Friday, January 22, 2010

Author Spotlight on: Cynthea Liu

If you've been around kid lit blogs for any length of time, you've seen her name. Whether you've visited her online site for debut authors, read the advice she freely dispenses on her blog or contributed to her epic fundraiser this past summer for Tulakes Elementary, Cynthea Liu is no stranger in the online children's publishing world. In fact, she seems to be one of those remarkable people who knows how to harness the power of the internet, for the good of many.

Oh, and in her spare time she writes books.

This super dynamo took time out to answer a few questions for me and to give us a first look at some of the children who've benefited from her generosity.

Your nonfiction book, WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS came out before either of your novels. How'd that happen?
It was sort of like "natural evolution" for that book. Everyone knows I am a colossal procrastinator. Writing for Children and Teens began as a daily article on my blog and quickly grew into a collection of useful tips and advice-- all for free.  Then when people starting asking me if there was a book because they hated reading stuff on the Internet, I met the need with the paperback version of the Crash Course.

I believe the paperback came out after I had already received my book contracts from Penguin. But I began blogging about the process well before those contracts. It became clear to me as I was learning the biz that there was definitely a lot of things people didn't know that they should know when getting started. And a lot of things you often hear that are just not true.

I recorded it all in that book WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE and I find it so useful now when people ask me the same questions over and over again--that it's all right in that handy-dandy book.

All three of your books are very different and now you're working on a YA. How have you managed to slide between genres and ages?
Great observation, Sherrie! It's true that I write everything from humor to serious stuff. Fantasy to realistic fiction. Picture books to Young adult novels. Fiction and nonfiction.

The thing about me is that I really love a challenge. Even though you might hear that it's best for an author to stick to one thing and build a following, I've somehow found a way to do it all. How do I do it? Well the funny stuff has all the jokes in it. The serious stuff is the same stuff minus a lot of the funny stuff. As for age groups, it really helps to channel my own self at the different ages. If you can remember what it was like to be five and twelve and sixteen, you can probably create a character that works for each of those age-levels. As for fiction and nonfiction, I utilize the same skills, just apply them differently. Both types of work require logic, organization, and engaging writing!

You are an incredible marketer, and not just for yourself. The AuthorsNow! website is all about promoting debut authors and providing great content to readers. What possessed you to add that to your already packed schedule?
Ha! I was certainly possessed when I decided to take that on. It's been an extremly time-consuming project, but I did it mainly because I saw a need for it. One place to find it all. Easily-searchable, informative, and an opportunity for authors and book enthusiasts to connect! And there will be more great things coming from AuthorsNow! as time marches on!

I was late to the launch party for THE GREAT CALL OF CHINA but the leftover snacks were delicious :)  I remember you had a great movie and a game and other goodies. How did you come up with the idea for your virtual book launch?
For THE GREAT CALL release, I was soo soo busy right before. In fact, only ten days before the release, I was telling another writer that I wasn't sure I was doing anything for it. Ha! Then as the days marched on, I realized people expected a party. I couldn't just let the book go out quietly because I was busy! And I really did want to party it up. Finally, I said, to heck with everything else, if I'm going to do something - I'm going to go all out. And I thought of it just like a party. And what do you have at parties? Food, music, games, entertainment, party favors ... all of it connected with the book somehow to make it even more special for my friends and family. The main idea was for everyone to have some fun with me, celebrating the book. And we did!

What was the most challenging part of coordinating the launch?
I only put together the party a few days before the actual party so the challenge was getting everything up on the website in time. I stayed up the whole night before release day putting together THE GREAT CALL video and changing my whole website. So on the big day, I was totally wired and exhausted. But I was soooo happy we had the party. It was really a momentous day!

Then with PARIS PAN you took the virtual launch to a whole new level, raising more than $15,000 in four weeks for Tulakes Elementary. That was such a brilliant win-win scenario for everyone. How did the school react when you approached them with the idea?
At first, we didn't understand exactly how much would be raised by the effort. I said, at worst, we'll raise a $1000. So Yay to that. And then as time marched on and we got to $3000, then $5000, then $10,000.... my sponsoring teacher and I were crying. Everybody was really in disbelief. I'm still in shock about it.  

You had an author visit there not long ago. How cool was it to visit after everything was over? Did you get to see those dollars in action?
Oh, Sherrie. That was truly an awesome day for everyone. I can not tell you how wonderful the teachers and students were. It is really hard for me to fully capture that day without feeling like I'm shortchanging it somehow because it really was just so fantastic. Seeing the kids, meeting the teachers and the principal. Seeing those bright-eyed students ready to meet an author for the very first time. All of the hugs that were exchanged. Delivering the check to the school. Watching 1st graders march into the gymnasium with their big Thank You signs. Being caught on the Oklahoma News bawling about the whole experience. Getting everyone revved up about reading and writing! I really wish I had the words to describe it all because this still doesn't cover it. The teachers are getting their supplies now.... I've got some pictures and will be posting it soon.  But it's just been so cool to know that the children's book community made a big difference in these kids' lives. And I am so PARIS-PAN-PROUD! to know that Paris made a difference, too.

How were you able to get so much participation in the PARIS PAN launch from so many industry professionals: agents, editors, authors?
Mainly through personal contacts. I started with the authors who I've known - who've made a difference in my career/journey towards authorship....At first it was just my agent and my editor. I was going to keep it small. That was my initial plan because I wasn't sure how much I could do exactly. But then when I saw how successful the auction was, I couldn't keep it small. I knew I had to work day and night to make it bigger, raise as much money as possible! - and I contacted a bunch of agents and editors I've admired and had some contact with before, and asked if they'd help me.  And I hardly found one that could turn Tulakes away. I opened it up to even more authors, too, many of them debut authors with books that had just come out or were coming out. The children's book industry is truly amazing and giving. I've always known that and I'm so proud to be a part of it.

It had to be pretty intense having two novels come out back to back. Do you feel like you get a bit of a breather now before the YA launches in 2011?
This is my breather right now. Maybe three weeks. Before my editor gets back to me with revision notes for that YA novel. Ha! And then I'm back at it again. Of course, there are so many more things I'd like to do - like skydive or something. But I'm all full up. Between public appearances, interviews like these, my family, my books, and AuthorsNow!, I can't take on another thing. But I do enjoy being busy and I love being part of this crazy author world, even though it can get a little insane sometimes.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing and who was it from?
From author and writing coach Esther Hershenhorn - her favorite word is "Connect!" and she is so right-on about that. It is now my own personal mantra. I still don't know how to connect perfectly, but I do try very hard! Connect with my readers, connect with writers, connect with the people that you meet. In this world, we do not write alone. And if we are, well, that's just plain lonely. The writing-world is much easier to handle when you connect with other people who get it.

What do you do to relax?
HAHAHAHAHA! Seriously, I just laughed out loud.

I do not know the meaning of the word relax. This is very very bad. I suppose, in my dream world, I would have no deadlines, no responsibilities, and then I would truly relax. On a daily basis in real life though, Reality TV is my biggest relaxation tool. Just zoning out in front of some really frivolous show that reminds me that not everything has to be so serious. I also enjoy spending quality time with my family and friends. Something I hope to do more of in 2010! Let's hope!

Company is coming and you've got to cook fast. What is your signature dish?
A one-pot wonder that involves sauce, vegetables, and meat. Whatever is in the fridge. Usually it's a Thai curry or something like that.  I also enjoy making scallops wrapped in prosciutto as an appetizer. Mmmm!

Thanks, Cynthea! 
BTW, sounds delicious! I'm on my way over :D

Here are some of the places you can find Cynthea on the web:
Writing for Children and Teens


Kelly Polark said...

When I first started writing about four years ago, Cyntea's site was one of the first sites I started drawing info from. I've also participated in her REd Light, Green Light critique (which she gave fab advice and my story changed for the better). She's so amazing to the writing community and the way she talks about her day at the Elementary School brought tears to my eyes! Yay Cynthea!
(and fabulous interview, Sherrie. Great questions!)

Sherrie Petersen said...

Good point, Kelly!

I've also been lucky enough to take advantage of a Red Light, Green Light critique (from the Writing for Children and Teens site) as well as a Freetique from the Paris Pan launch. Cythea gives back a LOT to the writing community!

Kristin said...

Cynthea, I mean Snoop, has critiqued a couple of my manuscripts over the last few years as well with her Red Light/ Green Light rounds. They are an amazing team, and the kidlit world is better for them. ;)

Yat-Yee said...

Another great interview, Sherrie. I'd say you've carved out a niche. Thanks for all the info.

Laura Pauling said...

Great interview! And what a moment to go to the school and see the fruit of all your hard work. Because it's all about the kids!

Jackee said...

Love, LOVE this interview. Thanks, ladies! Cynthea is a Godsend to us kid's writers. I have her Crash Course book and love it too!

Elana Johnson said...

I think Cynthea is amazing! Thanks Sherrie, for a great interview. It sparked a lot of ideas for me. :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This was fantastic, Sherrie and Cynthea! I am going to order her book today! :-)

Crystal said...

WONDERFUL interview, Sherrie! Like Kelly, when I first started writing around 5 years ago, Cynthea's website was one of the first sites I browsed to get a "crash course" on writing for kids, submitting work, & reading the great agent/editor interviews she had posted. And yes, those Red light, Green light critiques were SO HELPFUL! So happy for her success because she's truly given a lot to the children's writing community!

Cynthea said...

Awwwww! You guys are so sweet! Trying to make me cry on a Friday, no less. What gives?! :)

Snoop says, bring on the praise. I get no love from Cynthea.

Thanks, Sherrie, for the interview! It was a pleasure.

Keep on writing, everyone! Snoop looks forward to munching on your manuscripts in the future

Myra McEntire said...

Excellent interview Sherri, thanks for introducing us to someone who has so much to give back! Cynthea's books just went on my TBR list!

Unknown said...

Cynthea is a marketing genius! What a great interview!

Karen B said...

I'm so excited! I'm going to her Revision 911 course April 10th in Columbus and submitted some things for critique as well. I realize I have some reading to do before then and started with this site, which will lead me to her books and web site. Thanks so much! I can't wait to hear all that she has to say. Cynthia sounds phenomenal.

Sherrie Petersen said...

Karen: Glad the interview helped with your research! Cynthea is a GREAT critiquer -- I speak from personal experience. How lucky you are to get to take a class with her -- enjoy!

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