Friday, November 24, 2006

Ho, Ho, Ho!

I've always been fascinated by writers who are able to collaborate on a story, especially if those writers live under the same roof. Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith are two fine writers who happen to be married to each other. Although they have their own titles, they joined talents and wrote SANTA KNOWS, a fun holiday story. Recently, I asked if they would share a few words about the process. Here's what they said:

Cynthia: Afie is very much a 21rst century kid, and I wanted to offer a
contemporary feel to the classic themes in Santa Knows. Kids today are
saturated in technology and information, so that was one way of
connecting to them. Only problem? Despite my two websites and two blogs,
I'm not especially tech savvy myself. For that aspect of the manuscript,
I turned to my patent attorney-author husband (who holds two degrees in
electrical engineering) to help me out.

Greg: I liked that Cyn's story was funny and had a strong boy
character--I don't think we have enough laugh-out-loud humor for young
guys. When she first asked me to tweak the manuscript, I overdid it
(made the text over the head of most adults and too many kids), so we
took it back a notch or three and have a story that is very today, very
smart, but still fun and accessible.

Cynthia: We also bolstered the role of Alfie's little sister, Noelle,
for dual gender appeal and because she insisted on it.

Note: Cynthia also is the author of Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain
Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), Indian Shoes
(HarperCollins, 2002), and Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). Visit Greg also is the author of Ninjas, Piranhas,
and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) and Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown,
2005). Visit Santa Knows is their first book
written together. Visit

Saturday, August 26, 2006


I believe the best fiction starts with truth, but moves away from it, becoming its own truth. All of my books begin with truth--a story someone has told me, a childhood memory of my own, or merely an observation.

This week, my new book, PART OF ME, hits the bookstores. PART OF ME is an example of how truth spins into its own story, in this case a story of a Louisiana family shown through the eyes of four generations. Rose, Merle Henry, Annabeth, and Kyle tell their stories and in doing so, tell their family's story.

Each story contains a bit of truth--my grandmother taking me to the Rapides Parish bookmobile, a relative who dreamed of trapping a mink, a boy I noticed walking carefree out of a school. The stories have been shaken and mixed with other details and twisted into different plot lines, so much so, that they became their own stories. Still they remain a part of me.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Pictures from Poland

(clockwise from the top)Shannon at Lazienki Park, Kimberly and Gabi, Old Town Square in Warsaw

To Poland With Love

Frederick Chopin was buried in Paris, but he requested that his heart be put in an urn and sent to Poland. I know Warsaw is not Paris, but it has its own merits. I learned this last week while I was in Poland to visit the American School of Warsaw. Their student body is made up of kids from many countries, creating a rich, exciting environment. The staff and students made me feel very welcome and I will always remember them. They may be ambassadors for their countries, but they are also citizens of the world.

My husband and daughter accompanied me on the trip and while I spoke at the school, they ventured out on their own. My daughter had learned a few Polish words and phrases before arriving so we relied on her greatly. Going to Poland made me wish I could speak a hundred different languages. That way I could communicate better. But even with our clumsy attempts, the Polish were very accommodating. One waitress patiently went over the entire menu for us. And many times we were reminded that a smile is universal.

On Friday we took the train to Krakow. While there I met the illustrator for Waiting for Gregory. Gabi was as lovely as her paintings. We also met her delightful daughter Zak(I'm sorry that I can't figure out how to put those two dots over her a) and her boyfriend Greg. It was fun to get to know Gabi over fish soup and to learn a bit about her process. "People think that my pictures flow from the paintbrush like they appear on the pages," she said, "but it starts with two lines." It's funny how similar most arts are. My first drafts are awful with tiny bits of hope glimmering here and there. The joy comes in the rewriting.

I will miss Poland. I will miss the leisurely meals, the yogurt, the Borsh soup. And most of all, I'll miss its beautiful people.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Writing a picture book is not easy. At least it isn't for me. I wrote the first draft of WAITING FOR GREGORY nine years ago. Even after several revisions, it was terrible and deserved the rejections it received.

A few years later, my editor and I were having lunch and she told me that she thought the story had potential. When I asked if she meant the premise or the text, she smiled and said, "The premise."

That said, I didn't bother to retrieve the manuscript from the file drawer. A couple of years later a new storyline came to me, though. This time, the story was better because I had read and studied hundreds of picture books by then. I still had many rewrites ahead of me, but the new story gave me the energy I needed to go through each revision.

Of course, a picture book isn't finished when the words are in place. The illustations complete the circle. Gabi Swiatkowska's work is brillant. I'm honored that she agreed to illustrate this book.

I've often said that time is a writer's best friend. WAITING FOR GREGORY is an example of that. The book comes out in April. It was a long sweet journey. I hope you like the results.

If you want to read about the original inspiration for the book, go to the WAITING FOR GREGORY page and click on Inspirations.