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1. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, Nov. 2015). From the promotional copy:

In this exhilarating time-travel adventure and sequel to Chronal Engine, Max Pierson-Takahashi and his friend Petra find themselves whisked back to the treacherous, dinosaur-packed Cretaceous Period.

Soon they discover they have more to worry about than dinosaurs when they encounter a girl from the 1920s with a revolver and one thing on her mind—to avenge the death of her father, Isambard Campbell, whom she believes was killed by Max.

Meanwhile, Max’s then-thirteen-year-old uncles, Nate and Brady, have inadvertently time-traveled from 1985 and have problems of their own as they face mosasaurs, tyrannosaurs, and other dangers. The two pairs must not only fight for survival, but join forces to find their way home to their respective decades. Mind-bending time twists and white-knuckle encounters with deadly creatures plus a realistic peek into the age of the dinosaurs make this a perfect choice for anyone looking for a survival story with nonstop action.

Congratulations to Greg, whose novel Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014) has been nominated for the Rhode Island Children's Book Award!

More News & Giveaways

Bombing Through It by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The actual process of getting the story down on paper has a unique intimacy and particularity. Stories are organic. You’ve got to let them grow as you write, even if you’ve already built a trellis."

The Symbiosis of Science & Poetry by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "...people who feel uncomfortable with science often feel very comfortable with language arts, so a poem might be the perfect way to introduce a science topic."

How to Read with Rising Kinders and First Graders This Summer by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "...the ultimate goal here is to show our beginning and soon-to-be readers how reading can be a joyful, positive experience. This mindset will set them up for the best start to their school journey." See also Let the Summertime Reading Hoopla Begin by Frances Lee Hall from ReaderKidz.

Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award Contest from Lee & Low. Peek: "The Award will be given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

Depression Has No Straight Lines, Only Lies by Kelly Jensen from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "Depression feels like it needs a cause or a destination. The truth is, though, that depression is chemical; it’s a brain misfiring and miswiring in ways that don’t have an easy-to-point-to reason for happening."

Nancy Sondel's 13th Annual Pacific Coast Children's Writer Workshop & Retreat will take place Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 in Santa Cruz, California. Faculty: HarperCollins executive editor Kristen Pettit and agent Stephen Barr of Writers House.

Writing During Summer Travels by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You may have activities planned (or planned for you) that don’t seem to show any gaps of free time. If so, look again."

Cynsational Giveaways


Don't miss the Kissing In America (by Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 2015)) Audio Tour & Giveaway!

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

What This Story Needs Is a Pig in a Wig (HarperCollins) with Emma J. Virjan & Greg Leitich Smith.
The lovely & brilliant author-illustrator!

Congratulations to Varsha Bajaj (Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood (Albert Whitman, 2014)), SCBWI's Crystal Kite winner for the Texas/Oklahoma region! See the full list of winners.

Congratulations to Vicky Lorencen for signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin for signing Vicky!

Personal Links

TX/OK Crystal Kite Winner!

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.
Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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2. Guest Post: Amy & David Axelrod on The History of Magic & The Bullet Catch: Murder by Misadventure

See facebook page, excerpt  & educator guide.
By Amy Axelrod & David Axelrod
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When we began, we knew that we wanted to write a novel about a down-and-out magician during World War I.

We knew the setting would be New York City and that this washed-up magician, who we named Barzini, would be involved with a roster of famous illusionists of the time. And finally we knew we would have a young protagonist, named Leo, whose life would serendipitously change from being a petty criminal to a stage magician.

Both of us had interest in the history of stage magic and its legendary personalities. The early 1900s was an exciting and innovative period in the history of magic. But it was also a time of intense competition, jealousies and theft.

When trying to come up with a plot for the book, we kept circling around one magician in particular: Chung Ling Soo.

He was an American named William Ellsworth Robinson who masqueraded as a Chinese conjurer and became a world-wide sensation. His signature illusion was the bullet catch, which would ultimately kill him during a performance. Chung Ling Soo became Barzini’s nemesis, and Leo became entangled in their rivalry.

Writing an historical novel is like being on a treasure hunt. One clue leads to another and another.

We read and cross-referenced many Internet sources, biographies on Houdini and books on illusion written by magicians of the golden era.

Chung Ling Soo (Ransom Center, U.T., Austin)
One particular gem was a book written by Harry Houdini in 1906. The Right Way to Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals, was intended to be a handbook educating the public on the ways of criminals. Instead, it read as a primer on how to commit crime, and was taken out of print. This book proved helpful when creating Leo, a pickpocket, and his gang of thieves.

We also researched the magicians’ collection and Houdini’s private scrapbooks at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

Other books used in researching The Bullet Catch (Holiday House, 2015):

Jay, Ricky. Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women. New York: Warner Books, 1986.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001.

Celebrations of Curious Characters. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books 2011.

Steinmeyer, Jim. The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the Marvelous Chinese Conjurer. Boston: de Capo Press, 2006.

Cynsational Notes 

Follow Amy @amy_axelrod & David @chunglingwho at Twitter

Amy Axelrod has written many picture books, including The Pigs Will Be Pigs Math Series (Simon & Schuster), and the middle-grade novel Your Friend in Fashion, Abby Shapiro (Holiday House).

David Axelrod works in publishing and has written numerous YA novels under pseudonyms.

Read more about their research and collaboration at Amy's blog at Goodreads.

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3. Guest Post & Giveaway: Sarah Frances Hardy on Writing a Companion Picture Book

By Sarah Frances Hardy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations


My third picture book Dress Me! (Sky Pony, 2015) is a companion book to last year’s release Paint Me! (Sky Pony, 2014).



When I was thinking about what my next submission to Sky Pony would be, I sifted through my pile of finished, sort-of finished, and not-at-all finished manuscripts.

I had a longer manuscript for a dress up book that was giving me trouble, but I liked the concept of a girl trying on different outfits and personalities, so I talked through it with my agent.

She suggested that I keep the “me!” theme going and write a companion book to Paint Me! using some of the elements from my longer (and quite honestly, not working) dress up book.

Brilliant!

But it was tricky to do ...

My first attempts too closely mirrored Paint Me!. The rhythm and structures of the stories were almost identical, and my main character, although different looking, struck many of the same poses as my main character in Dress Me!. The two stories were just too much alike. I had to figure out how to echo my original story while making a fresh and new narrative.

And that was the biggest challenge ... making it the same but somehow different! It wasn’t enough to give the main character different words and a different color hair. She had to be a unique person with her own problems and interests.

And the ultimate conflict of the story had to be completely different, but structurally it I wanted it to happen at a similar place in both narratives.

In Paint Me!, a little girl begins the day painting a portrait of her dog and gets a little out of hand. As she skips through the book trying different colors, she calls out the name of each color ... “Yellow me! Red me! ... etc.” The conflict happens when the main character spills paint everywhere and falls down in a giant messy pile yelling “Mom--meeee!”.


As easy as it would have been to have my main character in my companion book fall down in a pile of clothes and yell “Mom-meee!”, I couldn’t do that. It would’ve been lazy and unimaginative--pretty much the exact same book done over again. And who wants to read that?

So ... in Dress Me! my main character tries on lots of different outfits, careers, and (yes) a mustache ...


before trying out the ultimate Diva garb complete with a pink boa and tiara.


“So NOT me!” she yells. The structure and language of both books are the same, but the conflict and character tell a different story.

Different ... but the same.

Plus, I managed to get in a bit of a feminist message, making my book a little different from most of the stereotypical “girl” dress up books out there. My main character in Dress Me! explores who she can be instead of how pretty she can be.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Dress Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy (Sky Pony, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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4. Giveaway: The Neptune Challenge by Polly Holyoke

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy of The Neptune Challenge by Polly Holyoke (Hyperion, 2015) along with a glass dolphin pendant and earrings. From the promotional copy:

Genetically engineered to survive in the ocean, Nere and her friends are recovering from their long, treacherous journey to refuge and settling in at Safety Harbor. 

Despite its name, plenty of dangers still lurk just outside the colony's boundaries.

When two among them are kidnapped, the remaining Neptune kids and their loyal dolphins must set out on a mission even more perilous than their first: infiltrate the kidnapper's fortress to save their friends and steal away a vital scientific secret that may save the world and its oceans.

Fighting terrifying mutated creatures and teens, will the Neptune kids find a way to save their friends, themselves, and their underwater world? The stakes couldn't be higher in this thrilling sequel to the award-winning The Neptune Project.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

A 2014 Texas Library Association Bluebonnet Author Polly Holyoke


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5. Guest Post: Kristi Helvig on Incorporating Science Into Science Fiction

By Kristi Helvig
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the great things about writing science fiction is that you get to make up a lot of stuff.

You can create new worlds, new languages, and even new life forms. From the androids in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) to the self-aware computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), an author’s imagination can exceed the limits of what science can do in a given time period.

Yet, as authors, we can’t insert these fantastic elements willy nilly into the story without respecting the basic laws of science.

While some science fiction writers are, in fact, scientists, most of us are not. My Ph.D. in clinical psychology helps quite a bit when exploring character motivation but isn’t so useful when I need to know how a planet’s distance from the moon impacts its rotation speed.

So how does a writer incorporate scientific aspects into their fiction? A little research goes a long way. For instance, if you’re writing a time travel novel, you might want to investigate things like black holes, event horizons, or even string theory. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963) is pure fiction, but wormholes (similar to the tesseract in her story) are real.

The key is not to bore your reader with pages and pages of theories and expositions about the science involved with your story. If it’s fiction, you just want to sprinkle in enough research that your premise is believable.

For my first book in the series, Burn Out (Egmont/Lerner), I had to find a plausible reason that our sun could burn out early. Only by contacting an astrophysicist at a respected university did I find my answer, and luckily for us, it’s unlikely to happen.

In the sequel, Strange Skies (Egmont/Lerner), the new planet of Caelia has only four hours of light (called light breaks instead of “day”) followed by four hours of dark. I had to contact an astrophysicist again for questions I had about planet size and rotations speed, along with making sure that my freshwater oceans were possible.

Oftentimes, reading scientific articles and watching documentaries is enough, but I believe that contacting experts is a necessity in many cases.

It’s always interesting to see life imitate art—I’m still waiting for the flying cars in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997)—but I had something cool happen with my series.

In Burn Out, the bio-weapons protected by my main character, Tora, are keyed to her individual energetic vibration, meaning that no one else can fire them.

Right before the book was published, which was several years after it was written, my agent sent me an article about guns being developed that would only fire for their specific owner. It’s often a circular relationship, where the science initially serves as a basis for a more advanced idea in science fiction, and then when science advances, that idea can come to fruition years later—such as the advanced crime software in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" (2002).

The takeaway here for writers is that as long as you follow basic scientific laws in your sci-fi novel, the sky (or galaxy) is the limit!



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6. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Activity Pages & Teacher Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Emma J. Virján on the release of What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig (HarperCollins, 2015). Peek:

What this story needs is a pig in a wig, on a boat in a moat with a frog, a dog, and a goat on a log. . . .

As a panda in a blouse, a skunk on a trunk, and more hop on board, it becomes clear that what this story really needs is a bigger boat Join Pig on an exciting boat ride as she discovers that life is more fun with friends in this fantastic funny read-aloud with cumulative text from author-illustrator Emma J. Virján.

Note: Central Texans! Join Emma in launching the book at 3 p.m. May 16 at BookPeople in Austin.

See also Interview: Author-Illustrator-Designer Emma J. Virján from Cynsations. Peek: "Community plays a huge, supportive role. I'm fortunate to live in Austin, where there is a fantastic, loving, talented kid lit community. I'm also a member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and The Girllustrators."



More News & Giveaways

The Emotional Wounds Thesaurus by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Whatever the wound, the result is an all-consuming fear that if the character does not protect himself, this situation (and resulting emotional pain) will happen again." See also How to Uncover Your Character's Emotional Wound by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers.

Meeting People on Twitter: Hanging Out & Getting Found by Annie Neugebauer from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...if you’re newer and/or interested in broadening your following, the most sure-fire way to get discovered is to find others and engage with them."

Turning Prisons into Reading Centers by Deborah Jiang-Stein from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A baby’s early experiences shape his or her brain’s architecture, building either a strong or a fragile foundation for life, learning, and health. Adverse early experiences and deprivation can impact a baby’s brain development for an entire lifetime, and positive learning experiences can set the path for self-esteem and possibility."

Author Alicia Potter & Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Adi Rule from VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "I had kittens who stayed under the bed for two weeks, kittens who’d run and hide whenever I moved, and one who growled the entire time he was eating. But their metamorphosis was so gratifying and poignant to me."

What Are The Great Children's Literature Writing Retreats? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek: "...when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff. Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food." See also Elizabeth on In Search of the Elusive Lesbian Mom.

What Are You? by Christian Trimmer from CBC Diversity. Peek: "With nine million Americans identifying as more than one race, with one in every seven marriages being between spouses of a different race or ethnicity, and with the number of mixed-race babies soaring, the demand for more of these stories is growing."

New Literary Agent: Noah Ballard of Curtis Brown Ltd. in NYC from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Noah mainly represents books geared toward adults, but is open to YA and middle grade that breaks the mold."

Are They LGBTQIA? Let Your Characters Tell You by Karen Sandler from Gay YA. Peek: "I have yet to write a “gay character” during that initial process. Why not? Because I don’t know them that well. Most people don’t walk up to total strangers and blurt out, “So, are you gay, or straight?” I have to get to know my characters as I write my book just as I become acquainted with an actual person in real life."

When Life Imitates Art...Or What Hurricane Irene Taught Me by Tamara Ellis Smith from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "Am I more suited to tell a story about flood victims because I have experienced a flood? Yes. Am I still a middle class woman who could borrow money from my family when I lost so much in that flood? Yes."

Writing After Major Losses by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I had symptoms of 'writer’s burn-out': by-products of prolonged stress. It can be treated. Each symptom stifles a writer’s creativity in a specific way and needs a specific remedy."

Children's & YA Book Awards

2015 Jane Addams Book Awards: Winners & Honorees by the Jane Addams Peace Association from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape. Note: special congrats to pals Duncan Tonatiuh and Deborah Wiles.

The 2015 International Latino Book Awards Finalists from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: " The Awards are produced by Latino Literacy Now, an organization co-founded by Edward James Olmos and Kirk Whisler, and co-presented by Las Comadres para las Americas and Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos. The Awards themselves will be June 27 in San Francisco as part of the ALA Conference."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) is Donna in California.

See also Interview & Giveaway: W. Nikola-Lisa's The Men Who Made The Yankees (Winner of the SPARK Award) by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "Before the crash of 2008, I had published 21 trade children's books over a 25 year period. ...everything stood still. ...mid-career authors; they're not always first in line: they often have to stand in line behind new talent, marquee authors, and celebrities."

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Austin's own Cate Berry has been admitted to the VCFA Writing for Children & YAs program.

Quiet but busy week! I finished my fourth round of packet grading for VCFA and began catching up on correspondence, blogging and event preparation. As you can see from my schedule below, it's going to be a summer jam packed with travel, teaching and speaking!

Personal Links

Cover Reveal!

Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.
Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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7. Jumpstart and Candlewick Press Partner to Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record®

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

National Early Education Organization and Children’s Book Publisher Join Global Movement to Shine a Spotlight on the Importance of High-Quality Early Learning with 2015 campaign book Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

Jumpstart, a national early education non-profit organization, and Candlewick Press, an independent children’s publisher, have announced their partnership in honor of the 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record, a global campaign that generates public support for high-quality early learning and highlights the importance of building children’s vocabulary and love for reading.
On Oct. 22, children and adults worldwide will take action by participating in the world’s largest shared reading experience, known as Jumpstart’s Read for the Record. Since 2006, the campaign has mobilized over 14.5 million people and has kept the world reading record for the most people reading the same book on the same day.

Each year, Jumpstart selects one children’s book as the catalyst for Read for the Record to bring together schools, libraries, communities, and businesses. Jumpstart is honored to embark on a new partnership with Candlewick Press and is proud to announce that award-winning picture book, Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, has been selected as this year’s campaign book.

Jumpstart President & CEO, Naila Bolus, quotes, “During the first years of life, children from low-income communities hear roughly 30 million less words than their more affluent peers. Jumpstart is working alongside Candlewick Press to combat this word gap and increase every child’s vocabulary and love for reading and learning.” Bolus continues, “We could not be happier to celebrate this momentous 10th year with our partners at Candlewick Press and look forward to making Oct. 22, 2015 a day to be remembered.”

Special edition copies of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available through the Jumpstart website at readfortherecord.org. Each special edition features reading tips, vocabulary words, and extension activities provided by Jumpstart’s team of early education experts. Not Norman: A Goldfish Story will be available in both English and Spanish and pre-orders of the special edition are available now.

Karen Lotz, President and Publisher of Candlewick Press, says, “We are thrilled to partner with Jumpstart in this challenge to bring attention to children’s literacy issues and to connect with readers around the world in a global reading of Not Norman. The 10th anniversary of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record is a time to celebrate all that the campaign has accomplished, and to look ahead to its future successes. Candlewick is especially proud to join forces with Jumpstart for this landmark year, as Not Norman also celebrates its 10th anniversary.”

To learn more, register for the campaign, and to pre-order your copy of Not Norman: A Goldfish Story, visit readfortherecord.org.

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Kelly Bennett; see also Kelly on That Last Revision

About Jumpstart

Jumpstart is a national early education organization working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart provides language, literacy, and social-emotional programming for preschool children from under-resourced communities and promotes quality early learning for all children. By participating in Jumpstart’s year-long program, children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for school, setting them on a path for lifelong success. Since 1993, Jumpstart has trained 36,000 college students and community volunteers to transform the lives of 76,000 preschool children nationwide. Follow @Jumpstartkids on Twitter.

About Candlewick Press

Candlewick Press is an independent, employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts. For over twenty years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators. Candlewick is part of the Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books U.K. in London and Walker Books Australia, based in Sydney and Auckland.

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8. New Voice & Giveaway: Maggie Lehrman on The Cost of All Things

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maggie Lehrman is the first-time author of The Cost of All Things (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

What would you pay to cure your heartbreak?

Banish your sadness?

Transform your looks?

The right spell can fix anything…

When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden — and sometimes dangerous — connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy. Part love story, part mystery, part high-stakes drama, The Cost of All Things is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

When I started writing The Cost of All Things (way before it had a title, even), the only thing I knew was that Ari had chosen to forget her boyfriend Win, who had died. I wrote nearly a hundred pages from just her point of view as she attempted to navigate the world without part of her memory.

Then I started my final semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts with Tim Wynne-Jones as my advisor.

Tim took a look at this 100 pages and got very concerned. How could I convey anything about Win, about Ari herself, if she doesn't actually remember him? How is the reader supposed to understand this world or connect to the characters?

I knew Tim was right, but I didn't know what to do about it. Switch to an omniscient third person? Start the story earlier?

Give up, cry, take a nap?

So I put the story aside for a year as I worked on other things, and when I came back to it, I started thinking about the other people in this world, and how they would be affected by Win's death.

Partly just for me, I wrote in other voices, basically starting the story over from the beginning. And as the other characters' wants and needs came into focus, I knew their stories were an important part of Ari's, even though she might not know it (yet). The interconnectedness of these characters became a driving force of the book. How does one person's actions affect the others? What do they uncover, the closer they get?

At an early point, there were as many as seven or eight points of view. But I fairly quickly narrowed it down to the four in the book: Ari, Markos, Kay, and Win, all in first person.

I've read interviews with Jandy Nelson where she talked about how she wrote the absolutely brilliant I'll Give You the Sun (Dial, 2014), which has two first-person narrators: she drafted straight through with one voice, and then straight through with the other, interspersing them later.

I couldn't do exactly that, as these four stories were meant to ping off of each other and loop around, but I did find myself going on a run of three-to-four Markos chapters in a row, and then catching up with a handful of Ari or Kay chapters, and then a whole mess of Win scenes. (Win was easier to write straight through because his chapters were all, by necessity, flashbacks.)

This meant I had a big jumble of scenes and plots in no particular order, which led to a lot of sorting and finessing after the first couple of drafts. Hence the Big Plot Wall, or what was affectionately known in my apartment as the Serial Killer Wall, named after the obsessive charts you see on TV in the homes of serial killers and those who hunt them.

The Big Plot Wall
Each of the four characters' stories are so personal, and they're each so blinded by their own perspective (at least in the beginning) that first person always made the most sense to me. They deal with pain in different ways, which I found I could express in first directly -- as well as show how much of the story was about who knew what secrets when.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

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My glimpse of this world began very small, with Ari and the spell she chose to take to forget Win.

I like to understand the characters before I do any larger-scale thinking about themes, or I can get bogged down with expressing ideas instead of exploring human behavior.

I completely understood why one girl would choose to eliminate the source of her pain -- isn't there something we all wish we could forget? -- and that moment of empathy made me want to know more about Ari and what happened to her. And so I had to dig in to the glimpse and expand it beyond Ari.

If Ari can take this spell, what else is true about this world? How does the magic work? What are its costs?

Once I started thinking about those questions -- how spells were made and taken and paid for, what the consequences would be, who took spells and why -- I started to see the types of parallels you could make to the real world: spells were shortcuts, a way to avoid moments or situations that might be difficult or painful. They gave you what you wanted, but what you wanted isn't always what you needed. There were parallels to performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, cheating, plastic surgery, and more.

This is not to say that using spells was always a bad idea; like in the real world with medical decisions or pain relievers or other important means of self-care, sometimes a spell could be a healthy choice. Hekame (what I called the practice of magic in this world) wasn't good or bad on its own, but could be used for good or bad based on the decisions of the characters. And it always has consequences.

As a side note, for a fascinating and very different way of looking at some of the same questions, especially when it comes to memory, I'd check out the excellent More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (Soho Teen, 2015). Part of the reason I love fantasy/science fiction (as it is in Adam's case) is that writers can answer similar questions in totally different ways.

I've always been fascinated by the way fantasy heightens and reflects the real world. Ursula K. LeGuin said that fantasy stories "work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter."

Hekame was a way for me to talk about choices and consequences, things we in the real world have to face constantly, without having to name each of the parallels. There's room for the reader to fill in their own experience and intuition.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: continental U.S.

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9. Interview: Author Erin Hagar & Illustrator Joanna Gorham on Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

By Erin Hagar & Joanna Gorham
For Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures is by Erin Hagar and illustrated by Joanna Gorham (Duopress, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Julia Child knew how to have fun, and she also knew how to whip up a delightful meal.

After traveling around the world working for the U.S. government, Julia found her calling in the kitchen and devoted her life to learning, perfecting, and sharing the art of French cuisine.

This delicious, illustrated middle-grade biography is a portrait of the remarkable woman, author, and TV personality who captured our hearts with her sparkling personality. “Bon appétit!”

What about Julia's life most resonated with you?

EH: Julia didn’t find her true passion until she was almost forty. She worked hard at all the other jobs she had, but it took a long time to find the job that didn’t feel like work. I worry that today’s kids are pressured to excel at such a young age. I hope Julia’s experience speaks to them, as well.

JG: To achieve all that Julia did, she had to have courage, creativity and the willpower to withstand failure if things didn’t go as planned. I hope I can have the same strength that she showed throughout her life.

Julia Child, First Bite by Joanna Gorham, reproduced with permission.

How was this process different from other projects you've worked on?

EH: I also write (but don’t illustrate) picture books. Folks like me are supposed to stay the heck out of the illustration process so the illustrator can add his or her creative genius to the work.

With this book, I was asked to help to map out what the visual sequences would include and provide visual information from my research. At first, I felt very hesitant about this, but that’s what the project and the timeline demanded. The beauty of the illustrations, however, is all Joanna. I don’t take one ounce of credit for that.

storyboard

JG: When I illustrate magazine articles, I’m looking to show details about the character that tell the viewer more than what’s in the text, while capturing one moment in time. In the Julia book, the chapters show an evolution of Julia’s life.

What were some of the biggest revisions you made?

EH: Cutting, cutting and more cutting. I don’t remember most of what was cut (which means the edits were absolutely necessary) except for this one thing: There’s a long, convoluted, and funny story about how Julia flunked her final exam from Le Cordon Bleu. Word count got the best of us, so I’ll save it for school visits, I guess!

JG: Showing Julia change over the years and making sure she still looked like the same person was a challenge. I didn’t want to exaggerate her age to get the point across that she was aging, but she couldn’t look like she was thirty throughout the book. I painted and repainted her face a lot.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

Erin Hagar
EH: Describing the cultural landscape of the 1950’s and '60’s in a child-friendly way was tough for me. Today, there’s a broader conversation about food and cooking than there was back then.

Also, kids today can watch an entire channel devoted to food and cooking. There were only three national channels during Julia’s time.

JG: The timeline, for sure.

After I finished an illustration, I sent it to the art director, who reviewed it with the Erin and the publisher, sent it back for revisions, and then it was sent it to the designer to include in the book.

My job was to try my best to keep up with the schedule.

What is your favorite illustration in the book?

EH: The cover of the book really knocks my socks off, but the illustration of Julia holding her cookbook for the first time is my favorite.

This is my first book, so I can totally relate to the mix of emotions Joanna captured so beautifully.

@Joanngorham
JG: Julia’s recreated kitchen in the Smithsonian. Her own kitchen was such a personal part of her. Cooking wasn’t just a job, but a passion she took home after work.

The little girl is so excited to experience the intimate setting where Julia shared so much of herself with thousands of museum guests.

Cynsational Notes

Erin Hagar writes fiction and nonfiction for children and teens. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and two children. She has not yet trussed a chicken, but makes a mean molasses cookie. This is her first book.

As a child Joanna Gorham traveled all over the world. She found a love for food, exploring, and storytelling. Now she tells her own stories through her watercolors in children’s books and family magazines. She recently won two of Applied Arts Magazine’s Young Blood Awards, for the brightest up-and-coming talent. You can find her painting in a little red cottage on an island in the Pacific Northwest.

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10. Video: Hello from the 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Happy Monday! Couldn't make it to the Bologna Book Fair? Need a smile?

Watch this video. It won't take long, and you'll feel happier and more connected to the big, wide world of children's literature.


Hello from 2015 Bologna Children's Book Fair... by snottypig

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11. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon on the release of her debut novel, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane, 2015)! From the promotional copy: 

Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to find Ivy's missing mom and say good-bye to the space shuttle.

Ivy Green's mama has gone off with a charismatic preacher called Hallelujah Dave to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. At least that's where Ivy and her dad "think" Mama is. But since the church has no website or phone number and Mama left no forwarding address, Ivy's not entirely sure. 

She does know she's missing Mama. And she's starting to get just a little worried about her, too. 

Paul Dobbs, one of Ivy's schoolmates, is also having a crummy summer. Paul has always wanted to be an astronaut, and now that NASA's space shuttle program has been scrapped, it looks like his dream will never get off the ground. 

Although Ivy and Paul are an unlikely pair, it turns out they are the perfect allies for a runaway road trip to Florida--to look for Mama, to kiss the Space Shuttle good-bye, and maybe, "just maybe," regain their faith in the things in life that are most important.

More News & Giveaways

How To Meditate When You're Too Busy to Meditate and Why You Should Care With Leo Babauta by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fears are based on fantasies (I want to be an amazing writer who impresses everyone!) and the worry that they won’t come true. The antidote, in my experience, is to let go of the fantasies and just be present in the moment."

I Am So Over Writing About "Strong Girls" from Kirby Larson. Peek: "Every time I write the words, 'strong girl' or 'strong woman,' I am implying that the default state of the female of the species is weakness. And I, of all people, know first hand that nothing could be further from the truth."

Rewriting Again...and Again from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...the scariest question of all, was I using the quick-in, quick-out of verse as a way of avoiding exposing my own vulnerability?"

A Bi-cultural Narrative by Kim Baker from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "...people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.)."

A Plea for Anger by Susan Vaught from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...positive, healthy things to do with anger, like exercise, or write a fiery speech or even an entire book, make a video, paint it out, write a bill to become law, walk away from a toxic person or situation, protest injustice–the list of healthy ways to spend anger is pretty limitless. Put it to work."

Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary): Agent Looking for Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "As a Londoner for most of my life, I come from one of the most racially diverse cities on earth. My sons went to schools where white kids were often in a minority and there was a huge racial mix. They had friends from all over the world, many were from first or second generation immigrant families, and my sons’ circles included Hindu, Muslim and Jewish children/teens." See also Survey Seeks to Shed New Light on Publisher Diversity by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.

Change by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every change, big or small, knocks us readers off balance which in terms of emotional craft is good. Shake us out of our fog and our hearts open. We’re free to feel."

Illustrator Shadra Strickland Takes Us Behind the Art of Sunday Shopping from Lee & Low. Peek: "The most challenging part of making the art for Sunday Shopping, was making sure that all of Evie and grandma’s 'bought' items were consistent in all of the small paintings. I had to draw the same small bits of paper in every scene as the wall of items grew and grew." See also Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award from Lee & Low. Peek: "...given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

A Writer's Flexibility by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...life has a way of twisting itself into a pretzel. Your well-planned life (and those of loved ones) takes many unexpected twists and turns. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And if you’ll bend a bit, the writing life allows you to be flexible as well, so you can keep your career and your sanity both."

Will Awards Net More Author Visits? by Kim Norman from Cool School Visits. Peek: "I’ve always thought perhaps it would, so I posed the question to teacher and librarian friends on Facebook."

When Your Scenes Is Dragging: Six Ways to Add Tension by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whatever issue it is that your characters are arguing about– try to raise the stakes as much as you possibly can, so that the pressure on them to make the right decision is that much greater."

Finding the Humor: Jokes in the Midst of Tragedy by Rochelle Deans from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "When you're working with heavy themes, the most important thing to remember is that to your characters, there is no overarching theme. There are the present circumstances and what they're doing about them, nothing else." See also Send in the Clowns by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Authors.

Muslim Representation in YA Lit by Kaye M. from School Library Journal. Peek: "Muslims are a beautiful example of diversity, in ethnic background and in practice, denomination and interpretation. The essence of our faith rests in diversity and universal humanity, on bonding through similarities instead of being forced away from each other due to perceived differences." See also #WNDB Chat on Religious Diversity Storify.

An Indigenous Perspective on Diversity in Young Adult and Children's Books in Australia by Ambelin Kwaymullina from The Wheeler Centre. Peek: "In relation to greater publication of Indigenous works, there is not only a lack of opportunities for authors, but a critical lack of Indigenous editorial expertise."

Bid on critiques by top children's-YA literature agents and editors to benefit Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal for the Arts and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways



The winners of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) were Karen in New York and Jenn in Wyoming.

More Personally

Celebrate Children's Book Week with Eternal (Candlewick)!
The highlight of the week was the launch party for Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) at BookPeople in Austin!

By Cakelustrator Akiko White
With Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Meredith Davis, Debbie Gonzales, Lindsey Lane & Varsha Bajaj
Debbie, debut novelist Anne Bustard & Lindsey
I'm delighted to announce that Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio is in the midst of redesigning my official author website. Look for a more streamlined, device friendly and definitely updated site soon.

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez on her New Visions Award honoree from Lee & Low and on signing with Linda Camacho from Prospect Agency. Cheers also to New Voices Award winner Axie Oh and Award honoree Andrea Wang.

Congratulations to Children's Choice Book Awards Teen Choice Debut Author Jennifer Mathieu (The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook))! See more on the winners.

Interview with YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from T.A. Maclagan. Peek (to debut authors): "You are courageous. You are living your dream. Breathe, breathe, breathe and laugh as much as you can."

Personal Links
Learn more!

Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.



Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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

Cynthia will speak from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from June 8 to June 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

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12. The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award To Celebrate 20th Anniversary

Courtesy of Jesse Gainer
Director, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award will be celebrating its 20th anniversary Sept. 25 and Sept. 26. In addition to showcasing exemplary Mexican American children’s and young adult literature, the program strives to share examples of powerful ways to engage young people in culturally responsive teaching and learning with the award winning literature.

The main events include a conference from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 25 and a Mexican American literature fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

Rivera Award Conference

The conference is an opportunity for educators and others who are interested in Mexican American children’s and young adult literature to meet and discuss critical topics in the field with award-winning authors and illustrators as well as leading scholars in the field. Fourteen authors and illustrators who have won the Rivera Award in the past ten years will be featured speakers at the conference. The cost is $25 ($10 for college students) and includes lunch and registration materials. Register now at: riverabookaward.org

Rivera Award Literature Fair

The literature fair will include a book parade, presentations by the authors and illustrators, literature-inspired presentations by students, music and dance performances, and many hands-on activities for the whole family. It will take place at the San Marcos Public Library and San Marcos Activity Center. The fair is free and open to the public.

If you would like to bring students to share original works inspired by their study of Rivera Award books, or if you would like more information, please contact Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu).

More on the Anniversary Celebration!


Participating Authors and Illustrators

Winners of the Rivera Award from 2006-2015

Works for Younger Children Category (age birth to 12 years)

  • Winner 2015 : Duncan Tonatiuh for Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez’s and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Abrams);
  • Winner 2014: Duncan Tonatiuh for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (Abrams);
  • Winner 2012: Winifred Conkling for Sylvia and Aki (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2012: Duncan Tonatiuh for Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (Abrams);
  • Winner 2010, Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales for What Can You Do With A Paleta? (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2008, Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt);
  • Winner 2006, Susanna Reich & Raúl Colón. José! Born to Dance (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2001: Amada Irma Pérez and Maya Christina Gonzalez for My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito (Children’s Book Press). Note: Amada Irma Pérez will represent the first decade of winners.

Works for Older Children Category (age 13-18 years)

  • Winner 2015: Isabel Quinteros for Gabi: A Girl in Pieces (Cinco Puntos);
  • Winner 2014: Susan Goldman Rubin for Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People (Abrams);
  • Winner 2013: Guadalupe Garcia McCall for Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low);
  • Winner 2011: Alex Sanchez for Bait (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2009: Carmen Tafolla for The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans (Wings);
  • Winner 2009: Benjamin Alire Sáenz for He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2007, Juan Felipe Herrera for Downtown Boy (Scholastic).

About the Award

Texas State University College of Education developed The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.

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13. Guest Post & Giveaway: Claire Legrand Announces Some Kind of Happiness

Follow @clairelegrand
By Claire Legrand
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I will always remember the first time I had a panic attack.

I was in fifth grade, in the middle of a math lesson, and I don’t remember what triggered the attack, although I assume it had something to do with the fact that I was in the middle of a math lesson. Numbers never came easily to me, and even at a young age, I was hyper-aware of that fact, and embarrassed by it.

So I asked to be excused and hurried to the restroom. I hid in a stall and sat on the toilet, shaking. I was flushed all over, sweating like you do when you wake up from a nightmare. My skin crawled, and I couldn’t stop scratching it. I couldn’t breathe.

I thought maybe I just had to throw up and then these feelings would go away, but I couldn’t, and they didn’t.

With no idea what was happening, I huddled there, terrified and alone, for as long as I felt I could get away with it. I thought I was going to burst out of my skin.

That was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.

I will always remember playing in the woods behind my grandma’s house. Now, the trees aren’t quite as tall as they once were, the woods not as deep. Now, I can see reality through the leaves—other houses and other streets, power lines. But growing up, it was an endless wonderland, a neverland, a paradise for me and my cousins.

"My cousins and I hung this sign at the entrance to our clubhouse."
We explored it for hours and days, months and years. We grew up there, shaping it to fit our games of runaways and witches, Peter Pan and Robin Hood.

We built a clubhouse and gathered moss to make potions. We crawled into the green hollows beneath bushes and whispered about where we would go next—other kingdoms, other forests. We stayed out past sundown, the windows of my grandparents’ house glowing with lamplight.

We were never afraid of the dark, not in that place. It was ours, after all. We had made it.

To us, that world seemed full of magic.

I have always wanted to write a story about that place, as I remember it. To capture it forever in the pages of a book.

I’ve always wished that my scared, ten-year-old self could have found a book on the library shelves that told the story of a girl like me. Who got scared like I did, and sad like I did, for no particular reason. A book that could have helped me understand what was going on inside me.

I hope that, through my next book, Some Kind of Happiness, I’ve accomplished both of these things. It’s the story of eleven-year-old Finley Hart, who knows she should be happy. She has a good life, a loving family. Some days she is happy. Some days, though, she’s not. She gets scared for no reason she can pinpoint, and sad, too. She feels tired and heavy. She loses herself to inexplicable panic.

"The tree named 'Mother Octopus'"
Whatever is wrong with her, she wants to hide it from the world, and especially from her parents. They have their own problems to deal with, and she won’t be another one.

To cope, she creates the forest kingdom of the Everwood and writes about it in her beloved notebook. Only in the Everwood does she feel in control. Only there does she feel safe.

While spending the summer at her estranged grandparents’ house, Finley draws her cousins and the wild boys next door into the world of the Everwood—but when the days spent exploring in the nearby forest reveal buried family secrets, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur, and Finley must find the courage to bring darkness into the light—both her own darkness and that of the family she has come to love.

I’m so excited to announce that Some Kind of Happiness is set to release May 2016 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This is my third middle grade novel, and perhaps my most personal one. It’s a story about secrets, family, and friendship, adventure and summertime, mental illness and the power of imagination.

I hope you love it as much as I love it—and even more than that, I hope it finds its way into the hands of kids who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression but didn't yet know how to describe what they were feeling. Like me, maybe they only know it as a nameless, lonely weight on their shoulders. Maybe it scares them, or embarrasses them. Maybe they try desperately to hide it.

I just hope that maybe, as they go on this adventure with Finley, they’ll find words to articulate those feelings, and that weight will start to feel a little bit lighter.

For more on the look and feel of Some Kind of Happiness, be sure to check out the book’s Pinterest board—and for a brief, exclusive excerpt from the book itself, read on!

Excerpt

Once there was a great, sprawling forest called the Everwood.

It was not the kind of forest children played in.

It was the kind of forest most people stayed far away from, for it was said to hold many secrets, and not all of them kind.

According to rumor, the Everwood could be both beautiful and foul, vicious and gentle.

"We were in our own special world."
It was home to astonishing creatures and strange, solitary people—some of whom were born in the Everwood, and some of whom wandered inside, whether they meant to or not. No one in the Everwood got along, for they had no ruler to bind them together, no neighborhoods or cities. They lived like wild things and kept to themselves.

Or so the rumors said.

Most people were afraid to enter the Everwood, but some brave souls made the journey anyway: Adventurers, witches, explorers.

They never returned.

Perhaps the wild creatures who lived in the forest had trapped them there. Or maybe the Everwood’s secrets were so enchanting that those who made it inside did not care to leave.

Everyone who lived near the Everwood knew it was protected by two guardians, who were as ancient as the Everwood itself. Throughout their long lives, the guardians had learned how to read certain signs—the wind in the trees, the chatter of the Everwood creatures.

One summer, not so long ago, something happened that would change the Everwood forever.

The ancient guardians determined that soon, a terrible Everwood secret—one they had kept hidden for years—would come to light. And if this happened, the guardians read in their signs, the Everwood would fall. They would no longer be able to protect it. Its secrets and treasures would be laid bare. Its people would be turned out into the cold, wide world.

There was hope, however. A small, cautious hope.

The guardians could read this hope, slight as it was, in their signs. It was as clear to them as though it were a page in a book:

The Everwood, if it were to be saved, would need a queen.

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win a signed set of books by Claire Legrand: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster, 2012), The Year of Shadows (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Cabinet of Curiosities (Greenwillow, 2014), and Winterspell (Simon & Schuster, 2014). U.S. only. Author sponsored.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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14. New Voice: Danica Davidson on Escape from the Overworld

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Danica Davidson is the first-time author of Escape from the Overworld (Skyhorse, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Stevie, who comes from a long line of Steves, doesn't feel as if he fits in the Minecraft world. His father is great at building and fighting off zombies, but Stevie struggles in these areas. 

One day, when Stevie is alone in the field trying to build something new that will impress his dad, he discovers a portal into a new world.

Stevie steps out of a computer screen and into the room of eleven-year-old Maison, a sixth-grade girl who loves to build and create, but who is bullied and made an outcast by her classmates for not indulging in activities deemed "cool." Stevie is shocked by how different this world is, and Maison takes him under her wing and teaches him all about her world. The two become friends, and Maison brings Stevie to school with her.

Stevie is horrified to see there are zombies in the school He realizes that when he opened the portal, this allowed zombies to also enter the new world. More and more creatures are slipping out by the second, wreaking havoc on a world that has no idea how to handle zombies, creepers, giant spiders, and the like. Stevie and Maison must put their heads together and use their combined talents in order to push the zombies back into Minecraft, where they belong. 

As Stevie and Maison's worlds become more combined, their adventure becomes even more frightening than they could have imagined.

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

I’ve always loved writing — I still have stories I dictated to my parents when I was three, or little notebooks I wrote in when I was so small I had to follow my mom around and ask her how to spell each word.

This continued on throughout the years, with me starting to write multiple novels in middle school. I like to write in a private area, usually with music playing. The music varies depending on the type of scene or book I’m writing.

For my book Escape from the Overworld, I got the contract before I’d written the book and the publisher wanted a quick turnaround of about six weeks.

There was definitely a moment of, “Six weeks – what have I gotten myself into?” But then I made myself plan.

Working as a journalist has taught me that you sit down and you write your project; if breaking news is happening, your editor is not going to care if the Muse isn’t inspiring you that day.

I’d turned in a synopsis for the book, which is what led to the contract, so I spent the next week figuring out in my head the details of the scenes. The main characters are eleven, so I reread some writings I did at eleven to help me get back in the voice. The week after that, I made myself write at least 2,000 words at day on the manuscript before taking any breaks. I wrote more on the weekend or if the words were flowing extra well that day.

In one week, I had my rough draft of about 20,000 words. I gave it to some friends to help me edit (warning them it was called a rough draft for a reason), and waited till I got their edits back before I returned to the manuscript. Once I got their thoughts, I started my revisions and I made my deadline.

There were a number of things that were important to me while writing. I know some people might be quick to dismiss it as, “Oh, it’s just a Minecraft book,” but I wanted it to be more than that.

Since I notice a lot of Minecraft books (or even just adventure books in general) are male-dominated, I made sure my protagonists are male and female and on equal footing. I take on issues like bullying and the fears of going to a new school. I made the shop class teacher female, because I know many people would unconsciously picture a shop class teacher as being male. Both the main characters are from single-parent households, since I wanted to show that’s normal for many kids and nothing to be ashamed of.

Learn more!

As a result of my bullying and girl-power angles, the book has been included in an anti-bullying, girl-empowerment program called Saving Our Cinderellas that aims to inspire young girls of color in cities around the country. I want the book to be fun — I end almost every chapter with a cliffhanger for a reason — but I also hope it can inspire young readers and touch them emotionally as well. It's my goal to write all different types of books for all different ages.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

This is kind of a trick question for me, because writing is my full-time day job, but it’s journalism.

Hear me out.

My fantasy was to publish novels and become a professional writer that way, but as many writers know, that’s easier said than done. When I was in high school, I had to start earning my own money because of financial and family issues. Like many a naive young writer, I submitted stories to "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places. And like many a naive young writer, I have some fabulous rejection letters from the "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places.

I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I started out smaller, writing for local newspapers. Once you’ve published things professionally, other places will take you more seriously. I would take samples of my published work and send them to bigger and bigger places.

Porthos
My interest in anime and manga had me writing about the subject for local papers, and then I used that to get me in Anime Insider, which led to Booklist, Publishers Weekly, CNN, The Onion, Los Angeles Times and other places. (I know this sounds really quick, but I can tell you it actually took years, and I got many rejections in the meantime.)

I even found opportunities to write the English adaptation of Japanese graphic novels for the publishing company Digital Manga Publishing.

At first I was working other part-time jobs to supplement my income, but within a few years I became a full-time writer. Every single day I wrote articles and sent out more submissions.

I began to be known as an expert on manga and graphic novels, and this led me to writing for MTV, which at the time had me reporting on superhero comics being made into movies. I love writing for MTV News, and now I cover social justice issues for them, which means I write about things like philanthropy, activism and advocacy with causes that matter to young people. I was part of a small group of MTV writers to receive a Webby Honor for Best Youth Writing.

All of this helped me hone my craft, get my name out there, and pay the bills.

When I got my agent not long ago, he was very impressed to see a twenty-something who’d sold more than a couple thousand articles to big-name places.

Then while he was shopping around a YA series of mine, Skyhorse Publishing approached me, wanting a manga art guide. Of course I was thrilled and grateful! Next they asked me if I could write some sort of Minecraft book, which led me to pitch Escape from the Overworld. The manga book will be out soon, and I just finished my rough draft for my sequel to Escape from the Overworld, which has the planned title Attack on the Overworld.

I still haven’t been in "The New Yorker," but that’s okay.

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15. New Voice: Reem Faruqi on Lailah’s Lunchbox

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Reem Faruqi is the first-time author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, illustrated by Lea Lyon (Tilbury House, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. 

When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won't understand why she doesn't join them in the lunchroom. 

Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. 

This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon's vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Trying to write and mothering young children can be very tricky! I have a two-year-old and four-year-old and have learned that you get better at working through interruptions. When I’m writing, I’m usually receiving interruptions from my children to take them to the bathroom, for another snack … the list goes on!

When my four-year-old is at school, I have my interruptions cut in half with just my two-year-old's needs. That's when I feel I get the most writing done.

I do try to write sometimes at night when the children are asleep and find it semi-successful. I find I work best during daylight. I love natural light and find it conducive to working and getting my ideas flowing.

At night, it is easy to feel tired after a busy day!

When I quit teaching to stay home with my children, I wrote a lot of children's manuscripts when my first child was a baby. She slept a lot during the day so I enjoyed getting that time to write.

Those stories didn't make it in the publishing world, but through them I now found a stronger voice that works for me.

"Writing" her name with Webdings
I do think it's important though to rest when your children are resting as that time is precious and when your mind is rested, it is easier to write. Sometimes whole stories will pop in my head when I am doing something random like getting my children ready for bed. It's as if I can visualize the story, the words, the illustrations, but sometimes when I sit down at the computer, it is frustrating when that story disappears! But if it's a good story, I believe it will resurface.

The title for my story, Lailah's Lunchbox, popped into my head when I was cooking: I thought it would be fun to write a Ramadan story about a child who "forgot" their lunchbox every day during Ramadan. I wrote the title on a sticky note and put it away for some time before coming back to it.

For those trying to write and raise children, I would tell them there is no such thing as having it all! You may have a great manuscript you’re working on but you will be eating left-overs for dinner for the third day in a row and children that need a bath! Or you may be itching to write a story, but find yourself caught up in bathing children, cooking food, laundry, dropping and picking up children from school, etc!

Something has got to give way when you write. Sometimes I may be caught up in a story and look around at my house and children and think What Happened?!

This happened when I was writing once!
 At those times, find reassurance in your words that you have just worked on and know that because of entropy, your house will continue to keep getting dirty. Putting your words out there takes work and in due time your work will pay off!

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I got a flurry of emails until the "Yes" email!

I made a list of six agents and six publishers to send Lailah’s Lunchbox to. I mailed the manuscripts on May 30 and tried to distract myself with other things. On June 16, I received an email with the subject ‘Your Manuscript’ in my inbox. That was enough to make my insides leap!

The email was from Fran Hodgkins, the Director of Editorial Design at Tilbury House, saying I had sent my manuscript to their old mailing address and that it had been re-routed to their new address.

This is the wrong address for Tilbury House!

Fran said she enjoyed reading it and was sharing it with the co-publishers, Jon Eaton and Tris Coburn, as well as Audrey Maynard, the editor. She went on to say my story was a unique take on Ramadan and she was glad I thought of it. She wanted to know if I had received a response from any other publishers as yet.

I wrote back saying I hadn’t heard a response yet and then went on to forward the email to my aunt who was the person who had encouraged me to send in Lailah’s Lunchbox. She was just as excited as I was!

I checked my email a lot that week but no response. A week later I followed up with Fran asking if she had any response from her co-publishers to which she responded that they were meeting the next day to discuss my story.

I didn’t hear anything from them the next two days. Then on June 24, Tilbury House Publishers followed me on Twitter (@ReemFaruqi). At this point, I started to get more hopeful.

I couldn’t wait anymore so emailed Fran to see if there was any updated to which I got the yes email on June 26:

I was going to wait and have our children's book editor call you, but I'll take this opportunity to say that we really like your manuscript and would like to publish it.

I'm CCing Audrey on this email, as she is the one who'll be working with you closely and our publisher, Tris Coburn, will be in touch to talk terms.

If that all sounds good to you, let me know....

I then took the next 20 minutes to celebrate. I couldn’t believe that I finally got a Yes!

My two-year-old had just gone down for a nap so I couldn’t tell her and I had to celebrate semi-quietly. My husband was teaching so couldn’t phone him up to tell him. My four-year-old was at school so couldn’t tell her either.

So I just jumped around for a minute before calling my aunt who was just as excited as I was, and then my mother who knew when I told her to “Guess What?” that I’d gotten a book deal offer! I wanted to email Fran back with a hundred exclamation marks saying:

THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But once I’d composed myself, I wrote:

Hi Fran,

Thanks for the quick reply. I couldn't wait long enough for the editor to call me. Yes, this sounds amazing and I so excited!

Looking forward to talking with Tris Coburn.

Reem

Within the next few days, I spoke with the publisher Mr. Tris Coburn and Ms. Audrey Maynard, the children’s book editor. It felt surreal to be talking to people whose names I had admired.

That night I went over to my mother’s house and we had a cozy family dinner to celebrate!

Editing time!


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16. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)(Cinco Puntos, 2013) won the children's division of the Oklahoma Book Award. Note: Finders Keepers by Roy Deering (RoadRunner) won the YA division. See more information about the Oklahoma Book Awards. See also A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.

Nikki Garcia, Assistant Editor at Little, Brown: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...deciding to be an editor was much easier than actually convincing someone to let me be one. Once I was finished with my classes, I hit the pavement and had an informational interview with anyone who’d meet with me."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry: Musicality by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...having an ear for pitch; being able to hear parts, as opposed to only melodies; being able to recreate a piece of music once it has been heard; having a basic understanding of music theory."

Be A More Productive Writer While Also Achieving Balance by Jordan Rosenfeld from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Intentions are daily motivators in small, manageable pieces; they spur you into action and carry out your tasks on the way to your goals."

The Top 20 Middle Grade Agents by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report all of their sales to Publishers Marketplace. See also Darcy on the Top 20 YA Agents.

Autism on the Page series
Happy Endings and Overcoming Autism by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "In this trope, autism is the bad guy, the obstacle to be overcome. It’s not seen as just a difference, but as something to be fixed and mitigated in a way that other, supposedly 'normal' character traits aren’t."

Native American Representation in Children's Literature: Challenging the "People of the Past" Narrative by Julie Stivers from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "No books by non-Native authors were set after 1950, whereas 75% of books by Native authors were, with 2/3 of books written by Native authors set in present day."

Caitlyn Dlouhy Gets Imprint at Atheneum by Natasha Gilmore from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing will launch a new imprint under Atheneum Books, called Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, helmed by the editor of the same name who has worked with such authors as Laurie Halse Anderson, Ashley Bryan, David Small, and Sharon Draper in her 16 years with the company. Dlouhy was previously v-p and editorial director at Atheneum."

Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal. Peek: "The vast majority of reviewers for School Library Journal (SLJ) are white (88.8 percent) and female (95 percent), according to a recent survey by the magazine."

10 Books by Asian-American Authors by Audrey from Rich In Color. Peek: "...with Asian-Pacific American Month around the corner..."

What Is Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day)? 5 Questions for Pat Mora by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "Día strengthens communities because it brings diverse children and families together to celebrate all our children and to connect them to bookjoy. Día is a year-long commitment to share literacy creatively with culminating celebrations held in April on or near April 30th."

Green Earth Book Awards

2015 Green Earth Book Award Winners Announced from The Nature Generation:



Picture Book: The Promise, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick).

Children's Fiction: Deep Blue, written by Jennifer Donnelly (Hyperion).

Young Adult Fiction: Threatened, written by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic).

Children's Nonfiction: Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Annie Crawley (Millbrook).

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman (Candlewick).

See honor books and more information, including synopsis of each book. 

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

It's a short week at Cynsations, as I'm off to Saratoga Springs today!

Congratulations to Debbi Michiko Florence for signing with Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Tricia on signing Debbi!

Highlights of my week included finally meeting in person this gorgeous, brilliant & inspiring author-actress-singer-filmmaker, who I first met online back in 2007 on MySpace--lucky me!

Florida YA author Shayne Leighton at 24 Diner in Austin.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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).

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

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17. Guest Post: Tara Altebrando on My Life in Dioramas

Learn more!
By Tara Altebrando
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I remember the day I finished my first middle-grade novel, The Battle of Darcy Lane (Running Press, 2014), pretty vividly. I sat there for a minute, stared out the window of my office, and thought: "Now I need a new middle-grade idea."

So I started to root around my brain for inspiration by asking myself the question, "What do I like?"

I'd recently become a little bit obsessed with terrariums, but (understatement alert) I didn't think that terrariums would really appeal to young readers.

Then I remembered a shoebox diorama I made when I was ten years old. It was an Olympic year and I made a tobogganing scene. (I must have been assigned tobogganing because I'm pretty sure I would have chosen figure skating if it had been up to me, but no matter.)

I remember exactly how that diorama looked when it was done; how proud of it I was, how mesmerizing I found it; I remember an afternoon I spent working on it at my friend Tracy's house; I remember the materials I used.

I remembered, that day in my office, that I freaking love dioramas.

A minute later the title My Life in Dioramas (Running Press, 2015) popped into my head…so I wrote it down and then started to cast about for the story.

The House That Inspired the Novel
My husband and I had recently bought a vacation house—an old farmhouse in upstate New York and I had become entirely smitten with the place. It made me happy just to be there--watching the stream in the backyard run, listening to the neighbor's cows moo, staring at knots in the high wood-beam ceilings, listening to wind chimes on the back porch.

As silly as it may sound, I ached for the house when I wasn’t there.

So into my brain walked Kate Marino. Twelve years old and living in a big red farmhouse that she adores. It is her Xanadu (so of course that movie makes an appearance in the book because I love it more than even terrariums!) and then her parents announce that they have to sell it.

I decided that Kate would set out to sabotage the sale and that she would start making dioramas of the house. First just one, for a school project. Then a second, because her first one was late and she doesn’t want her grade to suffer. But then she just keeps going and going…capturing scenes from her childhood.

Basically, she catches diorama fever. Which is currently on the loose in my own home, big time. My daughter is in second grade and studying landmarks: Boom. She’s suddenly making a Coney Island diorama.

Coney Island diorama

A group of wonderful girl filmmakers, Teeny Tiny Filmworks, went crazy with the diorama-making for my book trailer and I’m surrounded by those dioramas now. I’m collecting materials for a diorama I plan to make of me doing a signing in my local bookshop…so that I can bring it to my signing in the bookshop.

This fever, it’s contagious! In fact, in coming weeks I’ll be sharing dioramas that author pals of mine have made for me of scenes from their books. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t throw out any shoe boxes. You never know when you’ll need one!

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18. New Voice & Giveaway: Sarah McGuire on Valiant

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarah McGuire is the first-time author of Valiant (Egmont/Lerner, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.

Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes far more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.

But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine, Valiant richly reimagines "The Brave Little Tailor," transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I think it came in stages for me. I was one of the lucky writers included in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees, and for six months, we worked though my novel. I think my biggest takeaway was tackling the middle of the novel and keeping it from sagging.

Even though I had to slide that novel, under the metaphorical bed, I had a much better understanding of story structure. And I used it in Valiant, making sure I had a tent pole of tension to hold up the center of the story.

My next jump was in a Highlights Workshop with Patti Gauch. She taught (among other things) about going far enough emotionally, about reaching a transcendent moment of fear or hope or joy. She taught me to watch for those places in the story that already meant something to me. I learned to circle back to those places and dive into the emotion of that moment.

I think as writers, we're afraid of our emotion in a scene seeming cheesy or overwrought. And from that place of fear, we keep our emotion on a tight rein. I would have said I was being subtle, but the truth was that I was scared– scared of purple prose and people laughing at over the top scenes. When I was afraid, and didn't go far enough, my writing came across as insincere or insubstantial.

And ... here's the secret: it was. I was too scared to reveal the substance of that emotion. I was too afraid to be truly sincere. My fear of emotional triviality actually made my writing trivial.

But now I'm all better.

Ha.

Of course, I still work at this. And I still don't get it right the first or second draft. Or the third. And when I do finally go far enough, I have to loop back a few days later to trim and shape and make sure there's nothing in the writing of that moment that would keep a reader from going far enough. But I'm getting better at it. And knowing when I don't go far enough is half the battle, right?

Right.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

Photo by Chris Anderson
I found that stories and math (among other things!) shaped Valiant's world.

Let's start with stories. When we think of world building, we often think of government, architecture, all the minute details of daily life. But we forget that we view our own world through the lens of story.

For instance, going off to pursue a dream is most mostly viewed as proper independence in America. In our stories and movies, it's often rewarded. But in other cultures, such independence might be viewed as destructive and selfish.

Anyway, once I realized I'd be writing a story about giants, I knew wanted to work within the stories we all know about giants--even if we don't think we know them. So I did an informal survey of Western myth, folk and fairy tales. Whether it was a titan of Greek mythology or the giant who ground bones to bake bread, giants were brutes who could only be overcome by some form of trickery.

(I found one story of a smart giantess: Oona, the wife of Finn MacCoul. But she defeats another giant through (you guessed it!) trickery. The only story I could find in which someone beat a giant through a straightforward attack was David and Goliath.)

So I had stories where giants were 1) the enemy, 2) stupid, and 3) sometimes ate humans. It seemed only right that the humans in my novel would have similar stories (and thus views) of giants.

David and Goliath, by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)
But things got interesting when I looked back through that same story-lens. Given those stories, how would giants view humans? As unreliable tricksters who used their wits to overcome and kill giants.

So within the giantish world, the most powerful giant might not always be the strongest, but the one who couldn't be fooled.

For me, that was when things got interesting. So I wrote Valiant with the idea that I had two cultures with the same set of stories, but who viewed those stories from two very different perspectives.

I also used math to build my world. (Such a whiplash-inducing change from stories, isn't it? But bear with me.) I was thinking about volume.

Let's say you have a cube that measures one inch on every side. It's volume is length x width x height, or 1 x 1 x 1, which equals 1 cubic inch. If I had a cube that was six times the size of the first cube, 6 x 6 x 6, its volume would be 216 cubic inches.

So–and this is an oversimplification– if a giant was six times as big as a human, he could weigh roughly 200 times more. And he'd need a lot more food than six humans.

Where might giants living in the stony Belmor Moutains find food? And how could they travel the great distance they did in Valiant? I discovered some of my favorite details about the world of the uten by exploring that. What started as mathematical ended with one of my favorite scenes.




Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA/Lerner, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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19. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Anne Urse About The Real Boy by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Oscar isn’t labeled as autistic or having any kind of special needs in the book, and it’s been interesting to see who picks up on his autism. And many readers don’t. I’ve found that it tends to be people who are closely associated with autism in some way or another who see it." See also The Joke's On Me! Humor & Autism by Lyn Miller-Lauchmann.

Hand-holding in Dialogue Tags by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "The star of dialogue is the dialogue itself. Holding the reader’s hand through each snippet of dialogue says to me that you don’t quite trust yourself to communicate the scene in a way that the reader gets it."

Interpreting César Chávez's Legacy with Students by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day."

Word Count Intimidation by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "First, be done with numbers. Pledge not to count words until you type 'The End' on the final scene."

Showing Emotion: Moving Beyond the Face by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The face is the first thing we notice in real life, and the focal point during any conversation."

On Writing & Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain?"

How I Got Into Publishing by Faye Bi, publicist at Simon & Schuster from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A love of books is not enough to work in publishing. Some candidates can’t afford to accept an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door, let alone three. Some need to consider higher paying industries to pay off their loans or take care of their families. Others don’t live near New York, or have any publishing companies near them."

Children's Literature for Math Awareness Month (April) by Jennifer Schultz from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Even if you don’t have a special program planned for Math Awareness Month, you can easily mark it with a counting-themed story time or display."

Ten Children's Bookseller Challenges and How Stores Solved Them by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Every bookstore faces obstacles, but the way that it overcomes them can make the difference between being a so-so store and being a great one."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain, 2015) was Rachel in Arizona.

YA Fantasy Cover Survey from Teenreads.com. Once you complete the survey, you'll be able to win a fantasy book or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. Note: for readers age 12 to 29.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

With Michelle Knudsen, Texas librarians & Candlewick peeps at Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill!
Colorful Canon panel at the Texas Library Association Conference, featuring Jeanne Devlin (Roadrunner), Lee Byrd (Cinco Puntos), me, Don Tate and Marina Tristan (Arte Publico), Keri Rabe (moderator). My enthusiastic thanks to all!
Novelists Lindsey Lane, Brian Yansky and Katherine Catmull at the Austin SCBWI Monthly meet at BookPeople.

Local Authors Leading Campaign for More Diverse Books by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Stateman. Peek: "Quick, check your kids’ bookshelf: How many characters look just like them? The answer likely depends on what race they are. And that’s a reality that many in the literary community — including key players from Austin — are working to change." Note: requires registration to read in full.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

This morning Cynthia will appear on the panel "Let's Hear Their Stories: American Indians, Arabs and Arab Americans" from 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. in Convention Center Room 10 C, Level 3 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin. Peek: "Representing American Indians and Arabs/Arab-Americans in library collections is an important component of diversity. The panel of authors and library science specialists surveys the availability of children's and YA books about these groups and will point out ways librarians can evaluate books for accuracy, fairness and freedom from stereotype." Panelists also include: Nancy Bo Flood, Janice L. Kowemy, Elsa Marston, and Loriene Roy.

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).

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

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20. Guest Post: T.A. Maclagan on Spy Novel Covers & They Call Me Alexandra Gastone

By T.A. Maclagan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. Maclagan (Full Fathom Five Digital, 2015):

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.

She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.

Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.

For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.

But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.

Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.

Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

Find T.A. at Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter
As a book cover art aficionado (I have a Pinterest page of covers I fan girl over – yes, I’m that much of a book nerd), I headed into the cover design phase of my publishing journey with both excitement and trepidation.

I wanted a cover that I could love so badly, but knew that authors don’t usually get much input on cover design.

I was both surprised and thrilled, however, by how open Full Fathom Five was regarding the whole process. They asked me for my thoughts at the start, and then after each cover that came in, until we found the perfect one! It really felt like a journey we took as a team.

Yeah, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true nonetheless.

My initial idea for the cover was a close-up face shot of Alexandra that emphasized her heterochromia (two different eye colors), but with the rest of her face being a bit hazy.

With the book’s title being what it is, I thought Alexandra needed to be staring out at the reader and as her heterochromia is a pivotal component of the book, I also felt that should be emphasized. I liked the idea of the rest of her face being a bit hazy because Alexandra struggles with her identity as the story unfolds and the haziness, I thought, could allude to that struggle. In addition to her face, I pictured a Washington D.C. skyline in the background, and a two-headed swan at the base of the cover (a symbol from the book).

As you can see from the final cover, which was the fourth iteration, some of my ideas made it onto the cover while others didn’t and thankfully so, because when I was thinking of cover design, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of book marketing.

With Full Fathom Five being generous about including me in the cover design process, I was able to learn quite a bit about what goes into making a successful cover. What I didn’t at first realize is that the cover should not only represent the book but also represent the genre.

For They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, that is spy fiction, in general, and YA spy fiction, in particular. This is something my original vision for the cover didn’t take into account. When someone looks at your cover, they should know what kind of book they are looking at.

With They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, I doubt anyone would think anything other than spy with the red and black color scheme and the riflescope. The red and black practically screams spy. Just look at these covers for popular spy novels...(photos of spy book covers).



The style of the cover is also in keeping with advertising for one of my favorite TV show, The Americans, which is also about sleeper agents living in the United States. My first drafts of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone were written before "The Americans" hit the airwaves but some of my later editing was definitely influenced by the dynamics of the relationships on the show.

So I find it fitting that there’s some resemblance between Alexandra’s cover and advertising for the show as I believe the book, despite being YA, could easily cross over into the adult market and would appeal to fans of the show.



As far as representing the YA spy genre, broadly speaking YA spy books fall into two subgenres, the “lighthearted adventure” subgenre, and the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre. These two subgenres have very different styles of covers.

Books like Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (Hyperion), Robin Benway’s Also Known As series (Walker), and Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Squad (Laurel Leaf) are all very popular YA spy books that fall into the “lighthearted adventure” category and as such they all have similarly styled covers.



Because They Call Me Alexandra Gastone doesn’t fit into this subgenre, it was important the cover didn’t, in any way, resemble this cover style. Instead, the cover for They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is much more in keeping with books like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion) and Lindsay Smith’s Sekret (Roaring Brook) from the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre—note the use of red on both covers.



After the cover designer nailed the color scheme and spy vibe, we faced one last hurdle. The model featured on the cover was used in every cover version we saw and looks very much like how I envisioned the character. That said, we were struggling a bit with her expression as the cover designer zoomed in for the third cover attempt. It looked too flat. That’s when the riflescope idea came into play. With the scope overlaid across her face, her expression morphed from flat to defiant.

As Alexandra is a kick butt kind of girl, this last minute addition to the cover, sealed the deal for me and gave me a cover I’m more than a little proud to have as the face of my debut!
 

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21. Guest Post: Joy Preble on Being a Mid-Career, Mid-List Author

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I took pause for a moment when my lovely friend and mentor, Cyn Leitich Smith, asked me to write about what it’s like to be at this stage in my career.

“You know,” she said. “You’ve got a foothold but you’re not a new voice or (yet) a grand dame.”

The truth is that she nailed it exactly. Like so many authors—most of us in fact—I’m somewhere in the middle.

Finding Paris (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, 2015) will be my sixth book, following on the heels of two paranormal series. It will be my first darker contemporary YA, which is very exciting.

Next spring, I’ll follow it with It Wasn't Always Like This, a wildly romantic novel coming from Soho Press, about an immortal girl in search of her long lost immortal true love. Tuck Everlasting meets "Veronica Mars."

To many of my writing colleagues, this means I’ve made it. And in some ways, I have.

Seven published books on shelves is wonderful. It’s more than I ever dreamed of when I was first starting out. I began this career later than some, which makes me even more grateful for how it’s turning out.

I have been toured around the country and presented on panels at various book festivals in various places. I have a new world of author and publishing friends and colleagues. I teach writing as a working writer now, and schools and libraries ask me to visit and often pay me nicely. I’ve been invited to give keynotes and workshops and have had panels accepted at conferences of all sorts.

My first novel, Dreaming Anastasia (Sourcebooks, 2009), is in its fifth or sixth printing. Fairy tale fans continue to find and embrace the series, which is awesome.

I get fan letters. Well, emails, but still!

My family and ‘civilian’ friends and former English teacher colleagues think I’m a rock star. I have stopped trying to tell them otherwise. It’s me in dirty yoga pants typing, I say.

The trade reviews have been lovely for Finding Paris. Really lovely. It’s a genre shift for me, a foray into darker contemporary after five paranormal books, and so this is good to hear. My editor sends me happy notes. The risk reward of trying something new has been worth it.

But.

My career is still not a sure thing. I have written for three different publishers—which is common, but also means that the power of my backlist is sometimes lessened. But not always. I have to work a little smarter to wrangle invites to events. I’m not generally the first name my publicists think of when they’re pitching for panels. Sometimes I am.

The top tier events are still a club that sits just out of reach, at least most days.

I don’t have the luxury of saying, as we’d all like to say: My only job is to write better and better books. (Well, actually most authors except for the elite few worry about publicity and promotion. It’s part of the job.) I really do love reaching out and making my own opportunities.

But mid-listers have to hustle a little harder. Yes, hustle. I know it’s word all fraught with connotation, but I don’t know a better one right now.

In an article on “Top Ten Spring Books You Should Look For,” I might appear in the scroll down as “other titles we’re excited about.” My buzz is a little softer.

Another truth: It’s just less thrilling to promote the breakout of the seventh book. Or the tenth. The splash of the debut is generally the more exciting story. So much so, that I recently saw a very brilliant YA author break out after a number of titles and still be mistakenly referred to as a debut.

It is often easier to trumpet the miracle than it is to promote the norm, which is that after writing a body of work of increasing substance and value, we write the one.

Do you know the actor J.K. Simmons? He just won an Oscar for his role in "Whiplash." He has been a working actor for a very long time, the guy whose face and voice you know but whose name probably escaped you until this year.

He was the police psychiatrist on "Law and Order SVU," Peter Parkers’s boss in the Spider-Man movies. He does tons of commercial voice over work and all those Farmer’s Insurance commercials and cable series like "Oz."

But Whiplash—for whatever reason—that was the breakout. The role that got people talking. A full and varied body of work over many years until it was his turn.

Anyway. I am thrilled about Finding Paris. It’s a more serious platform for me, about blind spots and secrets and how hard it is to find our way, and the imperfect people who love us, even if they don’t know how to help us. I am so excited to talk about this book!

I am fortunate beyond measure to get to make a living (at least part of one!) doing something I love. I am lucky to work with amazing people who love books as much as I do and grateful to everyone who has been so kind on this journey, particularly my wonderful and clever editors and my readers who keep coming back for more. All of these people have allowed me to stay in the game.

And when the breakout moment comes, I will look up J.K. Simmons’s Oscar speech.

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22. Guest Post & Giveaway: Anne Bustard on Musicality: Composing with Repetitions

By Anne Bustard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every writer wants her work to sing.

Writing that sings is exquisitely crafted. It lifts its voice in praise of language. Its story is pitch perfect. It invites readers to sing along and has the power to linger in a reader’s consciousness long after the last note.

Like a composer creating a musical score, a writer must consider every note, every sound, and use repetition and even silence to bring harmony to the musical score.

Through careful crafting and attention, writers discover which notes to amplify, which sounds to hold, which refrains to reproduce, which rests to sustain and which melodies to draw all the way through.

In music, a refrain is a repeated phrase, verse or group of verses repeated at intervals. Used by authors, repetitions emphasize emotion. Repetitions say, “Pay attention, this is important.”

In The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1996), the word “dolphin” is emblematic of Mila’s world, her life and her desire. Hesse uses it more than 140 times. At first, the abundance of “dolphin” would seem obvious given the large role of dolphins in the story. However, because the artistry of language comes in choice, Hesse has reason to flood the novel with this word.

Hesse creates a character with limited language ability. “Dolphin” is the one word that Mila knows for sure. It is the word that will not change, and the one that she holds close. “Dolphin” is the word that she relates everything else too.

Even as Mila grows her vocabulary on land, her use of “dolphin” remains prolific. Mila talks about them, sings about them, dreams about them. Hesse ensures that readers cannot escape the word and its influence.

With each use, Hesse pulls the heartstrings of the reader. “Dolphin” is Mila’s one-note song. It shows what Mila wants most of all and who she identifies with. It is also the word that brings music to her life. It is the music of dolphins that she cannot live without.

The choice to use the same word over and over, not only serves the story, but defines Mila’s character. It shows who she is on the inside.

Flurries of repetitions can also make an impact. Like trills that sustain a note, bursts of repeated words and phrases make readers notice them above all others.

Used effectively, repetitions deepen the emotional trajectory of the story by underscoring the progression of a character’s growth. Repetitions can build in power and strength as a story reaches its crescendo and then resolves. For instance, when repeated words are introduced early or midway through the novel and come full circle to repeat at the end it, that brings closure and satisfaction to readers.

The story is complete, right down to the word level.

Crafted with care, repetitions are not superfluous, excessive or monotonous. Blending seamlessly into the narrative, repetitions keep readers conscious of what is at stake, what is important, what matters. Repetitions keep the emotions flowing. They take up no extra space. Each counts.

As I wrote and revised what would become my middle-grade debut, Anywhere but Paradise, the last word of the story appeared—home. That word led me to Peggy Sue’s heart’s desire.

Used repeatedly, it led us both home.

Cynsational Notes

Anne's assistant, Sweet Baby James
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate.

She has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster).

Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont, 2015) was released on March 31.

She lives in Austin, Texas. Find Anne at Facebook.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont, 2015). From the promotional copy:

It’s 1960, and Peggy Sue’s move from Texas to Hawaii, the newest state, sounds like a dream—palm trees, blue skies, big waves.
But her cat has to be put in quarantine like he’s a criminal, and Peggy Sue is worriedly counting the days until Howdy will be released—if he can survive.
Then her first encounter with a girl at Hanu Intermediate School is shocking. Kiki, an older student, takes an instant dislike to Peggy Sue, warning her that the last day of school is “kill haole day.” Peggy Sue’s only hope of being spared is to help Kiki with her home ec sewing project.

Things get better when she meets neighbor Malina and starts hula lessons, but it takes a tsunami, a missing dog, and an intervention from the vision of Pele herself to help Peggy Sue understand that even though her new home in paradise isn’t perfect, she’d rather be in Hawaii with her family and new friends than anywhere else.

“. . . evocative descriptions highlight both the local and universal aspects of island life. 
Born in Hawaii, Bustard adeptly weaves elements of 
Hawaiian culture, lore, and history into an emotionally rich story.” 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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23. Guest Interview: Dana Walrath on Like Water on Stone

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1984, Dana Walrath journeyed to Palu, in Western Armenia (now part of Turkey), where she saw the mill and farmlands that once belonged to her maternal ancestors, who were forced to flee the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Her family story became the basis of her acclaimed novel in verse Like Water on Stone (Delacorte, 2014).

Dana Walrath is a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the author of the graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s (Harvest, 2013).

See also the companion post Writing from the Marrow from Dana Walrath from Cynsations.

Much of the story is narrated from the point of view of Ardziv, the eagle who suffers, witnesses, and ultimately intervenes. What role do eagles play in the Armenian culture and folklore?

In the last stages of writing Like Water on Stone, Ardziv appeared in the story to protect the young ones as they traveled, to make it safe for readers, and also to protect me as I wrote. This fits with the eagle’s place as a symbol of strength and power in Armenia, both ancient and modern. Eagles grace the currency, the coat of arms, and the architecture of contemporary Yerevan.

The earliest Armenian eagles predate Christianity as on the flag of the Artaxiad Dynasty (189 BC-1 AD) that has two eagles facing each other with a flower between them. When Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD, eagles were incorporated into the designs of their churches.

Eagles’ ability to soar fits well as this brings them close to heaven. Because the genocide often involves religious divisions, Ardziv gave me the opportunity to connect the story with a symbol that predated religions to underline our common humanity.



Throughout the novel, thirteen-year-old Shahen refers to his father and his older brothers as "fools." Would you consider his questioning of them anomalous within his culture?

More than anything, Shahen wanted to go to New York to be with his maternal uncle. You are right that respect for elders counts in Armenian culture. But a mother’s brothers have a special place in the family. They select husbands for their sisters and often these husbands go through life being called “pesah” or groom. Shahen behaves respectfully towards his father and brothers; it is only with an inner angst and voice that he calls them fools. This intensifies after violence comes to their home as Shahen struggles to make sense of the horrible events that have transpired. In the face of horror, we all do or think things that don’t completely make sense, or wouldn't fit in with normal life.

As well, Shahen’s small size and his place as the youngest boy in the family, who had not yet hit puberty, also accounts for some of his internal struggles. He felt impotent. Like no one listened to him when he saw the trouble coming. While researching the biology of eagles, I learned that male eagles are all smaller than females. This in a way brought Shahen and Ardziv even closer.



Shahen is the bold one while the girls and women are more cautious and submissive. Are these gender relationships specific to this one family, or is it more typical of their culture?

I have to admit that the gender roles in Armenia are definitely of a pre-feminist sort! My mother said that her Armenian father did not speak to her or her sister because they were girls.

It is also important to place the Armenians in the larger Ottoman cultural framework. Many of the Muslim women with whom they co-existed were veiled, making Armenian women quite daring in comparison. Marriages were arranged, but this is the dominant pattern throughout the globe.

The United States is unusual in leaving such an important economic decision, the union of two families, to the whims of young people in love. Against this backdrop, however, I think the female characters in Like Water on Stone have tremendous strength. Mariam shows her tenacity and determination with her writing. Mama always had her own opinions and, like a good mother, insisted that Sosi behave according to acceptable norms. I see Sosi and Shahen as equals. Sosi never wanted to leave her beloved home, but she finds the strength to support and honor Shahen during the hardest parts of their journey.

Because this is loosely based on my grandmother, Oghidar’s story—she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from Palu in today’s Eastern Turkey to Aleppo, Syria—I was very conscious of Sosi’s strength. For me going back to Palu in 1984 was such a powerful experience, to walk that land, to stand inside the ruined church, to find a mill that may have belonged to my family.



You don't shy away from portraying the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. How do you handle this in a way appropriate for middle grade readers? How can the novel-in-verse format contribute to making difficult material easier for young readers to process?

The white space of verse absolutely gives readers (and writers!) space to process the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. We do not speak or think in full sentences when something terrible happens. Often words disappear altogether. Free verse allowed for that fragmentation. I could write in rhythmic patterns that captured the fear and panic without leaning into the goriest details.

Ardziv’s role as protector was also important in terms of the violence. He narrates some of the most brutal scenes, following as adults who lovingly cope with the consequences of the brutality. Late in the book, Sosi narrates one terrible scene instead of Ardziv. This is because I see Ardziv as the strength and power that lives inside of each of us. She found her own strength—her inner Ardziv—and used this tough moment to pull her family together and to face the truth about what had happened.

I thought that I had handled the violence delicately enough that it could work for middle grade readers. As a parent, I shared similar works with my children when they were that age. Some of the gatekeepers do not agree and feel that that the book is appropriate only at a high school level and above. I was so honored to have Like Water on Stone be named a book of outstanding merit in poetry and historical fiction yet the mature content 14-16 age range was there again. I suppose this might mean that I have to figure out a way to tell the story of the Armenian genocide for some younger readers.

You received a Fulbright grant to travel to Armenia. Was the grant specifically for the research of this book? What advice would you give other writers seeking funding for international research? 

My Fulbright application, “The Narrative Anthropology of Aging in Armenia” was related to Aliceheimer’s, my graphic memoir series about my mother and dementia, and was not specifically written for Like Water on Stone. I was gathering stories and making art about growing old in Armenia.

It was just amazing good luck that Random House acquired Like Water on Stone during my first few months in Armenia. This meant that in addition to the Fulbright project, I was completing the final revisions of the novel while totally immersed in Armenian culture.

Anthropologists often work through participant observation, so every minute of every day, I was soaking in details that were relevant to both pieces of work. The elders I worked with spontaneously shared their family’s genocide stories with me. I had genocide scholars and the Genocide Museum and Institute right there for fact checking. Regular folk dancing refined the music and dance threads of the story. I had countless maps to draw upon to try and sort out the young ones' journey and got connected to primary sources about life in Palu.

The two projects naturally became connected. Armenia is consumed by memory of the genocide, something that is especially important in the face of Turkish denial. When I told people here about my mother’s memory loss, they immediately asked if she were a genocide survivor, linking trauma to memory loss.



The year in Yerevan also let me reconnect with relatives who landed on the other side of Mount Ararat after the genocide, among them my cousin, Shushanik Droshakiryan. Her great-grandfather and my grandmother Oghidar were brother and sister in Palu. Shushanik has led the direction of a stunning animation of Like Water on Stone that premiered at the Tumo Center for Creative Technology this week. It has been wonderful to be back here in Yerevan for this.

In terms of practicalities, because it is an academic program, you have to have the highest degree in your field in order to be able to apply. In the case of writers, the MFA will do it. I know many writers create beautiful works without this degree. For me, getting an MFA from Vermont was the best present that I ever gave myself. The mentoring the inspiration from stellar lectures and readings pushed me farther in two years than I ever could have managed on my own. Being able to apply for a Fulbright would be an added bonus.

You mention in your author's note seeing the Turkish family that now lives on the land once owned by your ancestors. What did that woman say when you told her this?

This moment of truth was when she decided to tell me that the mill had been owned by Armenians before it came into her family. I think she had already put it together that I might be an Armenian because it was so out of the ordinary for two American tourists to end up in the woods outside of town. She shared that fact and then I told her my story. Then together we shared a moment of silent respect.

I imagine that many families in Turkey who benefited materially from the Armenian genocide feel guilt about the material gain they received. Armenians were forced from their homes, and forced to leave all their possessions behind. The people who remained just took them over.

Charity or Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. To benefit by taking the property of others stands in stark contrast to this notion. I like to think that this woman recognized our common humanity and that she told me the truth out of a desire to make amends for the breaches of the past.



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24. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Winner of the 2015 Children's Africana Book Award is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Little, Brown, 2014).

Character Talents & Skills: Strong Breath Control by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "A practitioner skilled in this area must also be able to find their center of calm quickly, neutralizing fears and anxieties when they appear as a result of environmental changes, circumventing fight-or-flight responses tied to survival instinct."

Context Matters: On Labels and Responsibility by Jacqueline Koyanagi from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "The difference between 'generic eccentricity' and a formal diagnosis is just that–formal diagnosis. It seems absurd that it bears stating, but a person on the autism spectrum is on the spectrum even before they are diagnosed. Similarly, bullying is bullying regardless of when diagnosis/identification occurs–and, yes, even if it never occurs."

Constructing an Image System from a Verse Novel by Cordelia Jensen from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "Image systems are about showing the reader a new way to look at the world, but they can also add a layer of depth to your writing by helping you convey to your reader a character’s growth and evolution."

WNDB Tells AWP 15: Write Diverse Books That Sell by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Referring to a backlash to the growing momentum of the calls for the publishing industry to publish more multicultural books, Leung pointed out that diversity in literature is the wave of the future. 'Writing about diversity is as much of a fad as writing about human characters is a fad.'"

Learn more!
The Letting Go from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...I can see that the times I gave up on a major project were usually a mistake. But right now I’m talking about the moment when I release something I’m working on so that it can come back to me fresh."

Top Twenty Picture Book Agents, compiled by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report their sales to Publishers Marketplace.

There Are No Secondary Characters by Jill Hill from Project Mayhem. Peek: "You see, the secondary character that I’m dealing with hasn’t been in the story for a couple of hundred pages, and I kind of forget what was driving him. That’s a problem."

Spellbind Your Readers With Realistic Magic by Tal Valante from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...obviously magic needs some limitations, otherwise it all becomes too easy. But what kind of limitations? The trick answer is this: the more interesting (and intuitive!) your limitations, the more interesting your story would be."

Combine Babies & Bylines by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "So between now and Mother’s Day, I want to blog about practical ways to combine writing and parenting throughout these stages. Just as beneficial, I hope I can show you some ways that your kids can be your best source of material." See also Kristi on Combining Writing and School-Age Kids.

The Children's Book Council Partners with the Unprison Project to Provide Prison-Nursery Libraries from CBC Diversity. Peek: "In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 10, the last day of Children’s Book Week 2015, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) is partnering with The unPrison Project — a 501©3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering and mentoring women in prison, while raising awareness of their families’ needs — to create brand-new libraries of books for incarcerated mothers to read with their babies at prison nurseries in 10 states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming."

Cynsational Giveaways


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Thanks again to the Texas Library Association, Texas SCBWI chapters and Candlewick Press for your hospitality and support at last week's TLA annual conference in Austin. It was a joy to see y'all and visit about connecting great books to kids!

TLA Author Goodies! Thank you!

Keep scrolling to check out a very sneaky peek at Greg Leitich Smith's new cover for Chronal Engine II (Clarion, fall 2015).

Personal Links



Cynsational Events

Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, Nov. 2015)
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).

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

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25. Guest Post: Mary Amato on Behind the Scenes of the Art in Good Crooks

By Mary Amato
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What if a brother and sister had parents who were raising them to be crooks? And what if the kids wanted to say goodbye to their life of crime and become…good?

Mom and Dad would be horrified if they found out! The kids would have to do their good deeds in secret!

As soon as I came up with this idea for a chapter book series, I couldn’t wait to get cracking. After much scheming and some critical feedback from my editor, I figured out the voice and overall structure and decided to call the series: The Good Crooks Books (Egmont). My editor loved it and wanted to nab an illustrator right away.

Lots of editors and publishers dislike author involvement in finding or choosing an illustrator. Since publishers are the ones paying for the book to be produced, they are definitely in the driver’s seat. In my case, I had a long-term relationship with my editor, and so she kindly asked if I wanted to give any suggestions for illustrators or for styles of illustration.

Copyright Ward Jenkins
As if on cue, I had just received the monthly magazine from my professional organization, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The cover was illustrated by a guy named Ward Jenkins. I was drawn to the art and impressed by what the artist had to say about his process in the profile.

I checked out Jenkins’s website. The multitude of characters in his viewable sketchbooks gave me the ability to spy on his range as well as spot characters that I could imagine sneaking onto the pages of The Good Crooks Books.

Quickly I emailed my editor: I think Ward Jenkins could pull off this job!

The editor and her team looked at Ward’s work (as well as other illustrators). They sent him my draft to read and asked him to draw a few quick sketches. Hired!

Copyright Ward Jenkins

While I put finishing touches on the manuscripts for the first two books in the series, Jenkins drew sketches for the covers and for the spot illustrations inside.

Just as I had to revise my writing, Jenkins had to revise his sketches, based on feedback from the publishing team—and from me, too. This is not common. Often, authors are not given the chance to see sketches for fear that they will be too picky. It’s kind of like the “too many cooks in the kitchen” rule. Authors can make the process difficult by being unrealistic or demanding.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

If given the chance to see art, I try to keep my comments focused on whether or not the images are accurate. Sometimes, an illustrator will forget an element or a fact in the text and then create an illustration that does not match what’s happening. For example, if the author says the kids are wearing hats and carrying flashlights and then the illustrator shows them bare-headed and bare-handed, the reader will sense, even on a subconscious level, that the picture isn’t true to the book. Big inaccuracies do happen, and they can be distracting to the reader.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

Thankfully, Ward did a great job and any little glitches we did find were corrected. I loved seeing his illustrations progress from sketches to final art. He captures such a range of facial expressions and body language. And, he has a fantastic sense of humor!

Now, both Ward and I have the great thrill of seeing Good Crooks stealing spots on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Cynsational Notes

Mary Amato is the author of fifteen books for children and young adults. Her latest: Good Crooks Book Three: Sniff a Skunk! (Egmont, 2015) is the third in The Good Crooks series.

Ward Jenkins is an illustrator and animator. 

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