to my novel. I hope I strike a positive chord in my future readers, whether I entertain them or teach them something.

You can continue to check in with Medeia as her novel nears publication at her website and blog. Congrats again, Medeia—can’t wait to get a peek at the cover art!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


I’m delighted today to be joined by Andy J. Smith, who describes himself as “an illustrator specializing in silly, cartoony children's art.” So many of us have bandied about the idea of writing picture books—and Andy’s here to let us know what the picture book world is like from an illustrator’s POV.

What's your background?

I went to The School Of Visual Arts in NYC and graduated with a degree in animation but took a handful of illustration and film electives and as many drawing classes as I was able. I worked in animation for about seven years in New York designing characters and backgrounds for TV and internet shows. After that I taught high school art and college illustration for a year before stumbling into illustration fulltime.

Why did you choose illustration (and kids' books) over other artistic pursuits?

I was always interested in children’s books and illustration but I never CHOSE illustration, per se. The idea of freelance ANYTHING was pretty scary to me. I would say I do kids’ books along with a lot of other artistic pursuits.

How do you continue to find work as an illustrator? Is it always through an agent?

I find work in as many ways as I’m able. Finding new clients and maintaining relationships with old ones is as big a part of being a freelance illustrator as anything. I send promotional mailers, display my artwork on my own website as well as “portfolio” sites like, continually give and get work through friends (one hand washes the other!), and occasionally clients find me on their own. My agents do a great job of getting my work into the right hands and getting it seen promptly. I’ve been writing a lot and I couldn’t imagine sending my work out to publishers without an agent, knowing it might just be festering in the slush pile.

Have you ever teamed up with a writer on your own? Do you always illustrate books that have already been acquired by a publishing house, or have you ever illustrated a book with the hopes that it would then find a house?

All the books I’ve illustrated were already acquired by the publisher. I haven’t worked with a writer prior to that process. I DO, however write and illustrate my own rough “dummy” books (with two finished pieces) that my agent will send around in the hopes of publication.

How does an illustration project begin?

That’s different with every project, publisher, book, and individual illustrator, but for my own original story ideas, I’ll usually ping pong back and forth between the words and pictures until each becomes more concrete. It’s a very reciprocal process for me.

Do you work collaboratively with the author? Do you submit initial sketches, or are the illustrations all your own?

I’ve never worked hand in hand with an author. It’s collaborative only in the sense that each person lends their talents to the marriage of words and pictures. The artist needs freedom to be able to bring their own ideas to the mix and not just be a mechanical hand. And yes, I submit rough sketches (often several rounds) to the publisher’s Art Director for approval prior to creating finished pieces of art.

What tools to do you use (watercolors, pencils, computer, etc.)?

Everything’s becoming more and more digital for me, but it’s fun to swing back into more traditional mediums to keep things fresh and challenge myself. You can’t really duplicate that tactile feel of canvas or pastel paper with a computer.

What's your daily schedule look like?

Freelance provides some degree of flexibility which is essential with my (lack of) schedule. It’s a daily struggle to juggle a 19 month-old daughter, 9 month-old puppy, never-ending home improvement jobs, exercise, time with my wife and various overlapping illustration/animation jobs.

What book or completed project are you the most proud of?

Hopefully the next one! I have a series of picture books making the rounds at the publishing houses now.

What are you working on now?

Doing freelance design and animation work for Sesame Street by day and writing and illustrating a new picture book manuscript/dummy involving an elusive peanut butter sandwich, in my free time.

What would you most like to work on in the future? What would be the dream assignment?

I’d really like to make some books that mean something, that have something to say, however silly and absurd that something might be.

Any advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?

Be yourself and let that come through in your artwork. It’s natural to have favorite picture book illustrators, but you’ll get nowhere copying their style. I could go on here forever, but really, just draw. Just draw—a lot.

…We’ve all got our fingers crossed for your picture book subs, Andy! In the meantime, you can check out more of Andy’s work at his website and blog.


In the midst of all this PLAYING HURT cover excitement, two fantastic new reviews of A BLUE SO DARK were posted last week!

Steph at Steph Su Reads asserted that “A BLUE SO DARK is an astonishing achievement by debut author Holly Schindler. Aura's story is horrifying, enthralling, and touching all at once, and will certainly open readers' eyes to situations they've probably never considered before.”

And Aly at Fantasy 4 Eva said, “Haunting but beautiful A Blue So Dark is a novel that gripped me in so many ways, i savored each and every moment, and was drawn into Aura's world that was filled with danger, sadness, anger, and hope but most of all a chance of new beginning's, this will be a book that will continue to touch people for many generations to come.”


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I've been so anxious to post this one! Here she is, the cover art for PLAYING HURT (due out March 1, 2011):

I'm so in love with this...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I'm ecstatic to help spread the news: Stephanie Blake recently sold her debut middle grade novel, THE MARBLE QUEEN, to Marshall Cavendish (the novel is set for a 2012 release)! Stephanie was kind enough to give us the scoop on how she broke into the market...

Congrats on the sale of your first novel—what an incredible accomplishment! Give us a synopsis, whet our appetites.

THE MARBLE QUEEN is a historical middle grade novel about a 9-year old girl named Freedom Jane McKenzie who longs to enter and win a local marble-shooting competition, even though she is told by everyone around her, including her difficult mama, that marbles are for boys.

What's your background? (Did you study lit in college? Were you a journalist, etc.? What brought you to the writing profession and to fiction specifically?)

I wrote sappy love poetry as a teenager, and my favorite classes were English and creative writing. I had a great English teacher in high school who really encouraged me. As a senior, I worked for the local newspaper as a cub reporter. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I have a B.A. in English, but my minor is in technical writing. I had a couple of poems published. I worked for several years in telecom, writing employee handbooks and policies & procedures, but I’ve always written creatively on the side.

Why middle grade?

Middle grade is such an amazing time for kids. Most kids are dorks. They love their parents. They still sleep with stuffed animals. They get scared of the dark and of lightening. They worry about getting boobs and armpit hair. For some reason, I am really in touch with that. I was always the new kid because we moved around a lot. I didn’t make friends very easily, so I got lost in books. I loved to read about regular kids doing regular things. I think most kids are curious about other kid’s lives. It’s those years from about age nine to twelve that really define how a person will turn out. High school is all about fitting in, but in middle grade one can really explore things without worrying too much about what other kids think.

Growing up, my favorite authors were Beverly Cleary, Lois Lenski, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Judy Blume. I just loved Ramona and her way of thinking. In some ways, my character, Freedom, is a lot like Ramona.

Did you ever feel your background helped / hurt as you sought publication? In what way?

My college classes definitely helped. Also, I am a researcher by nature. When you go for publication without an agent, you have to figure things out on your own. Also, I am kind of stubborn. I don’t like to hear the word no. That college grammar class I had to take twice is coming in handy, too.

How long did it take to get to the first acceptance?

It took almost exactly four years, three novels, working with three agents, and over 200 rejections on various things before I sold THE MARBLE QUEEN, which got thirteen passes.

How many manuscripts did you write before drafting THE MARBLE QUEEN?

I wrote several short stories in the years after college. I wrote a couple of plays. I started a bad romance novel, but lost interest. I wrote articles for And about four years ago, I wrote this horribly clich├ęd women’s fiction (think Nicholas Sparks) and sent it around to a couple of editors. It had some lovely moments, but was really not ready.

THE MARBLE QUEEN is the 3rd middle grade manuscript I’ve written. It is also my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

How many times did you rewrite THE MARBLE QUEEN before selling it?

THE MARBLE QUEEN has been through about five revisions. I did two revisions for an editor at FSG. They passed, but those revisions definitely made the book stronger. I did another revision for Robin before she offered to buy it.

How'd you do it—agent or editor (slush pile)?

THE MARBLE QUEEN is a slush baby. It actually languished in the slush for over 10 months before my editor, Robin Benjamin, emailed to ask if it was still available. She said it needed some revisions before she could take it to acquisitions and asked if I was interested. She sent me some notes, I worked on it and sent it back. It took 13 months all together from submission to offer.

Why do you think your submission stood out in the mountains of slush?

Marshall Cavendish accepts full manuscripts, so I printed it out, put a nice cover letter on top, addressed it to Robin Benjamn, and sent it out in a plain old brown envelope. One of my kids kissed it before I dropped it in the mailbox. I don’t think I included an SASE. Then, I waited. About 6 months later, I put it on the “no response means no” list. Was it luck? Yes.

What was the best part of the acquisitions process? Scariest?

The day of THE CALL was the best day ever. I cried, I hollered, and we celebrated with champagne. Telling my father I was being published was wonderful. Signing the contract was pretty cool, too. The scariest was waiting for Robin to get back to me after I had sent revisions to her. I waited about six weeks, and I doubted myself the whole time.

Why Marshall Cavendish?

Marshall Cavendish puts out some beautiful, meaningful books. I had studied their lists, read some of their books, and I knew from research that Robin likes historical fiction. Actually, she rejected my first novel in 2006, but wrote a very nice personal comment about my writing on the bottom of the form, so she went on my “to query again” list. Also, they take unagented material—bonus!

What was the one thing that helped you snare that first deal more than anything else? (This could be anything—attending a conference, or maybe establishing an online presence or joining a writer's might even be a personality trait.)

Persistence. I am really involved on the blue boards, I have a blog and a website. I am a member of Publisher Marketplace, and I have gone to three big SCBWI conferences. I had an agent for my 2nd manuscript. I have met tons of great people, other authors and editors and agents, but none of that matters. It is about the work. You have to be willing to revise. You have to get your butt in the chair and write. And rewrite. And after all that you have to target your submissions, which means finding out everything you can about the editor or agent your are submitting to.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing as you began your journey toward publication, what would that be?

I would tell myself two things. First, slow down and second, spell check is not the same as revision.

...When I'm not in front of the computer, which is nearly always, I can be found in my backyard with my dog, my husband and my three boys in Parker, Colorado. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a country singer. you can find out more about me on my blog.

Hear that, guys? Three agents later, Stephanie sold her manuscript on her own. (As a slush pile success story, I love to hear about authors forging their own way!)

I, for one, have THE MARBLE QUEEN on my 2012 TBR list...Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Okay, I've finally got it figured out: the cast of the movie version of A BLUE SO DARK. (This question keeps poppin' up, so I finally sat down and really thought about it...) For Aura? I'm thinkin' Selena Gomez:

For Grace? Marisa Tomei:

Head on over to Vision Quest Fail to read the latest interview (and to find out how I decided on Gomez for Aura...) And don't forget to enter Caitlin's giveaway of a signed copy...contest ends July 20!

Friday, July 9, 2010


I’m thrilled to be a part of fellow ’10 debut-er Holly Cupala’s whirlwind, world-wide virtual book tour! I recently had a chance to dig into her novel, TELL ME A SECRET…and I have to say that I’m completely impressed with Holly’s talent for building a story, amping up tension, propelling you to read on to the end. TELL ME A SECRET is a literary, emotional novel…but the last half of her book reads so quickly, you’d swear you had your hands on an adventure. Really.

...As part of her tour, Holly was kind enough to share some secrets of her own—about the process of finding her voice, about the development of her first novel, and even a little about her sophomore novel, due out in ’11!

1) Tell us about TELL ME A SECRET:
Miranda Mathison is seventeen and on the edge of everything she wants—art school, a dreamy boyfriend, and a new friend to unlock the secrets left behind by her bad-girl sister, who died mysteriously five years before. Miranda has been the good daughter, holding everything together until she can escape, but now she a secret of her own—one that will jeopardize everything. She takes a pregnancy test, and that’s when things get interesting…

2) I love the title…I know of at least two working titles you had before the final. Can you tell us how you arrived at TELL ME A SECRET?
Ha! Yes, the saga of the titles! Though I think we finally—at the eleventh hour—landed on the best. When the story first came to me, Miranda said, “I don’t have chicken soup in my soul…I have brimstone.” (Yes, I’m one of those people, whose characters talk to them.) Anyway, that was her voice. So the initial draft was called Brimstone Soup. When my publisher called about the pre-empt, they loved everything but the title—and I had to agree. So I sold it as A Light That Never Goes Out (a reference to a Smiths song).

But that title, besides being long, just didn’t lend itself to cover imagery. So I pestered all of my writing friends, kidlit friends, people off the street, to think of titles—we came up with over 200, but none were quite right. Then, the weekend before we HAD to have a final title for the catalog, it finally came to me—it was 2 a.m., I was almost asleep, when I remembered a conversation between Miranda and her sister from the very first chapter: “Tell me a secret, and I’ll tell you one.” That was it! I sat up in bed. I shook my husband! “Honey! Tell Me a Secret! TELL ME A SECRET!” He said, “Mnnnnh.” I took that as a good sign. So I told my editor, and she liked it, too!

3) Describe your voice…Fans of what YA authors will adore TELL ME A SECRET?
Oh, wow. That’s the American Idol question, isn’t it! Do I sing like Pink or Rihanna or the girl in the shower? (For the record: the girl in the shower, definitely!)

Well, I could tell you the authors that I really admire, and I hope my writing would resonate with their readers: Sara Zarr, Laurie Halse Anderson, Rachel Cohn, Sarah Dessen. Ellen Hopkins and Deb Caletti both gave me amazing advance praise, which was such an honor, as I love their books!

4) What was the ah-ha! moment? The I’m-going-to-write-for-teens epiphany?
For a long time, I thought I wanted to write the Great American Novel—until I read The Stinky Cheese Man! That was the aha from adult writing to children’s writing. So I wrote a bunch of completely unpublishable stories for smaller people and had begun a middle grade novel when we hit perhaps our hardest year—in the space of a few months, one of my closest friends’ sister died suddenly, and then my husband and I lost our first daughter at birth. Everything I’d been working on suddenly seemed very empty. I almost gave up writing.

A few months later, I went to a writing conference, and my friend Justina Chen (author of NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL) invited me out to lunch and very kindly asked if I was thinking of writing about the loss. Then we went to hear Libba Bray at the conference (she’d just come out with A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY), and all of a sudden the idea for TELL ME A SECRET landed in my lap. I started writing as fast as I could. Eventually I received a Work-In-Progress grant and kept going, signed with my amazing agent, and he sold it to our first choice!

There wasn’t an “I’m going to write for teens” moment as much as that’s just where my true voice is. It took a lot to finally find it.

5) What do you admire most in other writers? What writing styles or techniques make you cringe?
I love writing with depth, with poetry of expression, with frank truthfulness. A certain amount of suspense is nice, to keep the story moving. If I care about the characters, I will want to know what happens to them.

Cringe…hmm. I always have a hard time reading 3rd person present tense—for some reason my brain isn’t wired to assimilate information that way. If I’ve heard good things about the book, I’ll find it on audio. I love listening to a good YA!

6) Tell us a little something about your main character, Miranda: What’s her greatest strength? Weakness? Why should we admire her? What’s going to make readers want to accompany her on her journey?
I never really thought of her in those terms. First, she was a voice—It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl. Then, as I wrote, I discovered she had this well of fire inside her, though it’s been trapped by grief and mystery and the duty of holding her family together. She has a fascination with freedom, and escape, and it’s what drives her to chip away, a little at a time, at these layers, and to expose the truth—of her sister’s death, of her own secrets, of the family secrets she knows nothing about…all in the midst of her relationship with her boyfriend, and friends who aren’t what she thinks they are, and the big question: what is she going to do about the pregnancy? What is she going to do with the rest of her life? I hope readers will want to find out!

7) Would you have been friends with Miranda when you were in high school?
I think I probably would have—maybe because we have some key similarities? ;)

I tend to be incredibly loyal and give people the benefit of the doubt, which are qualities of Miranda’s childhood friend, Essence. She is the kind of friend that will stick by someone, even through the roughest times. I think I would have recognized that hunger in Miranda for digging deeper, finding the truth of things—and the allure of the forbidden.

8) What’s your favorite YA character? The one you wished you’d dreamed up and written about?
Oh, there are a few! I just adored Sym from Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness—brilliant and hilarious and odd. Curt from K.L. Going’s Fat Kid Rules the World. Dashti from Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days. They’re all funny messengers of truth in very different ways.

9) What role, if any, do you think blogging played in getting you published? Would you encourage unpublished authors to get up and running online BEFORE that first sale?
Definitely—more because of connecting with others in the blogging community than getting published. Your novel must stand on its own to find a publisher, but it’s the bloggers who will run the race with you at any stage and help spread the word when it’s time to celebrate!

10) What was the single most important thing you did pre-publication?
When readergirlz ( asked me to join them, I said yes! If you’re not familiar with readergirlz, it’s an online teen lit community connecting readers with authors and community service begun by Justina Chen, Lorie Ann Grover, Dia Calhoun, and Janet Lee Carey. They invited me to come on board about six months later, and since then we’ve added Melissa Walker, Liz Gallagher, and Elizabeth Scott! It’s been a very cool opportunity to work with amazing authors and teens—and talk about excellent YA books. TELL ME A SECRET will be the featured book in August 2010—I hope you’ll stop by!

11) I know you’ve been working on a second YA, tentatively titled STREET CREED. Can you tell us a little secret about the sophomore novel?
The best secret is that my editor loved it! So now we are working on the edits to get it ready for a Fall 2011 launch date. Hmmm, more secrets…I’ve rewritten this six times now…there’s this one scene…amazing boy...sigh…best friend said, “Hubba hubba,” and I was sort of embarrassed that the guys in my life (husband, agent, brother, dad) would eventually read it…ok, I think that’s all I can say for now! *blush*

…Now that we’ve whet your appetites:

Check out an excerpt of TELL ME A SECRET.

Leave blog comments at Holly's website for a chance to win signed books, t-shirts, journals, gift cards, and more!

And follow Holly to her next tour stop, at Princess Bookie, Monday, July 12!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


In spirit, anyway! I personally didn't get to go this year, but my incredible local teen librarian, Sarah (GreenBeenTeenQueen) just sent me these pics of A BLUE SO DARK in the Flux booth...

...She said the stack was bigger, but copies were goin' fast...

Now, that's what a gal likes to hear...

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I’ll fess up: reading reviews of your own book online can be a little like walking down a dark alley at midnight…only to bump into a shadow-cloaked figure who wants nothing more than to tear you to bloody shreds. Seriously. It can be.

Other times, though, it can be absolutely rewarding. Like when I bumped into a mention of A BLUE SO DARK at Michelle’s Bookshelf, in her Friday’s Finest…I really love this new meme…bloggers pull a quote (no spoilers) that haunts them long after they finish a book. (Really allows an author’s work to speak for itself.)

Michelle also had this to say about BLUE:
“This book is so powerful and beautiful. The writing is so stunning. Just in the opening chapter alone I made note of a bunch of quotes that I loved.”

…This morning, when I read the intro to the review recently posted at mydrook reads (“Quick disclaimer: this isn’t really my type of book”), I definitely got that dark alley feeling…until I read on, finding that this reviewer enjoyed BLUE, despite it being outside of her genre of preference, stating, “It well written, carefully thought out, and vividly, at times painfully, realistic.”

…Love her open-mindedness, and the fact that the identified growth in Janny as well as Aura, claiming:

“Both Aura and her friend are dealing with ridiculously difficult things and have practically no one to help them through it. But both of them show believable growth through the course of the novel. Aura starts off as scared, stubborn, and selfish, but by the end she exhibits impressive strength, flexibility, and bravery. The ending, while satisfying, does not set the scene for a squeaky clean, happy ever after for any of the characters, and I liked that. The romance in the story was cute, but definitely not the focus. I thought that might disappoint me, but actually I found it refreshing to read a YA book where the sole concern of the protagonist was something other than finding her soul mate.”

High praise indeed…

…Ooooh, and stay tuned for Friday’s posting, in which we’re visited by Holly Cupala, author of the newly-released TELL ME A SECRET!
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