Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interview with Cyndy Henzel

Cyndy, (who writes historical young adult and middle grade fiction as well as magical reality) and I have been members of our online critique-group the Cudas since its inception in August 2006. I have come to depend on Cyndy's unfailingly sharp eye (and teeth) to kick, pummel and slash my manuscripts into shape. I've been inspired and delighted by her masterful ability to weave a tale and bring it to life with her vivid descriptions. I feel as if I have personally traveled to Stalinist Ukraine, Maldives, the Arizona desert and the Republic of Georgia thanks to her lush imagery. Cyndy is one of my unsung heroes (who really squirms when she is praised) and my trusty partner-in-crime in the Cuda approach to bone-crunching critiques. I hope I see the day at long last when she is granted the Newbury honor she is destined for.

Tell us a little about your background.

As a kid I loved reading and science. We moved a lot, so books were my dependable friends. When I was 15, my parents decided to leave the city and move to rural Oklahoma and live off the land. My parents, 3 younger siblings, and I moved into a one room cabin and learned to grow and can food, butcher pigs, milk goats, and build a house. I went to a small town high school where I learned to be comfortable not fitting in.

I’ve written everything from a weekly newspaper column to fiction and nonfiction for children. My graduate work was in geography, the field that covers everything that happens someplace -- perfect for me because I find everything interesting (yes, I even watched curling during the Olympics). I spent ten years working for an international environmental program which created the wanderlust itch that I still like to scratch.

What kind of books do you write?

Mostly great books, although one or two have been merely good.

Actually, I tried writing picture books but was told you can’t tell little kids that the rattlesnake was chopped and stomped and burned (this was before Neil Gaiman). Now I write mg and ya novels set in lesser known places. Currently, I am interested in young people in the post-Soviet countries that are struggling to regain – or invent -- their identity.

You just returned from a trip to the Republic of Georgia. Can you give us some highlights from your visit?

This was my third trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, one of the settings for my current work-in-progress. This time we went out to an ancient monastery. One of the monks took a liking to us and took us on a tour of the Patriarch’s private quarters (the Georgian Church is an Orthodox Catholic sect) then down the creepy stone steps into the cellars where we saw the 200-year-old wooden vat for grapes and cavernous underground storage jars for making wine. Then he opened a bottle to sample and toasted us – a lovely, lovely experience.

How have the places you've traveled inspired your writing?

I like to walk through regular neighborhoods, see what is on the shelves in the grocery store, visit local shops, watch the kids play in the park and how their parents react to them. I read up on the history of an area, then read local newspapers to see what people are talking about. I always think about what it would take for me to adapt to living in a place; and what it would be like for someone from this place to adjust to life in America. This is a theme that runs through much of my writing – what you keep, what you have to give up, and how you change in a new place.

What kind of children's and young adult books would you like to see more of on the shelves?

I love well-written, intelligent books; ones that transport you to another time or place or make you think about things that have never occurred to you before or that let you see things through new eyes. I’d like to see more historical fiction and contemporary stories set outside the US and more insightful science fiction.

Tell us something surprising about Cyndy.

Hmm. Writing? I wrote a My Turn column that was published in Newsweek then was reprinted as the Column of the Year with an update for their 30 year anthology.

Personally? I can make a wedding gown, tile a house, scuba dive, and I’ve never been bored.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Coming in April

Yeah, yeah...I've been silent of late, stewing in the juices of my revisions. But I'm breaking my silence to announce four, yes FOUR, fabulous interviews and two contests!
I should divulge that all of the woman I am going to interview are my critique-mates from two different groups. Once you *meet* them you are going to go green with envy to think that I get input from these awesome people on a regular basis! And they are SO AWESOME I am compelled to share:

First interview: Cyndy Kennedy Henzel, writer of middle-grade and YA historical fiction. (aka Cuda of the west, and I'm going to fess up, the best damn editor and critiquer in the known universe.) Cyndy is way too humble so I'm happy to embarrass her and heap public praise on her writing, editorial skills and her incredible generosity of spirit which she cloaks in hysterical one-liners.

Second interview: Christine Johnson, author of the upcoming CLAIRE DE LUNE, a YA werewolf love story from Simon Pulse/ May 2010. Christine is a member of my crit group The Wordslingers. Christine writes first drafts that are better than most of what makes it into print and we all *hate* her for it. Nah--we love her to pieces. Plus she does all the amazing things she does with a toddler and a five month old baby. Yikes!

Third interview: Heidi Ayarbe, author of the upcoming COMPROMISED/ May 2010 (HarperTeen—an imprint of HarperCollins) and the 2008 FREEZE FRAME (Laura Geringer Books/HarperTeen an imprint of HarperCollins), is also a member of Wordslingers and in addition to being one of the most caring humans on the planet writes the most gut-wrenching YA fiction in print today. Her writing often drives me to tears (in a good, cleansing sort of way).

Look out for other upcoming Heidi Ayarbe releases: THE DOUBTING from Balzer and Bray 2011 (HarperTeen an imprint of HarperCollins)

FREEZE FRAME paperback release: May 2010

First contest: We are going to be holding a signed ARC giveaway for CLAIRE DE LUNE and COMPROMISED.

Fourth interview: Kate Milford, author of the upcoming THE BONESHAKER/ Clarion May 2010, and another member of the Cudas is our very one female Stephen King and purveyor of mg steampunk fantasy. I featured a little info about THE BONESHAKER a few posts back.

tentative second contest: I hope to hold a BONESHAKER ARC contest as well.

Okay, PHEW. Now you know why I was quiet...I had to store up energy. April is going to be hectic around here. Sorry if I'm gushing a little too much, but they are all very, very dear to me and totally brilliant in their own individual and fascinating ways.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Questions for Chuck Sambuchino

Hey all! Sorry I've been uncharacteristically mute for awhile. It's been a busy week and a half. But things have calmed down and now I can share with you the Wisdom of Chuck and everything you ever wanted to know about literary agents.

What do you believe is the average amount of clients that an agent reps at any given time?

Hard to say, but perhaps 25 is a good average. Some can rep 40 or more. Others 15 or fewer. It just depends on how many books the writers are churning out.

Hey, Chuck! Any advice about marketing for us playwrights?
Never underestimate 1) referrals, and 2) the ability of a good developmental workshop. Get some actors in a space to workshop the play. Invite producers to see it, and let that baby fly. If the work has potential, power players should approach you afterward and talk about a regional production.

Is it wise to get an experienced agent for my fiction?

Newer agents are actively looking for clients and will have more time to put into your manuscript. A more experienced agent will probably know plenty of editors and sell your work quicker, but they are not often taking on new clients, and will probably give your work less attention. It's a trade-off.

I'm looking for an agent who lives near me but can't find anyone? What should I do?

Most agents are in NYC, and you don't have to live near an agent to work with one. I know both of you would like to meet face to face, but in-person contact is not mandatory to have a wonderful and successful agent-author relationship. Keep in mind, though, that agents who live outside of NYC are still great choices. Look for sales they've made. If they're selling books, then they're good at what they do. Plenty of great agents live in California, Colorado, Florida, Boston, DC and Texas.

I've heard of writers selling their novels based on a synopsis only, but a lot of advice says you should only query with a finished manuscript. Which is correct?

If you're a new author, you need a finished, polished manuscript. After your agent sells that book, you may run into some editors who like your writing and want to line up other books from you. This is a situation where editors can ask you for synopses and make deals on those alone. In other words, never plan on this happening. Just hope!

Agents love writers with platform, but I'm new to this whole thing. Can you give some advice on building a platform?

This is a topic that could require hours. But I will tell you that an underestimated tactic is teaming up with others. For instance, if you're having trouble producing blog content and getting readership (and thereby building a platform), start a blog with other like-minded writers. So instead of just you writing about fantasy writing, there are seven of you and each writes one day a week. Also, if you want to write about a nonfiction subject (parenting, for example), but lack credentials, then team up with an expert. They supply the expertise and credentials, and you do the writing.

Thanks for visiting, Chuck and be sure to visit Chuck's blog at

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ask Chuck, Blogger and Chief at Guide to Literary Agents

So Chuck is the great guy who runs the GLA blog, the one that ran the contest I just won first runner up in. I wanted to interview him, but Chuck and I decided that a Q and A session would be more useful than an interview, since he's been interviewed so frequently.

So start asking!

I am going to activate comment moderation to screen questions. The best four questions will be posted for Chuck. So it is YOU, my blog readers, who will interview him instead of me. I'll post my cool contest in a day or so.

Chuck Sambuchino is an editor for Writer's Digest Books (an imprint of F+W Media). He is the editor of two annual resource books: Guide to Literary Agents, as well as Screenwriter's & Playwright's Market. He also assists in editing Writer's Market ( He recently helmed the third edition of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (a WD trade book), released in 2009. He is also the author of a forthcoming humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack due out in Sept. 2010 (Ten Speed Press / Random House). Chuck is a former staffer of several newspapers and magazines - most notably Writer's Digest. During his tenure as a newspaper reporter, he won awards from both the Kentucky Press Association and the Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists.

He is a produced playwright, with both original and commissioned works produced. His work has appeared national and regional magazines, with recent article in Watercolor Artist, Pennsylvania Magazine, The Pastel Journal, Cincinnati Magazine, Romance Writers Report and New Mexico Magazine. During the past decade, more than 600 of his articles have appeared in newspapers, magazines and books. Sorche Fairbank of Fairbank Literary Representation ( is Chuck's literary agent. To read his blog, visit

You can also see interviews with him on Writer Unboxed, the Texas Sweethearts website, the Novelists, Inc. website, and Writers on the Rise. Besides writing, Chuck loves music, and plays guitar and piano in a rock cover band. He also has an insatiable sweet tooth and is forever searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. He and his wife have a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham, and they live in Ohio.

This is TOTALLY crazy

Whoops—It was for the previous contest...the kid lit one. I forgot I entered! The one I posted about is still on, so hurry and enter!!!

There were 400 entries and...

I WON. Tied for second place. I am in shock. I get a ten-page crit from Jennifer Laughran and a years membership to Writer's Market. WHEEEEE!!!! You guys bring me good luck!

So in honor of all of my awesome followers, present and future, I am going to run my own paranormal YA contest where what you win is a crit from me, the blood-thirstiest Cuda of them all.

Yep. So stay tuned for details. And an interview with Chuck Sambuchino, from Guide to Literary Agents.

Just had to share.