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1. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Jane Addams Award Winner
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to the winners and honorees of the Bank Street Awards, Green Earth Book Award, Edgar Awards (for mysteries) and Jane Addams (Peace) Children's Book Awards! Note: Cynsations would normally feature more coverage than a link on each, but we're cruising toward summer hiatus and the schedule is packed. Click for more information!

Adding an Emotional Stance by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Don’t just settle for describing something or someone. It’s in how you describe them that the reader will be able to read the narrator’s attitude and emotion toward them. It’s all about context, folks!"

Children's Literature and the Censorship Conversation by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "While challenges to books can often result in increased sales, the authors and editors on the panel agreed that it’s certainly not the expectation or the intent of the author that a book will be deemed objectionable."

Hannah Gomez & Allie Jane Bruce on Jewishness & Whiteness from Reading While White. Peek: " You are more educated in Judaism than I, and you’ve spent much more of your life practicing Judaism than I have. And yet, I’ll bet if we stood next to each other and asked 10 people 'which of us is Jewish?' 9 of them would point to me."

How to Weave a Message Without Pummeling Your Readers by James Scott Bell from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The engine of a story is characters in crisis exercising strength of will. True character is revealed only in a high-stakes struggle." See also Why Authors Should Use Instagram by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.

Recruiting Diversity: A CBC Panel by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Assuming that talented, diverse employees are recruited into publishing industry jobs, fostering a welcoming environment for individuals of different backgrounds is the next step."

How to Share Your Protagonist's Deepest Feelings With Readers by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...readers have probably never been terrorized by a serial killer, vampire or demon in their own lives, but they know what it is to feel terror."

Author Interview: Elaine Scott from Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Peek: "People rush to post their pictures of super moons, crescent moons, lunar eclipses, etc. on social media. It's still perceived as something beautiful and a tad mysterious."

Luck and Talent by Kell Andrews from Project Mayhem. Peek: "I queried the right agent at the right time – or maybe the wrong one, because that book never sold and that agent – a respectable one with a respectable agency – left the business."

LGBTQ Books for Middle Grade Readers by Kelly Jensen from BookRiot. Peek: "It’s less about the physicality during those years than it is about the mental grappling with forming one’s identity."

Children's Editor Dick Jackson Turns Author by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Selling eight picture books in a short span would be a phenomenal accomplishment for any writer, but Jackson’s feat is even more astonishing, because for the past six years he has been expending considerable effort just to stay healthy."

Why Host an African American Read In? by Angie Manfredi from Reading While White. Peek: "No one assumes only White people will want to read Shakespeare or, say, Emily Dickinson. We are taught those works are universal, they are for everyone. But too often, racism tells us that books by Native people or POC are only for the members of those groups."

On Writer's Block from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "The problem with speaking of writer’s block is that by giving it a name—and who is more prone to naming than writers?—we give it an authority it doesn’t deserve."

Author Interview: Trent Reedy & The Last Full Measure by Robin Herrera from VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: "One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books. This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel."

Cynsational Screening Room



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, illustrated by Ken Min (Little Pickle, 2016), signed by Emma were Pat in California, Ann in South Carolina, and Suzanne in California.

More Personally

Nose, meet grindstone! This week I focused on event preparation, finishing up my critiques for the Austin SCBWI Writers and Illustrators Working Conference and getting organized for my class and presentations at the Asian Festival of Children's Content in Singapore.

That said, the SCBWI Bologna interview series is now available in its entirety. It's especially recommended to illustrators and those who love picture book art, but also, everyone who considers themselves (or wants to be) part of the international conversation of children's literature and publishing.

Especially to my fellow U.S. readers, it's too tempting to think in an insular manner. But the tradition and future of books for young readers are both anchored in the world market.

Speaking of which, look for an interview with me and my AFCC fellow YA Fantasy workshop leader Gabriela Lee in the May issue of Singapore's Child magazine.

Personal Links



http://afcc.com.sg/

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2. 2016: SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Paul O. Zelinsky

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois; the son of a mathematics professor father and a medical illustrator mother. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. 

As a sophomore at Yale College, he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of children's books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field. 

He now lives with his wife in Brooklyn, New York. They have two grown daughters.

Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995).

Spring is the season of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, so I thought I would focus on the business side of illustration today. Can you tell us about how you as an illustrator are selected to work on a picture book project?

Other than through the occasional subliminal suggestion I plant in the illustrations of my published books (painting “HIRE ME!” upside down in the trees outside of Rapunzel’s tower and so on), I don’t know how I get chosen.

My work looks awfully different from book to book, but I imagine that an editor or art director who ends up contacting me is thinking of one look in particular, and they might mention that to me, though they may not end up getting it. Also, from my third book on, I have tended to keep working with people I’ve worked with before, so those publishers know more what they’re getting into. On my end, what happens is that I get a call or an email. 

Could you describe your involvement in the process, from the time you are contacted about a new project, through the creation of the illustrations, to the finished book?

I usually want to stick my nose into all stages of the creation and production processes, but as I try to do it in a nice way and, I hope, not out of a personal need for control but in the spirit of collaboration, I’ve rarely had trouble.

So it usually begins for me when I get a phone call or email from a publisher, either asking if I’m available or just sending a manuscript, and I can sometimes tell pretty quickly if I think it’s a good idea for me on or not. Sometimes I don’t know and I mull.

My first criterion (and I’m sorry if this seems pompous) is whether the story makes me think that our overcrowded world, with no shortage of books in it already, would be notably worse off without this new addition. (Which is sort of like saying how much do I like it, but not quite). Then I imagine what kind of art I’d like to see illustrating the manuscript and at that point I can usually tell whether I’d get excited by the prospect of trying to make that kind of art.

Then, if it’s a go, come all the stages you probably know about in the making of an illustrated book. If it’s a picture book, that means breaking the manuscript up into pieces that fit in a 32- or 40-page book (publisher tells me what’s possible)—not a simple job if you want to do it right.

At the same time, I try to imagine the best size and proportion for this book, long before having any idea of the content of its pictures. Then with text decided for each spread I’ll very, very crudely rough out an array of thumbnail sketches, trying to establish the dynamic of the storytelling through the pictures, the content and composition of each illustration.

After or during that time, I’ll be casting around for what the characters should look like, and I’ll be thinking about the style I want the drawings to display. This is intimately connected to the choice of medium, so I’m thinking about that, too, and probably doing a lot of testing on scratch paper.

If I get the thumbnail sketches working, I’ll go to a full-sized, or at least not-so-little dummy, in black pencil, with text placed on the pages.

The dummy can be very rough, too, and I am generally willing to risk showing it to the publisher even before, say, I have any idea of what the characters will look like.

I like feedback, and things like pacing can be judged without other important features yet in place. I might also put the pictures together with text in InDesign, at least as a preliminary version before the art director gets to work on it.

When the designer does join in, I’ll want to be part of her or his process, too. Then there is research, refining sketches, working out color, checking with editor and art director all along, and working and working and working on finished art.

How involved is the art director or author in determining the style of the artwork for a particular project?

The style of my artwork has to be determined by me, to the extent that I can control it. I think the author should have a role in choosing an illustrator, and if there’s a wish to have the book look a certain way, that could be part of the manuscript’s presentation to me at the outset. But in fact this rarely happens. I think publishers are interested in seeing what I come up with.

It has happened that after seeing what I come up with, they aren’t convinced. Then it becomes a conversation, or a discussion, or a debate, in which at the end everybody needs to be on the same side. And I can be convinced that I was wrong, at least if I was wrong.

Do you ever revise your illustrations based on feedback from the art director or for other reasons?

I make lots of changes based on suggestions. Art directors and editors I work with often have great ideas that I didn’t think of, or can point out features in my drawings that I then realize were not so great. I believe we are all devoted, at base, to creating the best possible book. So if I’m given a suggestion that I don’t feel good about, I will say why, and another conversation can begin.

I will try to convince the other parties that I have important and valid reasons for seeing things my way, or point out (if it’s the case) that their suggestions might have problems they may not be considering, and at the same time they’ll do the same to me.

In the end, with very few, minor exceptions, I don’t think any book I’ve worked on has left anybody feeling that the wrong path was taken.

What is the typical timeline, from receiving a commission, to submitting the completed artwork to the publisher?

I’ve rarely managed to finish illustrating a book in less than a year. That has been about the average, I think, but I’m usually not able to start work on a manuscript right when I receive it, so it’s hard to pin down the time it takes when I’ve got a couple of projects waiting to be begun for a couple of years, and I’m already thinking about all of them a little.

You have said in the past that you have created many of your picture book illustrations using oil paints. When that is the case, how is the final artwork submitted to the publisher?

Art that isn’t digital to begin with needs to be scanned, and it is still the case that publishers use scanners or cameras of a higher quality than almost any individual illustrator would have access to.

I’ve talked to some younger illustrators who scan their reflective art and deliver electronically, without even considering that they could or should deliver the actual art on paper. That is really the preferable way to go. Oil paints have the reputation of not drying, but my oils are usually dry within a day, or at least dry to the touch. There is an additive you can put in your painting medium to speed the drying, and if I’m running very late I will sometimes mix in a little more of this desiccant, or I will avoid painting with pigments I know are slow-drying and favor the faster ones, if possible.

Although I won’t scan my own oil paintings (my scanner picks up reflections on oil paint’s shiny surface for every little textury bump in the paper), I’m not above asking for the high resolution files that the publisher gets from their scanner, and sometimes even before first proofs, going in digitally to fix things I didn’t manage to do correctly in the art.

After a book is released, what kinds of promotional activities do you as the illustrator engage in to support its release?

The more the merrier, I say. I’m on Twitter (@paulozelinsky) and Instagram (paulozelinsky) anyway, and while I don’t like self-promotional posts, when a new book is coming out, there is plenty of interesting information to share. I go on Facebook, too, but only privately for my personal account. I would prefer that people I don’t know personally “Like” my Facebook author page.

Z Is For Moose fabric, suitable size for quilt
I’ve had some ideas for contests and a raffle for prints of the cover art of a book. Sometimes the publisher has given me great support and help. But I’ve also done a raffle or two on my own.

In general I do these things because they seem like cool things to do; I don’t know if they have in any way helped sales—in fact I doubt it. Also, I like to create a repeating design based on almost every new book, and have it printed on fabric (at spoonflower.com). People can purchase it on their own, by the yard (though they don’t), and I can have some of made into a shirt or a vest (which I do). Not so long ago I couldn’t decide on color choices in one of these patterns, so I conducted an online vote; that was fun.

An additional layer of attention has sometimes become available to me that would be harder for most illustrators to garner, in that a few of these larks I’ve gone on were interesting enough that Publishers Weekly has written about them, or the Horn Book. But only after a friend pushed me into asking these journals if they’d like to write about it.

I’ve made ties that go with my books, as well as shirts and a couple of vests, and I wear this special apparel (in moderation!) whenever there’s an appropriate event.

And yes, school visits are great. I love to do them with or without a new book. There is nothing better than to see groups of children appreciating the very things you spent so much time and effort on in the solitude of your studio, a year or more earlier.

When it comes to visiting schools I tend to be passive, waiting to be asked, but it’s not out of line to approach and let schools know you’re available if they’re interested. School visits not related to a book tour are a source of income; as part of a book tour, arranged by an independent bookseller, I’m happy to give one presentation to a school, but not the three or four I’d give if it were a paid arrangement.

Are there some new releases we should look out for?

Actually, no. It will be a long time before anything new comes out. After the recent Toys Meet Snow, it’s going to be quite a while until the next thing.

But one brand-new release that is partly mine is the 75th anniversary edition of Make Way for Ducklings. I was very honored and excited (you can imagine) to be asked to draw a pictorial map of Boston that would be included with the book and a CD recording in a boxed set. That edition is just out now, I think.

I had a wonderful time researching what Boston looked like in 1941 (if felt like detective work), and illustrating parts of the story in the appropriate parts of my map, which is really an aerial view as much as it is a map. My drawing didn’t reproduce every single building in and around Beacon Hill, and I had to squash some blocks down in size for the picture to fit the proportions of the paper, but it’s pretty faithful to reality, I’d say.

You’re going to be one of our dueling illustrators at the SCBWI booth at the 2016 Bologna Children’s Book Fair. How often have you visited BCBF?

Publishers always told me, when I asked about Bologna, that going there was not something I would want to do, or should. It was only for brusque, publisher-to-publisher deal-making and if I went I would be in the way.

I first came to Bologna anyway in 2006, because after planning a family trip to Venice, I decided to look up the Bologna fair and discovered that it started immediately after we were going to leave Venice, and Bologna was an easy train trip away. And then a friend told me that SCBWI was holding a full-scale pre-conference in Bologna on the weekend leading up to the fair. I was able to get a spot on a panel, and then when I asked publishers again, they told me I should go after all, and helped me find a hotel room (almost impossible just a month before the fair). And I enjoyed it tremendously!

So after that first wonderful time there, I’ve been going back almost every other year, and continuing to enjoy it tremendously. Where else can you see virtually every children’s book published in the world in the previous year? I see a lot of editors that I know, as well as the great SCBWI community, so it’s an occasion to hang out with friends, and I must say that eating is a large part of the pleasure.

I think the Bologna fair has been changing, and now you see a greater presence of book creators among the sub-rights sales force and the editors. Mostly these are just people coming on their own, but now very occasionally they are even being sent by their publishers.

SCBWI isn’t putting on Bologna pre-conferences any longer, but they have an active booth at Bolognafiere every other year. Of course my favorite activity is the dueling illustrators tradition, which is huge fun. And this year the booth is bigger than ever before.

How can visits to fairs such as BCBF benefit an illustrator’s career?

I haven’t used my trips to the fair in a practical or useful way from the point of view of career-helping. But I’ve seen illustrators come away with publishing deals: it can happen though I’m not positive how it’s done.

SCBWI itself can facilitate this, because you can arrange for a period of time when you sit in the booth and basically represent your books to passersby like all of the other publishers with booths there.

There’s also a wall at the fair for illustrators to put up their promotional cards, and publishers look through them (although there are so many cards by the end of the fair that it seems like an awfully long shot).

European publishers set up periods for open portfolio-viewing, and illustrators line up with their work in hand, to be seen by an art director in the flesh.

Do you have any advice for a first-time visitor to BCBF?

If you have published already, and are thinking of visiting Bologna, definitely ask for advice from your U,S, publisher. If you have ever had a book picked up by a foreign publisher, it would be a great thing to arrange to meet that publisher’s representatives in Bologna. This will make you more of a real person to that publisher rather than just a subsidiary right they purchased.

SCBWI offers various good opportunities to get your work seen, so definitely arrange your visit with SCBWI in mind. Even if you’re not trying to network or push your career forward, hanging out (and eating out!) with SCBWI folk is reason enough to make the visit a fun time. Many but by no means all of them are of US origin, but they live all around the world.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Bologna, apart from visiting the BCBF?

Did I mention eating? Well, other than that, Bologna has some fantastic museums. Besides the main art museum (the Pinatoteca) there is a fabulous Medieval museum.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a museum devoted entirely to the generally under-appreciated painter Morandi, although I think it may be closed temporarily and its collection shifted to the Modern Art Museum. There is plenty more to do in Bologna, and don’t forget about the eating.

People say that Bolognese food is the best in Italy, and although that kind of claim is sort of meaningless, it is probably also true.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It was great to see you at the Book Fair. I really enjoyed watching your duel with Doug Cushman at the SCBWI booth during the fair!

Thank you! The pleasure is mine.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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3. Video: Author-Illustrator Marla Frazee

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


Marla Frazee from Adam Goodwin on Vimeo.

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4. Guest Post & Giveaway: Melissa Buron on A Book of Mermaids

By Melissa Buron
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I discovered A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders.

During a long, hot summer, I read and re-read the stories until my mother and the public library insisted that I return the book.

I was distraught because no matter how many bookstores I searched, I never found the book again.

Forty years later, I did find the book. This time, not in a library, but in a hot warehouse full of old, used books.

I reread the book and fell in love again with the witty, crafty and of course magical mermaids. And in-between work, family and laundry, I spread the word about this wonderful book.

After all, who doesn't love mermaids? Unfortunately, the book was out of print and a used copy (if you could locate one) averaged between $200 and $350.

With this enchanting and beloved book in mind, I started an independent publishing company, MAB Media. To my joy and delight, A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders is MAB Media's very first release.

Ruth Manning-Sanders was a fascinating person, not just because of her writing ability, but also for her way of life. She was a feminist before "feminist" was even a word. She was prolific as few authors are (more than ninety books to her credit). Her fairy tales, both original and adapted, reflected a wide range of characters, both human and non-human, of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds.

In A Book of Mermaids, Manning-Sanders introduces the readers to sixteen stories of mermaids and their fantastical adventures.

Within my wide collection of fairy tales and folk tales, these are by far my favorites.

Cynsational Giveaway

Do you love mermaids? Here's your chance to win one of five free copies of A Book of Mermaids by Ruth Manning-Sanders and some surprise mermaid swag!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5. In Memory: Harry Mazer

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Harry Mazer: Obituary from Legacy.com. Peek: "...died on April 7, 2016, 71 years after he leapt out of a B-17 bomber that had been shot down over Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, during the last mission of World War II.

"Harry was one of the few survivors of the crew, a story he loved to tell and re-created in a fictionalized form in his young adult novel, The Last Mission. He received a Purple Heart and an Air Medal with four bronze oak leaf clusters for his service."

Cynsational Notes

Harry was married to fellow children's book author Norma Fox Mazer for 69 years, until her 2009 death at age 78.

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6. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Jane Eyre Is a YA Novel by Lena Coakley from The Guardian. Peek: "...an even stronger reason adults might object to calling Jane Eyre a YA novel is because it explores female desire so openly. Jane Eyre does not contain explicit sex, but it does have an earthiness that shocked its Victorian readers."

How to Make a Kid Lit List by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "Have you thought about the demographics of who's listed and who's left out?"

How to Tackle a Big Revision by Carter Higgins from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "...this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task...."

Judy Blume, Bookseller by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Most days she can be found plying her trade at Books & Books Key West, a two-month old independent bookstore in Florida that she and her husband, George Cooper, co-founded."

The All Too-Familiar Fog of White Authenticating by Nina Lindsey from Reading While White. Peek: "...a mostly White group starts comparing one excellent book with another. Inevitably, some people 'just feel' that Excellent Book A (by a White person) does 'more' for them than Excellent Book B (by a person of color). It probably does; and that's not the point."


This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways



More Personally

Thank you to the Texas Library Association and Candlewick Press for a wonderful experience at the TLA Annual Conference in Houston! This week's Cynsations roundup is a bit abbreviated as a result of my participation. However, I do have personal book news to share:

Jingle Dancer is featured among recommended reads for celebrating Dia by the Texas State Library & Archives Commission.

Personal Links

50 Picture Books About Mix-Race Families
Cannibal Galaxy Spotted
Joseph Bruchac, Two New Books
Diversity, Disabilities & Dolls 
Pop Superstar Prince Dies
Harriet Tubman Will Be on $20 Bill 
6 Ways Parents Contribute to Children's Anxiety
Wild Tigers on the Rise for First Time in 100 Years

https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lonestardia


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7. Guest Post: Lara Herrington Watson on Analyze This: A Grammatical Breakdown of Favorite First Chapters

click to enlarge
By Lara Herrington Watson
@lashwatson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As I finished writing my second YA novel, I worried that my writing was getting stagnant.

What if I was learning bad habits that I would repeat through all of my future novels?

In order to glean some knowledge about my writing, I completed grammatical analyses on the first chapters of works by some of my favorite authors (Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Barbara Kingsolver, David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, and J.K. Rowling), and on my own novel.

I calculated percentages of sentences that begin with a subject, adverb, etc. I also looked at percentages of sentence type used: fragments, complex sentences, etc.

Here’s what I learned:

When reading your manuscript straight through for errors, highlighting different parts of speech individually (nouns, verbs, adverbs…) is an excellent editing method. This is how I started the project, and while it didn’t teach me much about my writing, scanning it piecemeal made the text pop in a different way. I discovered a dozen small errors and typos that I and my writing group had not yet found (in the first 50 pages alone).

Simplicity is okay. Forty-five percent of all my sentences are simple. I start 63 percent of my sentences with subjects. At first I was sure this was too high. But these numbers are actually pretty average compared to my favorite authors.

Levithan had the highest percentages of simple sentences and of sentences beginning with subjects (65%), but his writing is still some of the most poetic, jazzy, and prismatic writing I’ve read. Maybe this is because of the many gorgeous participial phrases in the middle or at the end of his sentences.

Similarly, Rowell’s writing gets more interesting (lots of fragments composed of participial phrases) whenever the protagonist waxes nostalgic about his girlfriend. Much like Levithan, her fragments make seemingly small, subtle emotional steps that work.

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Austen had the second highest percentage of fragments (Blame Mrs. Bennet’s blathering about Bingley.). Austen also uses the smallest range of tools for sentence starters, yet she scores fairly high in her use of complex sentences.

Complexity is also okay. One myth among young writers is that long sentences are always run-on sentences. This is untrue.

Take Hemingway, who is surprisingly complex. Because of his reputation as a straightforward, clear writer, I expected him to score high in fragments, but he had the least of anyone: only 2.2%.

His complex sentences were also the most complex of any I analyzed. Compared to writers like Levithan and Rowell, Hemingway often covers more ground (years, literally) with longer, more complex, and exceptionally clear sentences.

Use a range of tools. As far as sentence starters, Rowling definitely uses the widest range of tools. It’s probably not a coincidence that her varied writing has captivated children and adults alike.

Don’t focus too much on statistics. Initially, I thought that the best writing would have the greatest variation. But some sentence starters and structures work better depending on the author’s voice and the novel’s contents; Hemingway and Kingsolver, for example, punctuate their long, complex sentences with short, punchy ones. This may not make the most interesting graph, but it sets their voices apart and makes for great fiction.

My sample size is admittedly small. I’m only looking at first chapters, and there’s plenty more to learn. But my brain hurts from too much data entry, and the boarding school from my third novel beckons.

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8. New Voice: Shari Schwarz on Treasure at Lure Lake

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shari Schwarz is the first-time author of Treasure at Lure Lake(Cedar Fort, 2016). From the promotional copy:

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. 

So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the map, even if it means risking his life and lying to his grandpa while they're on their wilderness backpacking trip. 

Bryce must work together with his difficult big brother, Jack, or they...and the treasure...may never see the light of day again.

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? 

How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

One of my very favorite craft resource books is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012).

I took it everywhere with me for a few months and read through it twice as I was writing Treasure at Lure Lake. One thing I struggled with in my book was giving the brothers, fourteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Bryce, the right level of interiority, as Mary Kole calls it, which is access to the character’s thoughts and feelings about what is going on.

I wrote Lure Lake from the perspective of two boys, and if you’ve ever spent a lot of time around teenage boys, they aren’t always the first to share their emotions and deep thoughts. Of course, there are some that do—I do have four boys myself—but it was definitely a challenge for me to get into each of the boys’ heads and get their internal voices just right in my story.

Mary Kole’s book teaches about the importance of interiority.

She writes, “First we should see characters in action, and then we get some Interiority to really drive home the author’s intentions…With this one-two punch we can move on with a solid understanding of what we’ve just witnessed and learned.” (p. 59)

Another lesson I learned the hard way (through many revisions and trial and error) was how to make the reader care about Jack and Bryce at the beginning of the book. If the reader doesn’t care about their journeys very early in the story, then what would be the point of reading it? On p. 90 Kole writes, “…introduce not only a great character but a character with Objectives and Motivations. Then imbue the character’s life with enough conflict, both internal and external, to really get the story engine humming.” And, of course, there has to be interiority if we are to know the character’s goal, objectives and motivations.

Shari's boys
I also listened carefully to my own boys and their friends. I listened to anything that would point to their hopes, dreams, goals and motivations. It is still a constant learning process to perfect these story elements that make or break a good book.

Another element is creating a complex, layered character. One who seems real. There are books I’ve read where I was certain that the story was biographical, in large part because the main character was so invested in the plot.

Mary Kole not only stresses interiority, objectives/motivations to create a real character, but she also helps writers by taking them through creating a character with a complex core identity full of strengths, weaknesses, virtues, roles, emotions, responses, boundaries etc… She writes on p 109, “If you can create a strong character with a strong sense of core self, then thrust him through a plot that attacks those pillars of identity, and surprise the reader with some of his choices, you will have an amazingly layered protagonist on your hands.” And she doesn’t leave it just at protagonists. She advises the same for the antagonist.

I highly recommend this book for all writers, those new to the craft and also those who are well-experienced. I can’t imagine that anyone has “arrived” when it comes to writing. I know I will be writing and revising and learning over and over again with each new book I write.

It’s a challenging but inspiring process, and I’m thankful for the inspiration found in books like Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Cody (Corgi) and Jasper (puppy)
Before I started writing seriously, I received my elementary teaching degree with an emphasis in literacy, and then I worked as an elementary school librarian. I had the privilege to study children’s literature in-depth for my teaching degree which carried over into being a librarian where I was able to share with children my love of reading.

I didn’t begin writing Treasure at Lure Lake until a couple of years later. I think being a librarian allowed me to see and understand in general what kids love to read. There are those books and series that a lot of children gravitate towards, but they’re not for everyone. There are always at least a few outliers who don’t follow the trends and find their own niche in books they love.

There is also a difference between books that adults want children to read and books that children themselves want to read. Yes, there is a bit of a crossover, but there are many books that children love that adults roll their eyes at or worse.

As a librarian, my job was to connect readers with books. And the only way to do that is to find books they love based on their interests, reading level, prior books read and sometimes just a bit of luck. Part of connecting children to books meant that I needed to be up to date on new books coming out. How could I gush over a book to a student if I’d never read it?

American Lakes, Northern Colorado
Reading so many children’s books also helped me in writing Lure Lake. There is such a wide variety of readers which is one of the reasons why there are so many different types of books out there.

As a new author, it can strike fear in my heart to think that some people will not like my book. Some people may judge it harshly. Of course! No book is the perfect book for every reader out there. This has helped me realize that my book will not be for everyone which is a good reality check. But there are children who identify with parts of my story, whether it is the plot or the characters or the themes…and that is who I wrote my book for.

Being a librarian allowed me to have numerous conversations with students who loved reading. They would tell me about why they loved the books they did, what they wanted to read next and how the book impacted them.

I also was able to listen as students told me about what made a book hard for them to get through or why it was boring. And, best of all, I was able to work with those students who just hadn’t found a love for reading yet. They were the children who came back, week after week, still searching for a book that they might finally like.

There isn’t anything more gratifying as a librarian than to finally find that one book that makes a reader’s eyes light up for the first time. Seeing a reluctant reader finally devour a book, especially if it’s part of a series, is an amazing process to watch and the greatest blessing of all in being a librarian.

One of my own sons struggled with reading throughout elementary school. But when I placed The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005) in his hands when he was in fifth grade, he was hooked for the first time and read straight through that series and into the next.

Helping a child find the joy of reading is why I started writing Treasure at Lure Lake in the first place. I wanted to write a fun, exciting adventure that would be easy to read and would hopefully catch the imagination and hearts of reluctant readers that resonate with its story.

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9. In Memory: James Cross Giblin

From Macmillan
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: James Cross Giblin by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Publisher, editor, and award-winning children’s book author James Cross Giblin died on Sunday, April 10, following a long illness."

James Cross Giblin, 82, Wide-Ranging Author of Books for Children, Dies by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: "...for many years also a prominent children’s-book editor and publisher, was known most recently for his biographies for middle-grade and older readers, among them The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (2002), which won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal from the American Library Association; Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth (2005); and The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy (2009).

Goodbye, Jim by Roger Sutton from Read Roger at The Horn Book. Peek: "Back before it was even a Thing, Jim was writing narrative nonfiction about the damnedest things–windows, milk–and had the gift for conveying his own enthusiasm for his topics to readers who never knew they could find, say, chairs, so interesting."

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10. Author Interview: Sue Fliess on Calling All Cars

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations! What was your initial inspiration for writing Calling All Cars (Sourcebooks, 2016)?

I wrote this book for my first son, Owen, who was obsessed (and that’s putting it mildly) with his Matchbox cars. He had about 75 of them, and by age 3, had given them all individual names.

We used to play a game where he’d close his eyes, and I would hand him one of the cars. He would feel it, and then tell me which of his cars it was. He never missed. He sometimes slept with them in his crib (I know, choking hazard! Once he was asleep, I removed them, okay?)

He even carried them everywhere he went. Once at the park, he buried one in the sand and then couldn’t find it. Not our finest hour.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

As you know, there is a lot of rejection in this business. Well, considering my car-obsessed son will be 13(!) next week, I would say from spark to publication was about 10 years, give or take a year.

The only timing that could have been better for answering this question would be if he was now 16 and learning to drive.

A lot happens in 10 years. I actually thought Calling All Cars was going to be my first sale, but the editor who was championing it left before the editorial meeting.

I sold several more books and most of them even published before I sold this one.

Events…those Matchbox cars were soon shared with Owen’s baby brother, Wyatt. My children learned to use the potty. They learned to read. I gained and lost a lot of baby weight. I became an Aunt. We moved from an Audi to a Subaru to a minivan to an SUV. I could go on.

Like I said, 10 years is a long time.

What were the challenges—research, emotional, logistical—in bringing the cars to life?

Not too long after I started sending this manuscript out, Pixar came out with a little movie about cars—you may remember it—and I thought my story would never make it.

I mean, how could I compete with Lightning McQueen?

So I shelved it for a good bit of time. When I landed my agent in 2009, and sent her everything—good or bad—I’d written (my apologies to her for that!), and this was in the mix. She believed in it, and I’m thrilled that it found a home—and such a good one at that with Sourcebooks. The editor and illustrator nailed it!

What did Sarah Beise's illustrations offer to the text?

I think Sarah did a tremendous job of giving the cars different personalities through their drivers. I was a little worried that an illustrator might animate the cars and they would smack of that Pixar film I mentioned…but because she has animals driving the cars, we avoided that issue entirely.

And with any picture book, the illustrations go well beyond what the text is saying. There are penguins snorkeling and surfing in the background, hidden children’s toys, pigs in the wide car, a turtle in the slow car, lions in the King and Queen car, bugs in the Bug, and all sorts of other clever nuances….and best of all, if you line up every page horizontally, the road connects from start to finish.

Why animal characters?

Charlie
My editor and I met and discussed the different options: animating the cars themselves, having people drive them (kids or adults), or animals. I was up for anything—and while people are fun, animals are just so much better. As a pet owner, I’m a bit biased.

I was really happy with the direction, and Sarah’s animals are cute and full of personality. It was the best outcome.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

This publishing ride has been an amazing one for me. I can remember in my pre-published days, visiting this great blog called Cynsations where I could get a sneak peek at all of the editors whom I was trying so hard to reach, on ‘the other side.’ And now, here I am, on the blog!

I’m honored. Thanks for having me.

Cynsational Notes

Big cars, small cars, let’s call ALL cars! This bouncy text explores the wonderful world of cars zipping up, down, fast, and slow. A perfect basic concept books for eager young learners from the author of Tons of Trucks. Then cruise into bedtime!

Rest cars, Hush cars
No more rush, cars.
Cars pull in, turn off the light.
Sweet dreams, sleepy cars...goodnight!

Filled with vibrant art, adorable animal characters, and cars of all kinds from love bugs to the demolition derby, Calling All Cars is for every child who loves to read about things that go! Surprise bonus—follow one long road throughout this vividly imagined world and don’t miss the hidden clues in the artwork!

Accompanying pictures are as follows: Sue’s yellow English Lab, Charlie; Sue’s home office; Sue’s son Owen playing with his matchbox cars; Sue in a DeLorean at an 80’s themed event at a Sonoma winery

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11. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Marilyn Nelson, winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize (young adult) for My Seneca Village (namelos). From the promotional copy:

Quiet for more than 135 years, the voices of Seneca Village are rising again. Angela Riddles ponders being free-but-not-free. The orphaned Donnelly brothers get gold fever. A conjurer sees past his era and into ours.

Drawing upon history and her exquisite imagination, Newbery Honor medalist, two-time Coretta Scott King Honor medalist, and National Book Award nomineee Marilyn Nelson recreates the long lost community of Seneca Village. 

A multi-racial, multi-ethnic neighborhood in the center of Manhattan, it thrived in the middle years of the 19th century. Families prayed in its churches, children learned in its school, babies were born, and loved ones were laid to rest. Then work crews arrived to build Central Park, and Seneca Village disappeared.

Illustrated in the poet’s own words — with brief prose descriptions of what she sees inside her poems — this collection takes readers back in time and deep into the mind’s eye of one of America’s most gifted writers. Included as well is a foreword that outlines the history of Seneca Village and a guide to the variety of poetic forms she employs throughout this exceptional book.

More News & Giveaways

The Small & Mighty Ampersand: Creating Delightful, Messy Characters by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We don’t like discovering that our partners, families or friends are not who we thought, but when we experience surprise and betrayal through characters and their stories? Our fancies are tickled."

Author Interview: K.L. Going from The Children's Writers Guild. Peek: "My father has been actively involved in prison ministry, and there are literally millions of children in this country who have a parent in prison, so I also felt inspired to write a book these kids could identify with and see themselves reflected in a positive way."

Make Way for Celebration: These Ducklings are Turning 75 by Lynn Neary from NPR. Peek: "Itching to begin the illustrations, McCloskey went down to the Washington Square Market, bought a crate of ducks and brought them back to his Greenwich Village studio apartment. He washed the ducklings off in the bathtub, put them in a pan and got to work."

Kids Can Press Announces New YA Lit Imprint: KCP Loft from CNW. Peek: "Powerhouse YA editor Kate Egan joins KCP Loft as editorial director at large. Imprint launches in 2017 with four fiction titles." Note: "Kids Can Press...is the largest Canadian-owned children's publisher. Its catalog includes an award-winning list of over 700 picture books and nonfiction and fiction titles for young readers. ...distributed worldwide by Hachette Book Group."

Why I Came Out as a Gay Children's Book Author by Alexander London from Buzz Feed. Peek: "My existence shouldn't be controversial."

Interview: Cory McCarthy on Breaking Sky by Joyce Lamb from Happy Ever After. Peek: "Because of this near-futuristic setting and the element of militarized youth, I often describe the story as a cross between Ender’s Game and Code Name Verity."

Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary



See also Beverly Cleary at 100: All the Tributes by Travis Jonker for School Library Journal.

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


More Personally


Texas librarians! I look forward to seeing you next week at the TLA Annual Conference!

Join me for "#WeNeedDiverseBooks in Texas" with Jason Low of Lee & Low, Isabel Quintero of Cinco Puntos Press and Jessica Russell of Harris County Public Library at 4 p.m. April 20 at Convention Center 332 CF, level 3. I'll also be signing the Feral series from noon to 1 p.m. April 21 in aisle 3 of the Authors Signing Area.

Looking for real estate in South Austin? My friends just put this gem on the market.

Link of the Week: Real Estate Agent on the Home Values in Harriet the Spy, Stuart Little, Eloise & Other Children's Book Characters by Michelle Colman from CityRealty.

Personal Links

June 13 @ Library of Congress

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12. Giveaway & Readers Interview Cynthia Leitich Smith

By Cynsations Readers
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Over the past couple of weeks, children's-yA author Cynthia Leitich Smith put out a call for questions from readers on Cynsations and Twitter. Here are those she elected to tackle and her responses. A few questions were condensed for space and/or clarity.

See also a previous Cynsations reader-interview post from November 2010. Cyn Note: It's interesting how the question topics shifted, both with my career growth and changes in publishing. Back then, readers were most interested in the future of the picture book market and online author marketing.

Craft 

What’s the one piece of advice you think would most benefit children’s-YA writers?

Read model books across age levels, genres, and formats. For example, a novelist who studies picture books will benefit in terms of innovation, economy and lyricism of language.

Writing across formats has its benefits, too. No, you won't be as narrowly branded. But you will have more options within age-defined markets that rise and fall with birth rates. You will acquire transferable skills, and, incidentally, you'll be a more marketable public speaker and writing teacher.

Are you in a critique group? Do you think they’re important?

Not right now, but I have been in the past.

These days, I carry a full formal teaching load. Each year I also tend to lead one additional manuscript-driven workshop and offer critiques at a couple of conferences. That leaves no time for regular group meetings or the preparation that goes into them—my loss.

For me, participation offered insights (by receiving and giving feedback) as well as mutual support related both to craft and career.

From a more global perspective, considerations include: whether the group is hard-working, social or both; the range of experience and expertise; the compatibility of productivity levels; and the personality mix.

The right combination of those ingredients can enhance the writing life and fuel success. A wrong one can be a serious detriment. If you need to make a change, do it with kindness. But do it.

What can an MFA in writing for kids do for me?

First, my perspective is rooted in my experience as a faculty member in the low-residency Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

With Kathi at the Illumine Gala
You don’t need an MFA to write well or to successfully publish books for young readers.

I don’t have an MFA. My education includes a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from The University of Michigan Law School. I also studied law abroad one summer in Paris.

Beyond that, I improved my children’s writing at various independent workshops, most notably those led by Kathi Appelt in Texas.

That said, you will likely develop your craft more quickly and acquire a wider range of knowledge and transferable skills through formal study.

My own writing has benefited by working side-by-side with distinguished author-teachers. Only this week, I heard Tim Wynne-Jones’s voice in my mind—the echo of a lecture that lit the way.

You’ll want to research which program is best suited to your needs.

Your questions may include:
Gali-leo
  • Do you want a full- or low-residency experience? 
  • What will be the tuition and travel/lodging costs?
  • What financial aid is available?
  • Are you an author-illustrator? (If so, Hollins may be a fit.)
  • Are you looking for a well-established program or an intimate start-up?
  • What is the faculty publication history?
  • How extensive is the faculty's teaching experience?
  • How diverse is the faculty and student body?
  • How impressive is the alumni publication record? 
  • How many alumni go on to teach? 
  • How cohesive--active and supportive--is the alumni community?
Talk to students and alumni about the school’s culture, faculty-student relationships, creature comforts and hidden expenses.

Across the board, for children's-YA MFA programs, the most substantial negative factor is cost.

Career

In terms of marketing, what's one thing authors could do better?

Provide the name of your publisher and, if applicable, the book's illustrator in all of your promotional materials, online and off. If you're published by, say, Lee & Low or FSG, that carries with it a certain reputation and credibility. Also, readers will know which publisher website to seek for more information and which marketing department to contact to request you for a sponsored event.

Granted, picture book authors usually post cover art, which includes their illustrators' names. But we're talking about the books' co-creators, and they bring their own reader base with them. Include their bylines with yours and the synopsis of the book whenever possible. It's respectful, appreciative and smart business.

What’s new with your writing?

I’ve sold two poems this year, one of which I wrote when I was 11. How cool is that?

I'm also working steadily on a massive update and relaunch of my official author site, hopefully to go live for the back-to-school season.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a contemporary realistic, upper young adult novel. It’s due out from Candlewick in fall 2017.

Like my tween debut, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001), the upcoming book features a Muscogee (Creek)/Native American girl protagonist, is set in Kansas and Oklahoma, and is loosely inspired by my own adolescence.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to take a look at my recent contemporary realism, check out the chapter “All’s Well” from Violent Ends, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse, 2015).

What’s next for your Tantalize-Feral books?

For those unfamiliar with them, the Tantalize series and Feral trilogy are set in the same universe and share characters, settings and mythologies. These upper YA books are genre benders, blending adventure, fantasy, the paranormal, science fiction, mystery, suspense, romance and humor.

Feral Pride, the cap to the Feral trilogy, was released last spring. It unites characters from all nine books, including Tantalize protagonists.

A new short story set in the universe, “Cupid’s Beaux,” appears in Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015).

I don't have immediate plans for more stories in the universe, but it's vast and multi-layered. While I'm focusing on realistic fiction now, I'll return to speculative in the future.

Diversity

How do I make sure that no one will go public with a problem about my diverse book?

First, you can't (and neither can I).

Second, this has become a too-popular question.

To fully depict today's diverse world, we all have to stretch--those who don't with regard to protagonists will still be writing secondary characters different from themselves.

Writers of color, Native writers and those who identify along economic-ability-size-health-cultural-orientation spectra are not exempt from the responsibilities that come with that.

I'm hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot folks concerned about being criticized or minimized for writing across identity elements. I'm also hearing a lot of anxiety from a lot of folks concerned with "getting it right."

For the health of my head space, the latter is the way to go. My philosophy: Focus on doing your homework and offering your most thoughtful, respectful writing.

Focus on advocating for quality children's-YA literature about a wide variety characters (and their metaphorical stand-ins) by a wide range of talented storytellers.

I make every effort to assume the best.

By that, I mean:
  • Assume that when people in power say that they're committed to a more diverse industry and body of literature, they mean it and will act accordingly. 
  • Assume they'll eventually overcome those who resist. 
  • Assume that your colleagues writing or illustrating outside their immediate familiarity connect with their character(s) on other meaningful levels.
  • Assume that you'll have to keep stretching and connecting, too.
  • Assume that #ownvoices offer important insights inherent in their lived experiences. 
  • Assume that being exposed to identity elements and literary traditions outside your own is a opportunity for personal growth. 
  • Assume that a wider array of representations will invite in and nurture more young readers. 
  • Assume that your voice and vision can make a difference, not only as a writer but signal booster, advocate and ambassador.

If only in the short term, you risk being proven wrong. You risk being disappointed. At times, you probably will be. I've experienced both, but I'd rather go through all that again than to try to effect positive change in an industry, in a community, I don't believe in.

I've been a member of the children's-YA writing community for 18 years. Experience has taught me that I'm happier and more productive when I err on the side of optimism, hope and faith.

Do you think that agents are reluctant to sign POC writing about POC after Scholastic pulling A Birthday Cake for George Washington?

No need to panic. As the diversity conversation has gained renewed momentum, many agents have publicly invited queries from POC as well as Native, disabled, LGBTQIA writers and others from underrepresented communities. For example, Lee Wind at I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? is hosting an interview series with agents on that very theme.



I can't promise that every children's-YA literary agent prioritizes or, in their heart of hearts, considers themselves fully open to your query. But those who don't aren't a fit for you anyway.

When you’re identifying agents to query, consider whether they have indicated an openness to diverse submissions and/or take a look at who’s on their client rosters. This shouldn't be the only factor of course, but one of many that you weigh.

On your blog, you feature a lot of trendy type books (gay) we didn’t have in the past.

Not a question, but let’s go for it. If I’m deciphering you as intended, I disagree with the premise. Books with gay characters aren’t merely a trend or, for that matter, new in YA literature.

Nancy Garden’s Annie on my Mind was published in 1982. Marion Dane Bauer’s anthology Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence was published in 1994. Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club was published in 2003. One place to find recent ALA recommendations is the 2016 ALA Rainbow Book List.

Cynsations coverage is inclusive of books with LGBTQIA characters. In addition, gay and lesbian secondary characters appear in my own writing.

The blog was launched in 2004. Over time, I've noticed fluctuations in social media whenever I post LGBTQIA related content. I lose some followers and gain others. Increasingly, I lose fewer and gain more. My most enthusiastic welcome to those new followers!

(Incidentally, I used to see the same thing with regard to books/posts about authors and titles featuring interracial families or multi-racial characters.)

More Personally 

You sometimes tweet about TV shows. What do you watch?

In typical geeky fashion: “Agent Carter;” "Agents of Shield," “Arrow;” “Bones;” “Castle;” “The Flash;” “Grimm;” “iZombie;” “Legends of Tomorrow;” "The Librarians;" “Lucifer;” “Once Upon a Time;” “Supernatural.”

Created by Rob Thomas, who has also written several YA novels.

Comedy-wise: “Awkward;” “The Big Bang Theory;” “Blackish;” “Crazy Ex-girlfriend” (I'm a sucker for a musical); “Fresh off the Boat;” “The Real O’Neals;” “Superstore.”

I’m trying “Community” and still reeling from the "Sleepy Hollow" finale.

I have mixed feelings about “Scream Queens,” but I’m fan of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lea Michele, so I’ll keep watching it. Ditto “Big Bang” with regard to Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.

"Lucifer" sneaked up on me. As someone who's written Lucifer, I watched it out of curiosity as to the take. I keep watching it because it surprises me and because Scarlett Estevez is adorable.

Typically, I watch television while lifting weights or using my stair-climber. I love my climber. I do morning email on it, too. It's largely replaced my treadmill desk.

While I write, I use the television to play YouTube videos, usually featuring aquariums, blooming flowers, butterflies or space nebulas, all set to soothing music.

Trivia: Probably I’ve logged the most small-screen time with David Boreanaz due to “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Bones.” I know nothing about the actor beyond his performances (I’m not a “celebrity news” person), but I like to think he appreciates my loyalty.

Cynsational Giveaways


Enter to win signed books by Cynthia Leitich Smith -- the young adult Feral trilogy (Candlewick) and/or three Native American children's titles (HarperCollins). Scroll to two entry forms, one for each set.



a Rafflecopter giveawaya Rafflecopter giveaway

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13. Video: Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee on Maybe A Fox

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's  Cynsations

From Book View Now: "Host Rich Fahle talks with children's authors Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee about their book, Maybe A Fox (Atheneum, 2016) at the 2016 L.A. Times Festival of Books.

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14. New Voice: Melanie Conklin on Counting Thyme

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melanie Conklin is the first-time author of Counting Thyme (Putnam, 2016). From the promotional copy:

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owen’s little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. 

The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. 

All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours and the days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision? 

I’m a serious student of revision techniques. Because of my background as a product designer, I’m a very visual thinker, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to approach revision because there are always new challenges to encounter!

Prior to going through the editorial process with Counting Thyme, I had figured out a few things about revision: first, that I thought better on paper. I printed out my manuscript and used different colored post-it flags to track different elements through the document, so that I could find them and also so I could see their distribution and revise to where needed. I had also learned to make an outline of my manuscript before revising, so that I could “see” the whole thing at once.

After I survived the gauntlet of revision-under-deadline, my process had changed in small but significant ways. My editor also works on paper, so I learned to take her pages, punch holes in them, and put them in a binder. This may seem like common sense, but it seriously hadn’t occurred to me to make it easier to flip through the book!

I also learned to note the changes I was confident about directly on the manuscript, and to use full-sized Post-its to write every single guess, question, and thought to myself about anything I hadn’t figured out yet.

Basically, I would distill my editor’s letter, then read through my manuscript while noting any possible solutions on hundreds of Post-its.

Why Post-its? Well, I stick them on the bottom edge of the paper so that they hang off the edge of the manuscript pages, which makes it easy to find the notes again, whereas notes on the paper can get lost.

My outlines evolved, too. Now I outline on note cards, one for each scene, and pin them to a tri-fold board (the greatest invention ever). I generally organize the cards into three acts that form a road map for the manuscript. Again, this makes it easier to visualize the book and its major elements as I work through the planning pass for a revision.

Usually, by the time I’ve read all the way through my manuscript, the best solutions have risen to the surface, and I’ve answered all of my Post-it questions, leaving a bunch of notes ready and waiting. Then it’s just a matter of opening the Word doc and making the actual changes!

Doing a planning pass on the manuscript does add time to your revision, but I’ve found that it saves time overall because you have the freedom to think, explore, and choose, so when you open your Word doc you are full of confidence and can work more quickly.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Obviously, I’m super into the creative process, which applies not just to the act of revision, but to writing in general. I studied English Literature back in college, but it did not occur to me to write books myself until I had quit my job to stay home with my young children for the time being.

I found writing offered the same creative outlet that I’d savored in design, and in many ways my writing process have evolved to mirror my design process.

In product design, the end goal is to get one product on the shelf. To get there, you may throw away hundreds of ideas. But remember, the end goal is one success. I think that mindset has made my approach to writing more flexible, especially when I’m developing a new character or voice.

When I first think of a character, I really explore them. I keep a notebook for each book idea, and in that notebook I let my thoughts run wild. I blab for pages about backstory, then change my mind and cross it out. I turn to a new page and draw the character’s house. I write about their family. About where they live and the hurts they carry. What has changed in their life? What wound keeps them from moving forward? What lesson do they need to learn? How must they grow?

Often, I write the opening chapter of a book quite early in the process, but then I always pause and take this time to expand my ideas before I decide anything. Doing this can help you avoid making boring choices. Generally, the very first idea you have may not be the most original idea possible, depending on how much time you spend brainstorming.

To generate more interesting and original ideas, I like to use lateral thinking techniques—in a nutshell, it’s the idea of picking seemingly disparate ideas and pairing them to gain a new perspective.

For example, you might flip through the dictionary (or any book) and randomly pick a word like “apple.” Then you ask yourself, how is my character like an apple? Are they shiny on the outside, but rotten at the core? Have they weathered storms and survived? Maybe they see the world in slices and are trying desperately to catch a glimpse of the full picture. In this way, introducing a new connection point can lead to some very creative character development.

But the bottom line for me is to trust your writing process. Develop your routines. Nurture your mind by reading widely. Try new techniques, and gather them as your arsenal against deadlines.

Too often, we are rushed and panicking, but cutting corners usually just leads to a big old meltdown.

In my experience, your process will get you there every time—even if that involves writing with a cabbage leaf on your head, which I have done.

Writing is that hard, I know. But if you trust your process, the answers will come.

Cynsational Notes

 See more insights from Melanie on:


"Read nonfiction. Seriously, the weirdest stuff happens in the real world. Sometimes it’s super helpful to step away from your fictional world and flip through a non-fiction book (or watch an hour of NatGeo. Did you know that a blue whale’s heart weighs a thousand pounds?)."

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15. Guest Post & Giveaway: Emma Dryden on Putting the Internal Editor in a Time-Out

By Emma Dryden
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

An Editor Tries on Her Writer Hat

I’ve been a children’s book editor for over thirty years. Editing’s in my blood. Little else brings me as much joy or satisfaction as coaxing, guiding, and encouraging authors and illustrators to dig deeply and express their truest passions and richest stories.

Over the course of my career, I’ve edited well over 1,000 books, which means I’ve played some small or large part in the creative process for well over 1,000 people.

Throughout the journey, I’ve been asked many times if I ever wanted to write. The long and short answer to that question is “Yes.” But that’s easier said than done.

Being a life-long editor for others comes with a significant downside: I have an aggressive, impatient editor living inside me. She’s tough.

So much so that when serendipitous events occurred and stars aligned for me to co-write a picture book last year, I had to have it out with my internal editor and it wasn’t pretty. I started out nicely, pleadingly, but soon began to rant and swear, begging her to shut up and leave me alone so I could just put down on the page whatever I wanted, without limitation, without question, without suggestion. It’s an understatement to say my internal editor had a hard time turning off. But finally, finally she did shut up and I could start to write.

Maybe it was the looming deadline and my co-author expecting to hear from me that boosted the confidence in the writer part of me to strap my internal editor into the time-out chair. Or maybe it was exhaustion and the writer part of me just didn’t care anymore what those first sentences looked or felt like, as long as there was something on the page. Or maybe it was my trust in the writing process (goodness knows I’ve told hundreds of writers over the years to trust the process!) that eventually forced my internal editor to just darn well wait her turn.

I suspect it was all of these combined that finally allowed me to write with creative adrenaline the words and phrases that would eventually become the score for What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? (Little Pickle, 2016).

Most artists are not professional editors, but artists are always contending with some sort of internal editor—that nagging, probing questioner; that voice saying something isn’t good enough; that self-doubter.

Writing is a courageous, delicate, and precious act. Creating art of any kind is a courageous, delicate, and precious act.

Editing, eventually, is critical to the process, but not during those early moments of creativity, when the words and the sketches are barely formed and just emerging from the craftsperson’s imagination.

Through the experience of quieting down my internal editor to write What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur?, I received two great gifts. One was that I was reminded of the obligation I have as an editor: To be patient, supportive, and empathetic to the myriad of feelings (euphoria and despair and everything in between!) an author or illustrator is going to be feeling during their creative process.

And the second gift I received is seeing my name in the byline of a book that springs from my own experiences starting a company and of which I couldn’t be more proud. I was in a position not only to co-write the book, but to edit it and assist in design and art direction—it was the best of all possible worlds for me creatively and professionally.

And now I know, when it comes time for me to write some more, exactly where my internal editor’s time-out chair is waiting!

Cynsational Notes

Emma D. Dryden is the founder of drydenbks, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm which she established after twenty-five years as a highly regarded children’s book editor and publisher. She works with authors, illustrators, start-ups, publishers, and app developers.

Emma has edited over a thousand books for children and young readers and during her tenure with Atheneum and McElderry Books, many of her titles hit bestseller lists in USA Today, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and other national publications, and have received numerous awards and medals, including the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor. Emma’s on the Advisory Board of SCBWI and speaks around the world on craft, the digital landscape, and reinvention.

Her blog “Our Stories, Ourselves” explores the intertwined themes of life and writing. She can be followed online at Twitter @drydenbks, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of What Does It Mean to Be An Entrepreneur? by Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden, and illustrated by Ken Min (Little Pickle, 2016). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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16. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Gareth Hinds by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "...you realize what you wrote is awful and you have to fix it — and that can be quite difficult and time-consuming and is something that continues to give me a hard time. Hence my lack of original projects. Adapting a text is easy for me and also exciting, because I can’t wait to illustrate it."

Driving Book Trailers by New Locations -- at Libraries by Linda Johns at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "...a great place to put a book trailer, whether you’re an author, a teacher, a parent, a young reader (or any age reader). All you need is a library card..."

12 Fundamentals of Writing The Other (and The Self) by Daniel José Older from BuzzFeed. Peek: "...even as adults, we’re barely figuring how to deal with negative imagery. Kids haven’t been given any of the tools we have and they see it more than anyone else."

National Picture Book Writing Week: "...guests who will be discussing the art and craft of writing/illustrating picture books, from debut to veteran authors plus a prominent agent and editor with their industry advice!"

Poetry in the Lives of Children & Young Adults by Dr. Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez from Latinxs in Kid Lit. Peek: "...at first, youth are very hesitant about reading and writing poetry because it’s
'too hard' to understand or there are 'too many rules' to follow, but they are then surprised and even excited when we read poems by the likes of Francisco X. Alarcón, Pat Mora, or Juan Felipe Herrera."


How to Write a Poem in 10 Easy Steps by Skila Brown from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek: "It’s National Poetry Month! Which is very exciting if you’re a poet or a lover of poetry. And probably doesn’t interest you at all if you consider yourself to be neither. But if you’re a reader…and certainly a writer…you should be celebrating too!"

Change, Compromise, Dig Your Heels In: Dealing with the Editorial Report by Juliet Mariellier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Your editor may make suggestions you’re not sure about. Maybe you agree that there’s a problem, but you don’t like the solution she’s suggested."

Cao Wenxuan: Chinese Author Wins Hans Christian Anderson Award from BBC News. Peek: "...his 2005 work Bronze and Sunflower, set during the Cultural Revolution. It tells the tale of a young city girl, Sunflower, who accompanies her artist father when he is forcibly sent to the countryside to labour among peasants, as millions of Chinese were in the 1960s and 70s." See also Helen Wang (his translator) on Children's Book Translation from Cynsations.

This Week at Cynsations


SCBWI Bologna at Cynsations


More Personally

I love spring in Austin and so look forward to this writing weekend. The third round of VCFA packets will appear next week (go, advisees, go!), so it's a window to focus on my own manuscript. I have two North Texas SCBWI critiques to tackle first, but I'm enjoying them, too.

Have I mentioned how much I love being an author-teacher?

Thanks to everyone who sent in questions for me to answer. They were thoughtful and fierce. (What's going on out there, readers?) I'll pick, say, 10 or 12 to post soon.

Link of the Week: An Open Letter to Our North Carolina Readers from School Library Journal. Peek: "We will spread kindness and inspire compassion and hope, as we believe books, in their best moments, always have and always will." See also 269 Children's Book Authors & Illustrators Oppose North Carolina's Anti-LGBT Law from The Charlotte Observer.

Personal Links

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17. Guest Post: J. Albert Mann on Writer Resilience

By J. Albert Mann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rejection, reviews, competition, disappointment, deadlines, and doubt. There is no shortage of adversity in the writing life, making the ability to bounce back one of the greatest skills a writer can foster. And it can be fostered.

Because resilience is not a genetic or personality trait, but a process which can be learned and practiced. Overcoming the challenges that exist in our writing lives often feels difficult because it is difficult.

Really.

Really.

Difficult.

But not impossible.

And if you don’t believe me—Jennifer Mann—perhaps you’d believe another Jennifer?

Have patience.

“There are those writing days where I feel more alive than I can almost handle. And then there are the days of all out despair where I worry I’ll never have success again. If I have patience with myself, I get that exhilarating feeling all over again, and it keeps me going.”
Jennifer P. Goldfinger, author-illustrator

Care for yourself.

Resilient Jennifers
“A big part of surviving in this business is managing my own negative emotions. That means I protect my mind and my heart fiercely. I do whatever I need to do to stay in a healthy place, because I've realized that I'm no good to anyone when I've let a bad review or my own natural writing insecurities get the better of me.”
Jenny Lundquist,
middle grade & YA author 

Don’t neglect the rest of your life.

“Not only do real-life experiences and relationships inform and inspire your art, these will be there for you on days when the writing world is difficult or frustrating or just plain hurts your feelings.”
Jenny Manzer, debut YA author

Grow from it.

“We can’t get better or grow if there is no reason to. Obstacles, like critique, rejection, time constraints, tech failures, family obligations, power outages, chocolate shortages, give us a reason to change how we do things, and every time we do something differently, we grow.”
Jennifer K. Mann, picture book author

Stay connected.

“It is crucial to have people around you who understand the process and the industry.”
Jenn Bailey, picture books & middle grade writer,
VCFA Candlewick Scholarship winner

Keep perspective.

Resilient Jennifers
“I remind myself that it is just a book. Sure, authors can impact, and maybe even save, lives when their stories reach the right person at the right time, but possibly not as many lives as, say, heart surgeons or the inventors of airbags... and I sometimes need the reminder to just get over myself and put things in perspective!”
Jen Malone, YA author 

 Shut it out.
“I sit at my computer and imagine myself with those blinders you see on horses.
"This helps me shut out the world and disconnect from negative distractions. It refocuses me on what matters most, the writing, and reminds me this is what deserves my time and energy.”
Jenny Torres Sanchez, YA author

Always…

“Write the next thing. And the next thing after that.”
Jenn Bishop, debut middle grade author

“Have two or three projects going at once.”
Jennifer Vogel Bass, children's nonfiction author

“Believe in yourself and your work, no matter what.”
Jennifer Niven, bestselling author

And…

“Remember that you love the process.”
Jenn Baker, acclaimed short story writer
& creator-host, Minorities in Publishing podcast

“You will get through this,” says a card pinned over Jennifer Whistler’s desk from a writing buddy.
Jennifer Whistler, technical writer, college
writing instructor, VCFA student

You will get through this. Allow yourself to really take that sentence in and know it…and you will, get through this.

Although if all else fails, follow Jen Doktorski’s lead.

“I call a Jen. I’ve never met one I didn’t like and my best Jens have pulled me through everything from self-doubt to full-out funk.”

So, we’re here for you, guys.

Because aren’t we all just a Jennifer or two away from bouncing back?

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18. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Laura Stitzel

Laura with her cat, Milk
By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Laura Stitzel is an independent artist in Melbourne, Australia. She has been working as an illustrator, designer and animator in Australia and Canada since 2007.

Working mainly for children’s television, Laura was recently part of the creative team at one of North America’s largest animation studios in Toronto, Canada.

 There she worked on the Emmy Award™ winning "Peg + Cat," and led the painting department on "Arthur,'" the world’s longest running children’s television series.

In her home of Melbourne, Australia, Laura has also illustrated and animated on a wide range of media including educational interactive projects, video games, advertisements, and television.

In her own illustrations, Laura’s work shines a light on animals and their place in our world. Creating artworks with a uniquely vintage style, Laura’s illustrations feature detailed pen and ink ornamentation and hand-lettering, paired with cheeky characters and cute creatures.

Congratulations on being awarded a SCBWI Bologna Illustrators' Gallery Honorable Mention for your illustration "A Little Nonsense"!

Thank you, I’m just delighted!

You have a varied background as an illustrator - can you tell us about the different types of projects you’ve worked on?

My training is in animation. I’ve been working in the animation industry in both Melbourne and Toronto since 2007. I’m primarily a background artist, and I also animate and design characters and props. I’ve worked on children’s television programs as well as interactive projects and print media.

When I’m not working on these big projects I like to keep creating my own illustrations that have my own style.

What mediums do you work in? Does this vary depending on the type of project (print vs. website vs. television/animation)?

It does vary project to project. For my own illustrations, I always use pen and ink along with watercolour or digital painting. Sometimes there is no digital input at all, sometimes just for touch-ups.

When I’m working for an animation studio, the process is almost entirely digital. I’m an avid Photoshop enthusiast. I love figuring out ways to imitate real painting and drawing techniques in Photoshop. This was a big part of my role on the children’s show Arthur, during its transition from cell animation to digital. I developed a new process for the painting team and created digital brushes to best recreate the original look of the beloved show. It was a great experience.



Of course there are exceptions, I was lucky enough to create some artwork for "Peg + Cat," which is made using gouache and pencil and then scanned in for animation. Sitting in a modern animation studio and painting was quite surreal - and a real delight.

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Absolutely - fine liners. I love using ink and I get the best results using a handful of fine liners with variations in thickness. I use black, brown and sepia. I just love that I can do both fine details and bold outlines.

I’m a big fan of old fashioned rendering techniques like stippling and cross hatching. I also use a nib pen sometimes, but it’s a lot less predictable - which is sometimes a good thing.

When I’m doing my roughs in pencil, my other cant-live-without tool is an eraser stick. With a ‘sharpened’ eraser, I can erase in a very fine line, which I use to carve gaps in or clean up my messy pencil line work. So it’s like I have two drawing tools - a pencil for grey and an eraser for white - genius!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

Sure. Once I have an idea for an illustration that I’m happy with, I draw a quick rough sketch to work out the story, the poses and the composition. Then I dive into references. I have loads of books of vintage advertisements and posters from the early 1900s, and I can’t do without them. I’ll use them to get ideas for a border, or a rendering technique, a font, a little ornamental decoration or even a character’s clothing.

If I’m doing hand lettering I’ll often go online to find the perfect font, and I also use Google Images for references for animals. How anybody ever drew without Google Images, I’ll never know. Then I rough out my line work in pencil. I use tracing paper a lot to mirror decorative elements or shift parts around. Then, when I’m ready - I go over all my line work in pen, and do some passes of watercolour. I often draw in layers, then scan them in and assemble them in Photoshop.

Lastly, I digitally apply any finishing touches. I’ll usually leave it and come back to it the next day with fresh eyes and find a few little things I want to change.

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Of course when I’m working for an animation studio, the creative process is dictated by the established style of the show, and by tight deadlines! That means there is less individual freedom, but I’m creating part of a larger vision which is immensely satisfying.

However, there are parts of my own creative process that I bring to a studio environment. I’m always a believer in taking time to rough out a plan and to look at references before diving in.

Taking a step back and reassessing an image’s readability is also very important.

Of course with studio work I can’t always leave something overnight, but I have little tricks - such as always having the Navigator in Photoshop visible, so I can keep seeing my image at a glance and making sure it works.

We’d love to hear more about your winning illustration "A Little Nonsense." Was it part of a larger project, or is it a stand-alone piece?

This piece is a stand-alone work - but it is one of a few illustrations I’ve created using quotes from the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Mr. Wonka’s dialogue is smattered with literary references, and I’ve used a handful of them over the years. So I guess I have borrowed quotes from a character who borrows quotes from everyone else!

I intended for the characters in the illustration to be familiar from old stories and nursery rhymes, but not specific to one film or book. For example there is a little piggie eating roast beef, there’s an owl and a pussycat, and there’s a fox in a bandit mask. They’re all on some kind of adventure together that we don’t really know about, but we might imagine it.

By pairing these characters with the quote - ‘A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men’ - I’m saying that imagined characters and stories mean something to all of us, they have a place in our world and they’re important.

What was the medium and the creative process for this illustration?

I illustrated the characters, the border and the lettering using my beloved fine liners, and painted the colour in Photoshop. The colour palette I borrowed from a 1917 advertisement for McCallum Silk Hosiery.


I love colour theory and finding out why some colours work together and others don’t, and I wanted to see if I could appropriate an established colour palette. I don’t usually reference something quite so directly - I also borrowed the sun and fish! - but it was an experiment and I’m happy with how it turned out.

What is a typical creative session like for you?

Just so much fun. I give myself a few dedicated hours to cut off from the world. I always put on loud music and sing terribly.

I find the pencil stage makes me a bit anxious - what if I can’t get on the page what I can see in my head? But the inking stage is pure bliss - I’m in my own world, what they call ‘flow’. I usually draw way longer into the night than I ever intended and regret it the next day.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create?

No, actually I don’t! I like to move around a lot, and it’s very important to me that I can create no matter where I am and no matter my surroundings. I have a fairly portable drawing board and a laptop.

In the past few years, I have traveled a lot and get my best ideas when I’m out discovering the world, so it’s important to me that I can draw and create in a variety of spaces.

Some of my favourite illustrations I’ve done in a sketchbook propped on my lap on a bumpy train ride, waiting in an airport, lying in a park, or wearing earbuds in one of the world’s many coffee shops.

Thank you so much for spending time with us today! I look forward to seeing more of your illustrations in the future.

Thanks for having me!

Cynsational Notes

Find Laura on Facebook at facebook.com/lauradrawsart.

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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19. Author-Illustrator Interview: Il Sung Na on The Opposite Zoo

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of The Opposite Zoo (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016). What was the initial spark for this picture book?

Thank you! I am so excited about this book.

Even though the concept of opposites has been on my wish list for a long time, I did not know where to begin. I started writing down my favorite things to draw, which are animals. Then I thought about a place where we can see many animals at once. So I ended up with a zoo.

Why monkey as a framing character?

He is a tricky character indeed. I thought, a monkey is like a child. They act and behave like children sometimes. Well, I could say both monkeys and children are unpredictable and have curious eyes in a way.

In this book, we needed a character who is not trouble-maker, but someone who can have an explorer-mind.

Idea Sketches
What was the timeline between spark and publication and what were the major events along the way?

I normally spend months picking an idea, developing it into a story and drawing. But this one did not take that long! From the idea until I pitched it to my editor, it took three weeks.

I struggled the first week to get it right, but once I figured it out, everything came at once. This was really a unique experience that I never had before since I started my career. Of course there were many things to be discussed and revised, like adding the monkey character to lead the whole story.

Although it took more than a year until the book actually published, I really enjoyed the whole process and I felt everything went so quickly.

In a process, polishing the "opposite" idea
First thumbnail sketches for the dummy
First thumbnail sketches for the dummy
First revised sketch
Second revised sketch
What were the challenges (personal, research, logistical, emotional) in bringing the book to life?

During my research, I realized that there were so many “opposite” books already out there, and it was my challenge to make a new “opposite” story. I also always have a hard time making good endings for most of my ideas. That’s why I still have many ideas in my folder, which I think are interesting concepts, but I have not been able to solve how to end those stories.

But this one was different. When I figured how to start and end the story, that was the moment that my brain clicked. The middle parts followed naturally. I carefully selected opposite words.

The book is for younger readers, thus the vocabulary needed to be simple. And I skipped my regular process of revising the story, revising thumbnail sketches several times, shifting the whole layout back and forth. I jumped straight into color illustrations once the idea was polished.

What artistic approach and risks did you embrace?

I wanted to illustrate this book in a different way, not in the same way I have done so far. The risk I had was how to approach this story in a fresh manner. I tried mono-print, watercolor, ink and color pencils. I spent the first week developing the idea and story, and I spent second week making color samples. I wanted more free-form lines and shapes in contrast to my previous illustrations.

So using ink-my long time favorite materials-was a risk: the effects had the potential to go astray with this new method.
Color Sample - Mono Print
Color Sample - Ink and Color Pencils
Final Illustration
What advice to do you have for children's book creators working on concept books specifically?

Don’t worry about writing skills, if you think you don’t have them. It’s ideas that count. It’s not how you well write a perfect story, but it’s what strong idea you have and how you tell it in your own way.

So be brave, be bold, be creative and most importantly enjoy.

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20. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

On Agents Selling a First Novel Manuscript by Jennifer Laughran from Ask the Agent. Peek: "The people who tend to get lots of sales are the people who are flexible, who stay positive, who are always coming up with more material, and who are happy to revise/reimagine/put something away for a while."

Author Samantha Mabry on her Debut Novel, a Student’s Shrug, and Straddling Two Cultures by Samantha Mabry from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I want there to be something deep in that shrug because I am critical by nature and like for things like shrugs to mean something, to be symbolic, to say something about what it means to be a Mexican-American young woman living in Texas right this minute."

Inside Look at the Illustrator-Publisher Collaboration from The World of Peachtree Publishers. Peek: "...although the editor typically gets the search for an illustrator underway, the author and production team often propose other illustrators for consideration; after much discussion, the team chooses two or three top candidates, who might be someone whose specialty lines up with the story, someone with experience of the book's subject matter, or someone who has just the right sense of humor."

To TK or Not to TK? by Tracy Hahn-Burkett from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Almost every word from this point on will be new material. There will probably be TKs on every page, because I’ll be doing the research concurrent with the writing." See also The Importance of Research by K. Imani Tennyson from Rich In Color.

"I Just Don't Identify with the Character" by Delacorte Editor Kate Sullivan from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I believe that 'I didn’t connect to the character/voice' is unacceptable when it comes to diverse perspectives. If most editors are white and straight and middle or upper class, of course they won’t 'identify' or 'connect' with a diverse perspective."

Christopher Award Book
Walter Grant Submission Guidelines from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "There will be five winners of the Walter Grant, and the grant amount will be $2000 each."

Invisible Minority: Serving LGBTQIA Kids and Families from ALSC Blog. Peek: "The most important step a library can take to create a safe space for LGBTQIA patrons is to train staff to be LGBTQIA allies and hold staff accountable."

The Christopher Awards: "created in 1949 to celebrate writers, producers, directors, authors and illustrators whose work 'affirms the highest values of the human spirit.'" Note: Congrats to Allison McGhee and Don Tate! See also Meg Wiviott on Telling the Toughest Stories from Cynsations.

Diversity 102: Five Things to Consider When Putting Together a Diversity Panel by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "In order for real change to occur, people must leave panels inspired to take action."

Pro Tips for Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Interested in "Native" Themes from Daniel Heath Justice. Peek: "A few suggestions for more responsible representations of Indigenous peoples in speculative fiction...."

This Week at Cynsations
Annie Won

More Personally

Howdy, readers! It's been a while since I answered your questions. Feel free to ask them in the comments or by emailing me directly.

Congratulations to Lee Bennett Hopkins on receiving the Regina Medal Award! Peek: "...established in 1959 and sponsored by the Catholic Library Association, is administered by the Children’s Library Services Section through the Regina Medal Committee at the will of the Catholic Library Association Executive Board. The only criterion for the award is that of excellence."

Sale! Things I'll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick) is available on E-Volt for readers in the U.S. and Canada for $2.99 for the month of April. Note: the anthology includes my short story, "Cupid's Beaux," set in the Tantalize-Feral 'verse.

Link of the Week: Happy 100th Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Personal Links

Do You Live In A Bubble?
Why Poor Families Pay More for Everyday Items 
Science Says: Complaining Is Terrible for You
PTSD in YA Lit
Write Toward Your Unspecified Anxieties 
Ethics in Nonfiction for Kids
Picture Books Featuring Modern Native American Families
NAJA Calls for Ethical, Informed AICWA Reporting
Why Photojournalism Still Matters to Newspapers (and Vise Versa)
Girls, Sex & the Importance of Talking to Young Women 
Video: Michelle and Barack Obama Read Where The Wild Things Are 

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21. SCBWI Bologna 2016 Illustrator Interview: Rahele Jomepour

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rahele Jomepour was born in Mashhad, Iran. She moved to the United States in 2011 and graduated with MFA in Visual Arts from Iowa State University in 2015. 

She is a professional children's picture book illustrator and painter, living and working in a tiny city of Ames in the state of Iowa. 

Rahele has illustrated seven children’s books, including Donkey in the Woods, The Great hunting, The Lion and the Rabbit, The Grape Garden. Follow her Instagram/blog.

I really enjoyed the detailed coffee cup illustrations on your website. What inspired this set of illustrations?

I started to draw on paper coffee cups right after I came back from the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, summer 2013. I was overwhelmed with a lot of fabulous information I had received from the workshops and people who share the same love of picture books.

I actually went to the university’s coffee shop and ordered my regular coffee. While I was reviewing my notes from the conference, I started to just draw on my paper coffee cup as a mental break.

Suddenly I found the surface of the coffee cup very smooth and very friendly to work with in pencil. I looked around and imagined myself and other people as different type of animal characters - rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Later, I started to think how cool it would be if I kept all of my coffee cups every day and instead of drawing in my flat sketchbook, use my coffee cups as my daily round sketchbook.

This unique dimension altered my understanding of composition, forgoing page borders in exchange for unending movement. I found this idea to be vital in illustrating a story - propel the viewer toward a world without borders and limitations imposed by the edge of a page.

All drawings include every simple joy we have in our routine life and sometimes we forget about them. The illustrations help my audience to take a look back into their inner child and invite it to come up and play the life and enjoy the freedom of uninhibited self-expression. This open-ended approach to storytelling helped me find a new style in illustration.

You categorize your children’s art in your website into two categories “fine & detailed” as well as “loose & simple.” Is this a decision you make before starting on a piece? Or is it something you decide after completion?

Mostly this is an afterthought. Some works are highly detailed images of simple ideas, other times they are sketches containing a great deal of meaning. These categories describe how I’m feeling at the time.

Some works I really focus on, and curate every detail. Other works I’m just not so patient with, and need to just get the basic point across and move on.

But the major differentiation is not always in terms of graphic detail. Sometimes I spend extra time on subtleties that illustrate complexities of life, whereas other times I just want to make something that is easy for people to relate to.

There are times in our lives when we look at every little detail, and focus on it intently, and other times in our lives where we just want to ‘take it easy’. I only make the distinction on my web site to aid the viewer, not necessarily to define my work.

What was the inspiration behind "Donkey in the Forest," your piece that was a finalist for the SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

"Donkey in the Forest" was part of a series of images associated with a series of books I recently completed with a publisher in Iran. These books were part of a national curriculum that millions of young people took part in, as part of national testing.

I was honored to be included in this project, as it drew on stories and themes that have been part of Iranian culture for hundreds, even thousands of years. Stories are the conduit of human understanding through the ages. It is through metaphor that we grow and maintain a sense of who we are, our place in this world, and our duty to grow.

The donkey represents so many aspects of humanity. His reflection is our reflection, and through his life experience we evaluate our own. Have we grown? Have we been content with our own understanding of the world? Is it a fact that everything we believe is true?

Letting go, and connecting with the small animal that is ourselves is a step toward understanding these broader issues. The donkey is simply a trusted friend with whom we can travel, each on our own unique journey.

How has your art changed over the years?

Art for me over the years has changed with my life, as anyone else. As a teenager in Mashhad, Iran, I was interested in testing limits as any normal teenager would. I felt lost and alone, burying myself in books and culture well past the limits of my own neighborhood and city in an attempt to know that which is not widely known, or see that which is not readily available in a confusing and contradictory world. In my twenties, I was concerned with independence and growing past my preconceptions of those expectations upon me. There were a number of pieces of art that I produced that I was excited to publicize, but I knew better as it may have proven difficult for my family or detrimental to my career.

I grew past this impulsive and sometimes mischievous phase into my thirties as a master’s student at the University of Tehran. Unfortunately, I had not yet understood the boundaries and cultural limitations that my work tested, and I left before I was finished with my MFA.

Since coming the U.S., I have tempered my message, working to understand the deeper meanings of my roots, while also refining and broadening my messages to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, enabling people to think and question the world around them without fear of persecution.

The donkey relates to us that we are all put on this Earth to live, and breathe, and feel and love, right or wrong, and that it’s ok to relate to an image that may reflect our emotions at the time. The donkey also carries with him the test of human character over time, that all of our cultures have come from somewhere, and are worthy of patience and understanding.

What are you working on now?

I have several projects at the moment. Project Art at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is part of the “Percent for Art”--an effort promoting education and cultural understanding within public spaces.

Two projects focus on public spaces and our relation to them. The BenchMarks project in Iowa City takes a simple public object, a bench, and creates a metaphor for public engagement, encouraging passers-by to relax and enjoy a peaceful moment that their community has provided.

The second project is through City Sounds, The Des Moines Public Piano Project. This project takes used pianos, subjects them to visual artistic interpretation, and places them throughout the greater Des Moines area in attempt to draw out and engage the public in well-mannered frivolity under the sun, with music and sound at their fingertips.

I have also begun collaboration with a New York agency working on a new and evolving project focusing on education-oriented work for school-age children.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

The common adage in writing is “Write what you know.” Illustration is no different, in that one should illustrate what they see, both through their eyes and through their mind.

Likewise, this is not as easy as it sounds, so don’t be afraid to see things differently. Not every dimension is well-defined, and not every answer is questioned.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

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22. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Author-Illustrator Interview: Elizabeth O. Dulemba

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Elizabeth O. Dulemba is an award-winning children's author-illustrator with more than two dozen titles to her credit, including her debut historical fiction, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014), which has been awarded thirteen prestigious literary honors, including Georgia Author of the Year and a Green Earth Book Award Honor.

Elizabeth splits her time between Roanoke, Virginia, where she teaches Picture Book Design as visiting associate professor at Hollins University in the MFA in Children's Book Writing and Illustrating program, and Scotland, where she is currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh.

Elizabeth maintains and active blog where she hosts author/illustrator guest posts each week and gives away free coloring pages. Her weekly newsletter has more than 3,600 subscribers.

Elizabeth, welcome to Cynsations! Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

Thanks so much for having me!

Can you tell us a bit more about your background? How long have you been an illustrator? What led you to pursuing a career in children’s books, and specifically in illustration?

Hoo boy. I’ve wanted to illustrate picture books since I was a little kid. I used to stare at Garth Williams’ illustrations in The Golden Book of Elves and Fairies (1951) and wish I could create that same magic with my art.

As a kid, I always had a drawing pad and pencil with me. Of course, back then, I didn’t know real people actually made books. And even though the adults in my life knew I was an artist and supported me with lessons my entire life, they steered me towards a more stable lifestyle.

I became a graphic designer for many years. I was always in-house illustrator, though, and I never stopped dreaming about creating books.

When I married my husband, I got the chance. We moved to be together, and I went freelance while I pursued my dream to illustrate books. Three years in, I got my first contract to illustrate The Prince’s Diary (Lee & Low, 2005).

You have illustrated both your own stories, and those of others. Is there a creative difference for you as an illustrator when you are illustrating your own work, versus illustrating someone else’s work?

It took me seven years to get my first contract as both author and illustrator, Soap, Soap, Soap (Raven Tree, 2009). Until that time, I had a lot of fun coming up with images for other people’s writing - I still do. But yeah, it’s a blast to come up with my own text and images.

Heck, I imagine it will be fun to have another illustrator use my words at some point. It’s all about telling stories and creating! I love all of it!

What mediums do you work in?

I’m currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration at the University of Edinburgh College of Art. It’s an introspective and experimental time for me. I feel like I’m in the thick of a creative chrysalis at the moment.

So while I was digital for my first 15 years, I’ve been working with more traditional media of late, getting messy with paint up to my elbows.

We’ll see what style steps forward as my fave. I don’t know yet!

Does this vary depending on the type of project?

Yes! I tend to follow the vision of the story rather than stick to one particular personal style (so far). Although, I’ve been told that when you look at my works on the whole, they all look like mine. Ha!

Do you have a favorite medium or illustration tool?

Elizabeth's studio
Not at the moment! I’ve been leaning towards dip pen and ink with watercolors. But I just discovered dyes, and I don’t want to throw out the computer altogether, so we’ll see!

Can you tell us about your typical creative process?

I’m right in the thick of a new project, so I can share exactly!

Right now, I’m in the research stage. I’m looking at images, costumes, architecture, landscapes, color palettes, trying to soak in the looks of the story I’ll be working on - get it set in my head. I broke out the text into the key moments I think I’ll need to illustrate. And I’ve done some very rough thumbnails to get an idea of how the story will visually break out.

Next, I’ll start doing sketches - tons and tons and tons of sketches! Slowly, I’ll start working out my compositions and get bigger and tighter with those. Then I’ll start playing with whatever media I choose. I love the rendering stage the best, so I can’t wait to get to that!

Does it vary depending on what kind of project you are working on?

Y’know, not really. I was sitting here doing online research, and for a minute I thought, “I’m not drawing, why am I wasting time?” And then I realized that I always do it this way and I’m not wasting time at all!



What is a typical creative session like for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical creative session! It’s always different.

Even though my processes remain similar, I might be researching, sketching, painting, digitally rendering - all while listening to music, an audiobook, or requiring absolute quiet so that I can concentrate. It all depends on what stage I’m in.

Do you have a dedicated place that you like to create? Has that changed for you over the years?

Right now, my dedicated space is my desk at the university. It’s a big change from my dedicated studio/office bedroom in the states! But I love the energy of being surrounded by creative students.

I also love that I have to walk through beautiful Edinburgh every day to get here (1.6 miles from my flat). My view is of 17th and 18th century buildings, and lunch often involves meandering into one of the loveliest and oldest areas of the city (Grassmarket). Yeah - it rocks.

You are also the author of a middle grade novel, A Bird on Water Street (Little Pickle, 2014). What was that creative process like for you, in contrast to the very visual medium of picture books?

Completely different. I didn’t realize I was writing a novel when I started it, but dozens of interviews, rewrites, and ten years on, I’m a novelist!

A Bird on Water Street has gotten fantastic reviews and even won 13 literary awards and honors! I’m so proud of the novel, it’s done some wonderfully positive things for the community in which it took place, and for me personally. It has its own web page at http://ABirdOnWaterStreet.com.

As far as the creative process when writing - it has to be dead quiet outside my head because it is so loud inside my head! Now that the writing muse has been set loose, there’s no stopping her.

Sadly, she doesn’t get along very well with my illustration muse. They are constantly battling for my time.

Do you have plans for more middle grade works?

I do! I have about three or four other novels that are at various stages. It’s hard to concentrate on novels right now, though. School is keeping me unbelievably busy, and I don’t get unified chunks of mental space where I can focus on one project.

Instead, I’m working on dozens of projects all the time right now (including personal projects - mostly picture books - and school projects). But spring break is coming, then two months of summer before I head to Hollins University where I teach in the MFA in Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating program, then over a month free before school starts back.

I’m planning to do some concentrated creating in those windows!

I loved your recent TED talk. Like you, my husband and I sold our house and most of our possessions to make a move from the U.S. to Europe. For those who haven’t seen your TED talk yet, can you tell us what led you to make that move?

Thanks! I’ve received the nicest emails from folks who feel the same way or have experienced something similar. It’s been a tangent from my children’s books and school studies, but equally as gratifying. I think a lot of folks are experience-based people trapped in stuff-based lifestyles and could do what I did… I sold almost everything I own to move overseas and go back to school.

Truly, the best way to understand my journey is to actually watch my TED talk.

While it’s not specifically about children’s books, it describes the motivation behind how I live my life, which is all about children’s books!


So you’re currently studying children’s illustration in the masters of fine arts program at Edinburgh University in Edinburgh, Scotland. Can you tell us more about your plans once you complete that program?

I’m going to pursue a PhD in Picture Books! Several reasons have come together in my life to make an advanced degree make sense for me. And who knows, I might actually become an expert!

Through it all, I’ll continue to teach at Hollins University in the summers (it’s a summer MFA program).

After that, I really don’t know. That’s one of the nice things about being mobile. I don’t feel trapped by anything anymore. The future is exciting and shiny!

What is the one piece of advice you would give an aspiring illustrator or author?

Follow your heart, not the trends. The only thing you can control is yourself. Heck, you can’t even always control your own creativity.

Be willing to jump down rabbit holes and see where creativity leads you. More often than not, your instincts will take you someplace good - especially if you get your pesky brain out of the way.


Thank you so much for spending time with us today! It’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.

Thank you! I’m honored!

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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23. Guest Post: Maya Christina Gonzalez on The Heart of It & Write Now! Make Books

By Maya Christina Gonzalez
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matter is an online course for aspiring and emerging children’s book writers and illustrators who want to create powerful books for kids while simultaneously coming more fully into their own power as storyteller and artist.

I combine my passion as an educator and activist along with 20 years of experience in creating award-winning multicultural children’s books to craft a course that is a journey of self as much as a practical guide to creating children’s books.

The six-week course offers writing exercises, hands-on art projects, in-depth book reviews, community interviews, Q&A webinars with special guests, and more all designed to offer a holistic approach to creating children’s books and provide opportunities for students to hone their craft, strengthen the power of their own voice and unique way of expressing through art and word, and be in community with other like-minded children’s book makers.

At the end of the program, students are invited to put what they’ve learned to practical use through creating one full spread of text and art to be included in The Heart of It Anthology, a picture book that incorporates student’s work into the story; written and illustrated by me and published by the independent press I co-founded. The first edition is Whaleheart, the second is By The Light Of The Rabbit Moon. and the third anthology will be drawn from this Spring 2016 class.


The Heart of It eCourse is a class I long dreamed of offering out of a desire to support communities to change the still dismal statistics in relation to diversity in children’s books.

As a queer Chicana children’s book author and artist, I know the effects of living in an unequal society and how it can leave many of us feeling as if we don’t get to have a voice especially a voice in children’s books.

This class is not just about learning technical skills. It’s also about how to transform limiting beliefs and ideas that we have inside of ourselves and in the world that hold us back from getting these kinds of stories out.

I center on people of color, American Indians, the LGBTQI+ community and communities still misrepresented and underrepresented in the current children’s publishing industry.

I also highlight the work of authors and illustrators pioneering alternative routes into publishing, including self-publishing, creating their own presses, crowdsourcing funds as well as reclaiming traditional routes.

The Spring 2016 community interviews and book reviews will focus on Native American children’s literature and will be in addition to the African American and LGBTQI+ materials from past courses as well as the core class materials.

I believe that something very powerful happens when we see others in our community tell stories and create images that reflect who we are and our experience in the world.

This course is about finding our voice, allowing our hearts to speak, and knowing that our books belong in the hands of children.


Cynsational Notes

The Heart of It: Creating Children’s Books that Matterwith Maya Christina Gonzalez is a six-week eCourse scheduled from April 18 to May 29 (with additional three months access through Aug. 31). Scholarships and payment plans available. See more info and/or register.

For kids out wanting to learn how to create picture books, Maya also offers a free online video series called Write Now! Make Books, inspired by The Heart of It Anthologies.

Through direct learning, the Write Now! Make Books materials teach how to make books from story through art all the way to book creation in many of the same ways a professional artist/author does.

It includes two hours of instructional videos, a field guide, a complete sample story with art to color and make into a practice book. It also uses a social justice frame to support kids and teens in understanding and reclaiming the power of story and how we can use it to strengthen ourselves today and change our world.

See more info and to download the Bookmakers Field Guide.

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24. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrators' Gallery Winner Interview: Rongyuan (Roya) Ma

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Providence-based illustrator Rongyuan Ma is originally from China. She is a graduate of the Children's Book Illustration Certificate Program at Rhode Island School of Design, an elected member of Art League of Rhode Island, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators

She has won a series of awards that include 3x3 Contemporary Magazine (Bronze Medal), Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles (Gold Award), China Animation & Comic Competition Golden Dragon Award (Gold Medal), winner of Ann Barrow Scholarship, and finalist of Art Idol Figure Design Competition. 

Her works also have received accolades from institutions/organizations such as the "The Artist's Magazine," Danforth Museum of Art, and SCBWI.

Congratulations on your illustration "Daughter of the Dragon" being selected as the winner of SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery! How long have you been illustrating?

Honestly I cannot remember exactly how long. I grew up in China when most parents felt slightly ashamed and deeply concerned to have an emerging artist in the family.

My mother used to take drastic measures to stop me from becoming one. Of course that did not work. In fact, it made me more determined to pursue my dream of art. Looking back, I am quite content with what I have become through these years.

Do you have a favorite illustration medium and/or tools?

Recently I have a newfound interest in watercolor, besides my long-time favorite of brush and ink. I am planning on using only charcoal pencil for my next project. Not to mention that I like computer graphics, too, and am pretty familiar with it.

In fact, I am really fascinated by all media, tools, and techniques. I don’t want to limit myself by drawing a line between what I can and cannot use. If possible, I would like to have opportunities to try all sorts of new medium, as I love the feeling realizing “Oh that’s how it works.” It’s just like gaining a new friendship.


What is your typical process for creating an illustration?

Brainstorming the overall composition, posture of the characters, sources of lighting and the vision angles. This is my “Step One”, and then there it is, the long creation process. To me, this initial part is the most challenging.

As an illustrator, I am creating something out of thin air: from an abstract concept to a depicted visual image. I really value the instantaneous inspiration that strikes me, showing me the composition and the perspective of the picture, what visual angle applies, where the light comes from, and so forth. That instant blueprint flashes in my head usually determines what my final work looks like. And, with such a scheme, the following part of the process, such as outlining and coloring, will flow naturally, which makes the whole creative process quite enjoyable.

However, as much as I try, that transient Eureka! moment does not guarantee to honor me every time I brainstorm.


Does this process or the tools you use vary between projects?

Yes, and no to this question. “Yes”, with my great curiosity in diverse methods and approaches, the creative process itself or the media/tools involved in it may vary significantly. Every artwork has its “voice” to be heard, and it demands distinctive interpretation.

I personally don’t think there is a panacea for all tasks: solution α might be the least effective for problem β. As I said, I am keen on finding the particular expression that makes the voice stronger.

Yet, “No” is that no matter how different the projects are, there is something unchanged in all processes: the brainstorm at the very beginning, which I called “the enlightening phase”.

Is this how you created your winning illustration, "Daughter of the Dragon"?

Yes, "Daughter of the Dragon" went through such a process. It is the first spread of the whole storyboard, so I figure it has more responsibility than other pages in terms of fulfilling purposes such as introducing the character, setting the background and atmosphere of the story, and appealing to the reader in a visual way.

Technically, the illustration was done mainly with traditional media of brush, ink and gouache on 22" x 11" board paper for the drawing part.

I even used a tooth brush to create a certain richness of texture before scanning into my computer for finishing up.

"Daughter of the Dragon" is beautiful! Can you tell us about your inspiration for this particular illustration?

"Daughter of the Dragon" is a retelling of a Chinese folktale about a young dragon girl leaving the sea to join the much loved Lantern Festival but having underestimated how different and complicated the human world could be.

To be more believable, the main character was modeled after my daughter, who was born not too long before the making of this illustration.

I was trying to blend in metaphors and symbolism to this piece in order to best interpret the manuscript: I use lotus, a Buddhist symbol which grows up from mud, through water, into air, still remaining stunningly beautiful with faith, to signify the characteristic of transcendence of our protagonist.

So daughter of the dragon must triumph over all challenges and follow her heart to go somewhere she had yearned for. In particular, the red scarf hints at her passion and determination.

Is it part of a larger work such as a picture book or was it created as a stand-alone piece?

The illustration is from the same titled children’s picture book that I cooperated with my husband. He writes and I illustrate. "Daughter of the Dragon" is the first full spread among other illustrations in the picture book. 

Where do you like to create?

It depends on what phase I am in during the process. Though the “enlightening phase” requires full alert and deep contemplation, I strangely prefer to do it somewhere outside home, likely with crowd and noise, for instance, a small cafe or even a busy restaurant. I feel more engaged and motivated with such populous effects, thus I am more efficient in finding the idea that sparkles.

After succeeding in getting the satisfactory design of the project, my choice for creative space is the least flexible: home and home only. I think many may agree with me that the creating process itself can get very lonely and stressful. So an environment that is familiar and also comforting and supportive will help tremendously.

I do have my work space at home, with all my equipment, tools, supplies, and references handy. Every so often more stuff crams in and I constantly feel that I am running out of space. Lighting is super important to me when comes to work, as I need to have sufficient yet comfortable lighting to do my job well. Maybe because my space is pretty cozy, it becomes a hub where everyone in the family, my husband, my daughter, and our cat, like to hang out.

What is the typical illustration process like for you?

My work habit is to make plans and to stick with them. I believe participation is quintessential for an artist, for it broadens one’s horizon by practices such as professional critiquing and/or peer networking. Therefore, I try to be active in my field signing up many art activities during each year.

I make both general plans and detailed schedules, usually prior the year to come. According to the different artistic missions I sign up, my illustration session can stretch to a full-year-long, with multiple sub-sessions, each with a precisely timed beginning and due-date.

In order to prevent procrastination, I make day-to-day schedule for the sub-session to proportion my project and to specify my daily task. Whether ahead or behind, it shows clearly where I am in the process. Also, it feels great to check off things from my to-do list every day.

Even during each illustration session, I am not always switched on to the “work mode”. Instead, I try to allow life intervene occasionally: running errands with my husband, playing with my daughter, feeding my cat or the squirrels and birds in the backyard, making dinner plans or simply mopping the floor…these small but peaceful moments help refresh my mind so that I can stay sharp and sensitive in art.


Thank you, Roya.

Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity of being interviewed! I am truly happy and flattered that my artwork is appreciated by many.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

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25. 2016 SCBWI Bologna Illustrator Interview: Lisa Anchin

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Lisa Anchin has been drawing since she could hold a pencil and making up stories since she could speak. 

She grew up just outside of New York City, passing briefly through Massachusetts where she picked up a B.A. from Smith College, and then she returned to New York to work and to later pursue additional graduate degrees—an MA at Columbia and an MFA at the School of Visual Arts. 

Lisa now freelances full time as an illustrator and designer. She is the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience by Suzanne Lewis (Sleeping Bear, 2015). Her second illustrated book, I Will Love You, by Alyssa Satin Capucilli will be released in spring 2017 (Scholastic). 

When not in her studio, she can be found haunting one of the many cafes of the five boroughs, sitting with a bucket of tea and scribbling in her sketchbook. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner in crime and a not-so-little black cat.

Congratulations on your work "Happy Birthday Fox," being selected as a finalist for SCBWI’s Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery. It's on display at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. What was the inspiration behind Happy Birthday Fox?

I’ve been trying to expand my palette, so as an exercise, I’ve started picking colors that I don’t generally use then planning an illustration based on those colors.

"Happy Birthday Fox" was one of these painting exercises.

The mustard, aqua, orange, bright magenta, and lime green felt like party colors.

But rather than the moment of the party itself, I wanted to illustrate that contented, happy sigh moment that comes after the party has ended.

You are the illustrator of A Penguin Named Patience (Sleeping Bear, 2015). What was it like illustrating your first children’s book? Were there any unexpected developments?

A Penguin Named Patience was my first illustrated book and an interesting challenge.

Serendipitously, I actually received the offer only a few days before I left for a trip to New Orleans for an illustrator’s weekend. While I was there, my fellow illustrators generously agreed to accompany me on a visit the Audubon Aquarium, so I could take reference photos.

I was able to photograph the penguin enclosure and the South African penguins featured in in the book. That was a really luck coincidence, and then the publisher also sent additional images of Tom, the penguins’ keeper, and videos of the penguins’ triumphant return to New Orleans.

I had never made such a large body of work on a single subject before. That in and of itself was an experience. Before I began work on the final pieces, I did quite a few character studies and color tests. I wanted to make sure that everything would be consistent throughout the book.

Overall it was a really wonderful experience. Not to mention, drawing penguins is a pretty great way to spend your workday.

Tell us about your school visits? I imagine students are excited to learn about Patience and the other penguins who were rescued after hurricane Katrina.

My school visits have been really rewarding. The first one I did was actually at my old elementary school. The kids I’ve spoken with are always excited that the book is based on a true story, and that Patience was a real penguin living at the aquarium at the time of the storm.

After reading the story together and answering their questions about the reality of what happened and the making of the book, I like to draw with the kids. I usually start by talking about South African penguins before taking them through the basic steps to draw Patience.

With older kids, I can also talk about storytelling, character development, and how to visually emphasize your protagonist, especially when all of your characters are a single type of animal and all look very similar. I love watching the kids draw and seeing the characters they imagine and create.

What is a typical work day like for you?

On studio days—I also freelance at a publisher doing book design during the week—I’m usually at my desk by nine. I set aside some time in the morning to take care of business related things—emails, invoices, etc.—and then I begin with warm-up sketches.

Sometimes these are drawings of the characters for the project I’m currently working on, but usually I use it as free drawing time. Often these open, sketch-anything moments lead to nuggets of ideas for future stories.

After my warm-ups, I dive into work, which ranges from writing, thumbnailing images for a new dummy, sketching, working on color studies, or painting a final piece.

The actual work of the day depends on where I am in a project. I try to take small breaks as I work—for a new cup of tea, to play with my cat, or just to stand up and stretch—and I always take a long walk in the middle of the day, which inevitably includes a stop at the library three blocks from my apartment on my way home.

What are you working on now?

As of this week, I just finished the art for a new book called I Will Love You, written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and being published by Scholastic in the spring of 2017. It’s a lovely story, told from a parent/care-giver to a child. The text uses beautiful, lyrical language, and is a non-linear narrative, which allowed me to stretch my imagination. It was a joy to illustrate.

I’m also working on a number of my own stories, and I often have a few in progress.

If I get stuck on one project, I can put it aside and work on another until I’m ready to return to the first.

Right now I’m juggling work on an entirely new manuscript with revisions on two book dummies—one is a story about a precocious little plant and her garden and the second features a character that I’ve been calling Little Viking.

Do you have advice for artists who are just getting started in the field of children’s illustration?

Childhood Painter
First and foremost, join SCBWI. Between the conferences, the technical and professional information, and the community, the organization provides an unparalleled wealth of resources for someone new to the field. I owe much of my career to SCBWI, and I specifically want to emphasize the importance of the community generated by SCBWI.

As illustrators and writers, our work is largely solitary, and it’s so important to find a group of like-minded folks. They can both provide moral support on those hard-to-work-through days of doubt, and also honest feedback on your work.

If you don’t yet have an agent, editor, or art director to turn to for creative feedback, it’s helpful to have critiques from peers. I still look to my illustration critique group for a first round of editing and feedback well before I pitch a new story or dummy to my agent.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

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