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1. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Arab American Book Award Winner:

A Kid's Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi (Chicago Review Press, 2013). Peek: "...dispels stereotypes and provides a look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture in a format enjoyable for elementary students. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent."

Honorable Mention: The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations and Amazing Facts by Saima S. Hussain (Annick Press, 2013). Peek: "Saima Hussain, who was raised in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, presents the contributions of the Arab people in such fields as astronomy, medicine, architecture, food, education, and art."

Source: Arab American National Museum; scroll for more information.

More News & Giveaways

I Want What She's Got: The Disastrous Comparison Game by Emma Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: "There's a thief among us in the writing community: this thief is insidious, harmful, and causing an enormous amount of heartache, pain, and angst. And worst of all, this thief is stealing writers' ability to write. What is this thief?"

Inspiring the Next Architects: Children's Books About Design, Building and Architecture by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Ask students to imagine that they are architects assigned to design a new school. Describe the materials you will need and what the building will look like."

Here I Am by Brian Pinkney from CBC Diversity. Peek: "As a renderer of images that affect children, it’s essential that I stick to my commitment of showing black kids in all their glory. By doing this, I hope to be able to bring power, change, healing, self-expression, and heart to children of every color."

Five Lessons I Learned About Novel Writing from Watching "Orange Is The New Black" from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "Torture has its place."

Microtension by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Few assumptions are safe. We must constantly revisit the past in light of new information. We’re kept engaged by this sense of shifting reality." See also The Secrets of Subtext by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.

How to Write Balanced and Compelling Backstory by Jeni Chappelle from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "...there’s a fine line between clarifying a character’s past and writing too much backstory. Readers don’t usually need to know much of the characters’ history in order to engage..."

How Image Systems Can Supercharge Your Novel by C.S. Lakin from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Great novelists know the power of motif and symbolism, often using something like a repeated word or phrase, or an object of importance to the character, to bring a richness to the story and to enhance the theme of their novel. In effect, they are creating something similar to an image system."

Mini Trend: Grrrl Power Graphic Novels by Elissa Gershowitz from The Horn Book. Peek: "...excellent graphic novel memoirs (or fiction that feels an awful lot like) written by women about their adolescence."

How Can I Make Readers Cry by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "Examine your entire story to be sure every plot point amps up emotional tension. Since plot serves character arcs in romances, events should pierce the characters’ deepest fears and most passionate hopes repeatedly."

We Need Diverse Books and School Library Journal Announce Collaboration from School Library Journal. Peek: "Content sharing and support for the We Need Diverse Books Diversity Festival to be held in summer 2016 in the Washington, DC, area."

The Landscape of YA Lit: A State of the Union by Kristin Halbrook from YA Highway. Peek: "Honest and fearless. Innovative and different. Crossing all genres, and crossing over into different age groups."

Writers on Writing: Dear Professor H. by Lesléa Newman from Passages North. Peek: "If you meant to intimidate us, Professor H., you certainly succeeded. You distributed the syllabus and launched into the course requirements without once explaining the phrase 'serious pleasure' which stared down at us like an angry gargoyle."

Kidlit Con

A series of posts covering the event from Finding Wonderland.


Cynsational Giveaways
The winners of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley were Abby in Rhode Island and Elizabeth in Georgia.

The winners of ARCs of Backwards Moon by Mary Losure were Crystal in Wisconsin, Heidi in Utah, and Kelly in Pennsylvania.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Today Cynsations is posting from Washington, D.C. I've been here with R. Gregory Christie and Reading Is Fundamental, visiting with students at Andrews Air Force Base. Pics to come soon!

My link of the week is Everything I Know About Plot, I Learned from Buffy by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whedon keeps this working because his morality, while always clear, is never simplistic. Good and evil are the sides, but characters sometimes switch sides or aren’t sure what side they’re on."

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Personal Links

Catch up with the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

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2. Author Interview: Susan Kuklin on Writing Nonfiction & Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, words and photographs by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick, 2014).

A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. 

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. 

Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. 

Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

What was your initial inspiration for Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (Candlewick, 2014)?

First came an email. A librarian/friend wrote to me about the need for more YA nonfiction literature about LGBTQ teens. Although this is a subject I care about deeply, I was in the middle of another book – No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row (Henry Holt, 2008)–and so I tucked it away into the nether region of my brain. Nevertheless, the topic kept popping back up.

What was the timeline from spark to publication and what were the major events along the way?

The timeline from spark to publication was about six or seven years. The spark that helped me focus on transgender youth rather than the entire LGBTQ community was a conversation I had with my cousin, who is pansexual and a generation behind me.

She told me about a transgender friend who said to her, “When looking for love and friendship, it’s the person, not the gender, that counts.” That comment got me thinking. At the time the “T” in LGBTQ had not been talked about much in books or in the media.

The major event was meeting the staff at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Clinic’s Health Outreach to Teens program, [HOTT]. They do incredible work there, and are so thoughtful towards their clients. With their help I knew I had a book.

Then, of course, meeting each participant was a Big Time major event.

What were the literary and artistic challenges in bringing the book to life?

Every day brought a new challenge that had to be explored creatively. 

Susan photographs Christina shopping.
My process is a bit unusual. I write in the first person because I believe that it offers a more direct, intimate relationship with young readers. To do this, I need to capture the individual’s voice and convert it from tape to paper. But it’s also necessary to balance the person’s voice and experiences with a clear literary narrative.

Each chapter must add something new to the subject. The chapters need to have rhythm and arcs, highs and lows.

Recently, I’ve begun adding my voice to the narrative of my books as a way to change the pace, describe someone or something, or impart additional information. Although challenging, that’s part of the creative process. I love working this way.

How have you approached author marketing for this title?

I’m the world’s worst self-promoter. But I’m very happy to talk about my books at conferences, libraries, schools, blogs, and other media.

For Beyond Magenta, my wonderful publicist, Erika Denn at Candlewick Press, created a stunning press release that was to sent to media, libraries, colleges, and other venues. She also sent the release to LGBTQ organizations and publications. The Internet is a great publishing tool. Erika, along with my agent, friends, and I sent announcements, reviews, and articles to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I blogged. Tweeting and re-tweeting helped the book reach a larger audience.

What advice do you have for authors when it comes to connecting a book that reflects a specific community but speaks to all readers?

At the end of Beyond Magenta, in my Author’s Notes, I wrote why it’s important for everyone to connect with the book. An Author’s Note gives writers the chance to make our themes known.

I believe it was Eldridge Cleaver who said, “If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” I hope my readers agree.

You’re a well-published author of children’s-YA nonfiction. For those new to your work, could you share with us a bit of your publishing history, highlighting as you see fit?

This is a big question because I’ve published over thirty nonfiction books with wide-ranging subjects. One of the joys of being a nonfiction author is that I get to learn about so many diverse topics.

I choose an issue and then go beyond the sound bites and “fifteen minutes of fame” to illustrate how real people deal with real events. I do it through interviews, research, and photography.

My photo essay, picture books for children are about simple events that loom large in a young child’s life [When I See My Doctor (NA), When I See My Dentist (NA), How My Family Lives in America (Simon & Schuster, 1992), Families (Hyperion, 2006)].



For slightly older kids there are photo essays with more text about other cultures [Kodomo: Children of Japan (NA)], and some about how objects or events in their lives are created [Fireworks, How a Doll Is Made (NA)].



I love ballet and modern dance so I’ve tried to do as many dance books as possible: Reaching for Dreams: A Ballet from First Rehearsal to Opening Night, with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (Lothrop Lee & Shephard, 1987), Dance, co-authored with Bill T. Jones (OP), The Harlem Nutcracker, co-authored with Donald Byrd (OP), Going to My Ballet Class with the Robert Joffrey Ballet School (OP), and Beautiful Ballerina, written by Marilyn Nelson, with my photographs of the school of the Dance Theater of Harlem (Scholastic, 2009).

My young adults books are more text driven than photography driven, and are about very serious subjects, such as, teen pregnancy (What Do I Do Now? (Putnam, 1991)), prejudice (Speaking Out: Teenagers Take On Race Sex, and Identity (OP)), and suicide (After a Suicide (OP)).

I’ve authored books about our criminal justice system (Trial (Henry Holt, 2001), No Choirboy (Henry Holt, 2008)) and more about human rights (Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Slavery (Henry Holt, 2008), Beyond Magenta (Candlewick, 2014)).

It’s been my good fortune to work with many interesting people from all walks of life. I hope they’ve enlightened my readers because they sure did inspire me.

To name but a few, Bill T. Jones (Dance) motivated me to break aesthetic rules and stretch beyond my potential. Human rights activists (Irrepressible Spirit (OP)), and buddies who helped people living with AIDS (Fighting Back: What Some People Are Doing about AIDS (Putnam, 1989)), and Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer and law professor who represents poor people on death row (No Choirboy (Henry Holt, 2008)), restored my faith in humanity. Getting to know these and other people in my books has helped cynical me understand that there are very good people in this troubled world of ours.

What advice do you have for other nonfiction children’s-YA writers?
  • Be totally passionate about your subject. 
  • Fall hopelessly in love. 
  • Honor that love by being faithful to its truth. Only write truth
  • Tell a good story. Then revise, revise, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite more. 
  • Find new and creative ways to make your subject jump. 
  • Don’t forget truth
  • Listen to criticism but make objective decisions about what to change and what to leave as is. 
  • And, hey, read lots of nonfiction.

On the illustration front, what are the advantages and challenges of photography?

It seems to me that people, especially kids and young adults, like seeing people like themselves in books. So I would say that’s a big advantage. It surprises me that there isn’t more photography in fiction, nonfiction, and picture books.

The biggest challenge is that a photograph is but a moment in time. It’s rare that you can go back and re-shoot. If, after six or seven months, the designer begins work and asks for a photo of the subject doing such-and-such, you’re stuck. An artist can redraw, a photographer usually cannot.

What advice do you have for photographers interested in creating books for and about young people?

Christina reads Susan's first draft.
Write a very strong proposal about a subject that you care about deeply. Check out which publishers seem to lean towards the kind of books you want to do. Put together a portfolio of your work and especially use images that backs up your proposal.

What do you do when you’re not writing and/or shooting pictures?

I like to have fun. I go to lots of concerts, dance, theater, and museums.

I’m also a foodie who loves restaurants and cooking dinners for my husband and friends.

My husband and I try to take one big trip a year. I study Italian but that’s not always fun.

I’m a big reader. I love reading long, thick books that keep me lost in a story for days–and nights.

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3. Guest Post: Carmen Oliver on Founding a Children’s-YA Author & Illustrator Booking Agency

By Carmen Oliver
of The Booking Biz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“I don’t believe in barriers…just fly your plane.”
—Captain Nicole Malachowski from Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts (Candlewick, 2009)

Over the last eleven years, I encountered a lot of barriers.

A lot of uncertainty.

But during that time, it afforded me the opportunity to really focus on studying children’s literature and the publishing industry. I have volunteered and apprenticed in various leadership and communication roles with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Writers’ League of Texas, and the Texas Book Festival.

Carmen & Dianna Hutts Aston at a conference
My agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary is negotiating the sale of my first picture book, and I’m well published in children and adult magazines. I judge children’s writing contests and mentor new writers.

All of this to say has created the fuel to fly my plane.

In March 2014, I founded The Booking Biz, a boutique-style agency specializing in booking award-winning children’s authors and illustrators for school and library visits, festivals and conferences, and bookstores and special events.

I chose to pursue this career because it spoke to a number of my passions. It allows me to connect children with terrific book creators and hopefully, in some small way, make a difference in their lives.

Additionally, I couldn’t wait to collaborate with like-minded individuals who respect and adore children’s literature. Working with librarians, educators, and event coordinators who are passionate about creating lifelong readers and learners, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

For me, like many in the children’s publishing business, the decision to work with someone must come from a connection, respect, and love of their work. But not only that, I have to believe 110% in their ability to reach their audience and deliver a presentation that will enrich, inspire, and motivate long after they’ve left the proverbial stage. Therefore, I only take on clients whereby I’ve seen their presentations or that come highly recommended by someone I trust implicitly.

Librarians, school administrators, and event organizers need to be able to trust my recommendations. I’m not a salesman. I’m an advocate and partner for my authors/illustrators but also for the businesses searching for speakers.

Don Tate drawing at a festival
Here are a few things that leap to mind when someone from my agency presents:

  • Animated & entertaining
  • Audience participation
  • Connecting and relate-ability 
  • Teaching but not preaching

I believe one of the most important roles of a children’s booking agent is to listen. In Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often do we find ourselves doing that? I know I’ve done it many times. Talking before the person has finished speaking. As a booking agent, it’s important to quiet your mind and focus on what is being said, how it’s being said, and what isn’t being said. There’s a lot that can be missed if you’re already concentrating on your next sentence, pitch or comeback.

Not every author needs a booking agent. Not every librarian or event coordinator will work with one either. But when you do enlist their service, here are a few of the benefits:

Bethany Hegedus wows the crowd at a school visit.
  • Professional, personalized pitches to organizations on author’s behalf 
  • Negotiates contract/agreement for fees and scheduling 
  • Acts as a liaison between author and event coordinator 
  • Manages all nitty-gritty details 
  • Assists and/or coordinates book sales 
  • Markets and builds new relationships 

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that creating partnerships with librarians, educators, and event coordinators shouldn’t rely solely on the shoulders’ of the booking agent. Your booking agent is your partner and as partners, you both should be equally reaching out into the community and making connections. Every good pilot needs a supportive co-pilot to fly the plane.

More on the Agency

The Booking Biz represents children’s authors Bethany Hegedus (TX), Dianna Hutts Aston (TX), Dianne de Las Casas (LA), Whitney Stewart (LA), David Elliott (NH), Lindsey Lane (TX), author-illustrator Don Tate (TX), and illustrator Evan Turk (NY). The agency is currently not accepting any new clients at this time. For information, visit the Booking Biz website.


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4. Guest Post & Interview: J.L. Powers & George Mendoza on Children's Book Illustration & Colors of the Wind

By J.L. Powers
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What would your life be like if it felt like you were looking into a kaleidoscope every time you opened your eyes?

What would it feel like to experience strange visions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even at night when you dream?

That’s what happened to George Mendoza when he started going blind as a teenager.

My first picture book, Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza (Purple House Press, 2014), is a picture book biography about George Mendoza.

When George was 15, he lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren't there—eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back.

George describes this condition as having "kaleidoscope eyes."

He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled.

Now a full-time artist, Mendoza's collection of paintings, also titled "Colors of the Wind," is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit. His artwork has also been printed onto fabric and is now sold internationally by Westminster as cloth for clothing and quilts.

Ironically, George paints what he “sees,” an entirely unique phenomenon among painters.

Colors of the Wind is George’s story, illustrated with his paintings (and supplemented with line drawings by Haley Morgan-Sanders).

"Flight of Feathers"
I sat down with George and asked him about the process of becoming a children’s book illustrator.

Powers: What is it like to go from fine artist to illustrator of a children’s book?

Mendoza: Because of my vision problem, being legally blind, I was unable to illustrate the book. But ironically the words that you wrote fit into my paintings. It was kind of a miracle in a way.

Jill Morgan selected those paintings very carefully. And it saved me a lot of trouble because I couldn’t really put paintings to the words.

Wise Tree
Powers: What is it like to have your art used to depict the journey to becoming an artist?

Mendoza: Well, I’ve had great success with painting and having Westminster Inc. do the fabrics, quilts, clothing based on my artwork.

I never thought of doing a children’s book. I think because we’re in a digital age, I thought of doing book covers and CD covers—but never a children’s book.

To have my artwork reproduced digitally on books and fabrics is just a beautiful feeling, to know that people look at my art.

In the beginning, when I first started painting, people said, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing because he’s blind.”

Now they don’t even know that I’m blind because they’re introduced to my artwork only as its reproduced digitally on different types of products.

Powers: Have you ever had art used as covers for CDs? Because I love that idea.

Mendoza: I have actually been contacted by some no-name bands that have put my artwork on their CD covers….and it’s fine with me.

Powers: That’s cool. Anything else you want to say about your journey as an artist and this foray into children’s book publishing?

Mendoza: I grew up with children’s books because my father was a children’s book writer, a very famous children’s book writer. He published over a hundred books with major celebrities like Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, celebrities like sports figures. He’s got a classic out called Need a House? Call Miss Mouse (by George Mendoza, illustrated by Doris Susan Smith (Grosset & Dunlap, 1981)).

Jill Morgan (publisher at Purple House Press) wanted to buy the reprint rights for my dad’s book.

She was like the hundredth publisher—email or phone--that I had received over a two-year period so I finally said, “What about our children’s book, Colors of the Wind?”

She said, “Well, let me look at it.”

And it became a children’s book!

www.purplehousepress.com
Visit Purple House Press!


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5. New Voice: David Zeltser on Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age

Curriculum Resources
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David Zeltser is the first-time author of Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species (Egmont, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding it against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. 

The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. Because Lug is different, his clan’s Big Man is out to get him, he’s got a pair of bullies on his case—oh, and the Ice Age is coming.

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo (a Boar Rider girl!). 

In a world experiencing some serious global cooling, these misfits must protect their feuding clans from the impending freeze and a particularly unpleasant pride of migrating saber-toothed tigers. 

It's no help that the elders are cavemen who can't seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.

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?

On Friday, December 7, 2012, I got an international call. It was my agent, Catherine Drayton, in Sydney, Australia. She told me that Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age and a sequel was going to be published. I started sobbing--which felt strange, embarrassing, joyful and cathartic all at once.

My daughter was two at the time, so I remember feeling especially happy that she might read the books one day. After the call--thinking I was all cried out--I called my wife. I immediately started bawling. Then I called my parents . . . you get the idea.

We celebrated by going out for dinner. I have no idea where or what we ate, but I’m sure there was dessert involved and that it tasted especially sweet that night.

One of the best memories I do have--my mother-in-law emailed me to say: "Congratulations! Don't let it go to your head."

She’s from Scotland.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny?

I have a giant stuffed iguana named Pedro next to my computer. I’ve noticed that whenever I write something funny, Pedro winks at me and whispers “Bueno.”

What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

I wouldn’t advise setting out to write in any particular genre or style. I think the key thing is to find a story and characters you love, and then to try various approaches and see what reads best.

Deborah Halverson
Lug started out in third person but--on the advice of the wonderful Deborah Halverson--ended up in first person. It was just more fun to read that way.

More importantly, I would make sure you love the process of creating stories more than anything else. If it’s not your true calling, do the thing you love more.

Be completely honest with yourself--are you doing this more for the love of storytelling, or to ‘become an author’ one day? Are you genuinely enjoying what you’re writing? If the answer is ‘kinda,’ chances are that’s how other people will feel too.

Finally, find writer/reader friends and show them your stories. Listen, learn, and rewrite. Put your story away for a while and look at it again fresh. Then, rinse and repeat. Since you usually only have one shot with a manuscript, only go out to agents after you’ve gone through this process a few times.

Having said all that, I think the funniest books aren’t too focused on the funny. They’re compelling stories with interesting characters who happen to be in comic situations. We’re not going to laugh much if we don’t care about the characters or the story.

Personally, my favorite kind of humor is situational. I like building scenes so that the humor comes from what’s happening to the characters, rather than from the author commenting on what’s happening.

If that’s not enough unwanted advice, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Care and Training of the Writer in Your Life.

Cynsational Notes

David Zeltser emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. He has a forthcoming picture book, Ninja Baby, with Caldecott Honor illustrator Diane Goode (Chronicle Books). David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Follow David on Twitter: @davidzeltser

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6. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Scary & diverse
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition from Lee & Low. Peek: "Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces!"

Green Earth Book Awards from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "Part of this celebration included a donation of 10,000 environmental books to schools. Each year Green Earth Book Awards are given to books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction and nonfiction, YA fiction and nonfiction."

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Strategic Thinking by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The ability to accurately view and assess present-day reality in order to plan for and create the future that one desires (winning a game, reaching a personal goal, growing one’s business, etc.)."

A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Pay attention to how beauty is define." See also The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Book Fair by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews.

Two Pages to Tell a Story by Yona Zeldis McDonough from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant." See also Gender Bias in Writing & Publishing: Fact or Fiction by Julie Munroe Martin from Writer Unboxed.

An Author's Journey to Getting Back into Print by Eleanora E. Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!"

Metis characters & gender-expectations theme
Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle by Carole Lindstrom: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig."

Historical Accuracy in Illustration: Shifting Standards or Stubborn Uncertainties? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Can illustration ever really and truly be factual, just shy of simply copying a photograph? Should we hold historical fiction and historical nonfiction to different standards from one another?"

At Age 91, Island Artist Ashley Bryan Still Trying to "Tap That Inner Mystery of Who I Am" by Bill Trotter from The Bangor Daily News. Peek: "Born in the summer of 1923 in Harlem, New York, to a large family that traced its roots to the Caribbean island of Antigua, he could not escape the conflicts of the era."

Boo Hoo from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Was I still grateful that night to be published and well enough regarded to be on the road? Of course. But that didn’t keep the night from being dark." See also The Key to Rejection by Shannon O'Donnell from Project Mayhem.

Celebrate Yourself by Kathryn McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...we can get so focused on what recognition and success look like in the world around us that we forget what success looks like to each of us, on our terms."

National Book Award finalist; learn more.
Get to Know the Finalists for the National Book Award from National Public Radio. Peek: "The National Book Awards shortlists — for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature — were announced Wednesday on Morning Edition...." Note: scroll for Young People's Literature. 

Thoughts from an Author-Editor by Kate Brauning from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But this year, my debut novel is being published (How We Fall (Merit Press,  November 2014))."

How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Need to Be? Five Principles by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What is the memoirist’s responsibility in telling the truth, the whole truth? What is our responsibility to others who share our story?"

A Writing Retreat Re-Defined by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be 'real,' and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care."

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Imani's Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge, 2014).



Via A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal:



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win.

The winner of a signed copy of Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron is Elaine in Missouri.

Enter to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest) from Carmela Martino at Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Great news! The Austin SCBWI chapter has instituted a scholarship for Writers of Diverse Characters. I hope that our example will lead other chapters and writing organizations to take similar action.

My children's books Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) join Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief (Dial, 1998) as companion books to Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, 2012) for Saratoga Reads!

I look forward to traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York to celebrate! See more information.


Do you like my Cynthia Leitich Smith author page at Facebook? I'm somewhat stunned to report that I've passed 5,000 followers (and counting) over there, and the comments section is pretty lively.

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Christina Soontornvat on the sale of her debut picture book to Nancy Paulsen Books!

New logo!
We Need Diverse Books Announces Walter Dean Myers Awards and Grants by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The Walter Dean Myers Award...nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing... In addition...grants will be awarded to up-and-coming, unpublished writers and illustrators who are creating diverse works and require financial support...." Note: I'm an advisory board member of WNDB.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

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7. Guest Post: Simon Nicholson on An Alternative History & Investigator of Mystery

Excerpt, educator's guide & more information!
By Simon Nicholson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I was reading books about Houdini. It seemed to me one of the most exciting things about him was that, as well as being the world's most famous illusionist, he also devoted much of his life to doing battle against "magic".

Enraged at the thought of ordinary people being exploited, he worked ceaselessly to expose fake séances, false mediums, Spiritualist hoaxes.

With his stunts and de-bunking activities, the great Houdini sought to prove that man was master of his own fate, that no "magic" could be more powerful than what ordinary men or women could achieve with their own skills, muscles and wits.

An extraordinary quest—particularly for his times. I started wondering what could have made Houdini so driven in this way. Something in his childhood perhaps?

An idea for a series of books for middle grade readers took shape; in which a young Harry Houdini, boy investigator, would be faced with supposedly magical mysteries, and would use his emerging escapological skills to unmask the truth.

I started work on an alternative history: a series of events that didn't happen, but which, just possibly, might have done. I knew that the real Houdini's boyhood had been a relatively peaceful one in Appleton, Wisconsin; but I asked myself whether that could have been a "cover-up", a carefully devised tale to conceal a far more thrilling reality?

So I placed my Harry on the Manhattan streets in 1886, shining shoes; I introduced him to two young friends, Billie and Arthur. Together, this trio find themselves getting swept up in a series of frightening mysteries; an elderly magician kidnapped by unknowable forces; the mayor of New Orleans falling victim to a daemonic curse. People are terrified, rumours of magic abound; but young Harry uses his skills to expose the truth…

And to outwit the danger that results. Generally, people create rumours of magic for sinister purposes, and the villains in my books would be no different.

More on Simon Nicholson!
The real Houdini made powerful enemies through his determination to expose falsehood; that would be true of my boy investigator too. His enemies would try to silence him by the most deadly means possible, leading him to develop those unbelievable powers of escape.

Over and over again, he would escape to tell the tale; he and his friends would travel the world to defeat mystery. And at the end, I decided, there would be neat scene in which Harry would decide to invent his "cover story", a convincing tale of how he grew up peacefully in Wisconsin, USA…

So: Young Houdini, investigator of mystery.

Cynsational Notes

Simon Nicholson is the author of The Magician's Fire, the first book in his Young Houdini series. Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in the U.S. and by OUP in the U.K. and rest of the world.

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8. Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on The Power of Story & Our Brains

By Kimberley Griffiths Little
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was young I read a book a day.

I always had a book with me, whether it was inside my desk when I was done with the class assignment, or in the car as the family drove somewhere (and especially long trips), the waiting room of the dentist office, or while sitting in church when I didn’t understand the sermon. A book was literally the best friend I carried in my pocket.

I lived inside those stories. I became the main character. I laughed, I wept, and sometimes I sobbed into my pillow.

The writing bug bit me early and I started scribbling very bad stories when I was 9-10 years old—hoping that someday I might create some of the magic of books myself, just as my favorite authors did.

Now, when I go into schools I like to spend a few minutes talking about that book magic. I tell them;

“When we open up a book there are all these little black marks on a white page. Just a bunch of black marks. And yet, as we decipher those funny black marks they become words and sentences. They turn into a story. And that story comes alive in your head, in your imagination.

"Those black marks let us slip inside the skin of the main character and suddenly we are in their mind, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, going places, having adventures, solving mysteries, or getting into trouble. And often those bunches of black marks make our heart pound, our throat ache, and our emotions run the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other. I call that magic!"

Now we’re finding out that scientific researchers are studying people’s brain activity while reading. They are discovering that novels go beyond simulating reality to giving readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Exactly!

A favorite of Kimberley at age 14.
In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex (sense of smell to us common folk) lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark.

The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. But when people read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active.

Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas.

In a study in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.

What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

Visit Kimberley at Spellbinders!
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

I find that simply fascinating!

The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Reading is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.

This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind.

So now I call reading a “Virtual Reality Experience”.

A story about the amazing Richard Peck:

At one of the very first writer’s conferences I attended (about 20 years ago!) in Santa Fe, New Mexico; we were privileged to hear the Newbery-winning writer Richard Peck.

At the time he had not yet won the Newbery, but had published a body of young adult novels that had been on piles of award-winning book lists. He was mesmerizing and full of wisdom, speaking of his childhood and learning how to read at his mother’s knee.

I will never forget something Richard Peck said that day: He said, “Books are better than real life.”

Obviously my fifth grade teacher did not understand this when he wrote a letter home to my parents and told them that he was concerned about me because “Kimberley reads so constantly she’s not playing during recess, and I fear she might be losing touch with reality.”

Not to worry, Mr. Thiessen (a teacher I actually really liked and who read to us every day after lunch). I knew the difference, but I also knew that books were better than real life!

What is also significant is that my parents never breathed a word about that letter way back then. My mother didn’t mention it until many years later when I was married with children of my own.

As I wrote in the dedication of my book, The Last Snake Runner (Knopf, 2004):

This book is for my parents, who never turned out the light on reading: just took me to the library again.

I’m grateful for books and stories and parents who encouraged reading, which helped their extremely shy and awkward daughter with very few friends to create a meaningful life through books as she grew up and grew less shy and less awkward – although it took most of my life!

Now I get letters from adult and kids alike telling me about the power of my stories in their lives and how the stories helped them through family crises and sadness—or kept them up half the night turning the pages while chills ran down their arms.

I hope my brand new Scholastic novel, The Time of the Fireflies, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and gives you a good case of chills at midnight.

Cynsational Notes

Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul by The New York Times.

How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain by Lee Dye from ABC News.

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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9. Guest Post: Margo Sorenson on Working with a University Press

By Margo Sorenson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it's often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I'd step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother's inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Lefse on Turner
Here is Tori's story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.

To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?

If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university's imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you're surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband's Norwegian immigrant family's precious traditions, I believed in Tori's story. I contacted my children's literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn't know if they would publish a children's book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn't I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, "No," but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina's Young Palmetto Books imprint  specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children's book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori's story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover
One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven't you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that's not their mission or reason for existence, so if you're looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there's also that "don't judge a book by its cover," right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

New e-book cover!
So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori's story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would "adopt" our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather's chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother's new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she's working so hard just for Bjorn, since he's not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!

Checklist:
  • Is your story historical or cultural?
  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?
  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?
  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson's twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco's Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, "picking-up-stix" with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.

When his uncle's restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake's last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant? 

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.

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10. Author & Illustrator Chat & Giveaway: Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen on Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Jon & Mac
By Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Mac: Hi, Jon!

Jon: Oh! Hi Mac!

Mac: And hello, Cynsations readers. We have taken over the blog today.

Jon: Yes.

Mac: We are using our power to just post this gchat we are having into the blog.

Jon: Great responsibility, etc.

Mac: On a lot of days, because writing and illustrating books is lonely, Jon and I have gchat conversations, either in text or with the audio link thing. I don’t really know what to call it, or even how to use it. Jon is the one who always has to call me.

Jon: There’s a country song in there somewhere.

Mac: Anyway, while we were making Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014), we were talking a lot.

Jon: Not so much anymore.

jk jk we still talk a lot.

Mac: Anyway, those conversations had a big impact on the book we were making, especially this spread right here:

See copyright information below.

Jon: Right. So here we have Sam and Dave, and their dog. This part of the book is about them missing these things in the ground that they are digging for, and they’ve just made an unfortunate turn, and are about to make another.

Mac: The joke is funnier in the book.

Jon: A little.

Mac: The Hard Sell.

Mac and John and their new release
Jon: In Stores Now.

Mac: Anyway, when Jon was doing sketches, we would already be on gchat talking about snacks and stuff, and then he would send the art over to me and we would talk about it.

Jon: Yes. This page and the next few pages started out as a visual joke that I liked, but wasn’t in the story that Mac had written.

Mac: Yeah, Jon sent me a picture where Sam and Dave split up and dig a circle around a big gem.

We can’t show you this picture—if you want to see it, you’ll have to stop reading Cynsations right now and head out to your independent bookstore, cash in hand. Hard sell.

Jon: Right. And I wasn’t even completely sold on it. I liked the joke, but I worried that Mac’s guys wouldn’t split up like this. They are good pals on a journey, and it seems like kind of a risky thing for them to choose to do.

Mac's dog, Henry
Mac: And when I saw the image, I laughed. It was beautiful and funny, but I didn’t think Sam and Dave would want to split up.

I think then Jon and I sat and stared at that image for a while. The only sound was the chewing of our snacks.

Jon: and the occasional slurp because i had a drink, also

Mac: And we talked about this question a lot—would Sam and Dave split up? We talked about it for the next couple of days.

Jon: with a few breaks for more snacks

Mac: and talking about snacks

Jon: comparing snacks

Mac: And then finally we realized that, yes, they would split up, but it would be a big deal for them—that our worry about the split was also their worry about the split, and so I wrote some new text to set up that image. And that’s the text you see here.

Dave, who tends to take the lead on this adventure, proposes the idea. Sam expresses trepidation. And Dave tries to reassure him. (But Dave is afraid too.)

Jon: Right. It was neat, because it shows them getting a little more committed to this thing, and willing to do things that make them uncomfortable, so the story kind of moved forward.

Jon's cat, Pigeon
Mac: I think you learn a lot about both boys in this spread. They’re vulnerable, especially Dave.

I love Jon’s art here. He’s so good at facial expressions, of course, but he’s also a master of posing. I love Dave’s hand on Sam's shoulder, that look in his eyes.

The art is telling you a lot about how the text should be read, as it should in a picture book.

Mac: (Cynsations readers might like to know that now Jon is just sitting, not writing anything, because he doesn’t know how to deal with compliments.)

Jon: i just broke out into a rash

Jon: It’s a fortunate end to have, illustrating a story like this, because the text gives all the emotion you could hope to have, and then if you put a guy very simply putting his arm on the other boy’s shoulder, you’re good to go.

I enjoy Mac’s praise, and will never discourage it, but these things are made much easier because the emotions are there and only need a really gentle implication in the picture.

Mac: Ultimately this ended up being one of my favorite spreads in the book—absolutely one of the most important—and it didn’t exist in the original manuscript.

We created the moment to support a drawing Jon just made up, which is on the next page, and which we’re not allowed to show you, so run don’t walk to your favorite bookstore and grab a copy of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole!

How was that for a big finish?

Jon: Thanks everybody! Come see us on tour! Bring snacks!



Cynsational Notes

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. 

Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. 

Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.

With perfect pacing, the multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen dig down for a deadpan tale full of visual humor.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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11. Saratoga Reads! Chooses Native American Children's Books By Joseph Bruchac & Cynthia Leitich Smith


By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations
 

My children's books Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) join Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief (Dial, 1998) as companion books to Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, 2012) for Saratoga Reads!

I look forward to traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York to celebrate! See more information.

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12. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

YA Supernatural Baddies by Cynthia K. Ritter from The Horn Book. Peek: "Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion."

Cynsational Insight

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick, 2014), recommended at the above link by The Horn Book, is my new favorite book of all time! Not because the hero's name is Cyn, but, yes, that is a bonus.

From the promotional copy:

When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high school librarian, Cyn can totally understand why — he's really young and ridiculously hot and apparently thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor.

But almost immediately, Cyn starts to sense that something about Mr. Gabriel isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's (literally) mesmerizing eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him, or the blood and horns and giant bat-like wings that appear when he thinks no one is looking. Before long, Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact ... a demon.

Now, in addition to saving her beloved school musical (Sweeney Todd!) from technical disaster and avoiding making a complete fool out of herself with her own hopeless crush (who happens to be the only other person who knows the truth about Mr. Gabriel), Cyn has to save her best friend from the attractive-yet-very-very-bad clutches of the evil librarian, who has not only bewitched Annie but seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!

The Horn Book says, "Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy."



More News & Giveaways

Everything You Should Think About Before You Apply to a MFA Program by Elizabeth McCracken from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Peek: "Don’t apply to safety schools. Don’t apply to any school you know you don’t want to go to. You shouldn’t settle for something you think is just okay in any aspect of your writing life."

There Is Nothing Wrong with Writing Nonfiction Books for Children by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Peek: "There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)" See also Clearing the Brush by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book.

Thoughts About Bordered and Borderless Girls by Samantha Marby from YA Highway. Peek: "...in my mind, Hispanic kids spoke Spanish. At their homes, there were statues of the Virgin Mary on the mantels. Their mothers made their own salsa and carried it in a porcelain mug when they went out to eat because what the restaurants served wasn’t hot enough. Those kids weren’t like me. But they were like my grandmother."

Is Aging the Problem? Or Ageism? by Lindsey McDivett from A Is for Aging. Peek: "Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers, and recommends that advocacy start early."

Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI's Emerging Voices Award from Lee and Low. Peek: "We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace. It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable."

Print Books Outsold E-Books in First Half of 2014 by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks."

Off the Literary Reservation: Young Adult Fiction Is Giving Native Americans Their Own Voice by Catherine Addington from The American Conservative. Peek: "In the American imagination, the Native population is confined not just to physical reservations but to the historical reservation of the past."

Five Ingredients for Writing Horror by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...we are hardwired to protect ourselves and fear is a big part of self-preservation." Note: includes giveaway.

The 2014 GG Short List from Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: "'This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,' said Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. 'They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.'"

Pre-writing: Discovering Your Character's Secrets by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi was Karin in Oklahoma.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally


Exciting news! I'm honored to be a contributor to the recently announced Violent Ends anthology, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse).


Highlights of the week also included watching fellow Austin children's-YA author Chris Barton on "Mysteries at the Museum" on The Travel Channel! Way to go, Chris!

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out!

Personal Link


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.


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13. Giveaway: Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

From the promotional copy:

Last year sixteen-year-old Autumn solved her sister’s murder. This year, she is part of a high school forensic dream team that assists the police when teens are kidnapped. 

When it’s discovered the kidnappings are part of a secret online survivor game, the police and team focus on the game maker-the man behind the game. 

The focus of the investigation shifts when Autumn is singled out and becomes the target of the Game Maker’s sick game. 

 Through encrypted messages hidden in steganographs, Autumn must discover who the last kidnapping victim is if she hopes to save him in time.

S.X. writes: "As a Mexican-American writer, I've very proud to continue Autumn's story. She's a smart, driven Hispanic teen that wants to make her own path in life. My hope is that young Latinas will draw inspiration from Autumn."


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14. Guest Post & Giveaway: Mary Losure on Aloft on a Broomstick: Making the Leap from Nonfiction to Fiction

By Mary Losure
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Years ago, when I was wheeling my groceries out to the car at sunset, I looked up and imagined witches silhouetted against the pink and gold sky.

The moment grew into my first novel, the story of two young witches on a journey to the human world.

Please don’t ask me how many drafts it took.

I was a journalist when I began, and I knew I could write nonfiction. I wasn’t so sure about fiction. Years and more years went by until at last my witches found a wonderful editor, Julie Amper of Holiday House. With her guidance, Backwards Moon (Holiday House, 2014) took flight.

I’m thrilled! Fiction is fun, like flying your very own broomstick, and I loved imagining a world where the fate of all of Witchkind hung in the balance. And besides, an author’s novels get to live together, in a cozy, easily findable group in the library or bookstore. They aren’t banished to literary gulags like Folklore or Juvenile Biography and arranged by subject the way my nonfiction books (The Fairy Ring (Candlewick, 2012) and Wild Boy (Candlewick, 2013)) are.

Still, I love writing nonfiction. And I wish more children’s book authors would give it a try.

I think it’s a kind of mental food (call it vegetables, if you like. Fruit. Whole wheat bread…) that’s good for the writer’s brain. And it can teach you things about the craft of both kinds of writing.

Just as fiction does, a work of nonfiction can have suspense, rising action, a climax, and an ending inherent in the beginning: a narrative arc just like a novel’s. But you have to recognize that arc in the material you have—you can’t make it up. And I think that teaches you to think more deeply about what a plot is, and about the many possibilities that are open to you as a writer.

Often, a nonfiction plot doesn’t tie itself up nicely. The real boy who is the hero of Wild Boy never learns to talk, never escapes back into the wild to live happily ever after.

In fiction, you could make that happen. But would that necessarily be the best possible plot?

They say the first requirement for being a writer is to read—and the detective work of digging a story from historical records requires you to read very widely, following clues from one book to the next.

Often, you’ll find yourself reading books (not to mention letters, papers, and diaries) you never would otherwise, finding astonishing bits of life that you could never have made up. All this is food for the writer’s brain.

One more thing about nonfiction–it’s in great demand right now. Agents are hungry for innovative, creative-but-still-true narrative nonfiction.

I know my agent was looking for new kinds of nonfiction; that’s how he came to represent my work, and how my entire writing life turned around.

Now I’m thrilled to be published in both genres, and plan to keep writing in both.

I just need to finish reading this stack of books, grab my broomstick, and go.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three ARCs of Backwards Moon by Mary Losure (Holiday House). Peek:

Two young witches, Bracken and Nettle, venture outside their mountain valley and find a world that’s always been hidden from them–our world.
An unabashed fantasy for magic-loving children ages 7-10. 



Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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15. Interview: Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson on Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014)! What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Betsy: Well, back in the day (I think it was about 2009 or so) I noticed that there were a great many really top notch children’s literature bloggers out there that had sites that were unique and interesting.

Two of them in particular caught my fancy.

There was Peter Sieruta, who ran a historical children’s lit blog called Collecting Children’s Books, and there was Jules Danielson, who with another person was running the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast illustration blog.

I don’t think anyone would have read those blogs alongside my own and thought we necessarily had similar voices, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to them and saying, “Hey! Let’s write a book!”

Of course I had no idea what kind of book to propose. So we put our heads together and came up with the notion of writing about the true and often little known stories behind children’s books.

It was just our great good fortune that we ended up with Liz Bicknell at Candlewick as our editor. She took one look at our behemoth of a manuscript (every time I tell this story it gets bigger, but I swear it was around 700 pages) and said that the first thing we needed to do was cut it down and the second was to rally round a theme.

 After some discussion we realized that one point that kept coming up time and again in our manuscript was the fact that people have this view of children’s literature that it’s some cute little fluffy bunny, sunshine and daisies world where all authors and illustrators skip through meadows with a childlike sensibility. The truth is far more interesting, so we took that interesting truth and made a book out of it.

Why mischief?

See notes for copyright information.
Jules: As Betsy said, we wanted to debunk the romanticized notion of children’s literature that is so prevalent today (with, say, the Average Person on the Street).

There’s also some condescension that occurs too (“oh, it’s just kiddie lit,” as if it’s not worth anyone’s time to discuss or study), and we do address that in our book as well.

So, taking a look at acts of mischief can go a long way in showing that these are books written by adults, who don’t necessarily live infantile lives.

One illustrator with whom we spoke said that when she tells people she illustrates children’s literature for a living, she gets the sense that a lot of people expect her to act like a well-behaved child herself. And that’s an unfortunate thing.

As for the word itself, the sub-title of our book comes from a lecture that Patricia Lee Gauch once gave at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2011. It was called “Picture Books as an Act of Mischief,” and it’s a wonderful lecture. (It can be read here.) We secured her permission (and the Carle’s permission) to use it for our book.

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

Betsy: Jules may have to correct me on this but as I remember it we first came together as authors in 2009. We tapped my agent, the amazing Stephen Barbara, and he hooked us up with Candlewick and Liz. Then for the next three years we worked on it together. 2010 and 2011 weren’t particularly significant. There was a lot of running to libraries, consolidating ideas, and editing one another.

In 2012, however, things took a significant turn. By this point we’d submitted the manuscript to Liz and been told to cut it down. We were in the midst of doing that when I received a phone call from Jules on the evening of May 26th. She said she’d been on Facebook and saw that Peter’s brother John had written via Peter’s account that Peter had died the night before.

Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what Jules meant by that. Neither of us had ever met Peter in person but we were fairly certain it would happen someday. His “voice” online was so clear and distinctive that there was no confusing it with anyone else. The idea that it was now gone . . . well, it was inconceivable.

 By this point Peter had turned in all his writing and we were just culling things down, but now Jules and I found ourselves in the odd position of having to edit the manuscript for the first time without Peter’s guidance, wit, and humor.

We did so, happy at least that the book would carry on his voice in some form. In 2013 we spent the better part of the year making absolutely 100 percent sure that our sources were dead on and that we had permission for everything in this book. It was hard work, the hardest I think it’s safe to say we’ve ever done on a piece of writing, but in the end it was worth it. Voila. Wild Things.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

Betsy: Peter’s death was the biggest challenge, no question.

How do you cut a chunk of the book that he loved without getting his permission to do so? It was some comfort that we got to put some of his stories onto our book’s blog, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

See notes for copyright information.
That was a challenge and so was getting the permissions for the book. I guess you could say that the permissions were both the biggest challenges and the biggest triumphs.

 Every time we got a permission to use something, whether it was a photo or a quotation, we felt like breaking out the champagne.

Jules: What Betsy said! Peter’s death really threw us for a loop, and it’s a really bittersweet time now, since the book is finally out and we’re excited – yet he was really pumped for this day to happen, and he’s not here for it. It’s not the same without him.

Our only consolation is that his voice lives on in this book.

And, yes, permissions can be the devil, so each one we tracked down and nailed (from image permissions to text permissions) was, as Betsy said, a little triumph.

Who is your intended audience?

Betsy: That was a question we had right from the start. To what extent do you specialize?

When our book was still in its monolith state, we had a lot of stories that were hugely interesting to us, but might not catch the eye of someone who wasn’t already into children’s literature.

So when we honed things down, we realized that we’d have to narrow our focus a bit. That tale about the true story behind the Newbery Award winning book Onion John (Crowell, 1959) might be awesome, but how many people have ever heard of Onion John (or care to)?

 In the end we hope that this book will appeal not only to people who already work with children’s books in some fashion but also to those adults that have fond memories of the books of their youth and might be curious about some of their back stories.

 Judging from the current trend of children’s book biopics ("Saving Mr. Banks," the upcoming Shel Silverstein picture, the upcoming C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien feature, etc.), there’s a definite interest.

What did you learn about writing nonfiction?

Betsy: Source everything from the start so that you don’t have to go back over your work a million times just to make sure you got things right.

Learn how to make Source Notes. Keep your Bibliography in order. And definitely be flexible.

Third circle of hell, illustrated by Stradanus.
If the estate of a great big author or illustrator decides that the only way you can include a piece of information is to pay them untold gobs of money, have back up material to replace the stuff you’re not allowed to use.

Oh. And photos permissions belong in a circle of Dante’s Inferno that few people should ever have to visit.

Jules: Yes, keeping notes of each and every little thing cannot be emphasized enough. Also, be clear on what you are expected to do and what your publisher will do.

Candlewick was great to work with, but since this was my first nonfiction book (well, it was my first book), I admit to some naïveté over the amount of work involved regarding permissions.

I thought, for instance, that surely some intern at the publisher’s camp would handle, say, image permissions for us! Nope, you as the author handle all of that yourself. This is fine, but be prepared.

I’d also add: Be willing to let go of that really great quote you wanted in the book but can’t quite afford (I have a Madonna story along those lines … oh, Madge), because it’s outrageously expensive, and embrace paraphrasing.

What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?

Jules: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my first piece of advice would be, once again, to keep copious, seriously nerdy and detail-oriented notes about each and every source and where you got it, and become one with the notation of page numbers.

Also, I should say: It was a joy to write with Betsy and Peter, so my advice would be much different if I had done it alone. I had them to lean on; I had them to turn to with questions or teeth-gnashing or advice. We probably went a long time without saying word one to our wonderful editor, because we had each other. I feel like they made me a better writer.

Visit Wild Things!
How did your tie-in website come to be?

Jules: There were many stories we wanted to share that were cut from our book. We turned in, as Betsy noted, a manuscript that was much longer than what was required. I think we cut about a third of the book.

We also had to re-organize and re-structure the book, and after that happened, many stories no longer fit. We thought sharing them at a site would be a fun thing.

It’s a lot like, as Betsy puts it, the Director’s Cut version of the book.

Would you like to admit to any mischief of your own?

Betsy
Betsy: Golly. What kind would you prefer?

I can definitely say that I’ve been a bit mischievous in my promotion for this book. You see, there were certain stories out there that we knew and just couldn’t use because the perpetrators (so to speak) were still alive and kicking and probably wouldn’t appreciate us bandying about their names.

Still, I’ve slipped references to these stories into some of our blog posts. For those in the know, when I say “the dead cat story” they know exactly what I’m referring to. Or when we mention “the most infamous Caldecott speech of all time” (the one that more librarians claim to have witnessed than could have actually fit in the banquet hall), you’ll see some surreptitious nods. Or the story that involved someone punching someone else out.

Jules
I can’t use it. I can’t even allude to who might have been involved or where it might have taken place.

But buy me a drink some time and I might easily spill all.

Jules: Most people don’t know about the great Pooh Bear Heist of ’99. … Nah, I’m too guileless, and I’d get caught.

Instead, I’m going to answer for Peter – in a way. Peter pulled off many an April Fool’s joke at his site, Collecting Children’s Books, and they were so much fun.

Here’s one bit of mischief, probably my favorite.

I think he really got some people goin’ for a while there.

Cynsational Notes

Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and the author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (HarperCollins, 2013). She has also written a nonfiction text for library students, called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career (ALA, 2009). In addition to writing for The Horn Book, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives with her family in New York City.

Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and has also written for The Horn Book. At her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and/or interviewed hundreds of picture-book creators. Julie, who lives with her family in Tennessee, also teaches picture books as a Lecturer for the School of Information Sciences’ graduate program at the University of Tennessee, where she got her library degree in 2002.

Wild Things!. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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16. Guest Book Recommendation: Chris Barton on How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying

By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As a reader, I’ve lately accumulated a large pile of books I’ve read only halfway. Getting all the way through a single book lately has been challenging.

But when I heard comedian and TV writer Carol Leifer ("Seinfeld," "Modern Family") on a podcast several weeks ago talking about the attitudes toward professionalism and creativity that have come in handy during her four-decades-and-counting career, those reflections sounded to me like they could have come from an experienced, successful children’s/YA author.

And when Leifer mentioned her new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons From a Life in Comedy, I suspected it was one I should read.

I’ve now read it twice. Let me tell you: Its applicability to the kid lit career that I and so many of my friends have chosen far exceeds my expectations. Plus, it’s really funny. You should read it.

Seriously -- whatever your professional or creative path, this entire book is worth your time. But in case your not-yet-finished reading pile resembles mine, I’d like to share some of the especially resonant parts of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying:

Chris Barton, Jennifer Ziegler & Cynthia Leitich Smith
1. “What is the topic for which the discussion never ends? The subject that could keep a conversation going on a train from New York to Florida, if you met a stranger interested in the same thing? The answer is a good indicator of what career to aim for.”

I’ve found this to be true for me for children’s writing in general -- I confess that I get disappointed by any social gathering that doesn’t provide an opportunity for discussing books for young readers -- but also for specific story ideas or research topics.

Writing a book can take a long time, and when setting out on that journey it’s best to be paired with a subject that you never grow tired of discussing.

2. “[W]hatever job you’re in or aspire to get, you’ll never go wrong sharing your genuine enthusiasm with those involved and keeping tabs with folks you meet as you pursue your goals."

This is especially true in an industry where folks move around so much. Editors, publicity and marketing folks, and librarians with whom you connect often land elsewhere not long after you’ve made that connection.

Even if that connection involved an opportunity that fell through, you made an impression, and you’ve now got memorable ties to where they currently work as well as to where they used to be. Cultivate those ties. Make the most of them.

3. “As a writer, I find that connecting to my body via exercise has become the essential counterpart to spending so much time inside my brain.”

And, I might add, to spending so much time in front of a screen. As I try to always tell kids when I visit schools, I do much of my best creative thinking while exercising.

I’m tempted to say that I’d type this post while walking or running if only I could figure out how, but that’s not true. I cherish the time I get to think about the right words without having any possibility of writing them up at that particular moment. If they’re truly the right words, they’ll still be in my brain by the time I get back home.

I could go on and on about Carol Leifer’s new book, but she’d probably like me to leave you wanting (to buy) more, and I’ve got my own books to write.

So I’ll leave you with just one more lesson from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying -- one I aim to keep in mind the next time I review an editor’s changes (and every time after that):

4. In the making of "Seinfeld," she says of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's final passes on the scripts, “I pored over their drafts, studying which parts of my script they kept, what they threw out, and what they altered. ...Whenever your ideas don’t rise to the top, or if they get changed along the way, it’s important to understand why.”

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and Pioneers & Pirouettes: The Story of the First American Nutcracker (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children's-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.

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17. E-Volt Oct. Special: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith for $1.99

E-Volt Deal!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thrilling news!

The electronic edition of my novel Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for $1.99!

It's the third novel in the Tantalize series, but it can stand alone and is a perfect read for Halloween!

You’ll try to fight it. But you’ll only be fighting your true self. It’s done. It’s destined. In time, you’ll come to accept it." He pulled back his sleeve to reveal two dress watches. "In time, you’ll come to me."

Quincie P. Morris, teen restaurateuse and neophyte vampire, is in the fight of her life -- or undeath. Even as she adjusts to her new appetites, she must clear her best friend and true love, the hybrid werewolf Kieren, of murder charges; thwart the apocalyptic ambitions of Bradley Sanguini, the seductive vampire-chef who "blessed" her; and keep her dead parents’ restaurant up and running.


She hires a more homespun chef and adds the preternaturally beautiful Zachary to her wait staff. But with hundreds of new vampires on the rise and Bradley off assuming the powers of Dracula Prime, Zachary soon reveals his true nature -- and a flaming sword -- and they hit the road to staunch the bloodshed before it’s too late.


Even if they save the world, will there be time left to salvage Quincie’s soul?


With a wink and a nod to Bram Stoker, New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites the casts of Tantalize and Eternal in a delicious dark fantasy her fans will devour.

Blessed was a YALSA Teens Top Ten nominee.


"Off-handed humor, clever wordplay, and a host of supernatural beings
will delight fans of Smith's Tantalize and Eternal, the two novels that precede this one,
though Blessed can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel."
–School Library Journal

"Wild and ultimately fascinating…
"..the pages fairly smolder in describing their [Quincie and Kieren] attraction...." 
–Kirkus Reviews

“Quincie is a capable, independent and appealing heroine
who has matured considerably since her debut in Tantalize.
...Blessed raises expectations for a complex (and thrilling) conclusion.” 
–The Austin American-Statesman

See more reviews, interviews and blog buzz, sample chapter, media kit and reading group guide.

Check out the sale at E-volt!

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18. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Firstborn Cover Analysis & Author Interview: (Former Editorial Director) Lou Anders by Matthew MacNish from Project Mayhem. Peek: "To create the countries of Norrøngard, Ymiria, and all the lands on the continent of Katernia, I researched numerous cultures. I worked out time lines to five thousand years. I invented cosmologies and religions. I have an entire book’s worth of notes that isn’t in the book."

Age 14: The No Man's Land Between Middle Grade and YA by Dianne K. Salerni from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Is it just a random benchmark applied by one giant book store chain that some publishers buy into, and others don’t? Why does this particular age matter so much?"

2014 Cybils Nominations Are Open from The Cybils. Peek: "The big one: the book needs to be published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014. Oh, and one book per category per person. No exceptions."

How to Write What You Don't Know by Crystal Chan from National Novel Writing Month. Peek: "Are you willing to dig deep and analyze systemic racism—not just in our society but within themselves?"

History and Magic by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...anyone who writes in my genre can tell you that the historical research still needs to be done, and done thoroughly. A novel containing fantasy elements should be consistent to its time and culture, whether that time and culture are historical, imaginary or some blend of the two."

Cyn's favorite Halloween Book!
October 2014 Calendar of Children's Books by Elizabeth Kennedy from About.com. Note: autumn, National Bullying Prevention Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Star Wars Day, Teen Read Week, Halloween and more. See also Are You Ready for Some Football...Books? by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book. 

The Writer of Faith by Martine Leavitt from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: "Some of my students who love their religion have asked me how I, as a writer, cope with the expectations of people in a faith community. These young writers have no desire to rebel, and yet in an effort to portray the truth, sometimes fiction offends."

Advice from Authors by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I now schedule exercise just as I would a meeting and find that it makes me that much more effective. And happy."

Stuck in the Writing Doldrums? by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "The writers who last, who keep producing quality writing, are usually those who have found a way to stay on an even keel most of the time."

Kirkus Prize Finalists

From The Washington Post: "On Tuesday, Kirkus announced the finalists for its first prizes — 18 books in fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature. The winner in each of the three categories will receive $50,000, making it one of the largest literary awards in the world."

Cynsational Screening Room



Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally




Exciting News! My novel Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series)(Candlewick, 2013) has received the Writers' League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award. See finalists and more information.

Thank you to Mr. Gray and the students, teachers, administrators, staff and families of Harvard Elementary School (Houston) for a wonderful school visit on Thursday evening and Friday.

With fantastic Harvard Elementary librarian Mr. Gray and Greg Leitich Smith.
Greg and I enjoyed visiting with kids (from PreK to grade 5) and their families as well as leading workshops for the fourth graders! One of the best schools we've ever visited! Loved it!

Last week's highlights also included the Tweens Read panel at South Houston High in Pasadena, Texas. I wasn't on the program, but I went with Greg and played fan girl to many author friends and soaked up the book love from 1500 young readers. Yowza! The enthusiasm was sky high!

Brava to Blue Willow Bookshop and the entire volunteer committee for an excellent event! See full coverage via Greg's event photo report.

With author pals Jenni Holm & Jennifer Ziegler outside Blue Willow Bookshop.
Matt London, Jessica Brody, Jennifer Brown & Greg on the "Houston! We Have Problems!" panel.
With morning keynoter Jacqueline Woodson.
Six Minutes with an Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith from LitPick at Facebook. Peek: "Don't forget to floss, eat something green every day, and if you're suffering from writer's block, try dancing in the dark to Olivia Newton-John's 'Xanadu' album." Note on Facebook? See the LitPick site instead!

Personal Links

Inspired by "My Fair Lady"

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.


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19. Guest Interview: Author Dori Hillestad Butler & Illustrator Aurore Damant on The Haunted Library

Dori
By Dori Hillestad Butler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I tell strangers I’m a children’s book author, the first thing they often want to know is whether I am published.

The second thing they want to know is who is my illustrator? Where did I find someone to illustrate my books? How does that whole thing work?

The average person (i.e. someone who is not in children’s publishing) doesn’t realize that authors rarely have any say in who illustrates our books.

Most of us (with the exception of those who are both authors and illustrators) don’t know our illustrators or have any contact with them whatsoever. It’s up to the publisher to find and work with the illustrator.

Again, people are often surprised to hear this. “You mean you don’t tell the illustrator what to draw?”

Nope.

Well...I do usually have a few notes to the illustrator for my Haunted Library (Grosset & Dunlap) manuscripts, but that’s because this is a chapter book mystery series and there are clues to solving the mystery in the illustrations.

Clues that never appear in the text. So I have tell my editor, art director, and illustrator what those clues are.

But I don’t say anything else about the art. I don’t tell anyone which scenes I’d like to see illustrated (not unless it’s a scene with an illustrated clue), and I don’t tell anyone what any of the characters or the town should look like. That’s not my job.

And that’s actually okay with me. I think it’s in an author’s best interest to leave as much to the illustrator as possible.

They almost always come up with things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, and it’s always a nice surprise to see the art in my books for the first time.

I am especially happy with the work Aurore Damant has done on my Haunted Library series. It makes me very curious about her.

Who is the person who draws my ghost world even better than I see it in my own head?

So I decided to interview her for Cynsations and try and get to know her a little bit.

Dori: Hi, Aurore! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start with where do you live?

Aurore
Aurore: I live in Paris, France, not far from Montmartre.

Dori: Wow! Okay, truth be told I did actually know that already. But it’s about the only thing I did know about you before this interview. And the fact that you live in Paris just adds to the mystique.

So, are you married? Do you have kids?

Aurore: Julien and I are together for 10 years and married since 2012. We don't have kids!

Dori: How about pets? For our bios, you drew me with a dog on my shirt and you drew yourself with a cat on your shirt. I assume that wasn't coincidental?

Aurore: When our editor asked me to do your portrait, I found several pictures of you with a big black dog, and I assumed you were a dog person!

I'm totally a cat person. My cat's named Lois, she's 3, and she's the most mischievous cat ever.

Dori: Good guess! I am totally a dog person! But I like cats, too. I’ve been owned by three cats over the years. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Aurore: Hang out with my friends, play with my cat, go to the movies, have drinks, walk around Paris, shop, watch TV series, travel if I can... Pretty basic stuff.

But actually, I draw all the time... if I'm working on an interesting project, I don't mind drawing at night or during the weekend. I'm such a nerd.

Dori: Ha! Me too! What is your illustration background?

Aurore: I started in animation, I studied at Gobelins which is a famous art school that specializes in animation, based in Paris. I developed several TV series.

Five or six years ago I had some opportunities to do some freelance illustration work, and I enjoyed it very much. People trust me and give me carte blanche most of the time, which is awesome.

Now I do as much illustration as animation, and I love them both!

Dori: That’s very cool! And that explains the animated look (which I love, by the way) to the books. Can you say a little bit about your illustration process?

Aurore: Everything starts in my head. Generally, I have a clear vision of the character or the composition I want to do. I don't need to make a lot of tries before I find the right design, it comes on the spot. But I also use a lot of references, like old cartoons and old children books (Little Golden Books are the best).

When I'm happy with the rough design, I have to choose the style of the illustration. Black outline, color outline, no outline at all... same with the backgrounds. I have to find a good balance.

I work digitally on a Cintiq, which is a large screen plugged in to my computer, and I can draw directly on it, which is a real time saver and gives me a lot of freedom to explore various looks for my illustrations.

Dori: I didn’t give you a lot of physical description for most of the characters in the Haunted Library. How did you decide what they should look like?

Aurore: For Claire, I tried to fit her personality in the story. She had to look thorough, yet sweet. One of my references was "Coraline" from the stop motion film by Henry Selick.

For Kaz and the other ghosts, it was easier in a way since I never had the opportunity to draw any ghost before. So I could take a fresh start!

The only thing I hesitate is to give them a human appearance or make them with simple shapes like Casper. But I thought it would be easier to relate to them if they look humans. Then I had enough info in the story about their personalities to find a design that matches.

Dori: You absolutely did the right thing giving the ghosts a human form. That was what I had in mind. How long does it take you to illustrate a Haunted Library book?

Aurore: About five days for the roughs of the 30 illustrations, then two-to-three weeks for the final black and white illustrations. And two days for the cover.

Dori: Interesting! 

So it takes you about the same amount of time to do the art as it takes me to plan and write the first draft of one of these books. 

It takes me about a week to plan out the story and write the outline and then I like to have a month to write the draft: two weeks to write the draft and two weeks to revise it before I sent it in.

Here’s a random question. I’m liking you more and more with every question I ask, so I’d like to know if you and I could ever meet in person and hang out for an afternoon, what would we do together?

Aurore: We would go in a cozy cafe to enjoy a big piece of pie and homemade hot chocolate, and talk about our jobs and our life in general. Then we would go check out some old houses with great history, hopefully one of them would be haunted...

Dori: Wow! That is exactly what I would like to do with you! Maybe one day we can do that? Or should I say two days…once in Paris and once in Seattle!

One last question: If the series continues, what would you like to see happen? What kind of ghostly mystery should Kaz and Claire solve? Is there anything in particular you'd like to illustrate?

Aurore: I never really thought about that!

But I guess I would love to see them go in some spooky or weird places like an old fun fair, an abandoned house or a natural history museum. Or maybe have them solving a case during Halloween or Christmas, that would be fun!

Dori: Hmm…that would be fun! Especially the natural history museum! Well, we’ll see.

Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice to get to know you.


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20. Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Promote Your Novel With a Two-Minute Version of the Story by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "It's easy to do. It's kind of fun. It's basically free."

Drowning in the Well by Laura Ruby from The Storyteller's Inkpot. Peek: "If this sounds like depression, it was a very specific sort of fiction-centered depression. What good is a story when the people around you are suffering? Shut up and make them something to eat! I had forgotten how nourishing stories could be."

On the Quilting of One-Liners (and Second Coming of Once-Dead Darlings) by Julianna Baggott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The bins are also important because they remind me that I don’t just have a bunch of blank pages to fill. I have something to fill them with. I don’t have to create from nothing."

The Villain's Big Reveal by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Not only will this give your readers more to latch on to, it will give your hero more to work with when it comes time to face their foe."

Four Tips for Writing About Unfamiliar Character Issues from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "The folks who live with these issues deserve accuracy, respect, and empathy. It’s our job to get it right."

What Rejections Can Tell You by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: "If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable."

Why the Opening of If I Stay by Gayle Forman Works from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute."

IBBY Honors Inclusion of all Voices in Books From Around the World by Terry Farish from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "IBBY introduced their 2014 Honour List, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books honouring writers, illustrators and translators from around the world. The books were honored with this passionate Mexican celebration of trumpets and gorgeous illustration in this slide show..."

It May Be Perfectly Normal, But It's Also Frequently Banned by Rebecca Hersher from NPR. Peek: "Now in its fourth edition, the book has sold more than a million copies. Harris asks experts like pediatricians, biologists and even lawyers to fact-check each edition, to make sure updates to AIDS prevention information or birth control laws are accurate."

Sensory Fiction by Felix from MAS 565: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Peek: "By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination." Source: The Official SCBWI Blog.

Mental Illness Booklist for Teens by Pam from Strong in the Broken Places. Categories include: depression, bi-polar, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, disassociation, borderline personality disorder, OCD, anxiety, agoraphobia, and schizophrenia/paranoia.

The Advantages of Author Portraits by Simone Collins from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Having a portrait drawn from informal personal photos or selfies can save a significant amount of money. Some of the most popular portrait styles on ArtCorgi hover around $25–$45, making them far less expensive then traditional photo shoots with professional photographers."

The Dreaded Rewrite by Isaiah Campbell from Project Mayhem. Peek: "My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. 'But that’s the whole book!' I said. 'If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.'" Notes: (1) Isaiah lives in New Mexico, but was "born and bred" in Texas; (2) post includes giveaway. See also You Should Always Carry a Notebook by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem.

James Dawson: "There Are Too Many White Faces in Kids' Books" by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek "'In an ideal world, every title released would reflect a diverse world,' said Dawson. 'This doesn’t mean there should be a gay character in every book, but if every character in a title is white, straight, able-bodied and wealthy, that book is not reflecting the real world. Is this insidiously suggesting an ideal?'" See also Why Gay Characters Matter by Kristin Pekoll (Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom) from The Huffington Post.

Reservation Sunsets and Stephen King's Salem's Lot by Eric Gansworth from PEN America. Peek: "The small town culture of (Salem’s Lot, ethnicity aside, was nearly parallel to the reservation’s. A nosey writer like Ben wouldn’t be tolerated, but the reservation would have held a bounty of opportunities for an industrious vampire like Barlow. Some folks disappeared for days on end without raising anyone’s eyebrows, and a few roads were home to only one or two houses...)"

Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low. Peek: "Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies (Tu, 2013), titled Rose Eagle."


Cynsational Giveaway


This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Summer reading PSA with animated art by Don Tate.





More Personally

Author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan at the launch for Little Owl's Day (Viking, 2014) at BookPeople.
Young reader-artists enjoy coloring tie-in pages to Little Owl's Day.
Congratulations to Katie Bagley for signing with literary agent Sara Crowe and to Sara for signing Katie! Here's to many books to come!

K.A. Holt with fellow author E. Kristin Anderson
Kudos to children's author K.A. Holt for her graceful handing of this CBS This Morning interview about having been questioned for letting her son play outdoors by himself. Note: I spent much of my childhood playing outside without constant round-the-clock supervision, which--among other things--was key to the development of my imagination.

Link of the Week: Touch the Hearts of Your Readers: Entangle Their Emotions by Tom Bentley from Writer Unboxed.

For educators, The Kid-friendly, Kid-maintainable Classroom Library by Nicole Hewes from The Horn Book.

See also 2014 Children's-YA Books by Austinites and 2015 Children's-YA Books by Austinites from Greg Leitich Smith.

Note: Visit Cynsations tomorrow for full coverage of Lindsey Lane's launch at BookPeople!

Personal Screening Room

Remarkable animated fan art trailer (by Stephen Byrne) for all of you "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" fans out there!



This one's for all of you heading to YALSA's YA Literary Symposium this fall or the Texas Library Association conference this spring. Or who just love gorgeous photography and/or Austin!



Personal Links

Cynsational Events


Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

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21. Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lindsey Lane launched her debut novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FGS, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople.

Group hug -- Lindsey with Gene Brenek & Carmen Oliver.
Debbie Gonzales & Shana Burg chat at the refreshments table.
In the photo booth!
With Anne Bustard, a soon-to-debut novelist herself!
Teen actors prepare for the readers theater.
Ready to perform -- each reading a different voice included in the book; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Lindsey's daughter is among the actors; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Greg Leitich Smith and Ruth Pennebaker
Salima Alikhan, Vanessa Lee & Sean Petrie
E. Kristin Anderson & Kayla Olson
Cynthia Levinson & K.A. Holt
Liz Garton Scanlon, April Lurie & Frances Hill Yansky
Tim Crow, Kathi Appelt, Greg & Brian Yansky
Photo of Lindsey courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.

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22. New Voice: Joshua David Bellin on Survival Colony 9

Curriculum Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Joshua David Bellin is the first time author of Survival Colony 9 (McElderry, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In a future world of dust and ruin, fourteen-year-old Querry Genn struggles to recover the lost memory that might save the human race. 

Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. 

The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to–because heat, dust, and starvation aren’t the only threats in this ruined world.

There are also the Skaldi.

Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they’re not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.

Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi–and now he can’t remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Joshua's blog is YA Guy.
That’s a great question, because my protagonist spends the entire novel trying to discover and get to know himself!

Querry Genn, the fourteen-year-old narrator of Survival Colony 9, suffers from traumatic memory loss brought on by an accident six months before the action of the book begins. He can’t remember the accident, and he can’t remember anything that happened before it.

This condition presented me with the opportunity to explore Querry’s past as he himself discovers it—to follow along with him as he slowly, painfully fits the pieces together.

When I was drafting, I produced a number of possible pasts for Querry, testing them out until I found the one I liked the most.

Of those that didn’t make the cut, I discarded the majority during the revision process—but others I retained as false leads that Querry himself ultimately discovers to be untrue. So readers are in some ways in Querry’s position, learning along with him what’s real and what isn’t—but just like him, they may jump to conclusions that aren’t borne out by later revelations.

Given my narrator’s amnesia, I was able to pursue a somewhat similar process with the other characters. Querry doesn’t remember anyone else either, so he has to reconstruct who they are and how they fit into his life. So with almost all of the secondary characters—Querry’s father, Laman Genn; Korah, the teenage girl he has a crush on; Yov, the teenage boy who torments him due to his disability—I had the opportunity to develop them in two not always congruent ways: who they actually are, and who Querry thinks they are. My hope is that readers will be drawn into the mystery of not always knowing who or what they can trust.

And that leads me to my antagonists, creatures I call the Skaldi. These monsters have the ability to consume and mimic human prey—which means you can’t be sure who’s human and who’s Skaldi in disguise. Taking all these factors together, I think readers will find the characters in Survival Colony 9 convincingly complex, mysterious, and full of surprises!

Josh Bellin and Big Green, White Cloud MI, age 11
As a science fiction 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?

I knew from the start that Survival Colony 9 was going to speak to environmental issues. The world of the novel is a hostile desert, and that setting was one of the first things I envisioned.

When I started writing, the category of “cli-fi”—fiction having to do with climate change—hadn’t yet been coined, but it turns out that’s exactly what I was writing!

I will say, however, that it took a number of drafts before I was satisfied with how my novel spoke to contemporary events/issues. In early drafts, the environmental subtext was much more explicit: I devoted a whole chapter to one character explaining to Querry the history of their world, which meant, essentially, a huge truckload of exposition disguised as dialogue. It was too much, not only in terms of length but in the tone, which seemed far too didactic.

So I scaled way back, letting the scene speak for itself. It’s a desert world. Food and water are scarce. Violent, unpredictable storms pound the landscape.

If that image doesn’t speak to readers, no amount of exposition will.

I think this is an important point for science fiction writers, because science fiction is so topical it’s easy for it to become preachy.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), which some people consider one of the earliest sci-fi novels, raised all kinds of fascinating questions about the nature of life and the power of science—but it didn’t preach to its readers, didn’t tell them what to believe.

Yet when a much older and sadder Shelley revised her novel in 1831, she turned it into a long, boring sermon on the excesses of scientific experimentation. That’s why I never teach the 1831 edition, even though it’s customary to consider the most recent edition the most representative of the author’s vision.

I think Shelley violated her own best instincts as a fiction writer in 1831, and she produced a much inferior novel as a result.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m an environmentalist. I love the natural world, and I work hard—both as a father and as an activist—to instill that love in others.

But as a fiction writer, I’m not going to hit readers over the head with my beliefs. The role of fiction is to stimulate the imagination, not to proselytize or recruit. Having presented the best imaginary world I can, it’s up to readers to do with that world what they will.

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23. Author Interview & Giveaway: T.A. Barron on Writing & the Atlantis Saga

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

T.A. Barron grew up in Colorado ranch country and traveled widely as a Rhodes Scholar. He is the winner of the 2011 de Grummond Medallion for “lifetime contribution to the field of children’s and young adult literature” and many other awards.

T. A. Barron is the author of more than 25 highly acclaimed books, many of which are international bestsellers.

They include The Lost Years of Merlin (now being developed into a feature film), The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times bestselling series), The Ancient One (the tale of a brave girl and a magical tree), and The Hero’s Trail (nonfiction stories of courageous kids).

Though he’d dreamed as a young man of becoming a writer, he couldn’t find anyone to publish his first novel. He joined a business, eventually became president, then decided to try again.

So in 1990, he surprised his business partners by moving back to Colorado to become a writer and conservationist.

His novel Atlantis Rising (Philomel, 2014) was released in paperback last week.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline or just dive in?

Essentially, I write all the time, even when I’m traveling, going for a hike with my kids, baking, etc.

The creative process isn’t limited to the hours I spend in my writing chair in the attic of our house in Colorado. It happens on many levels when I’m immersed in a project.

I always write the first draft with a blue felt pen and a pad of paper, because that is a good creative chemistry for me. And I do lots of rewrites - as many as it takes to get it right!

Like a good stew, novels get better when you boil them down and integrate all the ingredients. Most of my novels take six or seven full rewrites and two years to finish.

What inspired the Atlantis series?

Learn more.
The legend of Atlantis has always intrigued me. No word evokes more of a feeling of tragedy than the word "Atlantis."

The tale of Atlantis is such a beautiful story, and for the 2000 years since Plato first wrote about it, people have wondered and dreamed about it.

But one thing that has never changed is that the island of Atlantis was utterly destroyed.

I started to wonder, though, about something else—how Atlantis began.

How did a place that rose to such a level of near perfection get destroyed by the flaws and weaknesses of its people?

Ultimately, how did that happen?

This big unknown question is what got me to write Atlantis Rising. I wanted to add a new thread to the tapestry of myth about Atlantis—how it all began, the secrets of its origins.

How did research for Atlantis compare with research for Merlin?

Good fantasy must be true.

I know that sounds contradictory, but I’m talking about truth on the deeper emotional and spiritual levels, not just on the factual level. Part of that authenticity is doing research.
Learn more.

For my Merlin Saga, I spent a whole year reading everything I could possibly find about the wizard Merlin – just to get a hint of his true character and voice.

Then came the fun of imagining that character as a young man – and even more basic, as a half-drowned boy who washed ashore with no memory at all.

For Atlantis, I did the same thing to understand the various interpretations of the Atlantean myth (and there are lots of them).

Then I began to re-imagine that myth, especially how it all began – what was at stake, who were the heroes and sources of evil, and what sacrifices and struggles happened to give birth to Atlantis.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Here are the essentials: Notice the world around you. Live your life and follow your dreams. Practice writing as often as you can. And importantly, don’t take rejection letters to heart!

Everyone gets them, even established writers. (My first novel got a great reception – 32 rejection letters and no interest whatsoever from any publishers.)

Rejections hurt, but they are just part of life.

The most important thing to remember is this: If you have something to say, and refuse to give up, you absolutely will find a way to say it and share it with others.

T.A. Barron's Writing Room -- Inside & Outside




Cynsational Notes & Screening Room

In 2000, T.A. Barron founded a national award to honor outstanding young people who help their communities or the environment: the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors 25 highly diverse, public-spirited kids each year. He recently produced a documentary film, "Dream Big," profiling seven winners of the Barron Prize.

When not writing or speaking, T. A. Barron serves on many boards including Princeton University, where he helped to create the Princeton Environmental Institute, and The Wilderness Society, which recently honored him with its highest award for conservation work. His favorite pastime is hiking, camping, or skiing in Colorado with his family.

A native of Chicago, interviewer Greg Leitich Smith now lives in Austin, Texas. His middle grade/tween novels include: the Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning and Junior Library Guild Selection, Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo (Little Brown/IntoPrint); its companion Tofu and T.rex (Little Brown/IntoPrint); the Junior Library Guild Selection Chronal Engine (Clarion); and Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook). He holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Texas, and a degree in law from the University of Michigan. Find him @GLeitichSmith and  GregLSBlog.






Cynsational Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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24. Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith Wins Writers' League of Texas (MG/YA) Book Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the Writers' League of Texas: "The 2013/2014 Writers' League of Texas Book Awards, awarded in 2014 and recognizing outstanding books published in 2013, honor Texas authors across five categories with three distinctions: Winner, Finalist, and Discovery Prize Winner, all of whom will be celebrated at the WLT booth at the Texas Book Festival in October."

Middle Grade/YA Winner

(Candlewick, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

Picture Book Winner

(Pelican, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

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25. Guest Post: P.J. Hoover on Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

Cynthia & P.J. at Texas Book Festival
By P.J. Hoover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014) is my fifth novel, but given how long the publication road has been, it’s possibly the one I am the most excited about.

Tut follows the adventures of an immortal King Tut who is stuck at the age of thirteen and has to repeat eighth grade over and over again (talk about perpetual puberty!).

The first couple chapters are set in the past, in ancient Egypt, as we find out how and why Tut is immortal, but after that, we switch to present day Washington, D.C. where the remainder of the book takes place.

My last published novel was Solstice (Tor, 2013), a book solidly planted in the young adult market.

With Tut, I’ve gone back to the middle grade market. The book is aimed at those Harry Potter and Percy Jackson fans out there, third-to-eighth-grade kids, people who adore King Tut, or anyone who enjoys fun fantasy.

It’s been a four years since my last middle grade title, and one thing I’ve discovered more than anything else is that marketing to this age group has changed!

Not only are kids online more, librarians and educators are, too.

I admit it. I love spending time online and playing computer games.

And maybe it makes me a slacker parent, but I often let my kids play longer on their games so I can play, too. (I’m a firm believer that one of the best family time activities is Mario Kart.) My kids never complain. And seeing how much time my kids want to spend on the computer or game consoles, I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap between gaming and reading.

There are a few exciting things I managed to pull together for Tut.

Why are they exciting? Because they are exactly the kind of book extras that I would have wanted if I were a kid. Heck, I’m an adult, and I am loving them. So get your gamer thumbs ready and read on!



MINECRAFT Server

The first thing I came up with (with the help of my kids and their friends) is a MINECRAFT server for Tut. If you don't know what MINECRAFT is, ask any later elementary school or middle school kid, and they will enthusiastically tell you.

The server for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life has many locations used in the book. Not only can kids visit the world of Tut, they can interact in the same ways that Tut does. They can escape from his tomb. They can find secret tunnels under Washington, D.C. There is also be a place on my website where kids can “apply” to become builders on the server.

In addition, there is a MINECRAFT scavenger hunt. Kids can warp around from place to place on the server piecing out hidden words that can then be strung together to reveal a secret message.

Just a note: MINECRAFT is also starting to get more traction in the educational market. My daughter’s third grade class used it to learn about perimeter and area. You can read more about the educational version of MINECRAFT and the regular version.

Learn more about the TUT MINECRAFT WORLD.


Video Game (using SCRATCH)

The second thing I came up with is a video game for Tut. The video game itself is pretty cool (with ten levels, codes to decipher, patterns to recognize), but what really makes it exceptional is the platform where I designed it.

I used SCRATCH which is a website designed by MIT and used widely in schools to teach and encourage kids to computer program and write video games. Kids can play games written by others (such as my TUT game), they can remix games, or they can write games of their own.

SCRATCH has millions of users worldwide.

Learn more about the TUT SCRATCH video game.

Pick Your Own Quest

I have to mention first that my favorite books in elementary school (besides Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden) were those Choose Your Own Adventure books.

So the third thing I came up with for Tut is a Pick Your Own Quest adventure (which is similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure except done up King Tut style and on the computer).

The Pick Your Own Quest TUT adventure is a fun way for kids to immerse themselves in the world of TUT online and to try their hand at being pharaoh while seeing how their choices will affect their fate.

For starters . . .

You are about to embark on a great adventure as King Tut, Pharaoh of Egypt. Whatever you do, don't turn back. Once you make a choice, it cannot be changed! One path may lead to you saving the world. Another may lead to your end. Choose Wisely.

Learn more about the TUT Pick Your Own Quest adventure.

Yes, it’s all about gaming, but my goal is to encourage educators to get kids excited about reading by relating to things they know and love. I would love to see educators assign video game programming or MINECRAFT world development as possibly curriculum tie-ins when reading books in addition to (or instead of) traditional book reports.

I adore the idea of kids writing video games based on books they love. And I believe that encouraging creative writing in a fun form such as a Pick Your Own Quest adventure is a great thing for reluctant writers!

I leave you with the book trailer for Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life which pulls it all together.



Now it’s time for reading, writing, and gaming!

About P.J. Hoover

At Comic Con
After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer, P. J. Hoover started writing books for kids and teens.

When not writing, P. J. spends time with her husband and two kids and enjoys practicing kung fu, solving Rubik's cubes, and watching Star Trek.

Her middle grade novel, Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Starscape/Macmillan, 2014), tells the story of a young immortal King Tut, who's been stuck in middle school for over 3,000 years and must defeat an ancient enemy with the help of a dorky kid from school, a mysterious Egyptian princess, and a one-eyed cat.

Her first novel for teens, Solstice (Tor, 2013), takes place in a global warming future and explores the parallel world of mythology beside our own.

About Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life

From the promotional copy:
You’d think it would be great being an Egyptian demigod, but if King Tut has to sit through eighth grade one more time, he’ll mummify himself.

Granted the gift of immortality by the gods—or is it a curse?—Tut has been stuck in middle school for ages.

Even worse, evil General Horemheb, the man who killed Tut’s father and whom Tut imprisoned in a tomb for three thousand years, is out and after him.

The general is in league with the Cult of Set, a bunch of guys who worship one of the scariest gods of the Egyptian pantheon—Set, the god of Chaos.

The General and the Cult of Set have plans for Tut… and if Tut doesn’t find a way to keep out of their clutches, he’ll never make it to the afterworld alive.

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