Thursday, October 02, 2014

Guest Post: P.J. Hoover on Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

Cynthia & P.J. at Texas Book Festival
By P.J. Hoover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014) is my fifth novel, but given how long the publication road has been, it’s possibly the one I am the most excited about.

Tut follows the adventures of an immortal King Tut who is stuck at the age of thirteen and has to repeat eighth grade over and over again (talk about perpetual puberty!).

The first couple chapters are set in the past, in ancient Egypt, as we find out how and why Tut is immortal, but after that, we switch to present day Washington, D.C. where the remainder of the book takes place.

My last published novel was Solstice (Tor, 2013), a book solidly planted in the young adult market.

With Tut, I’ve gone back to the middle grade market. The book is aimed at those Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans out there, third-to-eighth-grade kids, people who adore King Tut, or anyone who enjoys fun fantasy.

It’s been a four years since my last middle grade title, and one thing I’ve discovered more than anything else is that marketing to this age group has changed!

Not only are kids online more, librarians and educators are, too.

I admit it. I love spending time online and playing computer games.

And maybe it makes me a slacker parent, but I often let my kids play longer on their games so I can play, too. (I’m a firm believer that one of the best family time activities is Mario Kart.) My kids never complain. And seeing how much time my kids want to spend on the computer or game consoles, I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between gaming and reading.

There are a few exciting things I managed to pull together for Tut.

Why are they exciting? Because they are exactly the kind of book extras that I would have wanted if I were a kid. Heck, I’m an adult, and I am loving them. So get your gamer thumbs ready and read on!



MINECRAFT Server

The first thing I came up with (with the help of my kids and their friends) is a MINECRAFT server for Tut. If you don't know what MINECRAFT is, ask any later elementary school or middle school kid, and they will enthusiastically tell you.

The server for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life has many locations used in the book. Not only can kids visit the world of Tut, they can interact in the same ways that Tut does. They can escape from his tomb. They can find secret tunnels under Washington, D.C. There is also be a place on my website where kids can “apply” to become builders on the server.

In addition, there is a MINECRAFT scavenger hunt. Kids can warp around from place to place on the server piecing out hidden words that can then be strung together to reveal a secret message.

Just a note: MINECRAFT is also starting to get more traction in the educational market. My daughter’s third grade class used it to learn about perimeter and area. You can read more about the educational version of MINECRAFT and the regular version.

Learn more about the TUT MINECRAFT WORLD.


Video Game (using SCRATCH)

The second thing I came up with is a video game for Tut. The video game itself is pretty cool (with ten levels, codes to decipher, patterns to recognize), but what really makes it exceptional is the platform where I designed it.

I used SCRATCH which is a website designed by MIT and used widely in schools to teach and encourage kids to computer program and write video games. Kids can play games written by others (such as my TUT game), they can remix games, or they can write games of their own.

SCRATCH has millions of users worldwide.

Learn more about the TUT SCRATCH video game.

Pick Your Own Quest

I have to mention first that my favorite books in elementary school (besides Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden) were those Choose Your Own Adventure books.

So the third thing I came up with for Tut is a Pick Your Own Quest adventure (which is similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure except done up King Tut style and on the computer).

The Pick Your Own Quest TUT adventure is a fun way for kids to immerse themselves in the world of TUT online and to try their hand at being pharaoh while seeing how their choices will affect their fate.

For starters . . .

You are about to embark on a great adventure as King Tut, Pharaoh of Egypt. Whatever you do, don't turn back. Once you make a choice, it cannot be changed! One path may lead to you saving the world. Another may lead to your end. Choose Wisely.

Learn more about the TUT Pick Your Own Quest adventure.

Yes, it’s all about gaming, but my goal is to encourage educators to get kids excited about reading by relating to things they know and love. I would love to see educators assign video game programming or MINECRAFT world development as possibly curriculum tie-ins when reading books in addition to (or instead of) traditional book reports.

I adore the idea of kids writing video games based on books they love. And I believe that encouraging creative writing in a fun form such as a Pick Your Own Quest adventure is a great thing for reluctant writers!

I leave you with the book trailer for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life which pulls it all together.



Now it’s time for reading, writing, and gaming!

About P.J. Hoover

At Comic Con
After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer, P. J. Hoover started writing books for kids and teens.

When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching Star Trek.

Her middle grade novel, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat.

Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor, 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own.

About Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

From the promotional copy:
You’d think it would be great being an Egyptian demigod, but if King Tut has to sit through eighth grade one more time, he’ll mummify himself.

Granted the gift of immortality by the gods—or is it a curse?—Tut has been stuck in middle school for ages.

Even worse, evil General Horemheb, the man who killed Tut’s father and whom Tut imprisoned in a tomb for three thousand years, is out and after him.

The general is in league with the Cult of Set, a bunch of guys who worship one of the scariest gods of the Egyptian pantheon—Set, the god of Chaos.

The General and the Cult of Set have plans for Tut… and if Tut doesn’t find a way to keep out of their clutches, he’ll never make it to the afterworld alive.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith Wins Writers' League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the Writers' League of Texas: "The 2013/2014 Writers' League of Texas Book Awards, awarded in 2014 and recognizing outstanding books published in 2013, honor Texas authors across five categories with three distinctions: Winner, Finalist, and Discovery Prize Winner, all of whom will be celebrated at the WLT booth at the Texas Book Festival in October."

Middle Grade/YA Winner

(Candlewick, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

Picture Book Winner

(Pelican, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Author Interview & Giveaway: T.A. Barron on Writing & the Atlantis Saga

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

T.A. Barron grew up in Colorado ranch country and traveled widely as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the winner of the 2011 de Grummond Medallion for “lifetime contribution to the field of children’s and young adult literature” and many other awards.

T. A. Barron is the author of more than 25 highly acclaimed books, many of which are international bestsellers.

They include The Lost Years of Merlin (now being developed into a feature film), The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times bestselling series), The Ancient One (the tale of a brave girl and a magical tree), and The Hero’s Trail (nonfiction stories of courageous kids).

Though he’d dreamed as a young man of becoming a writer, he couldn’t find anyone to publish his first novel. He joined a business, eventually became president, then decided to try again.

So in 1990, he surprised his business partners by moving back to Colorado to become a writer and conservationist.

His novel Atlantis Rising (Philomel, 2014) was released in paperback last week.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline or just dive in?

Essentially, I write all the time, even when I’m traveling, going for a hike with my kids, baking, etc.

The creative process isn’t limited to the hours I spend in my writing chair in the attic of our house in Colorado. It happens on many levels when I’m immersed in a project.

I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that is a good creative chemistry for me. And I do lots of rewrites - as many as it takes to get it right!

Like a good stew, novels get better when you boil them down and integrate all the ingredients. Most of my novels take six or seven full rewrites and two years to finish.

What inspired the Atlantis series?

Learn more.
The legend of Atlantis has always intrigued me. No word evokes more of a feeling of tragedy than the word "Atlantis."

The tale of Atlantis is such a beautiful story, and for the 2000 years since Plato first wrote about it, people have wondered and dreamed about it.

But one thing that has never changed is that the island of Atlantis was utterly destroyed.

I started to wonder, though, about something else—how Atlantis began.

How did a place that rose to such a level of near perfection get destroyed by the flaws and weaknesses of its people?

Ultimately, how did that happen?

This big unknown question is what got me to write Atlantis Rising. I wanted to add a new thread to the tapestry of myth about Atlantis—how it all began, the secrets of its origins.

How did research for Atlantis compare with research for Merlin?

Good fantasy must be true.

I know that sounds contradictory, but I’m talking about truth on the deeper emotional and spiritual levels, not just on the factual level. Part of that authenticity is doing research.
Learn more.

For my Merlin Saga, I spent a whole year reading everything I could possibly find about the wizard Merlin – just to get a hint of his true character and voice.

Then came the fun of imagining that character as a young man – and even more basic, as a half-drowned boy who washed ashore with no memory at all.

For Atlantis, I did the same thing to understand the various interpretations of the Atlantean myth (and there are lots of them).

Then I began to re-imagine that myth, especially how it all began – what was at stake, who were the heroes and sources of evil, and what sacrifices and struggles happened to give birth to Atlantis.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Here are the essentials: Notice the world around you. Live your life and follow your dreams. Practice writing as often as you can. And importantly, don’t take rejection letters to heart!

Everyone gets them, even established writers. (My first novel got a great reception – 32 rejection letters and no interest whatsoever from any publishers.)

Rejections hurt, but they are just part of life.

The most important thing to remember is this: If you have something to say, and refuse to give up, you absolutely will find a way to say it and share it with others.

T.A. Barron's Writing Room -- Inside & Outside




Cynsational Notes & Screening Room

In 2000, T.A. Barron founded a national award to honor outstanding young people who help their communities or the environment: the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 highly diverse, public-spirited kids each year. He recently produced a documentary film, "Dream Big," profiling seven winners of the Barron Prize.

When not writing or speaking, T. A. Barron serves on many boards including Princeton University, where he helped to create the Princeton Environmental Institute, and The Wilderness Society, which recently honored him with its highest award for conservation work. His favorite pastime is hiking, camping, or skiing in Colorado with his family.

A native of Chicago, interviewer Greg Leitich Smith now lives in Austin, Texas. His middle grade/tween novels include: the Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning and Junior Library Guild Selection, Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo (Little Brown/IntoPrint); its companion Tofu and T.rex (Little Brown/IntoPrint); the Junior Library Guild Selection Chronal Engine (Clarion); and Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook). He holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, and a degree in law from the University of Michigan. Find him @GLeitichSmith and  GregLSBlog.






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Monday, September 29, 2014

New Voice: Joshua David Bellin on Survival Colony 9

Curriculum Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joshua David Bellin is the first time author of Survival Colony 9 (McElderry, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race. 

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. 

The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to–because heat, dust, and starvation aren’t the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they’re not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi–and now he can’t remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Joshua's blog is YA Guy.
That’s a great question, because my protagonist spends the entire novel trying to discover and get to know himself!

Querry Genn, the fourteen-year-old narrator of Survival Colony 9, suffers from traumatic memory loss brought on by an accident six months before the action of the book begins. He can’t remember the accident, and he can’t remember anything that happened before it.

This condition presented me with the opportunity to explore Querry’s past as he himself discovers it—to follow along with him as he slowly, painfully fits the pieces together.

When I was drafting, I produced a number of possible pasts for Querry, testing them out until I found the one I liked the most.

Of those that didn’t make the cut, I discarded the majority during the revision process—but others I retained as false leads that Querry himself ultimately discovers to be untrue. So readers are in some ways in Querry’s position, learning along with him what’s real and what isn’t—but just like him, they may jump to conclusions that aren’t borne out by later revelations.

Given my narrator’s amnesia, I was able to pursue a somewhat similar process with the other characters. Querry doesn’t remember anyone else either, so he has to reconstruct who they are and how they fit into his life. So with almost all of the secondary characters—Querry’s father, Laman Genn; Korah, the teenage girl he has a crush on; Yov, the teenage boy who torments him due to his disability—I had the opportunity to develop them in two not always congruent ways: who they actually are, and who Querry thinks they are. My hope is that readers will be drawn into the mystery of not always knowing who or what they can trust.

And that leads me to my antagonists, creatures I call the Skaldi. These monsters have the ability to consume and mimic human prey—which means you can’t be sure who’s human and who’s Skaldi in disguise. Taking all these factors together, I think readers will find the characters in Survival Colony 9 convincingly complex, mysterious, and full of surprises!

Josh Bellin and Big Green, White Cloud MI, age 11
As a science fiction writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

I knew from the start that Survival Colony 9 was going to speak to environmental issues. The world of the novel is a hostile desert, and that setting was one of the first things I envisioned.

When I started writing, the category of “cli-fi”—fiction having to do with climate change—hadn’t yet been coined, but it turns out that’s exactly what I was writing!

I will say, however, that it took a number of drafts before I was satisfied with how my novel spoke to contemporary events/issues. In early drafts, the environmental subtext was much more explicit: I devoted a whole chapter to one character explaining to Querry the history of their world, which meant, essentially, a huge truckload of exposition disguised as dialogue. It was too much, not only in terms of length but in the tone, which seemed far too didactic.

So I scaled way back, letting the scene speak for itself. It’s a desert world. Food and water are scarce. Violent, unpredictable storms pound the landscape.

If that image doesn’t speak to readers, no amount of exposition will.

I think this is an important point for science fiction writers, because science fiction is so topical it’s easy for it to become preachy.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), which some people consider one of the earliest sci-fi novels, raised all kinds of fascinating questions about the nature of life and the power of science—but it didn’t preach to its readers, didn’t tell them what to believe.

Yet when a much older and sadder Shelley revised her novel in 1831, she turned it into a long, boring sermon on the excesses of scientific experimentation. That’s why I never teach the 1831 edition, even though it’s customary to consider the most recent edition the most representative of the author’s vision.

I think Shelley violated her own best instincts as a fiction writer in 1831, and she produced a much inferior novel as a result.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m an environmentalist. I love the natural world, and I work hard—both as a father and as an activist—to instill that love in others.

But as a fiction writer, I’m not going to hit readers over the head with my beliefs. The role of fiction is to stimulate the imagination, not to proselytize or recruit. Having presented the best imaginary world I can, it’s up to readers to do with that world what they will.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lindsey Lane launched her debut novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FGS, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople.

Group hug -- Lindsey with Gene Brenek & Carmen Oliver.
Debbie Gonzales & Shana Burg chat at the refreshments table.
In the photo booth!
With Anne Bustard, a soon-to-debut novelist herself!
Teen actors prepare for the readers theater.
Ready to perform -- each reading a different voice included in the book; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Lindsey's daughter is among the actors; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Greg Leitich Smith and Ruth Pennebaker
Salima Alikhan, Vanessa Lee & Sean Petrie
E. Kristin Anderson & Kayla Olson
Cynthia Levinson & K.A. Holt
Liz Garton Scanlon, April Lurie & Frances Hill Yansky
Tim Crow, Kathi Appelt, Greg & Brian Yansky
Photo of Lindsey courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Promote Your Novel With a Two-Minute Version of the Story by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "It's easy to do. It's kind of fun. It's basically free."

Drowning in the Well by Laura Ruby from The Storyteller's Inkpot. Peek: "If this sounds like depression, it was a very specific sort of fiction-centered depression. What good is a story when the people around you are suffering? Shut up and make them something to eat! I had forgotten how nourishing stories could be."

On the Quilting of One-Liners (and Second Coming of Once-Dead Darlings) by Julianna Baggott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The bins are also important because they remind me that I don’t just have a bunch of blank pages to fill. I have something to fill them with. I don’t have to create from nothing."

The Villain's Big Reveal by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Not only will this give your readers more to latch on to, it will give your hero more to work with when it comes time to face their foe."

Four Tips for Writing About Unfamiliar Character Issues from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "The folks who live with these issues deserve accuracy, respect, and empathy. It’s our job to get it right."

What Rejections Can Tell You by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: "If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable."

Why the Opening of If I Stay by Gayle Forman Works from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute."

IBBY Honors Inclusion of all Voices in Books From Around the World by Terry Farish from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "IBBY introduced their 2014 Honour List, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books honouring writers, illustrators and translators from around the world. The books were honored with this passionate Mexican celebration of trumpets and gorgeous illustration in this slide show..."

It May Be Perfectly Normal, But It's Also Frequently Banned by Rebecca Hersher from NPR. Peek: "Now in its fourth edition, the book has sold more than a million copies. Harris asks experts like pediatricians, biologists and even lawyers to fact-check each edition, to make sure updates to AIDS prevention information or birth control laws are accurate."

Sensory Fiction by Felix from MAS 565: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Peek: "By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination." Source: The Official SCBWI Blog.

Mental Illness Booklist for Teens by Pam from Strong in the Broken Places. Categories include: depression, bi-polar, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, disassociation, borderline personality disorder, OCD, anxiety, agoraphobia, and schizophrenia/paranoia.

The Advantages of Author Portraits by Simone Collins from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Having a portrait drawn from informal personal photos or selfies can save a significant amount of money. Some of the most popular portrait styles on ArtCorgi hover around $25–$45, making them far less expensive then traditional photo shoots with professional photographers."

The Dreaded Rewrite by Isaiah Campbell from Project Mayhem. Peek: "My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. 'But that’s the whole book!' I said. 'If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.'" Notes: (1) Isaiah lives in New Mexico, but was "born and bred" in Texas; (2) post includes giveaway. See also You Should Always Carry a Notebook by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem.

James Dawson: "There Are Too Many White Faces in Kids' Books" by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek "'In an ideal world, every title released would reflect a diverse world,' said Dawson. 'This doesn’t mean there should be a gay character in every book, but if every character in a title is white, straight, able-bodied and wealthy, that book is not reflecting the real world. Is this insidiously suggesting an ideal?'" See also Why Gay Characters Matter by Kristin Pekoll (Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom) from The Huffington Post.

Reservation Sunsets and Stephen King's Salem's Lot by Eric Gansworth from PEN America. Peek: "The small town culture of (Salem’s Lot, ethnicity aside, was nearly parallel to the reservation’s. A nosey writer like Ben wouldn’t be tolerated, but the reservation would have held a bounty of opportunities for an industrious vampire like Barlow. Some folks disappeared for days on end without raising anyone’s eyebrows, and a few roads were home to only one or two houses...)"

Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low. Peek: "Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies (Tu, 2013), titled Rose Eagle."


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This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Summer reading PSA with animated art by Don Tate.





More Personally

Author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan at the launch for Little Owl's Day (Viking, 2014) at BookPeople.
Young reader-artists enjoy coloring tie-in pages to Little Owl's Day.
Congratulations to Katie Bagley for signing with literary agent Sara Crowe and to Sara for signing Katie! Here's to many books to come!

K.A. Holt with fellow author E. Kristin Anderson
Kudos to children's author K.A. Holt for her graceful handing of this CBS This Morning interview about having been questioned for letting her son play outdoors by himself. Note: I spent much of my childhood playing outside without constant round-the-clock supervision, which--among other things--was key to the development of my imagination.

Link of the Week: Touch the Hearts of Your Readers: Entangle Their Emotions by Tom Bentley from Writer Unboxed.

For educators, The Kid-friendly, Kid-maintainable Classroom Library by Nicole Hewes from The Horn Book.

See also 2014 Children's-YA Books by Austinites and 2015 Children's-YA Books by Austinites from Greg Leitich Smith.

Note: Visit Cynsations tomorrow for full coverage of Lindsey Lane's launch at BookPeople!

Personal Screening Room

Remarkable animated fan art trailer (by Stephen Byrne) for all of you "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" fans out there!



This one's for all of you heading to YALSA's YA Literary Symposium this fall or the Texas Library Association conference this spring. Or who just love gorgeous photography and/or Austin!



Personal Links

Cynsational Events


Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guest Interview: Author Dori Hillestad Butler & Illustrator Aurore Damant on The Haunted Library

Dori
By Dori Hillestad Butler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I tell strangers I’m a children’s book author, the first thing they often want to know is whether I am published.

The second thing they want to know is who is my illustrator? Where did I find someone to illustrate my books? How does that whole thing work?

The average person (i.e. someone who is not in children’s publishing) doesn’t realize that authors rarely have any say in who illustrates our books.

Most of us (with the exception of those who are both authors and illustrators) don’t know our illustrators or have any contact with them whatsoever. It’s up to the publisher to find and work with the illustrator.

Again, people are often surprised to hear this. “You mean you don’t tell the illustrator what to draw?”

Nope.

Well...I do usually have a few notes to the illustrator for my Haunted Library (Grosset & Dunlap) manuscripts, but that’s because this is a chapter book mystery series and there are clues to solving the mystery in the illustrations.

Clues that never appear in the text. So I have tell my editor, art director, and illustrator what those clues are.

But I don’t say anything else about the art. I don’t tell anyone which scenes I’d like to see illustrated (not unless it’s a scene with an illustrated clue), and I don’t tell anyone what any of the characters or the town should look like. That’s not my job.

And that’s actually okay with me. I think it’s in an author’s best interest to leave as much to the illustrator as possible.

They almost always come up with things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, and it’s always a nice surprise to see the art in my books for the first time.

I am especially happy with the work Aurore Damant has done on my Haunted Library series. It makes me very curious about her.

Who is the person who draws my ghost world even better than I see it in my own head?

So I decided to interview her for Cynsations and try and get to know her a little bit.

Dori: Hi, Aurore! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start with where do you live?

Aurore
Aurore: I live in Paris, France, not far from Montmartre.

Dori: Wow! Okay, truth be told I did actually know that already. But it’s about the only thing I did know about you before this interview. And the fact that you live in Paris just adds to the mystique.

So, are you married? Do you have kids?

Aurore: Julien and I are together for 10 years and married since 2012. We don't have kids!

Dori: How about pets? For our bios, you drew me with a dog on my shirt and you drew yourself with a cat on your shirt. I assume that wasn't coincidental?

Aurore: When our editor asked me to do your portrait, I found several pictures of you with a big black dog, and I assumed you were a dog person!

I'm totally a cat person. My cat's named Lois, she's 3, and she's the most mischievous cat ever.

Dori: Good guess! I am totally a dog person! But I like cats, too. I’ve been owned by three cats over the years. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Aurore: Hang out with my friends, play with my cat, go to the movies, have drinks, walk around Paris, shop, watch TV series, travel if I can... Pretty basic stuff.

But actually, I draw all the time... if I'm working on an interesting project, I don't mind drawing at night or during the weekend. I'm such a nerd.

Dori: Ha! Me too! What is your illustration background?

Aurore: I started in animation, I studied at Gobelins which is a famous art school that specializes in animation, based in Paris. I developed several TV series.

Five or six years ago I had some opportunities to do some freelance illustration work, and I enjoyed it very much. People trust me and give me carte blanche most of the time, which is awesome.

Now I do as much illustration as animation, and I love them both!

Dori: That’s very cool! And that explains the animated look (which I love, by the way) to the books. Can you say a little bit about your illustration process?

Aurore: Everything starts in my head. Generally, I have a clear vision of the character or the composition I want to do. I don't need to make a lot of tries before I find the right design, it comes on the spot. But I also use a lot of references, like old cartoons and old children books (Little Golden Books are the best).

When I'm happy with the rough design, I have to choose the style of the illustration. Black outline, color outline, no outline at all... same with the backgrounds. I have to find a good balance.

I work digitally on a Cintiq, which is a large screen plugged in to my computer, and I can draw directly on it, which is a real time saver and gives me a lot of freedom to explore various looks for my illustrations.

Dori: I didn’t give you a lot of physical description for most of the characters in the Haunted Library. How did you decide what they should look like?

Aurore: For Claire, I tried to fit her personality in the story. She had to look thorough, yet sweet. One of my references was "Coraline" from the stop motion film by Henry Selick.

For Kaz and the other ghosts, it was easier in a way since I never had the opportunity to draw any ghost before. So I could take a fresh start!

The only thing I hesitate is to give them a human appearance or make them with simple shapes like Casper. But I thought it would be easier to relate to them if they look humans. Then I had enough info in the story about their personalities to find a design that matches.

Dori: You absolutely did the right thing giving the ghosts a human form. That was what I had in mind. How long does it take you to illustrate a Haunted Library book?

Aurore: About five days for the roughs of the 30 illustrations, then two-to-three weeks for the final black and white illustrations. And two days for the cover.

Dori: Interesting! 

So it takes you about the same amount of time to do the art as it takes me to plan and write the first draft of one of these books. 

It takes me about a week to plan out the story and write the outline and then I like to have a month to write the draft: two weeks to write the draft and two weeks to revise it before I sent it in.

Here’s a random question. I’m liking you more and more with every question I ask, so I’d like to know if you and I could ever meet in person and hang out for an afternoon, what would we do together?

Aurore: We would go in a cozy cafe to enjoy a big piece of pie and homemade hot chocolate, and talk about our jobs and our life in general. Then we would go check out some old houses with great history, hopefully one of them would be haunted...

Dori: Wow! That is exactly what I would like to do with you! Maybe one day we can do that? Or should I say two days…once in Paris and once in Seattle!

One last question: If the series continues, what would you like to see happen? What kind of ghostly mystery should Kaz and Claire solve? Is there anything in particular you'd like to illustrate?

Aurore: I never really thought about that!

But I guess I would love to see them go in some spooky or weird places like an old fun fair, an abandoned house or a natural history museum. Or maybe have them solving a case during Halloween or Christmas, that would be fun!

Dori: Hmm…that would be fun! Especially the natural history museum! Well, we’ll see.

Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice to get to know you.


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