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1. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Rebecca Van Slyke on the release of Mom School, illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Random House, 2015). From the promotional copy:

In this adorable kid’s-eye view of what would happen if Mom went to school, a little girl imagines Mom School, where all moms learn their amazing skills, like fixing a bike tire and baking cupcakes. 

With warm, funny illustrations and a fun role-reversal story in which moms act like kids, young readers will love imagining what would happen if their own moms went to Mom School.

More News & Giveaways

Heather Has Two Mommies Author Leslea Newman on New Edition & Reflecting Back by Katharine Whittemore from The Boston Globe. Peek: "The 2000 version, for example, included a long note to parents and teachers that recounts all the controversies surrounding the book. In the 2015 one, 'we made a conscious decision not to have a foreword or afterword,' says Newman. 'No explanation, no fanfare; it’s just a kids book about many kinds of family.'"

Why Does My Action Read Slow? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "The reader gave one bit of elaboration: 'Some of the paragraphs ‘feel’ long even though they aren’t.' I’m not sure what to do with that. Suggestions?"

About the Girls: Appropriate Literature by Elana K. Arnold from Stacked. Peek: "...it all happened. To a good girl with a mother who thought her daughter was protected. Safe." 

Picture Book Apps & The Vanishing Author by Sandy McDowell from Digital Book World. Peek: "Picture book apps often don’t even cite a writer. When they do, the author is likely the animator, designer or developer."

Leveling and Labeling: An Interview with Pat Scales by the ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committe from ALSC Blog. Peek: "...the practice of limiting students’ access to materials based on reading levels that infringes on students’ right to read. Unfortunately, this is common practice in many school libraries, and some public libraries feel pressured to implement such restrictions. Librarians serving children should evaluate how these systems are used and develop policies that promise free and open access to students of all ages."

Why Do We Need Diverse Books in Non-Diverse Schools? by Taun M. Wright from Lee & Low. Peek: "While equity and inclusion are necessary, especially for those of us too long without them, social change is more likely to happen when everyone understands how they will benefit directly from increased diversity and, what’s more, why their ability to embrace the benefits of diversity will be a key determinant of their future success."

Critique Etiquette: The Ultimate Guide for Giving & Receiving Feedback by Angela Ackerman from Writers in the Storm. Peek: "For this to work, a person must respect the other’s role, value the time and energy writing and critiquing takes, and follow through without letting emotions overrun good judgment or manners."

Children's Books Could Save the Independent Bookstore by Jonathan Brett from BRW. Peek: "Brick-and-mortar book shops that sell printed books are enjoying a resurgence in Australia just a few years after the rapidly expanding digital book sector threatened their very existence."

Texas Institute of Letters

The Best Books in Texas: Texas Institute of Letters Finalists Named by Michael Merschel from The Dallas Morning News. Peek: "The venerable Texas Institute of Letters has named finalists for its annual awards, which honor the state’s best writing."

Denton Record-Chronicle Best Children’s Picture Book: Pat Mora, I Pledge Allegiance, illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf); Arun Ghandi and Bethany Hegedus, Grandfather Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum); J.L.Powers, Colors of the Wind, illustrated by George Mendoza (Purple House).

H-E-B/Jean Flynn Best Children’s Book: Nikki Loftin, Nightingale’s Nest (Razorbill); Naomi Shihab Nye, Turtle of Oman (HarperCollins); Greg Leitich Smith, Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook).

H-E-B Best Young Adults Book: Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, Pig Park (Cinco Puntos); Katherine Howe, Conversion (Putnam's).

For Teen Writers & Artists

If Someone Only Knew from Never Counted Out. YA author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo Challenges At-Risk Youth to Write Their Stories for Each Other and Not as Suicide Notes. Peek: "Write an essay that answers this sentence: 'If someone only knew...' A selection of submissions will be published to the Never Counted Out blog. Select essays will be published anonymously in 2016 in a paperback anthology..."

 

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the vivid, imaginative pop-up-book style trailer for Move Books' 2015 middle grade list.

 

Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of signed copies of Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (HarperCollins, 2015) were Kathleen in Missouri and Deena in New York.

The winner of The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick (Egmont, 2015) was Alicia in Alabama.

Enter Diversity in YA's 2015 Anniversary Giveaway. Peek: "With generous donations from publishers and authors, we are thrilled to be giving away 100 books with main characters who are of color, LGBT, and/or disabled." Note: includes Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral series (Candlewick, 2013-2015).

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

A touch of spring beauty in Austin.

Great news! This week marks the release of Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015)! The anthology includes my short story, "Cupid's Beaux," which is told from the perspective of the guardian angel Joshua from my Tantalize-Feral universe. Learn more and enter the giveaway from Cynsations. 

Congratulations to Katie Brown, recipient of the 2015 Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award from Austin SCBWI. Peek: "Eleven finalists were chosen...2015 mentor Brian Yansky has announced Katie Brown as the recipient. Congratulations, Katie!"

Link of the Week: Personal Wholeness (Or Lack Thereof), Strife & Story from Marion Dane Bauer.

Personal Links:

Now Available!

More Personally

Now Available!

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Catch up with the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels!


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2. Guest Post & Giveaway: Ann Angel on The Power of Secrets in Things I’ll Never Say

Ann Angel
By Ann Angel
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Right about the time I pitched my first anthology, a writer friend said she’d hate that sort of work.

“It would be so time-consuming to read all those stories,” she said. “I can’t imagine having to edit all that content and you’ll have to write all that front and back matter and it will take away from your own writing.”

Even thought everything she said is true, I love editing anthologies. The reading can sometimes feel overwhelming and selecting stories is time consuming; editing requires right-brained analytic work and lots and lots of analyzing and thinking and rethinking.

While editing anthologies takes huge chunks of time away from personal writing time, there are so many good reasons to take them on.

Anthologies provide diverse viewpoints on a single topic, and they provide broad and unexpected stories in a single volume.

The best reason I choose to edit an anthology is that I get to take a topic that has far reaching consequences and bring a varied perspectives into the world of young adults. This varied perspective provides young adults the benefit of observing a variety of responses to a single concept while also helping them figure out how they might think about and respond to the concept themselves.

That wider view is what motivated me to take on media’s perspective of beauty with my first anthology, Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beauty (Abrams, 2007).

More recently, after volunteering at a writing workshop for survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, I was motivated to take on the idea that secrets shape who we are and who we will become in the anthology Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves (Candlewick, 2015).

The best part of reading stories for this project was to realize the many layers of secrets. It appears some secrets can be innocent while others hold us hostage to the person whose secret we share. Secrets can be playful and funny or dark and dangerous.

I had expected some of the stories of secrets to show that keeping secrets can shame us into permanent silence.

But I was delighted to receive funny and sweet stories. Cynthia Leitich Smith wrote about an angel falling in love with her tale of Josh in “Cupid’s Beaux.” Although the humor was a bit darker, Ron Koertge’s “Call Me” developed the California voice of a wild teen girl who hides a slew of secret boyfriends from one another.

In contrast, I was heartbroken by the story of a girl who hides her mother’s hording in “The We-Are-Like-Everybody-Else Game” by Ellen Wittlinger. Other heartbreaks portraying the power of our secrets can be found in Louise Hawes’ “When We Were Wild” and Kerry Cohen’s “Partial Reinforcement.”

I learned the power of reporting a secret to protect a friend in “A Thousand Words,” from Varian Johnson. Chris Lynch’s “Lucky Buoy” showed that the darkest secret’s power is diminished if you reveal it to just one person who cares, while Mary Ann Rodman’s “Easter” was a sensitive portrayal of a teen choosing to keep the secret of adoption for his baby boy.

Ann with fellow author P.J. Hoover at Texas Book Festival
Another reason I like editing anthologies is that each call for stories allows me to glimpse inside each writer’s diverse creative process around a singular topic or similar concept.

While writers might all begin heading toward a similar plot problem, I’ve observed that the most cliché idea takes on a new un-clichéd life through distinct characters or in the way the story is set and carried out.

For instance, two writers might take on a secret surrounding sexuality, but the story takes on new life if it’s set in a fantastical world which occurs in Katie Moran’s “Little Wolf and the Iron Pin” as well as in Zoe Marriott’s “Storm Clouds Fleeing from the Wind.”

Other times writers push the envelope on a story so that readers get a glimpse inside the most dysfunctional—and well hidden--moments in a family which is what E.M. Kokie did with her story “Quick Change,” Kekla Magoon accomplished in “For a Moment Underground,” and J.L. Powers did in “A Crossroads.”

In observing how different writers’ work their minds around a problem, and in closely observing how they craft action and scene around the concept, it shouldn’t be a surprise that each writer brings his or her own sensibility to a story, almost always turning it into an intensely personal experience that resonates with readers.

With fellow alumnae Sarah Aronson at VCFA
One of the most pleasant surprised about this anthology was seeing the cover for the first time. Created by collage artist Wayne Brezinka, this cover made me tear up over the rich and layered depiction of our secret stories.

This anthology also demonstrated the power of sharing our gifts and secrets. The teaching authors included were asked to invite one past student to submit a story for possible selection.

In the end, the selected story is the heartbreaking tale of a girl who parents her own mother and protects her little sister from a family secret. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase the image of a teenager dancing a slow waltz to Meatloaf songs with her drunken mother. While erica l. kaufman’s “Three-Four Time” may be one of her first publications, watch for this talented writer’s future work, as it won’t be her last.

Finally, I wrote a story based upon an idea that came out of the workshop that spawned this anthology. “We Were Together” looks at what happens when a boy loves girls too much. I have to admit I was seriously pleased when one of Candlewick’s editors responded that it’s refreshing to read something from the jerk’s perspective.

I hope you find each story refreshing, emotionally resonant and a great joy to read.

Cynsational Notes

Ann Angel loves the world of young adults and writes both fiction and nonfiction for this group. She is the author of the 2011 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award winner Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing (Abrams, 2010) among many other biographies.

Her most recent biography, for younger audiences, is Adopted Like Me, My Book of Adopted Heroes (Kingsley, 2013). Previously, she served as contributing editor for the anthology Such a Pretty Face, Short Stories About Beauty (Abrams, 2007).

A graduate of Vermont College’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Ann directs the English Graduate Program and teaches writing at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee where she lives with her family. She was drawn to this idea of Things I’ll Never Say because she believes that the secret self is often the true self.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of  Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015). Publisher sponsored. U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

Fifteen top young-adult authors let us in on provocative secrets in a fascinating collection that will have readers talking.

A baby no one knows about. A dangerous hidden identity. Off-limits hookups. A parent whose problems your friends won’t understand. 

Everyone keeps secrets—from themselves, from their families, from their friends—and secrets have a habit of shaping the lives around them. 

Acclaimed author Ann Angel brings together some of today’s most gifted YA authors to explore, in a variety of genres, the nature of secrets: Do they make you stronger or weaker? Do they alter your world when revealed? Do they divide your life into what you’ll tell and what you won’t? 

The one thing these diverse stories share is a glimpse into the secret self we all keep hidden.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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3. New Voice: Paul Greci on Surving Bear Island

Paul Greci
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Paul Greci is the first-time author of Surviving Bear Island (Move, 2015)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

How did you approach the research process for your story? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The research for Surviving Bear Island was very hands on and spans twenty-five years. Since my teenage years, I have always been drawn to remote places. I have worked in roadless areas on the North and West Coasts of Alaska doing field biology. I have witnessed 12,000 walrus hauled out on a beach, 120,000 caribou crossing the tundra, and Killer Whales hunting and eating a porpoise.

Even though none of the above experiences are directly in this book, my long history of extended wilderness travel permeates the story on many levels.

sea lions

In 1991, I went on my first sea kayaking trip, which was a nine-week, 500-mile journey in Prince William Sound on the South Central Alaska Coastline where Surviving Bear Island is set.

Since then I have returned almost every year to paddle part of the Sound, doing trips ranging from one week to one month both solo and with friends.

kayak

On my wilderness trips I have always kept journals. When I decided to try to write a story set in Prince William Sound, my journal entries became much more detailed regarding what I was experiencing at both the sensory and emotional levels.

On one trip my wife and I spent several days circumnavigating an island and that island became the template for the fictional Bear Island in my story. I took very detailed setting notes and was able to use them, sometimes word for word, in parts of the story.

Without creating spoilers for people who may read Surviving Bear Island, many of the experiences that the main character has are inspired by experiences that I have had. Basically, I used my experiences as springboards for some of the trials that Tom faces in the story.

"a terrific thrill on the page." -- Kirkus Reviews
As I started to add new incidents not inspired directly by my experiences, I tried to experience or replicate what I was writing. For example, Tom has an emergency blanket that in damaged in a fire. For research, I burned part of an emergency blanket to see how it would respond to fire and it turned out to be quite different than how I imagined it. Instead of bursting into flames, it melted and made crackling noises.

I have been fortunate to have witnessed bears fishing for salmon, to have paddled a kayak in large stormy seas without disaster, to have spent extended periods of time in remote places cut off from all other human contact so where you are becomes your whole world and you can experience a place deeply and without distractions.

The main roadblock I ran into when writing Surviving Bear Island was how to write a story with primarily one character and have it have authentic emotional depth and complexity. Early drafts of my story were very plot heavy and episodic.

As the years went by and I wrote other stories where characters were interacting with each other, I developed my skills for exploring emotional depth, and also for writing in first person. I think those other manuscripts I wrote gave me the tools I needed to transform a single-character third-person narrative into a single-character first-person narrative that was much more character-driven and emotionally authentic.

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

My identity as a writer has informed my identity as a teacher in significant ways. I have spent most of my teaching career working with struggling and reluctant readers and writers. As a writer teaching writing, I brought to my teaching a passion and enthusiasm for something I love, coupled with experience. I tried to design writing activities that as a writer were meaningful.

Paul writing on his treadmill desk.
When I was teaching fiction writing to my fifth graders, I did every pre-writing and writing activity that I required my students to do, with the end result being that each student would write, edit and revise a short story.

Each morning during writing time I would start by sharing how I had completed the assignment that I was about to give them. I would show them what I had done and answer questions and then they would apply whatever the lesson was to the story they were writing.

When I taught high school English in an alternative school for students who had exhausted all their other public school options, a job I held for fifteen years, I tried to honor student differences and strengths by using more of an open format for teaching writing.

As a writer, I wrote what moved me, and as a teacher I let my students write what moved them. Some wrote science fiction stories, some wrote essays about challenges in their lives, others wrote poetry. There were some writing assignments tied to the reading/literature part of the class, but for the straight writing I gave my students room to roam and tried to support their interests.

Many experiences of being a teacher have also informed the part of me that is a writer.

When I worked as a Naturalist for a few different outdoor education programs, I had my students build shelters for a survival activity weekly. Years later, when I was writing Surviving Bear Island I mined those memories and used them to inform my writing when Tom, the main character, needed to build shelters.

Prince William Sound

Teaching in an alternative high school setting for fifteen years helped me to stay in touch with the issues and challenges that young people face daily. I also got to witness how incredibly strong individuals can be even when they are facing circumstances that are overwhelming, like homelessness, changing foster homes on short notice, or dealing with an abusive family member. I developed a deep respect and compassion for students who were going through difficult times.

My students were my greatest teachers, and I hope the characters I create are as complex as the amazing people I’ve been fortunate to interact with as teacher over the years.

a rare warm day


Cynsational Notes

Surviving Bear Island is a Junior Library Guild selection.

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4. Guest Post & Giveaway: Jean Reagan on Writing from the Hole in Your Heart

Jean's children, John and Jane
By Jean Reagan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Many years ago in a writing class, Kathi Appelt said, “Write from the hole in your heart.”

At the time, I had just received sketches for my first picture book, Always My Brother, illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill (Tilbury House 2009).

This story about sibling loss is told from the perspective of the surviving sister, and it mirrors our own family tragedy.

Of course, I connected with Kathi’s wise words immediately. But she challenged us to tap this "hole in our heart" for all of our writing, not just for stories about devastating trauma.

Fast forward: Two hundred rejections later, my books, How to Babysit a Grandpa and How to Babysit a Grandma, both illustrated by Lee Wildish (Knopf, 2012, 2014 respectively), made the NYT bestseller list. And now, a third book in this How-To series, How to Surprise a Dad, is out.

Jean Reagan
A sibling pair advises, "Shhhhhh. If you want to surprise a dad, you have to be tricky."

Then after tips on How-to-Hide-this-Book, they share everyday surprises you can "make, do, or find."

Finally, they instruct the reader on how to pull off a big, special day surprise, including what to do if a dad gets suspicious.

I'm thrilled the publisher embraced my request for a racially-diverse family. (And, yes, once again, Lee Wildish's illustrations steal the show.)

Race or ethnicity is not pertinent to the story, but I wanted to question the "assumption of white."

So, how is Kathi's advice relevant to silly, funny books like these?

I've come to believe her challenge is even more compelling. Humor, without heart, is empty. Shallow humor is merely a one-line joke that doesn't beg repeating or re-reading. The characters don't resonate on first encounter, and you don't carry them with you after closing the book.

Jean with her sister, Katherine Pate
The "hole in your heart" needn't be a fresh, gaping wound.

Rather, tap childhood worries, fears, and longings that still linger. Did you feel left out? Unnoticed?

As a shy child who struggled to learn to read, I have a lifetime of material. And I was (still am) an expert worrywart to boot.

No doubt you also have plenty to mine from your childhood as a powerless, tender soul.

What about the specific hole created by the death of my son, John?

Well, I make sure every book I write has glimpses of him. Including him is a gift to myself, my family, and hopefully to my readers as it helps to deepen the humor.

When John was five he asked if jails had carpeting because he didn't want "the bad guys to skin their knees if they fell down." This kind of tenderness I strive to portray in my books, especially in my silly ones.

There are three more books in production in my How-to series. Hopefully they will also convey humor with heart.

Thank you, Kathi, for your sound advice so many years ago.

Cynsational Notes

Jean Reagan was born in Alabama but spent most of her childhood in Japan. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband. In the summers, they serve as wilderness volunteers in Grand Teton National Park, living without electricity or running water. 

At the ranger cabin
Enter to win one of five copies of How to Surprise a Dad by Jean Reagan (Knopf, 2015). From the promotional copy:

So you want to surprise your dad? 

You’re in luck! The pages of this book are full of tips on how to become a super dad surpriser, including tips for things you can make, do, or find—just for your dad.

Be sure to read up on:


  • Yummy treats and presents for a dad
  • What to do if he starts getting suspicious
  • How to prepare for the big moment (where to hide everyone, and how to practice whispering “Surprise!”)

From the author-illustrator team behind the New York Times bestsellers How to Babysit a Grandpa and How to Babysit a Grandma comes an adorable, funny, surprising celebration of dads!

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5. Guest Post: Author-Librarian Amy Bearce on Knowing Your Young Readers

By Amy Bearce
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One thing I learned while earning my Masters of Library Science and my school librarian certificate is that if you try to censor a book, librarians will Take. You. Down.

“Don’t make me get my gloves out.” (Boxing Glove by Janusz Gawron via freeimages.com.)

Censorship and First Amendment rights are hot-button issues for librarians. Prior to my degree, I had no idea, but I loved it: librarians as righteous warriors for freedom of speech! Yes!

However, I write mostly upper-middle grade stories. For me, this means walking that fine line between being honest without censoring and also keeping in mind the needs of my tween and young teen readers. It’s a tough call sometimes.

“Balance is necessary.” (Tightrope Walker by Kristin Smith via freeimages.com)

The American Library Association says:

“Constitutionally protected speech cannot be suppressed solely to protect children or young adults from ideas or images a legislative body believes to be unsuitable” (2008).  

However, school librarians, like teachers, are seen as “in loco parentis,” giving them a unique responsibility to protect their students’ emotional and physical well-being (Chapin n.p; Duthie 91, Coutney, 18). At the same time, school librarians are also charged with defending their students’ First Amendment right to intellectual freedom.

As it turns out, this dual role of the school librarian is a good representation about how I feel about my role as a writer for tweens and young teens. I want to both help young people think about new ideas and push boundaries while honoring their age and maturity levels.

I am strongly anti-censorship, but when I was revising Fairy Keeper (Curiosity Quills, 2015) after graduating with my library science degree, I decided to focus on the needs of my target audience.

When my publisher and I decided my book would work better as an upper-middle grade novel, not YA, I wanted certain things in the story to be tempered. Not changed, not faked—just softened, without sacrificing any excitement or edginess.

Tweens and young teens can be incredibly worldly and savvy, but still easily bruised.

Because of this reality, some elementary and intermediate schools with fifth graders will carry Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, 2008) while others will not. Some middle school libraries will carry Crank by Ellen Hopkins (Simon Pulse, 2004). Others will not.

The line between selecting age-appropriate books and self-censorship truly is a blurry target. There are so many excellent books, with a huge range in how those books handle difficult topics.

As a writer, I took note. Was I censoring myself, or was I choosing material wisely for my audience?

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating avoiding difficult issues such as death, drugs, or violence. Tweens and teens can handle a lot and don’t need rainbows and unicorns.

“Although who wouldn’t want a rainbow unicorn?” (Unicorn by Sarah at Totally Severe via Flickr.com.)

But I now approach those topics very thoughtfully when writing for middle grade readers, even at the upper middle grade range. Some writers will feel okay including topics others might not— just as some school libraries carry books others don’t.

What it boils down to is: know your readers. This is true for librarians, but also for writers. When I write now, my students from the library are in the back of my mind. The books I’ve read are there, too, whispering what’s been done, what worked, and what didn’t work.

And hopefully, all of that has resulted in a stronger story, because I’m not just writing for the heck of it. I want to connect with my readers. And that means they deserve some special consideration as a group of people in their early adolescence, a group of people that I’m proud and thrilled to write for.

About Amy

Amy Bearce
Amy writes stories for tweens and teens. She is a former reading teacher who now has her Masters in Library Science along with a school librarian certification.

As an Army kid, she moved eight times before she was eighteen, so she feels especially fortunate to be married to her high school sweetheart. Together they’re raising two daughters and are currently living in Germany, though Texas is still where they call home.

A perfect day for Amy involves rain pattering on the windows, popcorn, and every member of her family curled up in one cozy room reading a good book.

About Fairy Keeper 

Excerpt
Most people in Aluvia believe the Fairy Keeper mark is a gift. It reveals someone has the ability to communicate and even control fairies.

Fourteen-year-old Sierra considers it a curse, one that binds her to a dark alchemist father who steals her fairies’ mind-altering nectar for his illegal elixirs and poisons.

But when her fairy queen and all the other queens go missing, more than just the life of her fairy is in the balance if Sierra doesn’t find them. And Sierra will stop at nothing to find them, leading her to a magical secret lost since ancient times.

The magic waiting for her has the power to transform the world, but only if she can first embrace her destiny as a fairy keeper.

Fairy Keeper is now available in paperback and e-book.

Cynsational Notes

American Library Association. "Free Access to Libraries for Minors; An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.” 2008. Web. 18 July 2012. < http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/freeaccesslibraries>.

Chapin, Betty. "Filtering the Internet for Young People: The Comfortable Pew is A Thorny Throne." Teacher Librarian 26.5 (1999): 18. Library Literature and Information Science Full Text. Web. 17 July 2012.

Coatney, Sharon. “Banned Books: A School Librarian’s Perspective.” Time U.S. Sept 22, 2000. Web. 17 July 2012. 

Duthie, Fiona. "Libraries and the Ethics of Censorship." Australian Library Journal 59.3 (2010): 86-94. Library Literature & Information Science Full Text. Web. 17 July 2012.

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6. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong on the release of The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations (Pomelo, 2015) from Janet Lee Cary at Library Lions Roar! Peek:

JW: There are two huge differences between this book and our other books. First, the subject matter: 156 holidays. Second: it’s bilingual! The 156 English poems all appear with Spanish versions alongside them.

SV: There’s another big difference. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations highlights picture books alongside the poetry. Each of 156 holiday poems (in English and Spanish) has a picture book pairing in Tip #4 of the Take 5! section.

More News & Giveaways

Consulting Services & Lecture Fees for Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Do you have a Native character in your manuscript? Is the character the main one? Or a secondary one? Are you, in some way, incorporating Native content? A character's ancestry, perhaps? If you want me to give you feedback on your manuscript, let's talk."

Why I Love to Read Sad and Dark Books to Children (and Why You Should, Too) by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Using books with dark themes or settings in the classroom can give students the language to express their emotions, models for how to discuss and engage on these topics with adults and peers, and a safe space to explore difficult topics."

You Don't Have to Like Them and Other Truths About Characters and Storytelling from Joy Preble. Peek: "I don't have to like Alice for me to read and enjoy and savor this book. I don't have to like her for me to think that Julie Murphy's written an awesome novel. I simply have to find her authentic and consistent within the fictional boundaries and character arc Murphy has created. And I do."

Categorizing the Human Condition: Redefining Who We Think We Are by Ann Dye form CBC Diversity. Peek: "'Why do we assume that the natural response from adults who don’t share a commonality with a diverse character in any respect aren’t hungry to expand their horizons a bit through their nighttime reading?'"

Black Authors and Self-Publishing by Zetta Elliott from School Library Journal. Peek: "Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander self-published his first thirteen books and acknowledges that there’s a 'long history' of self-publishing in the Black community."

Brian Yansky on Novelists & Passion for Writing by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog - Writer Talk. Peek: "The praise a person gets in school isn't going to sustain him/her as a writer once out and the teacher and student audience is gone and the larger one not yet materialized. What sustains a writer is that passion, that learned love of the act of writing."

To Save Yourself from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "We latch onto story ideas because there is something about an idea that draws more ideas the way a magnet pulls in iron filings."

April Is Autism Awareness Month: Partner Up to Reach Families in Your Community by Ashley Waring from ALSC Blog. Peek: "One way to get families with children with all types of disabilities into your library is to offer an informational program for parents and caregivers."

The Role of the Professional Reviewer in Today's Publishing World: Interview with Henrietta Verma of Library Journal by Samantha Knoerzer from Bibliocrunch. Peek: "...87 percent of its (ALA) members are white. A majority of that size of any ethnicity is of concern. It affects which books are bought for libraries and, I’m sure, how welcome minorities who are under-represented in librarianship feel in in the profession and as patrons, and which direction library hiring committees, subconsciously or not, lean."

On Illustration Notes by Liz Garton Scanlon from Eastern Penn Points. Peek: "Why the general no-no vibe around authors peppering their manuscripts with helpful hints for would-be editors and illustrators?"

Cynsational Giveaways


Enter Diversity in YA's 2015 Anniversary Giveaway. Peek: "With generous donations from publishers and authors, we are thrilled to be giving away 100 books with main characters who are of color, LGBT, and/or disabled."

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I'm deeply honored to have been featured in a personality profile by editor Sterling Cosper that appears in the latest issue of my official tribal newspaper, The Muscogee Nation News:


Citizen Leaves Legal, Journalism Professions to Pursue Literary Career. Peek:

"Eat while you’re listening—everything is better with home-cooked food. Connect with a creative and personal community. It’s all about the tradition and circle of storytelling; not just your one voice in it,' Leitich Smith said."


Thanks to everyone who turned out for (or stopped by) my signing table at Costco in Selma, Texas; last Saturday! I was charmed by the warmth and friendliness of the community, and it was a delight to connect so many Feral novels--include numerous full trilogy sets--to teens!


Congratulations to author-illustrator and fellow Austinite Salima Alikhan on being admitted to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults!

Link of the Week: We Need Diverse Books -- Movers & Shakers 2015: Change Agents from Library Journal.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Now Available
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

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7. New Voice: Stacey Lee on Under a Painted Sky

Stacey Lee
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Stacey Lee is the first-time author of Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice.

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life.

With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. 

With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Stacey's office
I write in the evening into the wee hours of night, and go to bed typically at 1:30 am.

With two kids, I'm too distracted to do much during the day, so I must wait until everyone is in bed. It's hard for me to write with any noise around me, so I rarely listen to music when I'm at my desk.

As a historical fiction writer, how did you capture the voices of the era? What resources did you turn to? What advice do you have for other authors along these lines?

I read a lot of pioneer diaries! I always gravitated toward books/film from the 19th century, so the voices weren't hard for me to hear. I love the 'formal' way they spoke during that time period.

The trick is to immerse yourself in the 'culture' you're writing about as much as possible, the way you would learning another language. You can't help picking things up.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Under a Painted Sky
I researched agents through Writer's Digest, and identified Kristin Nelson as someone who might be a good fit. I was looking for someone who knew her stuff, and she ran a popular blog called Pub Rants that many writers, including myself, used to understand the in's and out's of publishing. She actually rejected the first book I subbed to her.

Several years later, I wrote Under a Painted Sky, and she was one of the first agents I queried.

I think it's important that writers find an agent who not only can make a sale, but someone who will continually advocate for their writers during the entire process.

Publishing is not just about selling the book. You want someone who takes a holistic view of your writing career.

Cynsational Notes

Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.

A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction.

Find Stacey at Twitter @staceyleeauthor, Facebook and Pinterest.

Stacey contemplates her plot as she walks along this path.


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8. Giveaway & New Voice: Melody Maysonet on A Work of Art

Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Melody Maysonetis the first time author of A Work of Art (Merit, 2015)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Tera is seventeen, shy, and artistically gifted. Her hero and mentor is her father, a famous graphic artist who also protects her from her depressed, overly critical mother. 

But Tera’s universe is turned upside down the day the police arrest her father for an unspeakable crime. 

Tera desperately wants to believe his arrest is a mistake, and since her mother is no help at all, Tera goes into action, searching for legal counsel and sacrificing her future at art school to help him. 

But under the surface of her attempts at rescue, there are rifts in Tera’s memories that make her wonder: Could he be guilty?

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how best to approach “edgy” behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

The main character in my novel is a seventeen-year-old girl named Tera. During the course of the novel, she has sex for the first time, experiments with drugs, and nearly gets caught up in a threesome—all while dealing with stifled memories of sexual abuse by her father (who, by the way, has been arrested for a sexual crime).

For a YA book, it doesn’t get much edgier than that.

My first attempts at writing the abuse scenes only touched the surface of what Tera went through. In the back of my mind, I was constantly aware of a teenage audience. How far could I go before I crossed a line? At the same time, I had to recall my first sexual experiences and my own experiments with drugs. I couldn’t help wondering what my friends and family would think of me.

And then I took a writing workshop taught by Jamie Morris and Joyce Sweeney. I remember Jamie talking about how we had to explore the depths of our psyches and go deep within ourselves to find what’s raw. I remember Joyce saying how every one of us has a story that only we could tell—and if we say to ourselves, “I’m never going to write about that,” then maybe that’s what we need to be writing.

Writers are readers.
It was during this workshop that I wrote my first flashback chapter, where nine-year-old Tera is being photographed by her father in a way that no child should ever be photographed.

During the workshop, we all read aloud what we had written. My hands literally shook as I read my piece. I got choked up while I was reading, and when I was done, I wanted to bawl. That’s when I knew I’d nailed it.

After that, I still worried that my book would be deemed inappropriate for teens, but reading Crank by Ellen Hopkins (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010) and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 1999) helped alleviate those fears. So did finding an agent who believed in the story and an editor who wanted to publish it.

More recently, I got another form of validation when I attended a workshop led by Andrew Karre, then editorial director of Lerner Publishing Group (now at Dutton). His topic? “Don’t Overthink Audience.” According to Karre, we shouldn’t write for readers of a certain age.

Instead, we should write about characters of a certain age—because if you write a good story, the audience will sort itself out.

Melody's assistants
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?

When I started writing A Work of Art, finding the right voice was the thing I struggled with most.

Maybe that’s because my novel was originally intended for an adult audience. My early drafts were in third person, and my main character was nineteen.

Comments on voice
When my critique group convinced me that my story might be more relevant if I made the main character younger, I took their advice and changed Tera’s age to seventeen.

Pretty soon, I discovered that writing from a seventeen-year-old’s point-of view is a lot harder than it seems—at least it was for me. After all, I hadn’t been in high school for more than twenty-five years. My son was still in single digits. And no matter how many teen conversations I eavesdropped on, my character’s voice wasn’t ringing true.

I tried imitating the sarcastic teenage voice that popped up in so much YA fiction, but it came off sounding unnatural. I also tried capturing my inner teen, and although that helped, I still found myself slipping into the voice of a forty-something-year-old woman.

The whole time I was trying to pin down my character’s voice, my critique group kept telling me that my protagonist felt distant and maybe I should write the book in first person.

I resisted, mostly because I’d already written and rewritten the first hundred pages and I couldn’t stomach the thought of rewriting them yet again. (Yeah, I know.) Finally, though, I took their advice and wrote my next chapter in first person.

Wow, what a difference! So I finished the draft in first person and then went back to the first hundred pages. Converting from third person to first person was a lot harder than changing all the “she’s” to “I’s.” Suddenly phrases like: “I gazed at my father’s painting” sounded way too adult.

Melody's office
Somehow, I needed to completely immerse myself in the head of a teenage girl.

That’s when I started reading as much young-adult fiction as I could get my hands on.

Two books that broke something open in me were Ellen's Crank and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Macmillan, 1986). There are others, but these two books in particular transported me into the heads of much younger people and I found myself studying how the authors did it.

As I wrote and revised A Work of Art, I never stopped studying voice, whether through reading YA fiction, taking workshops, or eavesdropping on teen conversations. I knew I’d made progress, but I still felt that voice was my weakest area.

While I was still revising, an editor from a YA publishing house critiqued my first chapter. The editor went through his checklist, commenting on dialogue, plot, point-of-view…

When he got to voice, I braced myself for the worst.

“The voice comes through strongly,” he told me.

Really? Did he just say that?

A few months later, another editor told me the voice was “great.” And while both of these editors passed on publishing my book, they gave me two things I very much needed: the confidence to keep going, and the drive to keep learning.



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of A Work of Art by Melody Maysonet (Merit, 2015). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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9. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Translator Laura Watkinson

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Translator Laura Watkinson founded the Dutch chapter of the SCBWI. She also translates books into English, from Dutch, Italian and German. Her literary interests vary and her projects range from children’s picture books to adult novels and comics.

Her translation of Bibi Dumon Tak’s Mikis and the Donkey, illustrated by Philip Hopman (Eerdman's), won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award 2015 for a translated children’s book.

In 2012, her translation of another one of Bibi Dumon Tak’s books, Soldier Bear for Eerdmans, also illustrated by Philip Hopman, also won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award, and in 2014 she won the ALA’s Batchelder Award with her translation of Mister Orange by Truus Matti (Enchanted Lion Books).

On top of that, her translation of The War within These Walls by Aline Sax, with illustrations by Caryl Strzelecki (Eerdmans), was named one of the three Batchelder Honor Books 2014. The latter book had already won the National Jewish Book Award and the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Laura’s translation of the Dutch children’s classic The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt for Pushkin Children’s Books has been well reviewed in the U.K.

Laura's part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Welcome, Laura! I am so happy that you could join us for this interview. Let me start with a big hoorah! You must be thrilled to bits that another one of your translations won the ALA’s Mildred Batchelder Award. This time Bibi Dumon Tak’s Mikis and the Donkey. Your translations seem to strike a chord in the U.S. What is the significance of this award for you, for your translations and for Dutch children’s books?

Thanks, Mina! Yes, I couldn’t be more delighted that Bibi’s book won the Batchelder Award this year. So much of it is down to great little publishers with big ambitions and dedication to children’s literature from all over the world. The people at both Enchanted Lion and Eerdmans Books for Young Readers have fantastic taste and select great books for translation.

It’s wonderful that the ALA encourages books in translation with this award, as it means young readers have an opportunity to find out what children in other countries are reading. It’s all about bringing new and interesting voices to a different readership.

It’s not so much a question of exporting Dutch and Flemish culture, but more about the skill of these writers and illustrators. After all, Mikis and the Donkey was set in Greece, Soldier Bear was about a group of Polish soldiers and their mascot, and, while Mister Orange was about Dutch artist Mondrian, it was actually set in New York.

Great stories are universal. It’s wonderful to have that recognized by publishers and readers who are interested in books from other countries.

You translate not only from Dutch but also from German and Italian. You must have a love for languages. Could you tell us a little about that love?

I gravitated towards languages at school, partly because I had such enthusiastic language teachers, but also because I feel that there’s a certain magic in learning a new code and suddenly being able to communicate with other people by using different words and sounds. I went on to study languages at university.

As a translator, it’s great to be able to convey something of a country’s culture by transporting its literature into a new language and a new environment.

How did you decide on a career in translation?

I never really thought too hard about what sort of job I might have after university.

I was fascinated by the subject I was studying, so I enjoyed the experience of being a student and traveling to study abroad, and didn’t really focus too much on what might come next.

I later spent a few years as a language teacher and also did occasional translation jobs, but it took me a while before I moved into full-time translation.

As a student and a teacher, I lived in a variety of places in Europe: Aberdeen, London, Milan, and a number of different cities in Germany, before moving to The Hague and now Amsterdam.

As I moved around, I came to realize just how flexible translation and writing is as a career. If you have a laptop, you can take your job wherever you want. Translation’s really the ultimate in portable careers.

Most importantly, translation is a constant challenge and a puzzle, so there’s always something interesting going on. Every book and every text has its own quirks, and I enjoy the process of getting to know them and working out how to handle their intricacies.

You translate a wide range of books, from picture books to graphic novels and more literary texts. What type of books do you most enjoy translating? Are there particular challenges associated with different texts?

I particularly enjoy working on picture books, as they’re so much fun. I translated a couple of very nice titles for Book Island in New Zealand: Annemie Berebrouckx’s Bernie and Flora and Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie. Those two books are both bubbly and full of life, and they’re great tales for little ones who are new to stories. It’s important to keep the tone light and to make the story easy for parents to read aloud. So, with those translations, I’ll read them out loud to myself (and anyone else who will listen) over and over again.

It can be tricky when the words relate to some visual gag that’s elaborated in the illustrations. If it’s a joke that doesn’t work in English, you have to go back to the drawing board and create a new English version that matches what’s going on in the pictures. The illustrations are there to stay, so you have to craft the words accordingly, while respecting the spirit of the original text.

You translated a Dutch classic, Tonke Dragt’s De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King), which first came out in 1962 and is a book that generations of young Dutch readers grew up with. It took over 50 years for this book to be translated into English. Can you tell us a little about how Pushkin Press made the decision to publish the book, and how you came to translate it?

The Letter for the King really is a book that should have been translated into English a long time ago. As you say, it’s a classic in the Netherlands and, in 2004, it was even voted the best Dutch children’s book of the previous fifty years.

It had been translated into many other languages, but the English breakthrough somehow never came. Who knows why? It’s a classic for very good reasons.

The project finally took off when Pushkin Press’s new children’s imprint arrived on the scene. I gave Pushkin publisher Adam Freudenheim a sample and he was really enthusiastic, as were his children. So, finally, the book has made it to the U.K. It’s doing well there, and I’m hopeful that this will help lead to more children’s classics finally appearing in English translation.

In other news, I’m just working on the edits to the sequel of The Letter for the King. Expect to see The Secrets of the Wild Wood in bookshops this autumn...

You founded the Dutch chapter of the SCBWI in 2008. Why? And what do you think are the most important reasons to become a member? 

I had some friends who had joined the SCBWI in the U.K. and they were all so enthusiastic about the society that I really wanted to become a member too. For me, it was mainly about meeting other people who were interested in writing, illustrating and, of course, translating children’s books, so that we could encourage one another and pass on tips.

So that was my motivation for setting up the chapter in the Netherlands, and I still feel that those connections and that support and friendship are the most important reasons for joining.

We’ve had so much fun since then – and a lot of success stories within the group. It’s great to know that we’re connected to other children’s book lovers and publishing professionals all over the world, and that’s something I believe only the SCBWI can offer on such a scale.

The SCBWI has recently set up a new initiative for translators, led by Avery Udagawa. There’s a lively forum and plenty of enthusiasm for children’s books in translation. Let’s hope it leads to even more great books in translation!

Thanks so much to you, Mina, for taking over the group and providing so much energy and enthusiasm. Here’s to the next few years!

You can find out more about Laura Watkinson on her website, or follow her on Twitter.

Cynsational Notes

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

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10. Interview: Will Weaver & Don Gallo on LitWeaver

Don Gallo & Will Weaver
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What is LitWeaver and how did it come to be?

Will Weaver: LitWeaver is young adult literature outreach to schools by the authors themselves. We believe YA lit should be more accessible, more varied, and more affordable—and now it is!

Our cohort of more than sixty top authors came together to make contemporary short stories, essays, poems, and plays available to schools for e-reading or print on demand.

LitWeaver has free reading for middle- and high schools right now, though we’ll eventually add a low cost subscription to help cover our website costs.

English Language Arts teachers and school librarians have given us authors such great support over the years, buying our books and inviting us to their schools, so here was a chance for us to give back.

That’s how LitWeaver came to be.

How did you connect with author Will Weaver and the company?

Don Gallo: Will and I have known each other for nearly twenty years, ever since he wrote a short story called “The Photograph” for one of the YA anthologies I edited. He subsequently wrote other stories for me, and I did an extensive interview of him for the Authors4Teens (now defunct) website. We seem to have connected from the start.

Liking each other and, more importantly, respecting each other’s talents and trusting each other, have been significant factors in our working so well together. I am honored that he asked me to be part of this venture. It’s the most exciting thing I have done in my entire long career.

Will, besides liking him, why did you choose Don to be LitWeaver’s executive editor? What does he bring to the mix that others do not?

Will Weaver: I’ve written some of my best short stories for Don’s various YA anthologies—he’s a great editor--and it’s true, we “clicked” on a personal and literary level. But from a purely business perspective, I needed someone who was well known, and who could bring in an “A-list” of YA authors. Don has done that supremely well.

Don Gallo: Having worked with so many authors over the years—more than 200!– means I know their work, and they know and trust me.”

Will, how does LitWeaver work?

LitWeaver
LitWeaver  is like Netflix or a similar online platform, but with literary readings. Teachers sign up, stock their bookshelf with short stories, essays, or poems and more just right for their grade or their purposes.

Then teachers create “classes” and invite students. Students join the class, where great e-reading is waiting.

We’re working on the tech side right now to make LitWeaver simple and easy to use, but it’s clear that our overall vision of improving access and affordability has struck a chord with teachers.

Don, what about the concept appealed to you?

Don: Surely the whole concept is unique and exciting. Nothing like LitWeaver has ever existed. There are other recently established companies that are offering digital readings to schools, but they are all either literary works for children, or they are entirely book-length works—classical novels and a few YA novels. Nobody except LitWeaver is focusing on teens, and nobody is offering the array of short stories, poems, plays, and essays that we provide.

Will, what kind of response have you seen so far?

Will: Phenomenal. Truly. We launched LitWeaver in beta form on Feb. 15 and had hundreds of teachers, school librarians, and public librarians signed up, from Texas to Iceland. It’s clear they are looking for access, great writing, and affordability.

I might add that we at LitWeaver feel blessed by our demographic of users. Nobody shares information like English teachers and literacy specialists!

Don, what content is of interest?

Don: I am really proud of the content we have been able to acquire in just a few months. We don’t have a lot of novels or book-length nonfiction yet. Those will be coming later. But there is no better quality of short stories, poems, and essays anywhere else.

Joseph Bruchac
Our roster includes several winners of the Newbery Award and Newbery Honor Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and the ALAN Award.

We have selections from Richard Peck, Katherine Paterson, Chris Crutcher, Jerry Spinelli, Joan Bauer, Jane Yolen, Terry Trueman, Charlie Price, David Lubar, Gordon Korman, Bruce Coville, Lauren Oliver, Neal Shusterman.

We have poets such as Nikki Grimes, Mel Glenn, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Kwame Alexander.

Many of our authors are from diverse cultural backgrounds, including René Saldana Jr., Lensey Namioka, Joseph Bruchac, Minfong Ho, Anton Treuer, Shonto Begay, and others already mentioned. We are adding original essays weekly—pieces from Alan Sitomer, Madelyn Rosenberg, Pete Hautman, Marc Aronson, and Sneed Collard.

We also are excited to have new selections from two of the most censored authors in the YA world: Sonya Sones and Ellen Hopkins.

And our selections in terms of interest and sophistication serve a range of grade levels from fifth grade through twelfth.

Don, how should authors get in touch?

Don: I have been sending invitations by e-mail to authors I know. But my lists are limited, of course. So any authors who have good out-of-print works or new literary selections not under contract should contact me by e-mail at GalloDon@aol.com.

Don, are you interested in working with poets? Or authors who are not traditionally trade published?

Don: As I noted earlier, we have acquired a number of poems –I think fourteen so far—along with three stories in verse and one novel in verse. We have been focusing on authors with the greatest reputations we can find.

But, yes, I will be happy to consider poems from other accomplished writers aimed at a teenage audience.

I’m also looking for short nonfiction of interest to teens but also with content that makes them informative and teachable.

Will, what else do you want Cynsations readers to know?

LitWeaver  has a tidy little lesson plan for each reading. They include introductory activities, discussion questions, writing prompts, and suggestions for research projects.

Not saying teachers will need a lesson plan, but it’s nice to have just in case.

And one more thing: LitWeaver is in beta form, meaning we’re still working on the app/website. There’s always time to hear from you, dear readers, to let us know how we can improve, and what features you’d like to see.

But what we truly need is for you to help spread the news. Lots of sign-ups and users will help us get investor funding, and that will allow us to build our dream site where there’s loads of free, contemporary lit for schools.

LitWeaver is a new paradigm, we think, one whose timing is right.

Cynsational Notes

Don Gallo is one of the nation’s leading authorities on books for teenagers, the recipient of the ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature, and the foremost anthologist of short stories for teenagers in the country.

He has edited thirteen highly-acclaimed collections of short stories written by well-known young adult novelists, the most recent of which is Owning It: Stories about Teens with Disabilities (Candlewick, 2010).

His first collection--Sixteen--was identified by the American Library Association as one of the 100 Best of the Best Books for Young Adults published in the last third of the 20th century.

Don is also the author of numerous journal articles and chapters in professional books about the teaching of literature and writing in middle and high schools, the co-author with Sarah K. Herz of From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics, and was the editor of the Bold Books for Teenagers column in the English Journal for five years.

For 24-years, Dr. Gallo was a professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, retiring in 1997. He now serves as the executive editor of LitWeaver and currently lives near Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, educator/consultant C.J. Bott.

Among author Will Weaver's novels for young adults are Striking Out, Farm Team and Hard Ball. His recent novels for teens include Saturday Night Dirt, Super Stock Rookie, and Checkered Flag Cheater (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

His novel Memory Boy (HarperCollins) was chosen a teen “top ten” book by ALA and is in production by the Minnesota Opera for 2016. One of his adult short stories was adapted into the feature film "Sweet Land."

A judge for the National Book Awards in 2011, Mr. Weaver lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, on the upper Mississippi River, with his wife, Rose.

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11. Guest Post: Michelle Ray on Falling for Hamlet Adapted as E! TV's "The Royals"

Little Brown, 2011; learn more!
By Michelle Ray
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Falling for Hamlet is going to be a TV show! They’re calling it 'The Royals,' and it’ll be on E!” my agent emailed me.

It seemed absolutely impossible. Growing up in Los Angeles, I have many friends in “The Business,” and screenplays and novels are optioned all the time. Usually that’s as far as it goes.

But for me, it was really happening.

My mind soon went to the contract. What had I asked for? I recalled a clause about not using my name or likeness for personal hygiene products because my friends and I had had a laugh over the possibilities. Michelle Ray toilet paper? Tampons? Toothpaste?

Anyhow, I hadn’t asked for much. I didn’t request script approval because I figured once it was a series and not a finite story like my book, I knew it would depart dramatically from my story.

And boy did it. I think. See, as of four days before the premiere, I’ve only seen commercials like everyone else. I guess I should have asked for a set visit or to be kept up to date, but maybe I’ll do so next time (I should be so lucky).

Follow @mraywriter
But here’s what I know about the show as it compares to my book:

1) There’s still an Ophelia. She still likes art.

2) There’s a Hamlet, but he’s called Liam. (I had been advised at one point to change the names of my characters, and had gone with Liam for a time. Great minds, I suppose.)

3) There is still a royal family.

4) The creators’ interest, like mine, seems to be what happens when you’re dating royalty or in the public eye constantly.

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5) That might be it.

Note: #5 doesn’t bother me much. I still consider myself very, very lucky and have enjoyed the heck out of the process from first contact with my LA agent, Eddie Gamarra, to watching the show premiere.

So what’s next for me? Another Shakespeare re-imagining!

Cynsational Notes

Mac/Beth follows Beth DeAngelo, the star of a hit teen TV show (think Disney or TeenNick) who wants to break free from the squeaky clean parts she’s had to take and move into adult roles in film.

After she and her boyfriend Garrett Mackenzie (they are “ship” named MacBeth) accidentally kill her close friend and costar Duncan King, they must navigate their rise to fame and their own guilt.

Learn more!


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12. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC, announces its 38th Annual Nonfiction Award presentation to Steve Sheinkin at noon April 25 at Clyde’s Gallery Place Restaurant in Washington DC. The Guild’s Nonfiction Award celebrates a body of work that has “contributed significantly to the quality of nonfiction for children.”

The Award committee cited Sheinkin’s superb ability to find the heart of the story, to narrate nonfiction with passion, veracity and accuracy, and to engage young readers and provide them with a front row seat as witnesses to history.

According to Sheinkin, an early job writing history textbooks provided the inspiration for his career as a writer of nonfiction for young readers. “Only by doing this kind of [textbook] writing did I come to realize how much I love the process of finding and telling true stories.”

Sheinkin’s most recent book about soldiers of color during World War II is Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. His other acclaimed history books for middle-grade and young adult readers include Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon; The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery; and King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution.

More News

Author Elizabeth Fixmer on Religion, Spirituality & Cults by Ann Angel from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "I want kids to put themselves in Eva’s world and raise all of the questions the book engenders: Is this stuff real? Why do people follow cult leaders? Why don’t they just leave?"

Revising and Re-imaging Your Picture Book Webinar with Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson from Kids Books Revisions. Schedule: 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. EST April 29, May 6, May 13, May 20, May 27, and June 3. $225; $180 for SCBWI members or early bird registrations. Limited to 100 registrants.

Making Vs. Following Fate by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "...when there’s a 'Chosen One' plot on my desk, I suggest that the writer find some agency for the character and let them lead certain events, rather than spend the bulk of the plot being groomed by others to fulfill a prophecy."

A Comprehensive List of U.S. College- and University-Sponsored or -Hosted Children’s and Young Adult Literature Conferences, Festivals, and Symposia by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know in the comments section?"

Why Pelvic Pain is Absent from YA Fiction by Emma Di Bernardo from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "With one in 7seven women estimated suffering from chronic pelvic pain (CPP), there is certainly enough readership and audience to warrant characters or storylines with a focus on chronic pelvic pain[1]. It’s bizarre and disappointing that despite these statistics, there are distinctly zero characters with this condition."

SCBWI Work-In-Progress Awards from SCBWI. Peek: "The works submitted by winners and honorable mention recipients will be made available on a secure webpage and presented to a hand-selected group of editors for their consideration. Although this is not a guarantee of publication, the opportunity to have your work presented to acquiring editors, along with an SCBWI endorsement, is a unique opportunity." Deadline: March 31.

Interview: Jo Knowles on Read Between the Lines by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBtatistic Reads. Peek: "What happened was, in thinking about how and why we give and get the finger, I also started thinking about the various stereotypes that exist in high school. The jock. The cheerleader. The bully. The dork. You get the picture. And I thought, what if I explored how each of these characters was more than their stereotype?"

The View From Under the Fantasy Umbrella by Kimberley Griffiths Little at From the Mixed-Up Files...of Middle Grade Authors. Peek: "...each book we describe as 'fantasy' actually fits within a sub-category under the Umbrella of Fantasy. Herewith are the definitions of all those genres and a book list with suggested titles to explore."

Writing a Personalized Query Letter by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "...once I started looking at agent profiles, I realized that I’d have to go back to the query and tweak it. I’d written the query for me. In actuality, I should have written it for the agent."

Agents: The Gateway to Author Engagement at Your Library and Beyond from New Leaf Literary Agency and Booklist. A free webinar at 1 p.m. CST. Peek: "Join Booklist and New Leaf Literary & Media agents for an hour-long, free webinar that will discuss the role of a literary agent, as well as describing how librarians, teachers, and booksellers can work directly with agents to forge relationships between authors and readers. Panelists will share examples of working with their YA authors, including Veronica Roth, Victoria Aveyard, Kody Keplinger, and Leigh Bardugo, and explain how they've connected with schools, libraries, and bookstores to coordinate events, panels, special mailings, social media interaction, and more."  

Tips When Writing Multiple Point of View Novels by Lisa Gail Green from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...when you have dual POVs, you have two internal arcs to plot and the decision of what scene is in whose point of view."

How to Self-Publish Children's Books Successfully by Darcy Pattison from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Projects that failed to find a home with a traditional publisher are finding a lucrative spot in the marketplace. My indie books have received starred reviews, national awards, been translated, been sold in the Smithsonian Museum stores, and are being read by kids every day. And that’s after only two years in business."

Interview: Rad American Women A-Z’s Kate Schatz by J.L. Powers from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "When it came down to it, we selected people who had great stories of adversity and triumph that would be relate-able to young people."

Guidelines for Evaluating and Selecting Native American Books for the Classroom by Debbie Reese from Proceed With Caution: Using Native American Folktales in Language Arts (Jan. 2007). Note: This resource also should be useful to writing teachers and students in selecting books to use as models for study.

"There Is Work To Be Done" - Walter Dean Myers by Sara Lissa Paulson from The Horn Book. Peek: "...reinstate the many book clubs that flourished in the 1970s, selling less-expensive printings of quality books at affordable prices. Today, instead of reprinting quality titles in hardcover, there is an urgent need for mass-printing and distributing quality books featuring the diverse world we live in and the diverse world we want to see flourish."

The Word on Dialogue by Stacey Lee from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Let the action and context show you who is speaking. Dialogue tags can overwhelm a scene, and disrupt the flow of the narrative." Note: Bonus points for examples from "Star Wars."

Cynsational Screening Room

Women's History Month 2015 by Sian Gaetano from The Horn Book. Peek: "In these picture-book biographies perfect for Women’s History Month, young women blaze trails and battle bigotry. From baseball and art to environmentalism and education, these leaders and their triumphs are to be celebrated."



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of the paperback edition of Feral Curse by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2015) were Alicia in Alabama and Jenna in Kentucky. The winners of Feral Pride by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2015) were Donna in Missouri, Kathi in New Jersey, and Aaron in Kansas. Note: Both books also are available in electronic editions.

The winners of signed copies of Towering by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, 2013) were Gabby in Georgia and Susan in Virginia. The winners of Mirrored by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, 2015) were Lisa in Kansas, Courntey in Louisianna, and Michelle in St. Louis.


More Personally
Cheers to the Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award Finalists!
Congratulations to We Need Diverse Books, Library Journal Movers & Shakers 2015!

Meet Cynthia Leitich Smithfrom WordMothers. Peek: "I hope to continue writing diverse protagonists and girl empowerment themes. I seek to lift up, to nurture and lead. The work of my students and mentees is absolutely precious to me. Cultivating community is key."

With Andrea Rogers at Austin SCBWI's Regional Conference.
Reminder! San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas. 

Check out Truth, Lies & Secrets by Katie Bircher from the Horn Book, which includes a review of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015). Peek: "Cynthia Leitich Smith takes a characteristically paranormal approach in 'Cupid’s Beaux': 'slipped' angel Joshua must decide whether it’s ethical to conceal his celestial identity and woo human Jamal."

Links of the Week: Listening Harder from Shelli Cornelison and New Website for Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers; see also Native Youth Literacy Project.

Personal Links

Honest Trailers: Cinderella

Cynsational Events

Reminder! San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

Now Available
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

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13. Guest Post & Giveaway: Isla J. Bick on Takeaways from Egmont USA's Last List

Ilsa vs. The White Rabbit (Not Part of the Dream)
By Ilsa J. Bick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I had this weird dream last night.

I’m in an office of some sort and there are all these old Star Trek books lying around that someone’s packing away.

Thing is, I know they’re not my Trek books because Spock’s on every cover, and I never wrote a Spock-centered book or story.

Yet I was positive I’d written every single one.

So, as these books are being sealed into boxes, someone—I don’t know who—says to me, “No, you can’t have any. We’re getting rid of these.”

Then I woke myself up and couldn’t get back to sleep. So now I’m here, caffeinating and writing this all down for you.

Now, you don’t need to be a navel-gazing shrink to get the gist.

First off, Nimoy’s death was big news. For a lot of people, his passing marked the end of an era.

I will be honest; I wasn’t devastated. I was sad and his death made me feel very old. You can’t imagine the number of kids these days that have no idea when it comes to Spock or Kirk. But Spock wasn’t the character I really fixated on, and so while I enjoyed the triumvirate of Kirk-Spock-McCoy . . . I haven’t been in deep mourning.

When Shatner goes, that’ll be a different story, I suspect.

Then, too, I’ve been cleaning out my kids’ rooms, purging toys, stuffed animals, books, comics, clothes . . . all that junk your kids leave behind for you to deal with when they move out. I’ve made more trips to Goodwill than you can imagine, and that was only for one kid’s room. The other still remains—and then there’s the horror show of their bathroom.

(A true story: the eldest comes home from grad school for a visit. Spills hair wax gunk all over the inside of her vanity cabinet. Doesn’t tell me. Skips town. Fast forward a half year, and I open the vanity to discover the moral equivalent of the La Brea tar pits, only now not only is this stuff permanently bonded to the vanity, so are bars of soap, a hair dryer, a couple combs. A razor. I still can’t quite decide if this last was the kid worrying I might kill her, or dropping a hint.)

So packing up stuff in the dream makes sense, too, because that’s what I’ve been doing.

But I also recognize that this is about me and writing and Egmont USA’s packing up and closing its doors. I didn’t know this, but when you close up an office, you purge everything: books, furniture, fixtures, the whole shebang everything. Nothing that you were or had can remain behind. You got to empty that place out and make like you were never there.

(Say, if I were a shrink, I might point out the interesting parallels here between what Egmont’s doing and my sudden need to clean the kids’ rooms.)

It doesn’t take a genius—or navel-gazing shrink—to put together that I am feeling the impact of an end of an era. By now, everyone knows that Egmont Last Listers’ story ends happily. We’ve got a new home, and I meant every single thing I said in my PW interview about that.

Nonetheless, this has been a very hard year, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple of months
coming to terms with how successfully—or not—I’ve navigated that, from my very first inklings that something serious was going down with Egmont USA and through my denial, my paralysis in terms of my writing, and all that.

(To be honest, I’m kind of sick of my unconscious and all this navel-gazing. When I was actively in practice, I remember complaining to my husband that I wished I could just react the way everyone else does without having to think through what it all means and how I’m really feeling, what’s really driving me. I mean, honestly, I’m as entitled to a good hissy fit as the next person.)

The problem is that old habits die hard. I’m talking navel-gazing now. This ages me, but it’s something that shrinks of a certain era did an awful lot. This was when psychoanalysis was in its hey-day. If you wanted to walk in Freud’s mocs, you had to be analyzed yourself.

 (This is, I’m sure, still the case today.)

For a little over three years, I spent fifty minutes, four times a week, staring at my analyst’s acoustical tile, listening to footsteps cross back and forth from the kitchen above, smelling whatever luscious meal my analyst would have later, saying the first thing that came to my mind, the whole nine yards.

I never finished the training for a variety of reasons, though the most pressing was I really wanted to buy a house and there was no way that would happen so long as I was funding my analyst’s vacations. So my analyst and I parted ways. She’s since died, but that woman taught me two invaluable and very simple lessons that, most of the time, I practice.

First off: pay attention to that prickle of uneasiness because it will save you from being eaten alive.

Second: Change is hard. Change makes people anxious, and it is the huge, hulking elephant of their anxiety that frequently keeps people from making changes they ought to. Instead, people substitute other emotions that help them feel more powerful and less helpless. For example, many people handle anxiety by getting angry, striking out, engaging in a whirlwind of activity and only circling around but never truly addressing the source of their distress.

To say that I’ve been incredibly anxious over the past year is an understatement. I have written elsewhere about everything that went down, from my first suspicions that something was up with Egmont USA to its dissolution and now our collective reprieve, and I won’t bore you with all that here. Suffice to say, though, that I never addressed my anxiety directly. For a girl who sees her analyst every day whenever she looks in the mirror, I did my best not to engage that part of me. I simply reacted with a lot of activity that, in the end, didn’t do me a ton of good.

So now The Dickens Mirror (Egmont, 2015) is out in the wild, effectively bringing The Dark Passages series to a close.

(Although a fan of the series and I got started on Twitter with the idea of spin-offs . . . like how cool would it be to actually write Tony’s book instead of only alluding to it. Or Rima’s? How about Bode’s, going along with him for the ride as he crawls through those black echoes in Vietnam? Yeah, I know: way cool.)

Carolrhoda, 2014
All my books are now with Lerner, and I am hugely relieved and happy to rejoin the Carolrhoda Lab family.

That means it’s time to take a breath, step back, and take stock of what I’ve learned in the interim. I don’t mean about what I did last year that didn’t help me. I’m talking about what I’ve learned in the past few months, ever since that phone call in late January when I learned that Egmont was kaput.

Well, here’s a biggie: no girl is an island. I know that’s clichéd. Doesn’t make it any less true.

You would’ve thought that someone who wrote in her acknowledgements that bringing a book into the world demands a village would have gotten this through her thick head. But I didn’t.

Another Last Lister, Matt Myklusch, and I chatted about this recently—this notion of writer and community—and he and I pretty much feel the same way. We’re hermits, or we’ve been that way.

I think that most writers are. In a way, you have to be because what are you really doing all day long? Right: you’re sitting in a room, by yourself, and writing about four walls.

(Okay, you can throw in a window or two. Plants. Maybe a couple cats.)

Yes, you take yourself away in your mind; you populate that room with characters. But at the end of the day, you are still talking about a relatively limited orbit, moving through a physical space about ten to twelve feet square, though that doesn’t take into account bathroom breaks, tea breaks, and the cats’ insistence that you open the damn can already. I leave the house every day to go to the gym and run an errand or two, if needed. But that’s it.

The thing is, I’ve never complained. I like being alone. I need the solitude. In fact, too much social media-ing around—checking the huge self-advertisement billboards that are Facebook and Twitter, for example—is liable to drive me a little crazy because I then sit there and wonder why the hell I’m not having as wonderful a time or as tenth as successful as this author or that.

There’s plenty of good research to suggest that too much of that isn’t good for folks either. Just think of that last sequence in “The Social Network,” where the Zuckerberg character is fruitlessly refreshing and refreshing and refreshing . . .

I’m also kind of a shy person. I know; most people who meet me don’t think that at all. Three words: practice, practice, practice. Being a shrink has the side-benefit of teaching you how to be silent with other people while asking the right questions that get them talking.

When I was attached to a publishing house and its marketing purse, being reclusive wasn’t much of a problem. Sure, I shouldered a chunk of the marketing burden by doing blogs, maintaining a social media presence and all that.

 (I know that other writers complain about that. But let’s get real. With so many houses feeling the squeeze and struggling to turn a profit—hello, mine folded?—they simply don’t have the resources to mount huge campaigns for everyone the way they might have in the past, and even then they were selective. Since I’ve known no other way, doing my share of the marketing is normal and no big deal.)

That is, when I had a house. When my novel wasn’t effectively coming out DOA.

Which is where what I’ve learned has come into play.

I said in another post that reaching out to bloggers for help feels weird, but not because I don’t like bloggers. I hate begging. It’s a humbling experience, and while it’s not the same at all, I can appreciate how humiliating it must be for a person who’s previously been able to take care of himself to be reduced to handouts, to going to other people and asking for help.

For me, asking for help is very hard. It’s not just about being shy. My parents drilled self-reliance into me from a very early age. To do any less is to fail in some way. So I’ve had to wade through a lot of feelings of personal failure—that I am somehow responsible for this, even though I had zero-zip-nada control over the situation.

My parents also taught me never to toot my own horn. That didn’t mean they didn’t want me to be competitive—they did—but if I did succeed, I should be quiet about it, not draw attention to myself. I shouldn’t become a target. I think I understand my parents’ history enough to know where that’s coming from, and I won’t bore you with that. But keeping a low profile while also being very driven has been my modus vivendi for my entire life.

So you can imagine how uncomfortable it is for me, this shy yet driven person, to suddenly be thrust into a lot of lookit-lookit-lookit me. Because that is, really, what marketing is all about.

Shakespeare wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

I’m not sure if that means misery loves company . . . but if it weren’t for us Last Listers banding together in our collective moment of need, no one would have heard of us, or our books.

As a group, we’ve become a community that may or may not stick together when this is all said and done, I don’t know.

On the other hand , I know that I’ve made “friends” I can count on to try and help because we’ve all been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

I have also learned that marketing is really, really hard work. I already understood that because I once had to write and/or do thirty-five—yes, you read that correctly; thirty-five—blogs and interviews in only a few weeks’ time. You don’t have a lot of time or energy left over to do other, really important things like write.

I also tend to be a bit of a pit bull when it comes to tasks. Others would use the word "obsessive." "Maniacal" also works. It’s just that I have a tough time not doing everything and this instant. Which means that even if I budget time for blogs or marketing, knowing I have to do either tends to weigh on and preoccupy me. Usually, I just break down and do the darned work already.

Yet that’s not necessarily a good strategy if you are truly going it alone as I kind of am at the moment. True, I do not have to worry about distribution.

But any marketing push will have to come from me, those bloggers who’ve been gracious enough to host me, and my fellow Last Listers’ willingness to lend a hand.

My hat’s off to self-published people who actually succeed (notice I said "succeed") because I don’t know how you do it. I know a lot of the more successful ones hire this stuff out and/or rejoin/enter traditional publishing because trying to shoulder everything is simply too exhausting.

Either way, learning how to do this well is something I must do because you never know if I’ll have to straddle this line again.

My parents, God bless them . . . they were wrong (or maybe I just misheard; this has been known to happen). But I’ve needed to unlearn some bad behaviors. So here is what I would say to myself if I were in their shoes; these are my takeaways.

Yes, Ilsa, be self-reliant but understand that it is okay to ask for help. Not only will people frequently surprise you with how willing they are to do so, you become more approachable as a person.

(Think of your fan’s reaction when you respond to an email, or a Facebook post. Think of the courage it took for your fan to press SEND.)

Yes, Ilsa, be humble. Success is fleeting and so is fame, and life turns on a dime.

Yet it’s okay to share good news. Just remember that nothing wears out a welcome faster than too much me-me-me. That is hard in this age where every social media platform can become and frequently is a billboard.

But, Ilsa, remember: do not ignore warning signs. If you’re uneasy, don’t get anxious. Get active. Suck it up and deal, but also recognize what’s out of your control and try not to obsess.

Just do the best you can. If there’s something you can’t do well—marketing, per se—then learn. Don’t get crazy and fall into despair. 

Get competent.

Most importantly . . . 


Kid, do remember that you are not operating in a vacuum. Spending a lot of time alone is not the same as being alone. There is a community out there, happy to make your acquaintance.

You only have to be brave enough to try.

Sneak Peek
 
 
Cynsational Notes

Ilsa J. Bick is a child psychiatrist, film scholar, surgeon wannabe, former Air Force major, and now an award-winning author of dozens of short stories and novels, including her critically acclaimed Ashes Trilogy, Draw the Dark, Drowning Instinct, and The Sin-Eater’s Confession.

White Space, the first volume of her Dark Passages horror/fantasy duology, is currently long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel. The sequel, The Dickens Mirror, hit shelves on March 10.

Ilsa lives with her long-suffering husband and other furry creatures near a Hebrew cemetery in rural Wisconsin. One thing she loves about the neighbors: they’re very quiet and only come around for sugar once in a blue moon.

Drop by her website for her Sunday's cake and Friday’s cocktail recipes as well as other assorted maunderings; or find her on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter (@ilsajbick), or Instagram (@ilsajbick).

See also Ila Bick and Community by Matt Myklusch from The Other Side of the Story Podcast.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win The Dickens Mirror by Ilsa J. Bick (Egmont, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: International.

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14. Guest Post & Giveaway: Tricia Springstubb on Islandia

By Tricia Springstubb
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For years I’ve visited a small, Lake Erie island, a short ferry’s ride from the mainland. I go there in the summer or early autumn, when the water is still warm and the light golden.

Along with the other tourists, I walk the shore, drink the bad local wine, sigh over the sunsets.

Come the first hint of winter, though, I’m out of there, back to what the locals condescendingly call “the other side”.

But for years, every time I’d boarded the ferry, I wondered how it would be to stay on after the population shrinks to less than two hundred, tough-as-nails residents.

I’d picture myself hunkering down in a cabin, reading and writing and feeding the wood stove, while outside the wind whipped and the waves crashed.

In my imagination I’d venture out to the island store, or the Sunday potluck at the VFW, where I’d trade news with my likewise sturdy, self-sufficient neighbors.

Oh, for that pure, that elemental life!

Or wait. Maybe I’d sit in my cabin besieged by pangs of loneliness. Maybe I’d feel trapped like a rat. Maybe the thought of walking into that VFW and seeing those same twenty faces would make me go stark, raving berserk.

Hmm.

An island is the perfect setting for a wishy-washy writer like me. I tend to avoid conflict, a useful trait in real life, but fatal in fiction.

Setting my story on an island forced me to deal, because there was nowhere for my characters to flee, no way to avoid action.

To up the stakes, I made my island, Moonpenny, smaller than the one I knew, and pushed it farther out into the great lake. I made the ferries quit running earlier in the year.

I made it more remote, but kept that mainland, with all it promised, tantalizingly in sight.

Islands! Writers have long recognized what fertile settings they are. Part of my fun was paying tribute to classics-- Anne of Green Gables, Kidnapped, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Misty of Chincoteague.

An island is a place apart, made for mystery, romance, testing of mettle. It’s a place that can feel cozy and secure, or wild and dangerous.

Moonpenny wasn’t easy to write. In truth, it was torture--but that’s a different post.

During all the wild-eyed, insomniac months (okay, years) I drafted and revised, only one thing remained constant: my setting. I felt the limestone under my feet, the lake air in my lungs. I stood on the edge of the swim hole in the old abandoned quarry, shivering at how deep and cold it was, and I lay in bed in a little house on the back shore, listening to the moan of the thawing lake.

That sense of place drew me back into the work again and again. I got to live on that island after all, and to see it from every point of view. I came to simultaneously love it and feel its limitations, the way all children, no matter where they grow up, feel about home.

After I’d finished the book, it was strange to go back and visit the real island. I kept seeing my characters--Flor and Sylvie, Joe and Jasper--from the corner of my eye, kept expecting them to appear on the beach or the lip of the quarry. I caught their voices, rising on the updrafts along with the seagulls.

This time, when I boarded the ferry back to the other side, part of me stayed behind.

Cynsational Notes

Moonpenny Island (HarperCollins, 2015) is a Junior Library Guild selection and has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Tricia is also the author of Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, the first book in a new chapter book series (Candlewick, April 2015).

Kelley's Island Gallery




 Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Moonpenny Island by Tricia Springstubb (HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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15. In Memory: Mal Peet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

British Young Adult Author Mal Peet Dies at 67 from the Associated Press. Peek:

Peet wrote young-adult novels, as well as educational children's books co-authored with his wife Elspeth Graham. He won the 2005 Carnegie Medal for Tamar, a historical novel set during World War II.
Mal Peet, Writer, Dies Aged 67 by Martin Chilton from The Telegraph. Peek:

Peet grew up in a council estate in North Walsham, Norfolk, in a family that he describes as "emotionally impaired". He said that he managed to survive living in a "very, very dull town by virtue of playing lots of football, riding his bike and getting books out of the local library.

Mal Peet: Exmouth children's author dies aged 67 from BBC News. Peek:

They "starved for four years" and ended up working for educational publishers, he said. "I wouldn't say we prospered, but we paid the mortgage and ate."

Eventually, in his 50s, Peet decided to write his first full-length novel.

Keeper, which took football to the South American rainforest, won a Nestle Children's Book Award.

Mal Peet, award-winning children's author, dies aged 67 from The Guardian. Peek:

Peet, winner of the Carnegie medal and the Guardian children’s fiction prize, discovered he was terminally ill at Christmas.

His agent Peter Cox described him as “a writer’s writer”. He said: “Mal was universally adored and admired by other writers. His talent was as prodigious as his warm, wide-open heart. I have lost a dear friend, and we have all lost an author of exceptional genius. His best and most exciting years were still ahead: his premature death is utterly tragic.”

Mal Peet, a great writer and a great friend by Meg Rosoff from The Guardian. Peek:

When Mal phoned to tell me he had cancer, I rebuked him sternly. “For Christ’s sake,” I said, “I have a long list of people I’d quite like to drop dead. You’re nowhere on it.”

“I know, darling,” he said. “I’m not on my list either.”

Mal Peet: Whimsical Alchemist by Tim Wynne-Jones from The Horn Book. Peek:

Mal Peet’s first novel was published when he was fifty-six; his last this past fall, just over a decade later. A late bloomer, you might say, and what a vivid, abundant, effulgent bloom it was.

Remembering Mal Peet's Work from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek:

Soccer and "dream-like"? Would those two thoughts not seem to be at odds? But Mal Peet had me riveted with his quick wit and keen eye and deft story turns.
 

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16. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author & Diversity Advocate Marieke Nijkamp

By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Marieke Nijkamp is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and diversity advocate.

She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and wants to grow up to be a queer time traveler.

In the midnight hours of the day, Marieke writes stories full of hope and heartbreak.

She is proud to be the founder of DiversifYA and VP for We Need Diverse Books™. (But all views are her own.)

Find her on Twitter @mariekeyn.

She was interviewed by Mina Witteman for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Could you tell us a little more about We Need Diverse Books?

We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) agents, publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students."

That is straight from our mission statement, but I feel it sums up who we are and what we do.

WNDB is an organization that works toward making children's literature and children's publishing more inclusive, through several programs.

We have our Walter Award, which recognizes the best diverse YA.

We have Walter Grants, to aid up-and-coming diverse writers.

We are creating a program to support publishing interns from marginalized backgrounds.

We also have our WNDB in the Classroom project, which brings diverse books and diverse authors to disadvantaged schools.

And honestly, I could go on.

We have many projects in the works and we are continuously looking for ways to promote and amplify diversity. And that's what WNDB is too: a team of very, very passionate people, working hard to make change happen.

How has your experience and background prepared you to be effective with this diversity initiative?

As a queer, disabled person, diversity has always been foremost on my mind.

I have used a wheelchair and have been completely ignored. I have used a cane and have been stared at, laughed at, shouted at. I have been told that my love is a sin. I have been excluded. I have felt invisible. I have worked with LGBTQ teens who felt alone and scared and as if the world wasn't for them. And far, far too often the rest of the world only reinforced that image.

So I know firsthand what discrimination and marginalization feels like. I know all about that anger and frustration and heartbreak and fear. And it's those experiences that fuel me when working toward better representation, because I know we can do better and should do better. We owe it to ourselves and to each other, because when we work with each other instead of against each other, we can move mountains.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of bringing diversity into children’s literature?

Aside from institutionalized (and often internalized!) -isms, one of the most challenging aspects is the other side of that feeling that the world isn't for us: the mindset that books (or any form of stories or art) about marginalized people are only for marginalized people.

Not just for wizards!
Not just for Hobbits!
It stems from the believe that white, straight, non-disabled, middle class is somehow the neutral and relatable to all, whereas "other" characters are only relatable to those readers who share their experiences.

This, of course, means Harry Potter is only of interest to wizards and witches, and The Lord of the Rings finds its audience among the vast populations of Hobbits.

I guess you can see how blatantly absurd it is.

The white, straight, non-disabled, middle class character is no more a neutral character than any. But unlike other characters, the difference is that this particular character has been normalized to the point of becoming the standard. And all of us who do not fit that standard do feel excluded, but are told that feeling is invalid. After all, it's a neutral.

Or, we are taught that this neutral is somehow the character we ought to aspire to (relate to), which often includes the implicit or explicit belief that being other than is somehow lesser than.

It's a highly problematic narrative. It's why for so many disabled characters, the happily ever after involves being healed and becoming "normal" (or why their stories are being told through the point of view of non-disabled characters altogether). It's why so many queer romances end in tragedy, while the straight romances don't. It's why too often, non-white characters are sidekicks (or villains!) not heroes.

Before becoming involved in We Need Divers Books, you created the website DiversifYA. What prompted you and how can writers and illustrators use DiversifYA?

I created DiversifYA as a way to showcase the many different experiences around us, inside and outside our own communities. I wanted the interviews to show just how rich and varied our experiences are, but also how many of the struggles we face are inherently the same. I wanted to focus on those countless combinations of sameness and difference.

As a result, I think DiversifYA has turned into a great database of experiences. It is by no means a substitute for good research, but it is a starting point for anyone who would like to know more about the world around them.

You write for young adults and middle grade readers, both dark contemporary and epic fantasy. In what specific way has diversity shaped your writing?

In every way, and then some. Growing up, I read many hundreds of books per year, but I rarely saw myself represented in the stories I read. And in those few instances when I did, those reflections were anything but good. The "me"s I read about were only ever lessons for the main characters.

Marginalized characters were stereotypes, caricatures, or comic relief.

It left me a very lonely reader and a very determined writer.

From the very first story I wrote, writing has always been a way for me to explore the world and to create all those stories I couldn't find. So my stories are populated with characters who were other than the neutral norm but still very much my normal.

Among the four point-of-view characters of my upcoming debut This Is Where It Ends (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016), there are two queer girls, one of them Latina (and her brother is one of the other main characters).

The story I am working on next has genderqueer characters, disabled characters, all as a matter of course--because they reflect the world I live in.

What can we, writers and illustrators of children’s books, do to foster diversity in our work?

  • Think about the world you want in your stories. Who do you want to reflect? How inclusive do you want to be? What assumptions lie at the basis of your story, your world, your characters? What do the choices you make tell your intended audience?
  • Research, research, research. Whether you are part of the marginalized group you write about, but especially when you're not, research, research, research. Be aware of the tropes. Be aware of the triggers. Talk to people with the same experience, don't just talk about the experiences.
  • Listen and learn. I don't believe the books we write exist in a vacuum. We can't represent marginalized experiences without being aware of a long history of privilege and oppression, and we all have our internalized prejudices. 
  • We are probably going to screw up. I know I have in the past. I know I will in the future. If you end up making mistakes, make them gracefully. Listen to the people who point out what you did wrong and learn from that. It's the only way we can improve, after all.

Cynsational Notes

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp is told from the perspective of four teens in a high school held hostage who all have their own reasons to fear the boy with the gun. It's forthcoming from Sourcebooks.

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

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17. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Laura Ruby on the release of Bone Gap (Balzer + Bray, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren't surprised. After all, it wasn't the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O'Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That's just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that's not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

See also a Q&A Interview with Laura Ruby About Bone Gap from Epic Reads.

More News & Giveaways 

I Was That Boy from Andrew Harwell. Peek: "...when I read a story like Shannon Hale's, it reminds me how lucky I was to find the books I needed in my life. It reminds me of how panicked I truly felt to hand something like a Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew crossover to my mom to buy, knowing that if she started reading it, she would instantly know it was a romance book, not for boys."

Interlude Press Launches YA Imprint by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Interlude Press, founded in 2014 as a boutique publisher of LGBTQ romantic fiction, is launching Duet, a young adult fiction imprint representing LGBTQ characters."

Call for Submissions WNDB Walter Dean Myers Award for YA 2015 from We Need Diverse Books Peek: "Publishers are invited to submit eligible titles for consideration to the Walter Award Judging committee. One physical book must be provided to each of the thirteen members of the judging committee."

Real Talk: Six-Figure Book Deals by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: "Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000 on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA. I'm talking average - yes, some will be higher, some lower, and no I haven't done an official poll, but I bet I'm right."

The Dangers of Storytelling by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Don’t fall into storytelling about yourself and think that working outside of the establishment paints you an automatic hero; nor does it make you an automatic failure if your query gets not a single nibble."

Character Talents & Skills: Regeneration by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...the ability to restore one’s physical condition to an optimal state, healing wounds and bodily damage at a cellular level."

Diverse ALA YMA Book
The 2015 Youth Media Awards: A Crossover Year for Diversity by Nina Lindsay from School Library Journal. Peek: "The idea that 'diverse books' limit potential readership assumes that the Newbery and Caldecott awards should, by default, reflect a white experience. Perhaps that assumption exists because, for much of their history, they have."

Interview: Marietta Zacker (Nancy Gallt Literary Agency): Agent Looking For Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "We really do come in all shapes and sizes with a range of strengths and abilities and with various beliefs and traditions. Let your stories and illustrations reflect that."

How Does Your Novel Grow? The Writing/Gardening Connection by Katrina Kittle from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I don’t have room for every single plant I’d like to grow, so I have to be picky. And just like with an idea for a novel, once I choose, I have to commit."

Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson from the Horn Book. Peek: "What is our mission? In addition to offering trendy titles, aren’t we supposed to do our best to house and preserve wonderful books that aren’t currently popular?" See also Selection Is Privilege by Amy Koester from Lee & Low.

Vulnerability: The Key to Compelling Romantic Relationships by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Because it is our business to create characters who are broken, jaded or struggling in some way. Yet somehow we must show them it’s okay to trust."

The Diversity Gap in Children's Publishing 2015 from Lee & Low. Peek: "Why are Asian/Pacific American creators so much more free to create books without significant cultural content? Perhaps it is because they don’t have the same pressure to create books that will be eligible for certain awards."

Thematic Book List: Biographies of Early Scientists (Through Newton) by Tricia from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: "...a list of books on scientists before and including Newton. I've also thrown in a couple of important mathematicians. Titles are roughly arranged in chronological order."

Noir and Horror for Picture Book Readers: Two Works by Jon Klassen from Maggie Tokuda-Hall at boingboing. Peek: "I Want My Hat Back, she explained to me, was noir. This Is Not My Hat, horror."

Editor Stacy Whitman of Tu Books on Diversity in YA Lit, What She's Searching For & Her Favorite Books from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I am looking in particular for books with a strong adventurous streak, whatever the genre, and possibly a strong romance storyline. We’re open to science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction—and I love genre mash-ups."

Self-Publishing Picture Books: Agents Erin Murphy and Susan Hawk Weigh In by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman. Peek: "It’s less about page count and more about making a story as tight and illustration-driven as it can be. In fact, a lot of traditionally published picture books right now are 40 pages or even 48 pages—that’s been sneaking under the radar, right?—but they generally don’t feel any more text-heavy despite that."

Writing Nonfiction Using Fiction Techniques by Carla Killough McClafferty from Teaching Austhors. Peek: "In my books, the dialogue comes from direct quotes from documented primary sources. Teachers, students and readers can go to source notes in the back matter to see exactly where the quote was found."

SCBWI Golden Kite & Sid Fleischman Awards
See honor books and more information from SCBWI.

LGBT Lambda Literary Award Finalists

Children's-YA Literature Category:

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award 

From the Pennsylvania Center for the Book:


See also SCBWI Announces Lee Bennett Hopkins Award for Poetry.

Texas Blast for the Past

Two funny middle grades (and their goofy authors) are taking a Texas road trip!

Jo Whittemore (author of Colonial Madness (Simon & Schuster)) and Cory Putman Oakes (author of Dinosaur Boy (Sourcebooks)) will be visiting four cities on their Blast From The Past Book Tour from March 9 to March 13.

Join them for treats, crafts, and fun!

See full tour schedule and details:


Cynsational Giveaways

See also giveaways of Debbie Michiko's Florence's children's nonfiction books China and Japan from her newly redesigned author website.

This Week at Cynsations



More Personally

Congratulations to Nikki Loftin (Wish Girl) & Jo Whittemore (Colonial Madness) on last week's launch at BookPeople!
See also Nikki on A Wish Come True: Wish Girl Reviews, Launch Party Pics & More.

My most heartfelt congratulations to Laney Nielson, the 2014 Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award recipient, for signing with literary agent Bethany Buck of Greenburger Associates, and my most heartfelt congrats to Bethany on signing Laney! See more information.

Seed Beads, Indian Camps and Black Indians in Cynthia Leitich Smith's Rain Is Not My Indian Name by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek:

"Rereading it now--14 years after I first read it--I want to shout from the rooftops to everyone about Rain Is Not My Indian Name. If you don't already have it on your shelves, get a copy and read it. And share it. It is exquisite and has something in it for every reader." 

Note: Debbie is researching depictions of Black Indians in youth literature. She highlights a sampling of related resources.

This week Rain Is Not My Indian Name also is featured among 15 YAs That Get It Right by Dahlia Adler from Barnes & Noble.

Of late, the Austin children's-YA author and illustrator community welcomes YA author Amy Tintera and illustrator Jessica Olien!

My Link of the Week is Your One Wild and Precious Life by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Silence your inner critic, take chances, make mistakes, write whole swaths of material that you wind up having to rip out and write again."

Personal Links

One of THREE books by Patrice Barton releasing in April

Cynsational Events

Now Available
The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

San Antonio Readers! Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

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18. Austin SCBWI Mentor Award Winner Laney Nielson Signs with Greenburger Associates

Follow @LaneyNielson
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Hooray! Laney Nielson, recipient of the 2014 Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award, has signed with literary agent Bethany Buck of Greenburger Associates.

Laney Nielson is a writer who lives in Plano, Texas.

A former upper elementary school teacher, Laney has taught in both suburban Virginia and inner city Boston. She has her Masters in Education.

Laney is a member of a critique group formed through the North Texas Chapter of SCBWI. She has attended the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop and many regional events, including the Austin SCBWI regional conference for the past three years.

I am delighted that Laney has signed with Bethany. Laney has a lovely sense of story and character, heart and humor. I look forward to many terrific books from them.

Register for the 2015 Con!
Laney says: "I want to thank Austin SCBWI and Cynthia for offering this mentorship. It was an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the best. Cynthia provided me with the guidance and expertise I needed to take my writing to the next level."

(She is so gracious. Laney came in strong, worked hard, and deserves all the credit for her success. Learn more about Laney's experience and the mentorship from Austin SCBWI.)

Bethany says: "I am thrilled to represent Laney Nielson, a great new debut whose writing is smart and sparkly." (Yes, it is!)

From the Greenburger Associates website:

Bethany Buck represents teen fiction, middle-grade fiction, and chapter books, as well as a select list of picture books...

Before becoming an agent, Bethany held editorial positions in children’s book publishing for thirty years. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of the Aladdin and Simon Pulse imprints of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, where she was the editor of Scott Westerfeld’s #1 New York Times best-selling Uglies series, as well as his other teen books. Bethany began her career at Scholastic Inc., where she was a longtime editor of The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and rose to be an editorial director in the trade division.

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19. Guest Post & Critique Giveaway: Heather Demetrios on The Hope You Hold: A Character-Centered Approach To Plotting Your Novel’s Ending

Heather Demetrios
By Heather Demetrios
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Sometimes it can be helpful to think about endings when you’re at the beginning of the process—not plotting the ending, but doing a bit of free, no-holds-barred thinking about your character’s emotional inner journey and where you hope she goes.

This is what you write towards, that hope you have for her in your heart. Your plot is moving toward something, a climax that, especially in YA, results in some sort of self-discovery on the protagonist’s part, a revelation about the world and their place in it.

In real life, we have no idea what comes next. Our journeys are fraught with the unexpected. But we often know where we want to go, don’t we? Thus, much of what we experience comes from what we put out into the world and the choices we make.

It’s not a surprise to see where we’ve ended up once we go back and connect the dots. It’s often inevitable. In fact, when we do this work, we see how much of a hand we have in our own fate regardless of who’s pulling the strings of our future.

So how can our protagonists experience this inevitability if we’ve imposed a plot on them with a preconceived notion about what exactly is going to happen?

The key is to have an idea about where you want that character to end up emotionally. Not, “she’s going to be the queen,” so much as, “she’s going to be in a place of power, secure and finally free of the demons of her past.” With the former, we’ve decided on a fixed ending, forcing the plot to get in line. With the latter, we’ve left room for our character to influence her own fate, for the dots to connect in such a way that the story arc parallels the emotional one.

Tolkien touches on plot in a way no one else does when he discusses the concept of “eucatastrophe.” It’s a fancy word for the feeling you get when you finish reading a novel and you think, Yes, this is the only way it could have happened.

Eucatastrophe is inevitable. It’s true and organic. It’s not about a happy ending, it’s about it being the only possible ending.

In his essay "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien describes eucatastrophe as a “turn”: “a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by tears)…It reflects a glory backwards.”

This glory backwards means that you should be able to go from your climax all the way to the very beginning of your story and see that the protagonist was on the path to “glory” long before she ever realized it.

Try it for yourself. Close your eyes and envision your main character. Think about the possibilities of where she might end up. What do you hope for her at novel’s end?

What would be her “glory backwards”?

Got it? Good. Now this is the place you write from. Hold that hope in your heart, just like a parent would for their child, then give your protagonist room to live her life.

Lucky you, she’s letting you come along for the ride.

Cynsational Notes

When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City.

Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real (Henry Holt, 2014).

Her other novels include Exquisite Captive (Balzer + Bray, 2014), the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, and I’ll Meet You There (Henry Holt, 2015). She is the founder of Live Your What, an organization dedicated to fostering passion in people of all ages and creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find her on Twitter @HDemetrios.

Writespace Writing Center 


Heather will be teaching up to six intermediate and advanced students during six sessions from March 11 to April 15 at Writespace in Houston. Note: Writers arrange their own most convenient classroom times and meetings with instructor. About the class:

Feb. 3, 2015 release date!
Sometimes it feels like a story isn’t working. The voice might feel off, or the plot seems contrived. Perhaps scenes are reading dull or your main character feels paper-thin. You might have a brand new idea that you can’t seem to get off the ground because every plot point you think of feels like a cliché.

When a book isn’t working or a new project feels stunted, we’ve often lost sight of our work’s protagonist and secondary characters. Rather than listening to what our characters want and need, we have imposed a pre-conceived notion of what we think the book is supposed to be.

Regardless of whether you tend to write from a plot or character standpoint, being able to tune into your characters in order to find the truth of your novel is a useful skill for any writer.

In this six-week workshop, we’ll look at how to plot or revise your YA novel through exercises that will help you get out of your head and into the heart of your work. In addition to weekly writing exercises and submissions of your work for critique, we’ll consider new ways to access your character, such as through taking field trips with him or her, by creating music playlists, and other unique methods. Along the way, we’ll look at how this shift affects all elements of our work including voice, dialogue, structure, theme and—of course—plot.

This course is designed for intermediate to advanced writers working in any genre within YA. If you’re looking for a challenging, dynamic workshop that will take your writing to the next level, this workshop is for you.

Please be prepared to spend at least three hours a week on short reading assignments, your own writing, and online discussion. You will be asked to turn in two 10-page submissions of your novel for critique and to read two YA novels to enhance our discussion (if you'd like to get a head-start, please read the novels The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011) and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2011).

Together, we’ll create a supportive community through reading one another’s work, discussing the assigned reading, and sharing insights garnered from our exercises. Expect lively discussions and lots of fun!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a five-to-ten page critique of your English-language young adult manuscript by Heather. Eligibility: international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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20. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Publisher Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island

Greet Pauwelijn
By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Greet Pauwelijn is publisher with Book Island, as well as a translator.

True to Book Island's bold dream of enriching children's and adults' lives in the English- and Dutch-language market, she publishes children's books in English and Dutch.

She does this by bringing unique stories from Europe to the shores of New Zealand, then using only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books.

Book Island books are available in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands. Follow @bookislandbooks on Twitter.

Greet is part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Was there one book that started it all for you?

For me, it was really the ability to read my first words and sentences that started it all, not just one particular book. As soon as I had discovered the magic of reading, I immersed myself in books, devouring them voraciously. I must have been one of the very few children in the world who often got punished for reading too much.

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are too many titles that have influenced me to name them all. Having grown up in a country where literature in translation plays an important role, I was exposed to stories from all over the world, which instilled a desire to travel and explore in me.

However, as a child I particularly looked out for titles from Dutch publishing house Lemniscaat, who after all these decades, still publish the most amazing books.

We are very proud to have one of their recent titles on our list: The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.

You started your career as a translator of Polish, but after your move from Belgium to New Zealand you founded a children’s book publishing house. What inspired this change?

After relocating to New Zealand at the end of 2009, one of the first places I visited was the children’s section at the local library. It was quite a culture shock.

Back in Belgium we had been spoilt for choice when selecting books for our sons, then aged three and one. I immediately noticed that most of the beautiful picture books that European readers have access to were unavailable in the English-language market.

Most stories at the library were rhyming, poorly illustrated, with very predictable endings. I was desperate to find more challenging books for my kids and myself.

At that stage, I was still translating Polish literature for Belgian and Dutch publishers. I rapidly realised that due to the ongoing crisis in the book industry, this source of income was about to dry up.

Polish literature in translation had never been a gold mine for foreign publishers and they were becoming increasingly reluctant to publish more titles from Poland. I decided to look into adding English to my portfolio and soon after that I came across a children’s adventure novel by a well-known New Zealand author, Barbara Else.

Thanks to its universal story, it seemed just perfect for the Dutch-language market. I convinced a Belgian publisher to buy the rights to The Travelling Restaurant and this way I landed my first translation job from English.

While working on this title, I suddenly wished I hadn’t told the publisher in Flanders about this possible bestseller and had acquired the rights myself. Also, there were so many more foreign books out there that had been overlooked, so here was my chance.

That day I decided to become a children’s publisher and fill the gap that I had identified earlier.

To make it slightly more challenging I thought: why not publish in two languages, English and Dutch, at the same time?

Obviously, I knew very little about publishing and its challenges!

Book Island is based in New Zealand, but also active in the Dutch-language area - Belgium and The Netherlands. You publish both Dutch-language and English-language picture books. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the two?

The differences between the Dutch- and English-language market are significant, which makes our selection process quite challenging. Very few titles work well in both markets.

Quite often the content of European picture books (i.e. from the European continent) is not entirely acceptable or suitable for the English-language market, where there tend to be a lot more taboo topics.

The Dutch market is a lot more open-minded. The illustrations are generally also more sophisticated. More care has been attended to the design and production of the books.

Bookstores in the English-language market sell predominantly paperbacks, while our customers in Belgium and the Netherlands only want hardbacks.

For one of our latest titles, the two-way books Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! – Excuseer, heeft u soms een knipperlichtje gezien?/ Hup, konijntje! by Bernardo Carvalho, we had to design a new paperback edition for the English-language market, while the Dutch title was released as a hardback, like the original Portuguese edition. I will talk about these differences in more depth at the conference in Amsterdam.

How would you describe your house’s publishing focus? What kind of books do you love working on?

With Book Island, we want to share the treasures of children’s books in foreign languages with Dutch- and English-speaking readers.

When selecting new titles we particularly look for layered picture books. Each time you return to the book it will reveal a new layer, in the illustrations or the story. These layers make our books suitable for young and older readers alike, which is an important Book Island selection criterion. I like how Belgian ALMA winner Kitty Crowther compares such picture books with Russian nesting dolls.

We’re drawn to books that tackle quite difficult but very important topics. A perfect illustration is Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire (translated by David Colmer), a story about the enduring relationship between a little girl and her grandmother in the face of illness and aging.

We believe that the children of the 21st century are a lot brighter and more mature than we were at their age, hence we feel we need to publish titles that don’t dumb down their ability to understand and learn.

Our world has also become increasingly diverse, which should be reflected in books of all kinds.

We love stories with strong characters and a little twist. Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie (translated by Laura Watkinson), which is a gorgeously illustrated chapter book about reversed role models, is still one of our favourites. There’s also Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis and Pieter Gaudesaboos, a wonderfully absurd story about a little boy who thinks he’s very hungry and wants to eat a giant sandwich.

The illustrations in our titles are as important as the story, and if they don’t match 100 percent, we sadly have to reject the book. Sometimes we also have to turn down stunning books because they’re just not translatable.

You publish books in translation. Could you tell us how the acquisition and translation process works?

Once we’ve preselected new titles, we check with the original publishers whether the rights are still available for English and/or Dutch. Subsequently, we negotiate the royalty payments etc with them.

Once we’ve acquired the rights we immediately start the translation process.

Since the pages in a picture book hold very few sentences, which are supported by equally important illustrations, we need to pay attention to each single word. I love having long discussions with the translator about the meaning of one particular word. Every word has to be right.

Fortunately, we’re not translating novels, because we’d probably never publish them, still trying to change words here and there.

Editing is the next step. Editors are as important to us as translators and too often they don’t get mentioned. We’ve been working with Frith Williams who has an incredible eye for detail and a great feeling for rhythm.

Once we feel like the translation is about right we pour the text into the original files. Then we reassess the result in relation to the illustrations.

Often, we have to edit the text a couple more times before we’re entirely satisfied.

Finally, we send the finished PDF to the original publisher for approval.

Cynsational Notes

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers.
Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

Learn more!


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21. Hollins Launches Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature

The annual award will showcase the best picture book manuscript as selected by a panel of judges and will be among the few children’s book honors with a cash prize.

Roanoke, Va. – Hollins University is paying tribute to one of its best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors by establishing a literary award in her name.

Presented annually beginning in 2016, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature will recognize the author of the best text for a picture book published during the previous year.

Winners will be given a $1,000 cash prize, which comes from an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancée at the time of her death. Each recipient will also receive an engraved bronze medal as well as an invitation to accept the award and present a reading on campus during the summer session of Hollins’ graduate program in children’s literature.

Hollins will request prize nominations from children’s book publishers. Then, a three-judge panel, consisting of established picture book authors, will review the nominations and choose a winner.

“The Margaret Wise Brown Award will be one of the few children’s book awards that has a cash prize attached,” said Amanda Cockrell, director of the children’s literature program at Hollins.

Brown graduated from Hollins in 1932 and went on to write Goodnight Moon (Harper & Brothers, 1947), The Runaway Bunny (Harper, 1942), and other children’s classics before she died in 1952. Hollins celebrated her life and work with a year-long Margaret Wise Brown Festival in 2011 and 2012, which featured stage and musical adaptations of her work along with readings, workshops, guest lectures, and other activities for all ages.

The study of children’s literature as a scholarly experience was initiated at Hollins in 1973; in 1992, the graduate program in children’s literature was founded. Today, Hollins offers summer M.A. and M.F.A. programs exclusively in the study and writing of children’s literature, an M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating, and a graduate-level certificate in children’s book illustration.


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22. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Discussion Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Nikki Loftin on the release of Wish Girl (Razorbill, 2015). From the promotional copy:  

Annie Blythe is dying, but she can give Peter Stone the strength to live.

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name.

When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think. There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl: she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.

Magical Places by Nikki Loftin from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "I spent countless hours standing on the crumbling limestone cliffs on the sides of my valley, singing into the constant wind, watching the trees sway and move below while turkey vultures wheeled above. It was the safest place I knew, and the most dangerous."

More News & Giveaways

Lerner Publishing Group Acquires Egmont USA List by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "According to Egmont Publishing, after it announced its plans to close the unit Lerner approached the company about buying Egmont USA’s remaining assets. Under the deal Lerner will fold the Egmont titles into different imprints including Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab, Darby Creek, and Millbrook Press."

Becoming a Student of Your Own Creative Process by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Hours, days, and even years are spent in a state of confusion or frustration regarding how to write better, how to best publish, how to best develop a readership and encourage sales. Each of these, in its own way, is a creative process. Each filled with its own emotional complexity."

Carmen Oliver
Stepping Over the Threshold: The First Children's Book Contract by Carmen Oliver from Donna Janell Bowman. Peek: "I used to think about how incredible it would feel to say I’m published. And I won’t lie; it feels great to get to this point where I’m stepping over the threshold! But not because of the reasons you might think. It’s because I’ve learned so much more about myself."

Banish Stick-Figure Writing: How Concrete Sensory Details Make All the Difference in Fiction by Katherine Catmull from Yellow Bird. Peek: "In 1979, a revolutionary book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain pinpointed why so many adults and older children can’t draw. It’s because they aren’t drawing what they see—they’re drawing what they know. In other words, they’re drawing a category, rather than the thing itself."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "When one thinks of an incredibly strong person, the image of a muscle-bound body builder comes to mind. But while many times that can be an accurate representation, strength can also come in smaller packages."

No Boys Allowed: School Visits as a Woman Writer from Shannon Hale. Peek: "Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They’d had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited."

Multitasking Is Death to Creative Writing by Michael McDonagh from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Multitasking impacts the creative process more severely than analytic processes. Writing fiction also involves an element of multitasking in itself."

Little, Brown Editor Alvina Ling: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I worked full-time at B&N while doing both internships, and worked seven days a week for a 3-4 month period. Grueling, but worth it."

Interview with Cecil Castellucci by Stephanie Kuehn from YA Highway. Peek: "...I am always writing about the exiled and outsiders, about finding your true tribe and following your heart and about how art can save you. And about real true long lasting life long love, in other words, not necessarily romantic, but the people that you keep forever as you travel along." Watch the trailer!

Reminder: 28 Days Later: "During the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, we profile a different children’s or young adult author and children’s illustrator, looking for the best new and unnoticed works by African-Americans. From picture books to novels, books fresh off the presses to those that have lurked in the background unsung for months or years." See Awards and Grants for Authors of Color compiled by Lee & Low.

Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Reading teachers are also math teachers."

Lerner Acquires Egmont USA Titles by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "According to Egmont Publishing, after it announced its plans to close the unit Lerner approached the company about buying Egmont USA’s remaining assets. Under the deal Lerner will fold the Egmont titles into different imprints, including Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab, Darby Creek, and Millbrook Press."

Can We Talk About Ageism in Picture Books? by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging, B Is for Books. Peek: "...only 200 picture books still in print showing older adults in positive, meaningful roles—this over a span of 30 years."

Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading In Print. Yes, You Read That Right by Michael S. Rosen from The Washington Post. Peek: "Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension. But that is more difficult on screens...."

Cynsational Giveaway

The winner of an ARC of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb is Deena in New York.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Huzzah! The hardcover edition of Feral Pride and paperback edition of Feral Curse are now available in North America from Candlewick Press.

This means all the Tantalize-Feral universe series books are now available!

Read an excerpt of Feral Pride from Candlewick. Peek:

CLYDE

I won't be caged.

Not again. I tense at the crackle of the police radio. I check the side mirror. Not yet. I rub my eye-lids, look again. I’m not the only one who’s freaking out. The stink of shock and fear is weighty. I can hear my girl-friend Aimee’s heart thudding in her chest.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the series and this last North America hardcover launch. Most appreciated!

"Kayla is only baby steps into recovering from the death of her first boyfriend and Yoshi, who has legendary experience with ladies, is suddenly faced with the first one with whom he could have a real relationship, a real future, if they both survive." 

--Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Feral Pride, on Fans Inspiring a New Series from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Learn more & enter the giveaway!


Personal Links

Now Available!

Cynsational Events

The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

Now in Paperback!
Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.


http://www.memyshelfandi.com/2015/01/mmsai-tours-presents-third-twin-by-cj.html

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23. Guest Post: Cecilia Galante on Where to Start Your Story?

Cecilia Galante
By Cecilia Galante
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the things I’ve noticed my graduate creative writing students struggling with is where exactly to start in a book.

I’ve had two students fill up the first 40 pages of their novels with excruciating back-story details involving family history, blood-lines, place of birth, and so on.

Another one began her book with a five-year-old protagonist relaying her ideas on life, which might have worked if any of her musings had eventually found their way into her adult life. (They did not.)

The truth is, it is a very difficult process to figure out where in your character’s life you should start telling his or her story. But it’s not impossible.

Here are a few pointers that have helped me navigate this process in my own writing:

1. Don’t ever start at the beginning. Unless you’re writing a memoir, starting out with your character as a kid and then following them up through the teen years and into adulthood is not only boring, it’s missing the point of writing good fiction.

(Random House, April 28)
Most people don’t read books to learn how other people navigate their entire lives; they read books to learn how others navigate a certain part of their lives. The hell of eighth grade perhaps, or a loveless marriage. Don’t cheat your readers by weighing down enormous life experiences such as these other unnecessary ones.

Start right at the crux of things, where the details are the ugliest. The truest. Your readers will trust you right away.

2. Back off the back-story. Even if writers don’t start at the beginning of their characters lives, a lot of them still seem to think that they have to get into all their messy histories, as if apologizing beforehand for all the coming mistakes he or she is going to make.

Don’t fall into that sandpit. Not only will your reader get bored by all the unnecessary details, your story will stop dead in its tracks, which is certain death for both the reader and the writer.

That’s not to say of course, that you don’t need some back-story. Every character needs a little fleshing out when it comes to their pasts. But insert that kind of information sporadically, here and there in little fits and starts, especially when things come up in the present that remind the character of the past.

3. Write big. Right away.

All I knew, when I sat down to write my first book, The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2009), was that I had a scene in my head that had to be put on paper. The scene involved a little boy whose finger was accidentally amputated in a door.

I could see this scene in my head. I could feel it. Taste it. I wrote it out in two days, flush with detail, pulsing with life. And from that scene, the next one came. And then the next, until, a year or so later, the book was finished.

But the finger amputation scene did not end up being the beginning of the book. In fact, it ended up being somewhere in the middle. But because I’d pulled up the anchor and started somewhere, the ship had been allowed to set sail.

Don’t get bogged down by the details of starting. Just start. And if you’re like me, start with something big. Something exciting. Something that makes you want to get back into the chair every morning and keep writing.

And one day, maybe much sooner than you think, you might find yourself climbing up on that deck to see something that looks very much like the end in the not so distant shore.



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24. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Marietta Zacker

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Marietta Zacker is an agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

Marietta has experienced children’s books from every angle – teaching, marketing, publishing and bookselling.

She thrives on working with authors who make readers feel their characters’ emotions and illustrators who add a different dimension to the story.

Some of the books she is championing in 2015 include The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt (Scholastic), Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (Simon & Schuster), Just a Duck? by Carin Bramsen (Random House), The Struggles of Johnny Cannon by Isaiah Campbell (Simon & Schuster), Ruby on the Outside by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster), Percy Jackson's Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan (Hyperion).

Among other things, she is a proud Latina and the Agent Liaison for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Marietta is active on Twitter under the name @AgentZacker

She is interviewed on Cynsations today by Elisabeth Norton for SCBWI Europolitan conference

At Europolitan, you'll be presenting "Finding Seeds of Gold" and you will present about how to determine if your work is ready to submit. From your point of view as an agent, are most of the submissions you receive "ready?" What would you say is the biggest difference between the submissions you see that are "ready" vs. those that are not?

I believe that most people truly believe that they are ready to submit when they do, but one of the questions I typically suggest writers and artists ask themselves is: “If someone were to offer to publish this text or illustration tomorrow, would I be proud of seeing it ‘as is’ on the pages of a book?”

Since essentially eradicating the need to print submissions in order to take to the post office, many send queries via e-mail to ‘test’ whether or not their work is good enough.

It’s true, the business is subjective and we have all passed on projects that went on to get published, but we read too many queries and can usually see, feel and read right through queries that, even if technically masterful, are missing the heart and the essence of the storytelling. And so we pass.

I highly recommend printing your work and holding it in your hands (whether it’s text or an illustration). It makes it more official, it’s tougher to convince yourself that it’s ready to go when it’s not, it also allows you to see the work in ways you never have before.

Hit PRINT first, review it, let it sit, review it again.

If you would be proud to see it published ‘as is’ the very next day, then go ahead and click SEND.

You'll also be leading a session about "How and Why Characters Bloom" with a discussion of "character-driven" projects. Does "character-driven" mean "not action packed?" Would you say that "character-driven" projects are "quiet" projects? Where do "character-driven" projects fit in to today's market landscape?

You’ll have to come to Amsterdam to get most of these answers.

In all seriousness, though, the key to remember is that there is no magic bullet. One description does not negate the other, nor should anyone feel that their work must be described in one singular way.

Ideally, there are multiple layers within each project and a variety of ways to describe any story. I firmly believe that the stories that resonate most with readers are ones that are as complex, as diverse and as multi-layered as the children and young adults who made the choice to keep the book open and continue to read and explore.

The theme of Europolitan 2015 is "Creativity in Bloom: Growing Beyond Boundaries," and we will be exploring the topic of diversity in children's literature. Some authors express reservations about writing diverse characters because they themselves are not a member of the same community or group that their character is. They fear backlash if, despite their best attempts at research and having proof-readers from the represented community, they get something "wrong."

Do you have any thoughts as an agent for writers who may be anxious about getting diversity "wrong" in their project? 

You have to be humble, you have to be willing to learn, you have to be empathetic. You wouldn’t want someone writing an account of your life without getting to know you very well first, understanding the depth of the life you’ve lived, attempting to walk in your shoes and comprehending how you felt during key moments.

The same applies when writing about someone or a group of people whose life or lives you have not lived.

It’s not about getting the facts right (or certainly, what you believe to be the facts). It’s about scratching deep beneath the surface and understanding the things that links us as beings on this planet – the feelings and emotions that make us each individuals, the way we are affected by being de facto members of any one group.

Understanding that this world is diverse and believing that this makes the world a better place is simply not enough to include characters whose experiences are different from yours.

Being willing to empathize with others is the first step.

 Again, we’ll talk more in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

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25. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Brooks Sherman

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.

He represents picture books, fiction for young adult and middle-grade-readers, select literary and commercial adult fiction, and nonfiction in the areas of humor, pop culture, and narrative nonfiction.

He was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

You'll be presenting in Amsterdam about using social media effectively. This is a topic most creators wrestle with at some point in their career.

ON SOCIAL MEDIA...

Does a writer have to be on social media these days?

No. It could be argued that it is more essential for nonfiction writers than for those who write fiction, as nonfiction usually requires author platform.

Here’s the thing: Social media can be useful to a writer, if they are good at it. If you are uncomfortable communicating via social media, it will show, and it will actually have a negative effect. So, if you absolutely loathe using Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, don’t do it!

That said, if you do want to learn how to use it, it can be an invaluable tool for following industry news and trends, as well as networking with other writers and industry professionals.

Do you think the target reader age influences whether a writer needs to be on social media? Is it more important for a writer of young adult fiction to be on social media than say, someone who illustrates picture books?

Again, I don’t think anyone needs to be on social media. I will say that the young adult reading and publishing communities are quite active on social media, so it’s certainly worth considering if you write in that area.

Also, I found my first picture book client, Sam Garton, on Twitter; he had created a Twitter profile for his character Otter that included a link to his website.

Once I clicked onto his site and saw his wonderful humor and amazing artwork, I decided to reach out to him to see if he was working on any picture books.

So if you are an illustrator, keep in mind that social media can be a great way to advertise your artwork and online portfolio.

What's your advice to the writer who has no social media presence at the moment?

I would encourage every writer to at least explore a few social media platforms, to see if any of them hold appeal. Twitter is a different experience from Facebook, as are Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

Try them out before you decide you don’t want to use them.

Before I got into publishing, I thought Twitter was a useless, narcissistic tool. Since I’ve become an agent, I’ve found it incredibly useful for keeping up with world news, publishing news, promoting my clients’ work, and building my own professional reputation.

Is there such a thing as too much social media presence?

I think so. While I think it’s great if writers and publishing professionals are active on social media, if you are too active, it can become exhausting for those who are following you, and you might turn people off.

Also, keep in mind that social media should be a tool, not a goal; if you are using it nonstop every day, when are you going to find the time for your real work? (Or your family, friends, and health?)

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see by writers/illustrators using social media?

The biggest mistake I see people make on social media is forgetting that everything they do is public.

Again, social media is a tool; don’t use it when your emotions are running high, or say, after you’ve had a few glasses of wine. Social media is an excellent way to build a public persona, but it is not you — it is the you that you want to share publicly.

Also, no need to overshare: you don’t need to share every single thought that pops into your head!

ON GRIPPING OPENINGS...

Can you give a couple of examples of what you think are gripping openings, and tell us why they work?



Certainly. Here is the opening line from my client Emma Trevayne’s middle-grade fantasy Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times:

“There are doorways, and there are doorways.” 

Right away, this sentence establishes atmosphere and style. There is a classic feel to this narration, and it compels you to keep reading.



There is also the opening line from my client Heidi Schulz’s middle-grade adventure Hook’s Revenge:

“There have always been pirates. Why, even as far back as Eve, on the day she was considering whether or not to eat that apple, a pirate was most certainly planning to sail in and take it from her.” 

Again, atmosphere and style are immediately apparent. There is some wonderfully wry humor here, and really, who doesn’t love reading about pirates?



The opening lines from my client Becky Albertalli’s young adult contemporary novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda:

"It’s a weirdly subtle conversation. I almost don’t notice I’m being blackmailed.” 

Here is an example of the story starting right away — as a reader, I definitely want to know what’s happening, because my interest has been piqued with the word “blackmailed.”

Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?

In the submissions you see, what percentage would you say grab you with their openings?

I receive somewhere between 50 to 100 queries (with opening pages) during an average week. Of these, I would say perhaps 10 percent of these intrigue me enough to request the full manuscript.

Do any of those stories with gripping openings lose you later?

Learn more!
Unfortunately, this does happen.

Sometimes it is simply a case of my loving the story’s premise but not connecting with the way the story is told.

Other times, it feels like the writer has worked very hard on the opening pages, but not as much on the rest of the manuscript.

While it is important for you to have a gripping opening, don’t forget to give the same attention to the rest of your story! Make sure your story is as tight and strong as possible before you query agents and editors; you want to put your best foot forward.

Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes


Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

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