Monday, February 28, 2011

Cecil Castellucci
In Conversation with Pen & Ink

According to the divine miss pixie woods, Cecil Castellucci is an author and artiste. She has written Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool, Beige, Rose Sees Red, the graphic novels The Plain Janes and Janes in Love and the picture book, Grandma’s Gloves.

Did Minx approach you for a graphic novel project?
Yes. DC Comics was launching the Minx line which they hoped would be a line for YA comics for girls. Shelly Bond, the editor who was launching the line, was looking for a YA author who might be interested in writing a graphic novel. They approached Rachel Cohn, who said no, but she passed Shelly my name since Boy Proof was about a girl who loves sci fi and comic books. As a matter of fact, Egg in Boy Proof reads a lot of Vertigo/DC comics, so it ended up being perfect. Shelly called me and asked if I would be interested and I said, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

What quality or qualities do you attribute to your prolific artistic output, i.e. music, art, film, writing?
I like projects and I like to finish them and get them out there so that i can move onto the next one. I think basically that is it.

Is there a creative media that you want to explore, but haven’t?
Well, I always wanted to be some kind of visual artist, but I'm not. Can't draw. I always thought I would like to do conceptual art. And I just started a conceptual art project in January that I'll be doing for all of 2011. It’s called the Literary Diaspora ( ) Other than that, perhaps figure skating. But as it stands now, I'll likely never do that and if I did I would break my butt.

What is your daily work schedule like? Do you work on multi projects in different mediums or stick with one or two projects?
I work on multiple projects at a time. And for me, the medium- no matter what the project is- is always the same. Story telling. And the truth is projects are always at different stages and need different kinds of care and feeding. One will be a baby. One will be going out into the world. One will just need to be reminded it's pretty every once in a while.

The Punk playlist. I often hear editors/authors at conferences tell writers to avoid references of contemporary music. By the time the book is published, so the argument goes, the cultural meaning of the music will be lost on the YA reader. Was this ever a concern for you or the publisher? (This interviewer thought punk was a late 70’s, early 80’s phenomena? Also, this interviewer is much like Beige with non-existent contemporary musical tastes.)
I never had any issue, nor did my publisher, about the punk playlist in Beige. The book is a contemporary punk book. And the thing about punk is that punk is whatever you decide is punk. If you notice, in the book, Garth Skater gives Katy-Beige a mix CD. It's a punk primer. Just songs that get the blood moving and that many people agree is punk. The songs on that CD are what make up the chapter headings. To prove a point that punk is what you want it to be, when the book came out I asked people I knew to give me their top ten punk songs over at IS BEIGE PUNK? as you can see, the answers are very, very different. 

Reading your novels, this interviewer is reminded that teens struggle with self-expression. The arts appear to be a healthy outlet. Yet the arts are often the first to go in school budget cuts. What’s up with that?
Yeah. That is messed up. Let me tell you, if you cut art from schools you are suffocating good education. Education works when it’s a whole experience. Arts education helps enrich and enhance performance in all other subjects. It's already scientifically proven that music helps math. Ah! It's so annoying when people think that they can save money by cutting the arts! It will save money by keeping the arts in schools! Anyway, yes, I do believe with all of my heart that Art Saves. It saves the world. It saves us. It is what makes us human.
Pen & Ink would like to thank Cecil for this interview. We urge our faithful readers to run, don’t walk… to your local book purveyor, like Skylight Books, and buy anything by Ms. Castellucci.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


by Hilde Garcia
The worst part, my process, my visions of grandeur.

A friend called me eighteen years ago and said, “I have a proposition for you.  You write a book, I’ll illustrate it, we’ll split the profits 50/50.”  I said, “Sure,” and banged out a picture book draft that night.  I called her back the next day and said, “Hey instead of dealing with more rejection (I was an actor at the time), how about we start our own bilingual publishing company?”  SO, we did.  It was called Caliente Publishing.  My unrevised, unedited, under-illustrated manuscript was our first acquisition.  And we had one teeny, tiny problem, no money.  SO much for that road.  Thank goodness.

Now what?  What to do next?  Well, I put it in the drawer and fifteen years went by. 
“Hey, have you heard of SCBWI?” I tell this friend three years ago.  “I’m gonna take our book and see if I can get it published.  I mean, it’s already illustrated and that’s half the battle.”  And her reply was, “Awesome.”  You never know, right?

Wrong.  Oh so wrong. 

I bring my beautifully illustrated ms to the conference in LA and the first Keynote speaker’s words of wisdom are- “If you are not an artist, don’t illustrate your own book.”  Well, I made sure not to show that draft to anyone.  Then I had it reviewed by a professional critiquer. I was sure this person would love to see my finished draft.

I had paid for a thirty minute consultation.  That took about ninety seconds for her to say, no way José.  The rest was going to be silence. Deadly, silence.

“So do you have anything else?”  The critiquer asks me.  “Yes” I say, on auto pilot.

In the world of acting, you always have an extra song, monologue, or comedy routine planned, in case they don’t like your first stuff.  SO I say yes.

Jane Yolen
I only had a title.  What do I have to loose?  After a fun 28.5 minutes of discussion, the person says to me, “If you write that story, I want to read it.”  Ok, well, then let me write it. How hard can this be?

Six months later, I have a draft.  I think it is fabulous.  It made me cry.  I ask my husband to read it.  It makes him cry, but not for the same reason.  SO I get it, it’s a lousy first draft, but I have no clue what to do next.

“Revision.”  What the heck is revision?  Jane Yolen says it is to see your MS with new eyes again.  But what am I seeing?

Lisa Yee
I’m sitting in a workshop with Lisa Yee and she’s telling us all about revision.  And I only have one question, “How do I know that the word I am changing or deleting isn’t supposed to stay in?”  What if I chop out a good part, an award winning sentence?

She says, “If it is supposed to be in the book it will be, even when you revise.”  HUH?  SO I begin trying to fix the draft.  Hubby tries to help, and it almost cost us the marriage- note to self: hubby is not a good person to have as critique partner in most cases, stick with a stranger).

I go at it alone for six months.  Everyone says to me, you need a critique group.  Yeah, ok, but where do you shop for one?  And once you have them, what do you do with them?  Do you feed them? (Apparently, yes you do with cookies.)

Then I form a group, quite serendipitously, since I have never done it before and they were and are my saving grace.  With their careful help, we took the draft apart and one year later, (18 months to the day I finished the first awful original draft), I have a draft that is ready to send to an agent. 

Which I do.

And the agent loves it, but she wants to see another revision.  “No problem,” I say. 

A long way from “Huh?”

I bang this one out in three months, from start to finish.  No longer was I worried about what I was chopping.  I was excited about the stuff that was flourishing as a result.  Of course, I forgot what my kids looked like, (thank goodness for the 35 hours of public school which provided me time to write so I could still play with my kids after school).

And here I am, 3.5 years from the pitch of a title and idea to a finished MS with an agent and which has undergone several revisions.  I have seen it all new and it’s a great view. 

And the job at hand now?  To revise and deepen one main character.

Piece of revision cake.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Answers to Last Group of First Line/Paragraphs

by Susan Berger

These are the answers to the last group of first line/paragraphs. Eight of them are first books. (I thought it was nine, but I got fooled by the N.E. Bode bio)

1 Fern Drudger knew her parents were dull. Ridiculously dull. Incredibly, tragically dull. 
The Anybodies by N.E. Bode Illustrated by Peter Ferguson
(First book in the series. Pen name for Juliana Baggott) 

2. October 19th 1998 3:30PM
A dripping faucet.
Crumbs and a pink stain on the counter.
Half of a skin black banana that smells as old as it looks.
If I look at these things and at nothing else, concentrate on them and stay still, and don’t make any noise, this will be over soon and I can go home without Cameron’s dad ever knowing I’m here.
Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
(This book was a Cybil finalist. Sara was the Keynote speaker at the SCBWI winter Conference this year.) 

3. We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck. 
Feed by M.T. Anderson
(First book National Book Award finalist.) 

4. Crooked Creek Middle School Morning Announcement request
Feb 2
Mr. Cooper Please announce that today’s scheduled meeting of the American Society of Fun Facts has been cancelled because the club’s president is stuck in In-School Suspension . (thanks a lot)
The Defense of Thaddeus A Ledbetter by John Gosselink 
(First book)

The School of Fear 
The wilderness outside Farmington Massachusetts 
(exact location withheld for security purposes) 
Direct All correspondence to PO Box 333 
Farmington, MA 01201 

Dear Applicant,
I am pleased to inform you of your acceptance to the summer course at the School of Fear.
School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari
(This is a second book. Her first was The Makedown. I used a line from that in my last post. School of Fear will now be a four book series and a movie)

These next five are Cybil Finalists for mid grade fiction. I searched their list for first books. (Not easy.) There were more, but I couldn’t look inside the on Amazon 

6. I’d just been busted for giving the chimpanzees water balloons when I first heard something was wrong at Hippo River. 

7. Fiona Finkelstein had a bad feeling. It was the kind of bad feeling she got when she just knew Mrs. Miltenberger has packed a corned beef sandwich in her lunchbox, even thought she’s told her a gazillion times that she HATES corned beef more than she HATES anything else. Especially after learning that there was actually no corn in it. If there was one thing Fiona flat-out could not stand, it was food that lies. 

8. The first day of summer vacation is important because what you do that day sets the tone for the whole summer. That’s why my best friend Elliot Berger is coming over to watch the Daily Show episodes I’ve recorded. Mom and I used to watch them together. She always said that the host, Jon Stewart, stood up for the little guy, which is funny because Jon Stewart is a little guy-five feet seven inches. According to Wikipedia, the average height for men in the United States is five feet nine and a half inches. Let’s just say I can totally relate to Jon’s height issue.
How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart
(I think this is a first book.) 

9. You wake up and you’re fourteen. The world is your supersized soda waiting to be guzzled, right? Wrong. My birthday tasted more like Coke that went flat. 
Kimchi & Calimari by Rose Kent.
(First book. Nominated for several awards. Her second book was nominated for a Cybil) 

10. It’s a perfect night to run away, thought Fadi, casting a brooding look at the bright sheen of the moon through the cracked backseat window. It reminded him of the book From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler. 
Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai.
(First book. I would look this one up on Amazon and read the whole first page. It’s excellent.) 

Jan. 15, 2010
Dec. 5, 2009
Here some links to older first line posts. 
I think I will search the Cybils for YA for the next one.
Write on!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Carolyn Hennesy - Pandora Gets Jealous
In conversation with Pen & Ink

“There was a time, during the golden age of men and gods, when mankind became forgetful, almost to the point of its own destruction.” Thus begins Pandora Get Jealous, by Carolyn Hennesy, her first tween novel of a seven book series, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books. After Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena, Pandy to her friends, accidentally unleashes seven big Evils upon the Earth: Jealousy, Vanity, Laziness, Lust, Rage, Greed and the biggest Evil of all...wait for the book! Pandy is tasked by Zeus to recapture the Evils or face Zeus’ wrath. With her best friends Iole and Alcie, Pandy voyages through the world of 49 BC where Olympic Gods, monsters and mortals co-exist.

“Pandy and her best friends are characters readers can relate to,” Carolyn says. “Iole is the brainy, frail one. Alcie is beautiful and outspoken. Pandy is the center, the heroine, who knows what to do...except when she doesn’t. Pandy accepts responsibility for her actions. Because of that, Pandy gets to build her character, have wild, death defying adventures and save the world.” Carolyn includes universal tween themes of parental difficulties, school bullies, awkward crushes and the drudge of homework.

“I was the least productive of the group,” Carolyn speaks of her participation in a writing group which is where Pandy was born. A visiting author heard Carolyn read her short story concerning a teen-aged Pandora and encouraged her to expound on it. “He pointed out A, B and C happens. Uber-broad strokes.” Just the beginning, middle and end. The author encouraged Carolyn to write “1000 words a day for six weeks.” The result was the first draft of Pandora Gets Jealous.

The road to publication was “a fluke. Really six-degrees of separation. A phone call was made to an important agent” which then led to the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency who “absolutely loved the book. I was told this was chick lit, real ‘girl power’ reading. This agent shopped the book for six months and then Bloomsbury bought it. Then the battle started with the editors, because I was so new to the world of writing that I made a classic rookie mistake of wanting to hang on to every word as if it was a gem. Got over that real quick and realized that my editor was actually crafting my work into a better book.” Carolyn’s original three book deal with Bloomsbury Children’s Books expanded when Bloomsbury bought the last four books of the series.

Carolyn, Hannah and Amanda love Pandy!
“Bloomsbury worked in concert with my publicist” to arrange book tours and appearances to fit in with her schedule. “I did an East Coast tour. I’d like to do a West Coast tour. I visit schools in my own backyard of Burbank.” During school visits, “The girls listen in rapt attention. The boys... I tell them I’m an actress and say that I was in Terminator 3. Then they’re alert.

“Who’re you in it?” they ask.

“I was the first person killed.”

That gets the boys.

“Whoa! Did you meet Arnold Schwarzenegger?”


“They’re hooked. It gives me street cred.”

Carolyn embraces her flourishing social media presence. She plays mob attorney, Diane Miller, on General Hospital and appears as Barb on ABC’s Cougar Town. Carolyn maintains two websites and keeps in touch with her loyal fans via Twitter. She appears on many YouTube TV clips and interviews.

Carolyn was not a soap opera star at the time Bloomsbury bought her books. “The quality of the book, the manuscript stood alone. Only later…” when her career took off, did the popularity of Pandora rise. “Soap opera fans. They’re smart, together, savvy, opinionated, loyal, and the majority are women. The fans support Pandora as they support their favorite soap because they love a good story, good twist and turns and action”

Carolyn on Trapeze
Carolyn is a writer on a flying trapeze. Literally. “Writing a book, a short story, you name’s very much like flying on a trapeze. There are so many steps to writing just as there are to performing a single beautiful trick. But even though you have to plot out the story...think about your moves in the air...and you have to jump off the essence put your pen to paper, after all of that you simply have to trust that your moves and your words are good and the editor is going to catch you and straighten you out. You have to get out of your head and do the trick as a whole, not just a series of steps. And that’s how I’ve learned to look at each novel I start. Get off the board and get back onto the board. It’s all one motion. You have to think of the entire book, the entire trick as a whole.”

Weng Chen (Jade) illustrated the Pandora book covers. “I love the cover design. It’s Christmas candy.” When Carolyn first saw the cover of Pandora Gets Jealous, “I wept with joy at the cover. My girl realized. I went to my knees. These words sprung from my own head like Athena from Zeus. I saw them manifest. They will leave a mark. I created something tangible. It was humbling.” 

Carolyn Hennesy will be appearing at the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, April 6-10, 2011. "I'll be speaking on a panel with other soap opera actors turned authors!"

L. Fernandez would like to thank Carolyn for granting this interview. For further information on Ms. Hennesy, visit her website and to keep up on the adventures of Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena visit
Photos provided by Carolyn Hennesy.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My Top 12 Reads for 2010

by Hilde Garcia

In addition to writing my own YA novel this year, I had a super time reading the amazing books below between my own writing, the laundry and dinner. Every one made my list. I hope they make yours.

These books were awesome. They are in no particular order, just how I grabbed them off of my bookshelf, but I thoroughly enjoyed each one.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander
What a great story! Austin is a main character that is irresistible. The book is suspenseful and fun. And Dean Ottmer is the quintessential villain who could give J. R. Ewing a run for his money. I loved the characters and the mystery. I cried and learned all about raising a rooster. What more could you want from a book?

Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss
I cried. I laughed. I held my breath. I have never read suck a book about cancer. The main character, Izzy, has a wry sense of humor. “Izzy know her cancer could kill her. But that’s no reason to lose her sense of humor.” That’s on the front cover. I have never thought about cancer being funny, but Ms. Koss truly captured an essence that is often overlooked. This book will stay with me for a long time. Here’s to every child that has had to find a reason to laugh through the side effects.

The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts
I met the author at the SCBWI conference party, without realizing I had purchased her book earlier that day. She was so excited to know that someone other than her Aunt had bought one. I peed in my pants from laughter. I cried in many places at how hard farm life is for young people in this country. I wanted to go and milk a cow. Michelle is a true farmer’s wife and told me I can do her chores anytime I’m in her neck of the woods.

39 Clues, Books 1, 2 and 3 (Rick Riordan, Gordon Korman, Peter Learangis)
WOW- so much fun. The premise, siblings Dan and Amy are on a worldwide race against other family members to uncover the secret that will be more powerful and valuable than $1,000,000. The are 39 clues that will lead to this discovery. Each book has collectible cards and you can play an on line version of this game. The authors are rotating, and the whole book takes kids through history and around the globe. It’s a real chase. Oh, did I mention the kids are on the run from social services? Yeah, too cool. I’m on book 4, so no one ruin it for me.

Twilight Child by Sally Warner
I had the pleasure of taking Sally’s class last summer. As part of our tuition, we were able to choose one of her novels. I love far away stories set in olden times with a mystery and fairies. What a fabulous read It was full of action, sadness, love and friendship. I highly recommend her classes in the Los Angeles area.

Dirty Little Secrets by C J Omololu
SCARY. Hoarding is a disease. But what happens to the child that lives with a parent who hoards? Things like having friends over are not even a possibility. What happens when they want to keep their room clean and the mom takes their door off of the hinges? It’s a disturbing look into this disease. The whole book takes place in one 24-hour period. It’s intense from the moment it starts until it ends.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
A Newberry Winner from 1925. A fabulous historical fiction read, reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie. You love Caddie and her brothers and her love for people and the land. You love the book from the start to the end. I found this book at a garage sale. It’s a keeper.

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes
Middle grade magical realism- fun and heartwarming. The main character is stuck going to visit a grandmother she has never seen in another state while her mom finishes her doctorate. What she thinks might be a boring summer, turns into the summer of her life. She discovers herself through exciting action scenes and cultural history. She even discovers the answer to a secret. I felt transported to New Mexico.

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney
Finding wonder in the world is amazing. Finding it in your own back yard, extraordinary. I cried and laughed at the same time. I didn't want it to end.

Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden
If Caddie Woodlawn is reminiscent of the Little House Books, then Gentle’s Holler reminiscent of The Walton’s. Family love is stronger than anything money can buy. Livy Two and all her siblings, each with their own unique look at life, reach in and pull you into their lives. And then, you never want to leave that mountain. The next two books are just as wonderful- Jessie’s Mountain and Louisiana’s Song).

Vegan Virgin Valentine by Carolyn Mackler
What a fabulous read. I loved it, and geeks shall inherit the earth. The relationship between Mara and V was beautiful and real. The story is poignant but not sickly sweet. And who could see that ending? I didn’t. Talk about yummy to the last word.

Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu
After meeting the author at the last conference and having a great talk, I read this book. OH MY GOODNESS. What an amazing story, incredible characters, such believable relationships between the siblings and the parents. I felt like I was in my own life, and it was uncomfortable to think someone could capture me so well. The mystery was intense and I found myself gasping as I turned each page.

Great Reads for 2010 from my Terrific Twins

So now you know my 12 great reads for 2010. 
Here are picks from my six year olds:

Why do you like this book: SAM

Custard and Mustard by Maureen Sullivan
"Because the title is funny."

"Because of the Spider."

"Because of the animal pictures."

"Because of the adventure of getting eaten up."

"Because there are lots of trains and tracks." (Never mind the cool poetry.)

"Because, because, because, they become friends and they get married and she lives."

Why do you like this book: VICTORIA

"Because she feeds the piggy and he’s so cute. (A girl after her mommy’s heart.)"

"It’s cool and they’re lots of interesting things and I love the weird trees and the creatures and the pink, blue and orange grass. (Did I say she was mine or what?)"

"It’s a cute title and I like how they drew the pictures."

"Because she wants to be mayor and on the title page she hammers a sign in and I don’t know the words, but I like it. I like when she made chocolate pancakes with candles and it wasn't even her birthday."

"Because it is a chapter book and the designs are pretty and I love Orange Blossom, Ginger Snap, Angel cake and Strawberry Shortcake."

"Cocoa is caramel and mommy likes caramel. I like Cowgirl Kate telling a story to Cocoa and I love the horse and how he talks to Cowgirl Kate."

So for my son, a good title, a strong MC and some adventure and gore do the trick.

For my daughter, setting, relationships and wacky situations get her every time.

How I love my readers. The hardest part of this assignment for them was only picking six. It almost brought my daughter to tears who wanted a few more books to make the list.

Whatever you decide to read in 2011, enjoy it as much as they enjoy their reads. These have been with them for years and they re-read them almost weekly.

Happy Reading.