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1. Winter Hiatus, Podcast Interview & Feral Pride Review

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy (Almost) New Year, and many blessings to y'all in 2015!

Cynsations will be on hiatus until sometime after the ALA Midwinter Conference in Chicago--hope to see many of you there.

Thank you for your support and enthusiasm over the course of the year. Most appreciated!

Check out Sarah Enni's podcast interview with me at First Draft. We had a terrific conversation, and it's an honor to invite y'all to listen in.

Before I sign off, I want to share the review of Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 2015) from Booklist. It reads in part:
"Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed.

"HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Smith's fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility."

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2. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Diverse Read Recommendation
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Diversity in YA Gift Guide from CBC Diversity. See also African-American Interest Young Reader Titles by Diane Patrick from Publishers Weekly.

First Five Pages Workshop Featuring Literary Agent Tracey Adams from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "...will open for entries at noon EST on Saturday, January 3, 2015. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements."

Your Holiday Writing Schedule by Bill Ferris from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Santa knows you’ve been complaining for months that you’d finally finish writing your book if you ever got some free time. Well here it is, buddy, a great big box of time, gift wrapped in the December and January pages of your calendar." See also by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed, Beware the Shady Side of New Publishing Options.

On the Writing of Essays (and Lectures) by Julie Larios from Books Around the Table. Peek: "I’ve been reviewing final versions of several lectures I delivered to students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts during the seven years I taught there. Seven years means fourteen semesters, with a few semesters 'off duty' when I was excused from delivering a full-blown lecture."

Who's Moving Where: News and Staff Changes at Children's-YA Publishers by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. Peek: "Andrew Karre is joining Dutton in January as executive editor; he leaves Lerner, where he had been editorial director." See also Literary Agent Stephen Barbara Joins Inkwell Management from Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.

Beware the Bitter Women by Laura Ruby from This Thing In Particular. Peek: "When reviewers use gendered terms and expectations to review female writers, they reinforce stereotypes. That women—and their girl characters—should be quiet. That women writers should be non-confrontational. That women writers should be subtle or gentle or funny or absurd or ironic or even ridiculously vague in order not to alienate…well, who exactly?"

Making Friends With Your Black Dog by Jen White from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Now that I was a 'real writer' everything would be easy because I had a book contract, and an agent, and an editor, and hopefully, an audience. Writing should be as simple as eating a sleeve of Oreos while watching an episode of 'Downton Abbey,' right? Nope."

Representing Diversity on 2014 Book Covers by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "There is a wide range of representations of characters, from full-face head shots to images of a character’s back or silhouette. Not all images may read as non-white to every reader/viewer, but the question is: Does an image need to read exactly the same way to every reader/viewer?" See also Malinda on 2014 LBGT YA by the Numbers.

Best Multicultural Books of 2014 from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Each year, a select diverse committee of experts from the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL) identifies the best in multicultural books. The mission of the CSMCL is to provide children, teachers, parents, educators, students, and librarians access to multicultural children’s books with high literary and artistic standards."

Rationalizing Rejection by Cory Putnam Oakes from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Let’s embrace rejection as an unlikely ally. Let’s celebrate it as a right of passage. Let’s laugh in its face and feed it cookies."

The Elements of Writerly Talent and Improvement by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "Let's say you have talent and you're practicing regularly in order to get better. The following things can then help you improve and/or increase your odds of writerly success as well..."

Cynsational Screening Room



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Devin Rhodes is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam are Maria and Jenn in the U.S. and Bev in Canada.

The winner of Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath is Elaine in the U.S.. Note: just notified so that's all I know of their locations.

The winners of the first two books in the School for S.P.I.E.S. series by Bruce Hale are Heidi in Utah and Cathy in Wisconsin.

The winner of Blue on Blue by Dianne White was Rachel in Arizona.


More Personally

With Greg Leitich Smith, Frances Hill Yansky & Brian Yansky...

at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in Austin!


Sarah Enni of First Draft says: "Boisterous, eloquent, and just the tiniest bit zany, Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times best-selling author of Tantalize and Rain Is Not My Indian Name, took me out for tacos and taught me a thing or twelve. I loved hearing her wise words on diversity in YA, paying it forward with newer writers, and writing 200 drafts of a single picture book." Listen to the podcast from First Draft.

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award!

Gulf shrimp & Gouda cheese -- Christmas dinner appetizers!


Personal Links

Ranking of gifts in the series!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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

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

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

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3. Guest Post: E. Kristin Anderson on Teens Need Verse

By E. Kristin Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Young people love poetry.

At least they love writing it. When I ask teens whether they read much poetry, though, the answer is usually no.

I think I know why. Outside of my bona fide freaky obsession with Emily Dickinson from the age of six, this was pretty much my exposure to poetry outside of Shel Silverstein:

  1. That time I found a super old and moldy copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and read it cover to cover in 24 hours. (I’m totes still scared of the Jabberwocky.)
  2. Memorizing a Robert Frost poem in fourth grade, which I suspect is about average for anyone who grew up in New England in the 80s or 90s.
  3. Shakespeare in high school.
  4. More Shakespeare.
  5. Transcendentalism.
  6. Intravenous Shakespeare injections.

Are you seeing a pattern here? It’s something along the lines of “dead white guys” and “extra dead white guys.”

But I had a teacher by the name of Mrs. Graves.

Teenage Sonnet
Cynthia Graves taught us sonnets and Shakespeare, sure. But she had us write our own sonnets, instead of just memorizing Bill. And then she gave us Louise Glück.

Louise Glück changed everything for me. I realized that I could write a poem that didn’t rhyme. Or that spoke to me, with honesty. That poems didn’t have to be about love or tragedy (though they could be). That sometimes you could just enjoy a poem, and not have to think what it “means.” And maybe it wasn’t just Louise Glück that changed everything.

(Pause for a shout-out to my girl Louise, for winning a National Book Award in November!)

It was Cynthia Graves.

But not everyone gets to be in Mrs. Graves’ class. And, survey says, poetry in the classroom hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was in school. I’m guessing there’s a little less Robert Frost here in Texas and hopefully a lot more Naomi Shihab Nye. And while there aren’t many poetry collections published for the YA market, that doesn’t mean we can’t share grown-up poetry with teens. Frost was hardly writing YA!

Sure, I’m still obsessed with Emily Dickinson as an adult. I appreciate Shakespeare. But I also love reading literary magazines and discovering new voices. I love writing found poetry using YA novels and fashion magazines. I love writing poems about UFOs and jackalopes.

I love when a fellow writer gives me a prompt and I have to create something under whacky constraints. It’s wild! It’s joyful! It’s making stuff! It’s telling stories!

I want kids to know this love, to find that poetry is more than iambic pentameter and some crusty dude with a quill. I want kids to see that they can read Gwendolyn Brooks! Tracy K. Smith! Austin Kleon! Francesca Lia Block! Tomaž Šalamun! Joseph Bruchac! Christine Heppermann! Ada Límon!

There are so many contemporary poets writing brilliant work – do we really all have to read the same guys, over and over, for generations?

I want to see grown-ups making magazines like Cicada and The New Yorker and Bat City Review (this is U.T. Austin’s lit mag – insert your local college’s lit mag here) available in their classroom libraries. In their bathrooms. On their teens’ nightstands. On their own nightstands.

Teens will read poetry, I swear. Just give them a little more A little more variety to choose from. Let them enjoy the work, without always having to find the exact meaning. (Sometimes, I don’t even know everything about my poems’ meanings until a reader asks me a specific question!) Give them poets who look like them, who live like them, who speak to them. Who write poems that are weird, honest, awkward, fantastical.

You wouldn’t believe how many kids are purportedly “stealing” my poetry books from their parents because they’re full of ghosts and lake monsters. Or how teens love hearing about making new poetry out of old texts.

Young people are attracted to writing poetry for a reason. I’d love to see a generation that loves reading it, too.

Cynsational Notes

E. Kristin Anderson is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College.

She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome.

Once upon a time she worked for the lovely folks at The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Texas.

Currently living in Austin, Texas, Kristin is an online editor at Hunger Mountain and a contributing editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the Dear Teen Me anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name.
As a poet she has been published in many magazines including Post Road, the Cimarron Review, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Cicada and she has work forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2 and NonBinary Review.

Kristin is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: "A Guide for the Practical Abductee" (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and "A Jab of Deep Urgency" (Finishing Line Press, 2014).

She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook in her parents’ garage.

She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and is currently working on a full-length collection of erasure poems from women’s and teen magazines.

Kristin's recent reading at The Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas.

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4. ...And to All, a Good Night!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Zilker Holiday Tree -- Austin, Texas

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5. Guest Post: Darlene Beck Jacobson on Wheels of Change

Original White House Invitation Emily Received in Wheels of Change.
By Darlene Beck Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The idea for Wheels of Change (Creston, 2014) came about through the discovery of two things while researching my family tree.

One was the fact that my paternal great-grandfather was a carriage maker in Washington D.C. in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

The second was an invitation my grandmother received to a reception hosted by then President Theodore Roosevelt. Further research at the National Archives confirmed that she attended the reception and met Roosevelt.

Putting the two together became my premise: What if the livelihood of a carriage maker is threatened by progress of the modern world? To what lengths would a determined daughter, who adores her Papa’s way of life, go to save the business? Would she indeed go all the way to the president?

I wrote the first draft of Wheels of Change as a picture book.

When an editor commented that the voice, ideas and concepts were better suited to middle grade, I panicked. How could I possibly find a novel length story from twelve hundred words?

After I calmed down and cleared my head, ideas began to form and scenes rose from the fog. As I fleshed out the story, I did more research to make sure things were accurate to time and place. And, I discovered that adding some of the social and historical events of the era added depth to the plot in ways I hadn’t originally conceived.

Emily Soper
It was absolutely essential to get the details accurate. Just because it was fiction didn’t mean I could do what you liked in terms of historical references. It had to be grounded in the reality of the time period. I wanted readers to trust the storytelling. They couldn’t do that if I was too lazy to find out if a 1908 nickel had a buffalo or picture of Washington on it.

I visited a buggy museum to get a feel for life in a carriage barn. I took a virtual tour of the White House and viewed film clips of Theodore Roosevelt and his family. I read numerous books about the turn of the Twentieth Century and life in Washington D.C. I perused cookbooks, newspapers, the Sears Catalog, and old maps to get a sense of daily life.

I found a wonderful on-line site called Streets of Washington that details businesses and buildings that existed way back when. I contacted Sagamore Hill, The Smithsonian, The Henry Ford Museum, and The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for answers to specific questions.

Through it all, I was constantly amazed by how helpful people were. Whenever I had a question, historical experts were eager to share their knowledge.

My grandmother was a musician who played piano and organ in the silent movie houses of the time before she married and raised her sons. She kept scrapbooks of their accomplishments as well as mementos of special events in her own life. If she hadn’t saved that wonderful invitation, Wheels of Change might not have come about. For her efforts, I am truly grateful.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

Racial intolerance, social change, sweeping progress.

It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old Emily Soper, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at home hearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females.

Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt.

Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort.

Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

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6. New Voice: Nicole Maggi on Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nicole Maggi is the first-time author of Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy) (Medallion Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Alessia Jacobs is dying to get out of her small town of Twin Willows, Maine. 

Things start looking up when a new family comes to town—but when she falls for Jonah, their mysterious son, her life turns upside down.

Weird visions of transforming into an otherworldly falcon are just the beginning. Soon she learns she's part of the Benandanti, an ancient cult of warriors with the unique power to separate their souls from their bodies and take on the forms of magnificent animals.

Alessia never would've suspected it, but her boring town is the site of an epic struggle between the Benandanti and the Malandanti to control powerful magic in the surrounding forest.

As Alessia is drawn into the Benandanti's mission, her relationship with Jonah intensifies. When her two worlds collide, Alessia’s forced to weigh choices a sixteen-year-old should never have to make.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2014, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Way back in the fall of 1999, I got an image in my head of a woman walking through snow. I followed her around for quite some time, and after a few months I realized I had a book, and that I wanted to finish it and try to get it published.

That book took me six years to finish. It was an epic historical novel, a female Huck Finn, five hundred pages long and full of my blood, sweat and tears.

 In 2005, I submitted it to an agent that I'd met through a conference. She called me three days later to offer me representation. She was my dream agent, so of course I jumped on the offer.

Wow, I thought. If getting an agent is this easy (she was the only one I queried), selling the book will be a breeze. Right? Wrong.

That book crossed the desk of probably every publisher in New York and was rejected by all of them. After several months on submission, my agent gently suggested we should pull it and I should write something else.

I was devastated. I had pinned all my hopes on this book.

Reeling from the rejection, I picked up a copy of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2002) and embarked on Julia Cameron's 12-week recovery program for ailing creatives.

At the end of it, I was stronger and ready to write something new. That something was another historical, this time set in 1830s Nantucket.

Then in 2007, my agent and I were at the Historical Novel Society Conference and every editor we pitched it to said the same thing, that American historical fiction is a tough sell. My agent and I had a heart-to-heart, during which she said, "You're so ready to be published. Why give yourself another hurtle? Write about Europe."

So I went back to the drawing board and starting trawling Wikipedia for ideas. One day I was on the sight for European witch hunts and saw a little footnote about something called the Benandanti. I clicked on it and as I read the page, my heart started to pound. This was it. My next idea.

So I started writing a YA set in 16th century Italy, about a girl who is a Benandante, a warrior who can separate her soul from her body and transform into a magnificent falcon. Then, several months into writing it, I got stuck. I had the whole thing plotted out, I knew exactly where I needed to go, and yet every time I sat down to write I just stared and stared at the blank page.

One night, after many weeks of this torture, I was having a conversation with my husband about it and I blurted out, "Maybe it doesn't need to be set in the 16th century!"

Well.

A favorite writing spot -- Romancing the Bean in Burbank, CA.
For someone who identified themselves as a historical novelist, who was a member of The Historical Novel Society and had attended their conferences, who loved history and all things old and ancient, this was a radical idea. But I decided I had nothing to lose.

 So I started writing the book set in the here and now. Four months later, I had a complete draft. I wrote the whole thing without a road map, and had a lot of revision to do on the back end.

After about a year, I sent the manuscript to my agent. It took her a long time to get back to me. So long, in fact, that I was already counting on her telling me she hated it and making up lists of new agents to query. But she finally responded, had some minor notes which I implemented, and in the spring of 2010 we sent it out to five publishers.

Two days later, we had a bite. A big bite.

A Big Five publisher was interested. I was actually at a funeral and when I got back to the house there were phone calls and emails waiting for me. I got on the phone with my agent. The publisher wanted a huge amount of edits, major changes, and they wanted me to do a new synopsis and first three chapters on spec. I did it. Six weeks later, I had a three-book deal.

And then things got really crazy.

Writers are readers!
For the next year, I was kept in an endless loop of revisions. I turned in three drafts. Then my editor left. I was assigned to a new editor. For six months she told me everything was fine, that she would get me notes "soon" (notes I never got), that all was well.

Until November 11, 2011, when she called my agent and cancelled my three-book contract.

I got that call at eight o'clock in the morning. I was feeding my one-year-old daughter. She got fussy and I had to hang up with my agent to deal with her. I called my husband, who was on his way to work, to turn around and come home.

When he walked through the door, I collapsed into his arms and cried for several minutes. Then I straightened, told him to take our daughter to daycare, and did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I went to yoga.

In class that morning, I thought, if I can hold this crazy ridiculous pose, I can survive this.

My agent put the book back out on submission. Meanwhile, I curled into myself, grieving the dream that had been shattered. Rejection after rejection rolled in, all saying the same thing: they loved the book, but the market for shapeshifting paranormal YA had changed and they weren't doing it anymore. In the 18 months that the Big Five had kept me under contract, the genre had fallen out of style (which was the real reason, I believe, for the cancellation).

Then one night, I pulled the old copy of The Artist's Way off my shelf. Once again, I embarked on that 12-week journey to heal. I had lost complete faith in myself and the Universe, and I needed to restore so I could write again. Several weeks in, I had a new idea for a book. I signed up for Laura Baker's Fearless Writer course and started to plot the book out. As I began to get really excited about this new idea, I got the Call from Irene. We'd resold the book to Medallion Press.

The offer from Medallion was much smaller, but I didn't care. It wasn't lost on me that the book sold only after I started to get excited about another idea. I had to put that positive energy out into the world in order to receive any back. And Medallion, though a small press, has treated me a million times better than the Big Five did along every step of the way.

While my agent hammered out the details of the deal, she sent me an email. It was now June 2012, and the earliest available slot for publication on Medallion's schedule was December 2014.

I'll never forget where I was when I got that email. I was in a movie theatre with a dear friend, waiting for the lights to go down, and I checked my phone. I read the email to my friend and we burst out laughing. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I'd been waiting to be published since 1999; what was two more years? It was so ridiculous that there was nothing to do but laugh.

After that, I realized what a gift those two years were. I had a contracted book, but I didn't have to do anything with it for a long time. That allowed me the time to go back to that other book I'd started writing and focus on it without distractions. That book was a joy to write. Through The Artist's Way, my faith in myself as a writer had been restored, and I wrote that book just for the pure love of writing. I finished it relatively quickly and we sold it two months later in a two-book deal to SourceBooks Fire. That book, The Forgetting, will be released on February 3rd, 2015.

On the same day that SourceBooks sent my agent the deal memo, Medallion sent over contracts for the second and third books in my trilogy (we'd only sold them the first book in the initial deal). In less than two years, I went from having a cancelled contract to having five contracted books.

I know that this is not the end of a long road; rather, it is the beginning of another long and twisting road. I'm sure there will be many bumps and hurtles and, hopefully, celebrations along the way. The thing I've learned is that no matter what happens, I can survive it. At the end of the day, it's the writing that matters, and no one can take that away from me.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Favorite Read
I've been reading paranormal and fantasy ever since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I pulled The Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce (Random House) off the library shelf and reread them over and over. In fact, I don't think any other kid at my school ever got to read them because I had them checked out so often.

 Finally, my stepmother took pity on me and actually called the publisher (they were out of print at the time) and got me a full set of first-edition hardcovers. Those books sit on a shelf in my office reserved for Very Special Books.

I also loved all the magicky Lois Duncan books like Down A Dark Hall and A Gift of Magic (both from Little, Brown), and the Jane Yolen Pit Dragon Chronicles (Harcourt). In later years, I loved historical fiction (still do!) and so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward historical fiction. But when I realized that Winter Falls needed to be contemporary, and I started writing in a paranormal YA voice, it was like coming home. "Of course," I thought. "This is your voice!"

I remember attending a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few years ago where one of the authors said that he had started writing his book and realized some ways in that what he wanted in the book were monsters. He was writing literary fiction, so he tried to make the monsters metaphorical and imaginary. Then he realized, "No. I want real monsters."

Favorite Read
Favorite Read
That's kind of how I am. I like my books with a side of weird. I love that quote, "Why by normal when you can be paranormal?"

I love magic and ghosts and the mystical. I think maybe it's because I believe this world is full of magic and mystery that no matter how much logic we apply, we just can't explain.

Winter Falls is based on the real 16th century cult of the Benandanti. They were investigated for over 100 years by the Roman Inquisition and all the transcripts from those trials still exist. It is so cool, reading the testimony of these people who claim - who believe with all their heart - that they could separate their souls from their bodies and that their souls took on the forms of animals.

And you know what? I believe they could, too. Every myth has its root in truth.

I'm working on a book right now that is a straight thriller, no paranormal. It's actually kind of hard for me. But don't worry - I'm sure I'll manage to sneak something weird into it.

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7. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jan. 27 Designated Multicultural Children's Book Day by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The mission of MCCBD, co-founders Wenjen and Budayr explained to PW, is to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries."

Diversity in Single Serving Slices by Day Al-Mohamed from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "People are perceived as being gay or autistic or black and usually one of those identities is the 'defining' one. If we are already seeing the 'real world' in this sort of compartmentalization, seeing it in fiction becomes a natural outgrowth of these assumptions."

Creating Unforgettable Characters by Kathleen McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The story lies in how those inborn personality traits lead characters to make choices that shape the events of their lives and, in turn, how events work with temperament to shape character."

Reasons My Son Is Crying: Writing Edition by Cory McCarthy from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Dearest lovely writer friends, my wish for this holiday season is that we can all be proud of what we’ve written no matter how fancy everyone else’s writing might seem."

The Fiction Puzzle by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always get better if you keep fighting to find new ways to improve your skills."

Four Logic Problems That Will Ruin Your Day (and Your Manuscript) by Harrison Demchick from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Logic problems remove readers from the world you’ve created. They take from you your narrative authority. They undercut conflict and tension. And if not identified and fixed, they will ruin your manuscript."

Cynsational Screening Room

 

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

More Personally


My sympathies to the family and friends, colleagues and fans of Choctaw children's author Greg Rodgers. I occasionally feature obituaries at Cynsations; however, in this case, I refer you to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature, in conjunction with Greg's dear friend, fellow Choctaw children's author Tim Tingle: A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers. Note: Greg and Tim also have created books for grown-ups. Tim writes in part:

"We already miss you more than you will ever know, Brother Greg. Too soon, you left us staggering far too soon. But we forgive you, on the sole condition that you work your magic through the fingers of young Choctaw writers, doing their best to continue your work."

With Frosty and the gang outside GSD&M in Austin.
Feral Curse is on Toby Paws' sleigh on The Writing Barn card by Jeff Crosby.
School Library Journal says of Feral Curse: "Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series."

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award!

Link of the Week: Newbery/Caldecott 2015: The Final Prediction Edition by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. See also Cry to the Captain by Kara Stewart at From Here to Writernity.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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

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

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

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8. Guest Post & Giveaway: Jennifer Wolf Kam on Words from the Past

Meeting young writers at The Voracious Reader.
By Jennifer Wolf Kam
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In the spring of 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia completed a successful orbital mission around the Earth, my hometown New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup and eight-year-old me wrote my first fan letter. It was not a letter to Shaun Cassidy or Scott Baio, or any other Tiger Beat sensation.

I’d just read The Little Leftover Witch, and my letter was to its author, Florence Laughlin.

Writers were (still are) my rock stars.

After reading this wonderful book I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought perhaps, I might be a witch, too, but writing seemed more practical—especially since, try as I might, I could not get my room to clean itself just by snapping my fingers and wishing it so.

I can imagine what my letter to Florence Laughlin was like, written in my best penmanship. I likely told her about the construction paper and crayon creations I read to my third grade class. I probably described how I dressed up and performed stories for whomever would listen. I may have declared that, since reading her book, I would be a witch for Halloween. I know I told her I loved to read. I know this because her generous reply began with:

“You are my favorite kind of people! You tell me that you just love to read.”

I swooned.

She described how the idea for the book had come to her twenty years earlier, and that the little witch herself nudged and pestered her to write her story.

The thought of the mischievous little witch pestering Florence Laughlin (like I often pestered my mother) delighted me. But I also heard something else—the story needed to come out. It needed to be written.

I knew that feeling. I carried stories inside of me, too—all asking for a chance to be told. I got to work at once. In the ensuing years, I wrote whenever I could, and even when I couldn’t.

I studied the craft, attended conferences, joined critique groups, and earned my MFA at the fabulous Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I spent countless hours at my laptop, writing and revising, creating and honing, immersed in worlds of my own creation.

None of my efforts led to a book contract. There were dark moments, soothed by chocolate and loved ones, when the “what ifs” and “never wills” mingled with the stories inside my head. My dream drifted further away, like a little witch, gliding off into the Halloween night on her broomstick.

What I wouldn’t have given for a touch of her magic!

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But I kept at it. Just like the little witch’s, my stories wanted to be told and I needed to write them. Slowly, that started to become enough.

Then, an amazing thing happened. My novel, Devin Rhodes Is Dead (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014) won the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award, and I received a publishing contract from marvelous Charlesbridge. I do believe the best things happen when we least expect them.

Much time has passed since I was the girl who opened that letter and dreamed of writing books. I want to tell her—that impatient little one in a hurry to dance with words and share her stories—that it won’t be easy. But then, we all have our journey, and this is hers. This is mine.

In the end, we write our own stories. Mine was filled with hard work, determination, stick-to-it-iveness and bucket loads of gratitude.

And I think, a bit of magic, after all.

Kitty and muse, KitKat
Cynsational Screening Room

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Devon Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America and the U.K.

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9. Guest Post & Giveaway: Dana Walrath on Writing from the Marrow

By Dana Walrath
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

My first novel, Like Water on Stone, just came out (Delacorte, Nov. 2014). Of course, I’m smiling. The cover and interior of the book are beautifully produced. I’ve poured my soul into it.

“What’s it about?” people ask me.

When I tell them, “It’s the story of three siblings who survive the Armenian genocide of 1915 with the help of the guardian spirit of an eagle,” I’ve learned that I better get my smile under control.

Genocide and smiles do not go together.

And yet I know that “smile-worthy” hope and the power of the imagination fill this story, even as it minces no words about the violence. The three young siblings not only survive, but they survive intact, because their imaginations protect them. Ardziv, the eagle, embodies imagination. Just as he protects the young ones as they journey, he protects the readers.

Ardziv also protected me as I wrote this story.

Like Water on Stone, grew out of one the very few things my mother told me about her own mother’s life: “After her parents were killed, she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo.”


I was in elementary school when I learned this, and it took me decades to fill in the flesh around those bare bones. I knew this story had to be told, especially in the face of global politics that allow for continued denial of this first genocide of the 20th century. But I knew it had to be told in a way that would pull readers along, instead of punishing them.

The story flowed out in lyrical free verse instead of prose, the abundant white space providing safety for the reader, just as Ardziv does. The crumbling Ottoman Empire, whose leaders orchestrated the genocide, is distant in time, space, and experience for readers. Free verse evokes the feeling of foods, music, dances, and ritual from another land. Because it works through metaphor and magic, free verse also shows all that was physically lost, and how it persists in the imaginations of survivors.

Palu roof
Keeping my Armenian identity hidden, I had traveled to my grandparents’ homeland the summer of 1984. With the hospitality characteristic of the region, I was welcomed into people’s homes and fed foods I had known my whole life. In Palu, I asked locals if they knew of any mills—my great grandfather had been a miller. I was sent across the eastern branch of the Euphrates River on a modern bridge next to a crumbling one built of stone, and into the woods when I found a mill, set along the banks of a stream. On the rooftop the woman of the house served me tea, a half dozen children watching us, mounds of apricots drying in the sun.

Palu Mill Wheel
When I asked about the mill’s history she told me that it had been in her family for sixty years, but before that it had belonged to Armenians. Joy and pain converged as I thought this could perhaps have been my family’s home.

Psychologist Paul Ekman—who has spent a lifetime analyzing the connection between emotion and facial expression— shows us that when we remember the death of a loved one, our faces reflect a blend of strong sadness, moderate anger and moderate joy.

When a book touches me, it passes the “tear test”-- bringing tears to my eyes not because of sadness but because of connection.

We write to connect. We read to connect. Connecting is complicated. Our faces reflect that.

This human capacity for hope, magical thinking, and imagination in the face of the deepest pain, builds a bridge from the dark places to joy. We know this complexity and connection in the marrow of our bones, that place where our bodies make our blood and keep us flowing.

Human connection deserves our widest smiles.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath (Delacorte, 2014). Author sponsored. U.S. only. a Rafflecopter giveaway

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10. In Memory: Norman Bridwell

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Norman Birdwell, Creator of "Clifford The Big Red Dog" Dead at 86 from The Martha's Vineyard Times. Peek: "In 1962 Mr. Bridwell found himself having to support a wife and infant daughter on extra money he picked up doing freelance artwork. He considered supplementing his income by illustrating picture books."

"Clifford The Big Red Dog" Creator Norman Bridwell Has Died by Carolyn Kellogg from The L.A. Times. Peek: "The first Clifford book was published in 1963. All told, there are more than 129 million copies of the many Clifford books in print in 13 languages. The character was also been the basis of an Emmy-award winning animated television show on PBS."

Obituary: Norman Bridwell by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Bridwell’s famous pup, introduced in 1963, was originally going to be called Tiny. But the author’s wife, Norma, suggested that the dog be named after her own childhood imaginary friend, Clifford."

See also Norman Bridwell Papers from de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi.

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11. New Voices Interview: Trisha Leaver & Lindsay Currie on Creed

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie (Flux, 2014):

Three of us went in. 
Three of us came out. 
None even a shadow of who they once were.

When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. 

But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. 

The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world. 

When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, Dee, Luke, and Mike find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. 

Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .

In less than thirty words, tell us about Creed.

Lindsay: Creed is a psychological horror about three teens in upstate New York who find themselves at the mercy of a deadly cult, and their struggle to survive.

The setting of Creed is unusual. Would you tell us about it and what’s behind its inspiration? Are there any real life places that you might compare it to?

Trisha: Creed…or at least the start of it was a nightmare for me. I was on route to a concert with my sister and two of my childhood friends. We hit a deer and totaled our car, forcing us off the road.

Needing help, we wondered into a nearby town only to find it empty, emergency sirens blaring in the background. People had been there…recently. The car doors were open, there was food cooking on the stove, there was even a fire smoldering in the fireplace. It was like the townsfolk had just upped and vanished. What I could see were shadows, the outlines of people dancing behind the buildings. But I couldn’t get them to interact with me, couldn’t get them to even acknowledge my presence.

That’s when I woke up, heart pounding and irritated that my subconscious had left me suspended in a dream with no clue who or what was after me.

So in essence…Creed was my way of finishing that nightmare.

Lindsay: The inspiration came from a very vivid nightmare that Trisha had. Of course she immediately called me and freaked me out which led us both to think the same thing: We have to write this story.

I grew up in the Midwest, so Purity Springs looks like about three dozen small farming communities I grew up around. You know the look – flat land, roads that stretch for miles surrounded by fields of corn or soy. Yeah, that’s Purity Springs to me.

Describe your research for this book.

Lindsay (black jacket over white print) & Trisha (in red) at their book launch.
Trisha: Ah…the Internet is both an informative and invasive space, one that provided us with the foundation we needed to create the characters in Creed.

Creed is essentially a cult book, so we had to do a fair amount of research into not only the hierarchical structure of different cults but the mentalities of their leaders and followers.

We poured over interviews with individuals who had left cults, public documents surrounding investigations into their abusive practices, and their child-rearing believes. The research was both fascinating and heart-breaking.

Lindsay: We did a great deal of research into cult mentalities for Creed. For one, to create a convincing group of people we had to figure out the leader, Elijah and how he would operate. In addition, one of our characters – Joseph – grew up inside the cult, which makes his headspace a little trickier to get into without a lot of digging around.

Which character in Creed intrigued you the most and why?

Trisha: Dee. Hands down, Dee. I am not a plotter, but I do create rather detailed character maps. Before I even put pen to paper, I map out the emotional stage of my main character— their past, their present, even their future dreams come into play.

When I choose my main character, I am purposefully picking the character who will struggle the most…who has the most to lose in that setting.

Dee is a foster kid with a history of abuse both in and out of the system. She has trust issues, has an entire history she refuses to speak of never mind relive.

Forcing her into this cult, connecting her abusive past to the current practices of the town, forcing her to place her trust in a stranger...all that goes against every instinct…every lesson life has taught her. That’s what makes her character so fascinating to me; the constant internal struggle that has her questioning her every decision.

Lindsay: For me, Joseph hands-down. Joseph is one of those characters who exists in the gray spaces between good and bad. Like the Doctor in Frankenstein (1818). He might do some unsavory things, but it’s tricky to label him one way or the other because his motives complicate things. He’s a product of his circumstances, and that isn’t a simple thing to toss into one category or another.

Creed is receiving rave reviews with a just a few polarized opinions about the religious aspects in the books. What role does religion play in the novel?

Trisha: I think by default, Creed is going to rub some people the wrong way. I mean it is nearly impossible to write a book about a cult without delving into the religious foundation of their existence. That said, I don’t think religion is at the heart of the story.

When I set out to co-author Creed, I was more interested in exploring the darkness that surrounds us every day, the evil that lurks within a chosen few and their dark past and tortured existences. The cult setting was truly just the avenue I used to explore the darker side of humanity.

Lindsay: Religion in the novel is always an interesting question because Creed truly isn’t intended to be a commentary on any particular religion or even organized religion in general. It plays a role because these cults do exist and have existed in different parts of the world for years and that’s what makes it so scary. If you take the religion out, it’s really just about what happens when a person in a position of power begins to believe they are omnipotent and abuses it.

Do you think a world like Purity Springs exists or could exist? Why? Are there aspects of our society that lend itself to the events in this book?

Trisha: Absolutely….if not the town, than the people. There is a line in the book that I think answers this question perfectly:

“My father told me not to be fooled, that the devil had two faces —one charming and meant to draw you in, the other full of sinful pride.” 

The seemingly innocuous people who we pass every day and never give them a second glance, the sweet neighbor next door who is living a double life…it is those people I tied to capture in Creed.

Lindsay: Ah, I might have accidentally answered this a little in the question above. But I’ll take this answer a slightly different route.

Yes, I see aspects of our society that lend themselves to the events in Creed. Every time you hear something terrible in the news about an authority figure - someone people trust and follow – it changes my perception of them and their private life whether I want it to or not.

This makes me think of Creed. Elijah Hawkins positions himself as taking care of others and protecting them, but once you begin peeling back his layers the truth is revealed and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this in real life.

Describe a place, person or event that terrified you as a child.

Trisha: “Carol Anne, go into the light.”

Yeah…so I still might have a slight aversion to closets.

Who am I kidding? I still can’t sleep with the closet door open.

Lindsay: Gladly. I was always terrified by my grandmother’s basement. It was one of those places that just reeked of scary things – it smelled like dirt, was dark twenty-four hours a day and had one of those giant coal-burning furnaces stuffed in the back of it. I always had the unsettling sensation that something bad happened in there…even as a small child.

What draws you to YA horror fiction?

Trisha: I was deathly afraid of the dark when I was a kid. I used to check under the bed every night and refused to sleep without the hall light. My older brother used to tease me, say it wasn’t the monsters under the bed that I should be worried about, rather the ones lurking in the closet.

We were stupid, bickering kids back then, but years later, with a lifetime of experiences behind me, I finally got what he meant. There are no paranormal creatures in my manuscripts. No fangs, no claws, no mist as I like to say. It’s not because I don’t love a good fanged monster, but because I believe the darkness that surrounds us every day is scarier.

Lindsay: Well, the easy answer is that I love to be scared!

Well, let me add a caveat to that…I love what I call “safe fear”. So, the fear you feel in the movie theater, or curled up on your couch, or in bed reading a scary book. That fear is fun and exhilarating and nothing like real fear if you actually perceive yourself to be in danger. That’s why I like YA horror fiction.

When writing YA horror fiction, are there any lines you won’t cross with this genre?

Trisha: Hmm…I don’t think there is a thread or plot point I would avoid exploring so long as it is true to the character and his/her struggle. I don’t add things for shock factor, but I am not one to pull my punches either

Lindsay: Any lines we won’t cross. Hmmm.

Well, Trisha and I would probably be hard-pressed to kill any animals in our books. We’re both big animal lovers. But everyone and everything else is fair game.

Tell us about your journey in writing this book. How is writing as a team different than writing solo?

Trisha: Writing is a lonely process. You spend days, months, sometimes years in your own head, dreaming up characters that nobody but you can hear.

Co-authoring takes some of the isolation away. There is another person who is as intimately connected to the characters as you, who hears their voices and knows their plight.

I wouldn’t say my “solo” writing process is different – I’m still drawing out character maps, still fleshing out back-stories and constantly trying to find ways to inflict more pain on my characters -- but it is definitely a more secluded process. Equally fulfilling, just quieter.

Lindsay: And as for writing as a team – it’s very different, but works amazingly well for us. Trisha and I have very similar writing styles and tastes and therefore it’s an adventure to team up on a book. Is it challenging sometimes? Sure. But overall, it’s a phenomenal experience and hey – two sets of eyes is better than one!

What essential things have you learned about writing in the last year? What have you learned from each other?

Trisha: I have learned that plotting is a necessary evil. When I wrote Creed and The Secrets We Keep (FSG, 2015), I was a total panster. I had solid start and a general idea of where I wanted the book to end, but everything in the middle…the wide open space.

Now that I am writing proposals for option books, I learned to make friends with dreaded outline. I don’t like it – outlining scenes and chapters doesn’t jibe with my writing process – but I understand its necessity and plow my way through it.

As for what Lindsay has taught me…she taught me to let go. I’m the kind of person who will revise a book to death, obsessing over it. Without her, I’m not sure I’d ever let a manuscript leave my computer. I’d still be sitting her staring at a dozen finished projects, tweaking perfectly fine sentences. In a way, she gives me the confidence to hit the “send” button.

Lindsay: I’ve learned better dialogue from Trisha for sure. She’s really a master at authentic and effortless dialogue and that’s something I’ve always had to work on.

And essential things I’ve learned about writing…I’d have to say I’ve learned to write the book I want to write. Creed wasn’t the easy book to write because it’s a challenging sell. It pushes the limits of YA fiction with some of it’s themes and for that reason, I think if Trisha and I had backed down and written something a little “safer” our path might have been simpler. But I think writing the book we wanted to write and writing it our way is ultimately what made it a good book.

Can you tell us about any upcoming novels, together or separately?

Trisha: On the solo front – My YA contemporary, The Secrets We Keep, drops April 28 with FSG.

On the co-authored front, Sweet Madness, a YA Historical Horror about the Lizzie Borden murders, drops August of 2015 with Merit Press. Hardwired, a stand-alone YA thriller that navigates that blurry line between nature and nurture, drops fall of 2015 with Flux.

Cynsational Notes

Trisha Leaver graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in social work. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three kids and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a member of  SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association, and the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Lindsay Currie graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois; with an English Literature degree. She is a member of SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association and a contributor to the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

More on Karen Rock
Karen Rock is an award-winning YA and adult contemporary author. She holds a master’s degree in English and worked as an ELA instructor before becoming a full-time author. With her co-author, Joanne Rock, she’s penned the Camp Boyfriend series with Spencer Hill Press under the pseudonym J.K. Rock. She also writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Enterprises.

When she's not writing, Karen loves scouring estate sales for vintage books, cooking her grandmother's family recipes and hiking. She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, daughter, and two Cavalier King cocker spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of "fetch" though they know a lot about love.

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter @karenrock5. Then check out Camp Boyfriend.

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12. New Voice: Matt Phelan on Druthers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Matt Phelan is the first-time author of Druthers (Candlewick, 2014). From the promotional copy:

With warmth and humor, award-winning author-illustrator Matt Phelan follows a child as she leads her daddy on some rainy-day flights of fancy.

It’s raining and raining and raining, and Penelope is bored. "What would you do if you had your druthers?" asks her daddy. 

Well, if Penelope had her druthers, she’d go to the zoo. Or be a cowgirl. Or a pirate captain who sails to the island of dinosaurs, or flies away on a rocket to the moon. 

If Penelope had her druthers, she’d go off on amazing adventures — but then again, being stuck inside may not be so bad if your daddy is along for the ride!

Note: Druthers is Matt's first picture book as the author and illustrator.

As a picture book writer, how did you learn your craft? What were your natural strengths? Greatest challenges?

The best thing you can do to learn the craft is to read as many picture books as you can. Try to identify what works and what doesn’t.

Read them Out Loud. If you have a kid on your lap all the better, but it isn’t necessary.

But do read them out loud anyway. It will help you understand the rhythm and page turn.

Having illustrated ten picture books before writing my own, I had a unique opportunity to study the craft of writing a picture book. I learned so much from the great writers I’ve collaborated with over the years.

My greatest strength I suppose is that, as an illustrator, I know intuitively when I can let the pictures tell the story. The great challenge is to also work in the words so they do what they need to do to make the book a success. It’s a delicate balance and I’m honestly not sure if it is easier doing both parts or not.

As an author-illustrator, you come to children's books with a double barrel of talent. Could you describe your apprenticeship in each area, and how well (or not) your inner writer and artist play together? What advice do you have for other interested in succeeding on this front?

I think my inner artist and inner writer get along swimmingly. I tend to see my stories first as images, but I write before I really start drawing.

In the case of my graphic novels, that medium allows me to tell much of my story through the images. But before I drew those images, I had written a detailed manuscript describing everything you see. I always write first for my graphic novels. I write in images and then the illustrator side makes those images.

Although I drew my whole life, I worked professionally as a copywriter and screenwriter before my first illustration job. I then concentrated on being an illustrator for five or six years.

During that time I was also playing around with the stories that would become The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick, 2009) and Druthers, so I think I always knew I would eventually write books as well as illustrate them.

As far as advice for author/illustrators, I would say that you must always remember that a picture book (or graphic novel for that matter) is a combination of words and images. You might have a wordless book, but there will still be a Story that you can tell with words. Find the balance, pay attention to the rhythm, and throw yourself into it.

Also (and this goes for anyone), don’t chase trends. If the book you want to write is a “quiet” book, don’t be discouraged because people say the market only wants “edgy” books.

Nobody in publishing knows what they want until they see it, really. You have to write or draw the book that you feel deep in your heart, gut, and soul. It’s the only chance for it to be good.

Outside Matt's Studio
Inside Matt's Studio

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13. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal! Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu, 2015) from Lee and Low. Peek:

Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.

Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.

The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.

More News & Giveaways

Tone: Is Your Romance Sensual or Intellectual? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "The question is, of course, what tone do I want for my story? That’s what a writer does as they read great stories from other writers: you think about what they are doing that is working so well, and how to translate that into your own stories."

Five Writing Lessons from a Vocal Coach by Kathryn Craft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: " A question is like a vacuum that pulls the reader in. So rather than stuffing your story with events that may or may not add up to a cohesive whole, think about creating the questions that your story will fill."

Interview with Author-Agent Tanya McKinnon by Wendy Lamb from CBC Diversity. Peek: "As an African-American agent with a diverse client list in both children’s and adult books, I am always on the lookout for books that push the envelope of human understanding. Books that honor our multicultural world, regardless of who writes them, are my passion."

Tinkering Vs. Progress by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "What do I recommend to writers who are getting caught up in their early pages at the expense of finishing a draft? Write a long outline where you detail what you plan to do in each additional chapter."

Are Writers Ahead of the Curve in Integrating Work and Life? by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "I'm going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea."

Overcome Your Manuscript Doubts By Asking Why by Jennie Nash from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "I actually believe that not knowing the answer to why is one of things that holds a lot of writers back. They know they like to write, they know they’re good at it, they know they have a story to tell, but they don’t know why it matters to them, or what, exactly, it means to them."

The Battle Between Manipulation and Believability by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "...always ask yourself: 'Have I given enough set up to the story so my readers are able to believe this event can happen this way?'"

Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Facebook is not a replacement for an author website, even if your publisher says it is." See also Survey Results: What Agents, Editors and Art Directors Look for Online by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.

Considering the Young Adult Memoir by Megan Schliesman from CCBlogC. Peek: "...one of the challenges, when taking on a project like this from an editorial perspective, is trying to balance the teen's voice with the adult collaborator's (when there is a collaborator)."

Bibliotherapy for Teens: An Expanded Booklist by Ashleigh Williams from School Library Journal. Note: Kudos to Erin E. Moulton. See also Nine YA Novels with Protagonists Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing from Disability in Kidlit via We Need Diverse Books.

How to Become a Writer by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...who ever finds time laying around unused? Especially since all that great 'time saving' technology they’ve been gleefully producing at warp speed has morphed into the biggest time suck ever."

The Answer to Implicit Racism Might Be In Children's Literature by Noah Berlatsky from Pacific Standard. Peek: "...white anxieties are important, precisely because they contribute to these systemic racist outcomes. White teachers who are anxious about appearing racist may be afraid to give students of color critical feedback, setting them up for failure."

Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: "While pacing itself is not right or wrong, its execution can be. Parts of a novel (or even the whole thing) can be paced too fast or too slow. Let’s look at some common problems...."

The Things We Carry by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The often unseen and unacknowledged things we carry in our invisible backpacks not only color our interactions with the world around us, but can often predict the outcome of a journey before we’ve even begun."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of a signed ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin was Charlotte in Rhode Island.

See also Giveaway: Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi with Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk from Carmen Oliver at ReaderKidZ.

Cynsational Screening Room

My most heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the We Need Diverse Books campaign! See also Alexie, Woodson Among the Speakers at BookCon 2015 from ABC News.



Wherein my Very Merry Publisher Rocks Out, Candlewick Style!

 

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I'm honored to report that my agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd., has sold my upcoming YA contemporary realistic novel, How to End a Date, to Deborah Noyes at Candlewick Press for publication in fall 2016. Note: Deborah edited all the novels in the Tantalize-Feral universe. She also is an enormously talented photographer and author in her own right.

I'm also thrilled to announce that I will be returning to the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, effective January 2015.

Check out Feral Pride and other titles coming from E-volt in 2015!

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award! Thanks! See also Feral Curse on the list of American Indians In Children's Literature's Best Books of 2014 -- such great company! Be sure to check out all the recommended books!

At the Austin SCBWI Holiday Party with Greg Leitich Smith; photo by Sam Bond.
Donna Janell Bowman wins the dessert contest with "Book Worms."
RA Samantha Clark serves up green eggs and ham at a great fete!


Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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

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

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

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14. Guest Post & Giveaway: Dianne White on Doing the Work & Not Giving Up

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I haven’t always been a writer – at least not in the way I assume my friends who write must have been as children growing up.

I never wrote stories I couldn’t wait to share with my parents and teachers; I was not the kid who stapled lined pages together to write and illustrate my own books; I never kept a journal, and I’m not one of those people with rich imaginations able to tell grand stories at the drop of a hat.

I’m not at all like many writers I admire who are either far more gifted than me or simply have a voice and heart that seems to easily capture on paper that intangible something that makes a reader fall in love with a book.

So, how did I end up with a debut picture book published by my dream editor and illustrated by a Caldecott artist? Serendipity and something more.

Blue on Blue (Beach Lane, 2014) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime books. It was quickly written and sold to the first editor who saw it. This does not usually happen! Nor has it happened with any other manuscript I’ve written over more years that I care to mention. But the happy journey of Blue on Blue’s publication points to the few things that I, and every pre-published or published children’s writer, have the power to control: Do the work and don’t give up.

an author in the making
Do the work – put in your 10,000 – or less, or more - hours of practice. However many hours it takes you is really all that matters. So don’t compare. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you that each book is its own puzzle. What sometimes looks easy to the outsider is never exactly as it seems. But practice and study and an attitude that understands there’s always room for growth will never disappoint.

As a primary grade teacher who earned a credential in the late 80’s during the height of core lit and thematic units, I had only just begun to understand the power, width, and breadth of the picture book genre. I fell in love and wanted to write such books.

But like most things, wanting to do something and learning to do it well don’t always go hand in hand. The work must be so grounded in passion that you’re willing to do what it takes to get you there. Writing is hard, and publishing is a business, after all. Writing is also art, so go in expecting to face rejection – lots of it - with the knowledge that it will never be as easy as it looks.

Okay. Sure. There will be people who will reach their publishing goals faster than you. But, in the end, we reach our goals our own way, and if it takes you longer than you think it should, then do yourself a favor and embrace the journey. Because, honestly, that’s one of the very best things about the children’s book community - the awesome, and very supportive people you’ll meet along the way. Be sure to take time to appreciate that goodness and the many terrific people rooting for you.

Don’t give up – this is where your level of passion comes into play. Writing for kids is an honor and a gift. Treasure it and understand that it is your passion that will keep you plugging away, rethinking, and revising.

When Blue on Blue debuted on Dec, 9, it was almost six years from acquisition to publication. In every single way, it’s been worth the wait. It’s a book I’m deeply proud of, most especially because it reflects the vision of a group of dedicated picture book lovers– editor Allyn Johnston, illustrator Beth Krommes, and art director Lauren Rille.

Picture books exist because of this community of artists, all of who contribute something wonderful and unique to the projects they’re involved in.

I continue to work on new picture book ideas, but I’m enjoying this time of “firsts.” It’s been a long but worthwhile journey and I can’t wait to see what new experiences and wonderful things lie just around the corner.

Cynsational Notes

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master's in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

After teaching students of all ages for 25 years, she now writes full-time. Her first picture book, Blue on Blue, illustrated by 2009 Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, is published by Beach Lane Books.

Illustration by Beth Krommes; learn more about Blue on Blue!
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15. Guest Post: Jean Reidy on Choosing a Writer's Workshop

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn
By Jean Reidy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I've been tackling a new genre – the middle grade novel. And after hammering out the latest draft of a novel-in-progress and getting solid feedback, I was excited to put the "work" into a workshop.

So, I kept an eye out for just the right opportunity.

On a message board, I saw mention of The Full-Novel Workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, and amazingly, the week of the workshop was completely open on my calendar.

It was like the stars had aligned and I'd gotten the approval of the universe...not to mention explosive enthusiasm from family, writer friends and my agent.

As it turned out, the workshop hit me just right – at the right place in my career, in my novel process and in my life. I struck gold. But not entirely by accident.

A writing workshop can be a serious commitment – travel expenses, workshop fees, time away from "real life." There are many to choose from – across every genre and for every stage of your writing. So how do you pick? It takes a little soul-searching, a little researching, and a leap.

Know What You Need

My work-in-progress had been through a round of critiques and revision. My agent had read the first 50 pages. Her response? "Love it. Finish it."

But I struggled with story structure. I needed a workshop that provided not only critique and revision time but also instruction that would put new tools in my novel-writing toolbox.

A workshop should meet you where you are in your writing process and match your experience. If you're new to writing, look for workshops that focus on the nuts and bolts of your genre. If you're farther along or befuddled by feedback you've received, you may need to revisit the art of story again, from a fresh perspective. If you're published, consider a master class designed to take your writing to the next level.

Often writers seek out workshops where they'll have opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. But if your manuscript isn't ready, you won't be doing yourself any favors.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you need instruction? Critique? Time to write or revise? Time to relax and refresh? Or all of the above?
  • Are you wanting to focus on specific techniques like outlining, plotting, revising?
  • Are you hoping to get a first draft down or tackle a revision?
  • Do you want to be paired with a mentor? And, if so, what do you hope to gain from that?
  • Finally, how much time do you need to accomplish your goals and how much time can you commit?

Know What You're Getting (and at What Price!)

Student Meredith Davis & faculty Kathi Appelt
One word – research! Faculty? Facility?

Food? Almost any answer can be found with some investigating. The Writing Barn publishes detailed workshop schedules, faculty bios and facility photos on their website. I knew how my week would look – ample time for revision, instructional programming, mentor meetings, visiting author evenings, social time, plus a trip to BookPeople – before I committed.

But I went farther. I scoured faculty online interviews. I read their books. I searched forums and message boards for reviews of workshops they'd taught. And I asked trusted pros in the industry.

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

If a workshop you're considering includes a critique, pay attention to who will be providing your feedback. It may come from a peer participant, an author, an editor or an agent.

My workshop included a full-novel critique from an award-winning author and one-on-one discussion time with her. Score! Plus, the low teacher/student ratio throughout the week offered me a more personal experience all around.

Chatting informally at The Writing Barn
Consider the workshop location and travel options. While remote locales may appeal to your creative wanderlust, a "planes, trains and automobiles" journey to and from a venue can completely curtail your positive experience.

And don't forget to check out accommodations. My creativity thrives in cozy settings and the "Caldecott Room" at The Writing Barn was just the ticket.

Are you an introvert? Find a workshop that provides private space for recharging and common spaces for spontaneous sharing and socializing.

Ah yes, that spontaneous sharing might end up being the most valuable part of your workshop experience. While sitting on a front porch over a glass of wine discussing a main character's "controlling beliefs" – you just may unlock the secret of your story, clear the path for a successful revision and make lifelong friends. I know I certainly did.

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn


Cynsational Notes

Rita Williams-Garcia taught the Full Novel Workshop
Upcoming programs/faculty at The Writing Barn include:

Jan. 8 to Jan. 11: Authors Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

March 26 to March 29: Memoir event, with Theo Pauline Nestor

April 30 to May 2: Picture book event with author-librarian Betsy Bird and literary agent Alexandra Penfold

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

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16. Guest Post & Giveaway: Bruce Hale on Is There a Book Idea in Your Childhood?

By Bruce Hale
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Tell the truth, did you ever want to be a secret agent?

To experience the glamor, the danger, the mad spy skills?

I sure did, and from that childhood desire to be James Bond sprang my newest Disney-Hyperion series for tweens, School for S.P.I.E.S.

(Of course, that desire also led me to apply for a job with the CIA after college, but if I told you about that, I’d have to — well, you know.)

The deep, true passions of childhood can be a tremendous springboard for stories, as well as a way of reaching for what’s true in you as a writer. And by telling you how my own passions inspired this series, I hope to give you some ideas on mining your own childhood enthusiasms.

I was a child spy

Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I swam in a Cold War sea of spies and espionage. TV boasted "Get Smart," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." X-ray glasses and toys like Six-Finger (a finger-shaped gun — don’t ask) abounded. And the movies were full of "Bond, James Bond."

I loved it all. My friend Billy and I played spies up and down the block, snooping into our neighbors’ doings and generally causing trouble. That love of spies continued up into middle school, when I discovered girls and lost interest in spies. Or so I thought.

In truth, the spy gene just went dormant for a while.

Many years later, after I’d written the Chet Gecko Mysteries series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I was casting about for my next project, when inspiration met preparation. And School for S.P.I.E.S. was born.

Yogic inspiration

Practicing tree skills with Billy
What’s the strangest place you can think of for inspiration to strike? A Laundromat? A bathroom? A disco?

Mine came during yoga class.

I arrived expecting your stereotypical yoga teacher. You know — beatific expression, serene energy, gentle style.

Instead, we got a big-hearted yet fierce little Korean woman — part drill sergeant, part slave driver. “You, flex your feet! You, straight your legs!” she snapped.

Half the class was mystified, the other half terrified.

I, however, knew a character for a book when I saw one.

Fast-forward to the end of my Chet Gecko series. I was beginning to mine ideas for the next project, using Ray Bradbury’s technique of creating a list of titles based on childhood memories. I also listed my early loves, like spies, monsters, and Daniel Boone.

In reviewing those lists, something clicked when it came to spies. I added in my old yoga teacher (now the spy school director), threw in a pinch of Oliver Twist, and the series concept sprang to life.

Granted, it took over thirteen drafts and a lot of work, but that childhood love of spies birthed a book, then a series.

Did it also, you wonder, lead to a job with the CIA?

Truth is, when they told me to get an advanced economics degree because all they needed were economic analysts, I thought, Maybe I’ll investigate that childhood dream of becoming a children’s author after all.

Cynsational Notes

Bruce Hale has written and illustrated over 30 books for young readers, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries, Clark the Shark (HarperCollins), and Snoring Beauty (Harcourt), one of Oprah’s Recommended Reads for Kids. His School For S.P.I.E.S. series began with Playing With Fire, and continues with Thicker Than Water.

Cynsational Giveaway

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17. New Voice: Miriam Busch on Lion, Lion

Miriam and Lucy
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Miriam Busch is the first-time author of Lion, Lion, illustrated by Larry Day (Balzer & Bray, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A little boy is looking for Lion.

Lion is looking for lunch.

And so our story begins. But look closely . . . in this tale, nothing is quite as it seems!

Children will delight in this classic picture book with a mischievous twist.

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

In 2008, shortly after we met, Larry Day asked me to build a story around a character he had drawn: Rusty, a rotund, red-haired boy-king kicking at a puddle.

I wasn’t sure I could do that – after all, this wasn’t my character. (And I was working on a novel. FYI, I’m always working on a novel.) But I tried.

Larry drew. I revised. Larry redrew. There were lions. And chases. The lion Larry had named Philbert was my favorite character-- but I was unsure about Rusty himself.

Still, we sent it out. After a couple of rejections, I revised again. Still, something felt off. We revised over and over. Finally, we thought it was ready. Editors unanimously disagreed with us.

At this point, we had been re-re-re-revising for about four years. I did not understand Rusty’s character. I had no idea how to write a picture book. (To be fair, I didn’t know how to write that novel, either.) Rusty’s “story” was still thin -- just a beautifully drawn running gag. I felt awful, I especially missed Philbert, but we scrapped it.

A couple of months later, Larry and I met for breakfast at a diner. I guess enough time had gone by, or the “giving up” had released the pressure. (Or maybe it was the coffee?)

Read sample!
I doodled on a napkin. What if: Philbert stayed? And we set it on Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where I had once heard Luo children sing in the middle of this beautiful land where rogue hippos could chase you up a tree? The kid’s from there, too, right? And what if he’s not a king, but just this clever boy who knows how to outsmart a Philbert?

In my (still-working-on-it) novel, characters speak at cross-purposes and misunderstand each other, sometimes deliberately. Characters speak at cross-purposes all the time. Why not in a picture book?

Why not have the word “lion” have two meanings?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty and boom: Lion, Lion rushed onto that napkin.

Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go. This time, it felt totally right.

We submitted it. One editor loved it, but had just purchased something similar. Another editor loved it, but Acquisitions said no.

Before Alessandra Balzer made an offer, she asked if we were willing to try an urban setting and different animals. We were four-and-a-half years in. By that time, we weren’t worried about changes. As long as the main character and the heart of the story remained, why not?

We played with what “urban” meant: Nairobi? Bilbao? Caracas? And finally settled on a Providence RI/ Brooklyn, NY/ Istanbul-behind-Topkapi-Palace feel.

Miriam and Larry at a school visit
We cycled through a whole lot of different animals, and with each change came research: fantasy or not, the animals’ foods still must be correct. And the lion still needs to be aggravated in a way that best serves the story.

The biggest change (and the one I was most resistant to) involved simplifying a particularly dear-to-me emotional throughline. I tried what Alessandra suggested through gritted teeth.

I wrote and rewrote. I was alternately angry and despairing. I wrote terrible versions. Alessandra was patient. I tried again. I honestly don’t know how many revisions we went through, but I do remember the “Yay! Done!” email.

Pretty spectacular, but unreal—I’m still half-waiting for the call to tell me to rework it. Lion, Lion, this picture book with ninety-seven words, took six years.

My advice on revision? None of this is new, and all of it’s worked for me: Listen to your little voice that says something isn’t working. When readers you respect suggest a change, try it, even if your jaw aches from gritting your teeth. Put the manuscript away for as long as you can, so you can re-see it. Take a walk. If a part or a character or a storyline isn’t serving the story, take it out, even if it’s the finest writing ever. Be willing to scrap everything but the heartbeat. Rebuild from there. Play.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

Honestly? I know it’s been said before, but read read read.

Linda Sue Park gave this lecture where she said (I’m paraphrasing): if you want to write novels, read a hundred novels before you start. If you want to write picture books, read a thousand picture books.

You read and you read and you read, and you get a sense of rhythm, of pacing. Read to absorb the craft. Notice.

Notice how the visuals tell a part of the story you cannot, how the main character manages the problem, how the author trusts the reader to fill in the blanks with imagination and inference.

The thing is, so much in this business is serendipity – and there are books I love so much which don’t get the popular attention I think they deserve – and we have no control over this.

Miriam and Larry
Jane Resh Thomas says (and again, I’m paraphrasing), “Do your work. It’s absolutely the only thing over which you have any control.”

Do your work. Quell your impatience.

Be willing to revise a million times.

Consider, really consider, every criticism. Give yourself time.

Don’t be so enamored with your own words that you lose sight of the heartbeat of the story.

Know your characters deeply and well.

Also, full disclosure: Falling in love with your illustrator isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Larry and I married while he was finishing the final art for the book.

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18. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Picture Books Are Important by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Picture Book Month. Peek: "I’ve been so enjoying reading the 'Why Picture Books Are Important' essays by children’s book authors and illustrators this past month as well as Marcie Colleen’s Curriculum Connections at the end of every post..." Note: Wrap-up post for the celebration.

The Melodrama Dilemma by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "...tension isn’t created with a lot of over-the-top adjectives."

Five Things I've Learned After Marketing My Young Adult Debut by Heather Marie from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "Being a writer means your job is never done and that is absolutely true. There will always be something you have to do, whether that’s your next manuscript, an interview, an event, etc. I’m excited for these things. I love it! But I always, always forget to take care of myself first."

A Dozen Things Debut Authors Have Taught Me by literary agent Erin Murphy from the Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. Peek: "The people on your publishing team want you to succeed! They have invested in you because they think you’ve got what it takes over the long haul, so get the information you need to settle in for that long haul. Because, in case I didn’t say it clearly: It’s a long haul."

Are There Any Original Stories Left? by Kathy Yardly from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The better question is: why are these genres, tropes and archetypes still popular?" See also Plotting the Non-Plot-Driven Novel by Donald Maass.

Kitten Envy by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Note: roundup of recent kitten-centric books.

Beyond the Basic Questions for the Agent Call by Martina Boone from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "...there’s a great deal to working with an agent beyond the initial submission, and listening to author friends and meeting other authors since I embarked on the publication process, I have discovered that managing expectations for all concerned would have been much easier with additional information up front." See also Remembering the Query Daze - A Writer Looks Back with Gratitude from Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Note: Lynda offers a critique giveaway.

Checklist for a Successful Skype Visit with an Author by Mary Amato from ALSC Blog. Peek: "...there are some tips and tricks that can help make the entire experience run smoothly and enjoyably. From the author’s point of view, here’s what you can do to be a great Skype partner..."

Irish Book Awards


Junior Winner: Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton; see also honor books.


Senior Winner: Moon Boy: The Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy; see honor books.

See also the 2015 Morris Debut Finalists and 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists from YALSA

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of a signed copy of Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson was Lisa in California.

The winner of a signed copy of Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Josephine in Florida.

See also ReaderKidZ December Extravaganza Giveaway!

Cynsational Screening Room

Raise your voice for YA author e.E. Charlton-Trujillo and Fat Angie (Candlewick Press).



If you're a regular Cynsations reader, you know I'm on the advisory board of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and that we're in the midst of a fundraising campaign. There is still time to donate and signal boost. Thanks so much to all who've participated! See also: Interested in Helping #WeNeedDiverseBooks? Note: the video below has been edited to include baby pictures of the authors-illustrators!



This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Congratulations to E. Kristin Anderson on the release of A Jab of Deep Urgency!

With Austin author Lindsey Lane at the Turkey Trot, benefiting Caritas Austin.

The Horn Book says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015), "Since this Feral trilogy–ender also wraps up its companion series Tantalize, several major characters from those books appear here, but Clyde, Aimee, Yoshi, and Kayla ably carry this series right up to its bittersweet conclusion. Kayla’s full acceptance of her animal self, and the courage she gains in that acceptance, is particularly compelling. With its sharp humor and fully realized characters, this urban fantasy will leave readers hoping for another series from Smith—and soon." See the Feral series trailer!

Vote for Feral Curse!
Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award! Thanks!

See a thumbs-up review of Feral Curse by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Note: review includes some spoilers.

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI Diversity Scholarship winner Linda Boyden! We look forward to seeing you at the Austin regional conference!

Congratulations to author and We Need Diverse Books president Ellen Oh for being named one of Publishers Weekly Notable Publishing People of 2014!

Personal Link of the Week: Anne Ursu on Children's Literature, Body Image, Eating Disorders and the Word "Fat" from Terrible Trivium. Peek: "This self-flagellation ritual, the 'I’m fat' kabuki, the ceremonial public confession of sin—passed on from woman to woman, mother to daughter, friend-to-friend, forever and ever—shaming themselves, yes, and teaching everyone around them they should be ashamed, too."

See also Diverse Books for the Holidays and Holiday Gift Guide to New LGBTQ Kids' Books.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. Details TBA.

Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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

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

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19. New Voice: Cori McCarthy on The Color of Rain

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cori McCarthy is the first-time author of The Color of Rain (Running Press, 2013). From the promotional copy:

If there is one thing that seventeen-year-old Rain knows and knows well, it is survival. Caring for her little brother, Walker, who is “Touched,” and losing the rest of her family to the same disease, Rain has long had to fend for herself on the bleak, dangerous streets of Earth City. 

When she looks to the stars, Rain sees escape and the only possible cure for Walker. And when a darkly handsome and mysterious captain named Johnny offers her passage to the Edge, Rain immediately boards his spaceship. Her only price: her “willingness.”

The Void cloaks many secrets, and Rain quickly discovers that Johnny’s ship serves as host for an underground slave trade for the Touched . . . and a prostitution ring for Johnny’s girls. 

With hair as red as the bracelet that indicates her status on the ship, the feeling of being a marked target is not helpful in Rain’s quest to escape. Even worse, Rain is unsure if she will be able to pay the costs of love, family, hope, and self-preservation.

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

When I sat down to write what would become my debut, The Color of Rain, I knew that I was going to be stepping right off the edgy map. You see my main character, Rain, is a prostitute.

A space prostitute to be exact.

I suspected that I’d get frowns from parents, be banned from “clean” YA bookshelves, and that my oh-so-proud mom would not be able to hand this book around to her church friends. And yet, Rain’s story was more important to me than its obvious obstacles.

You might ask why.

Well, while there are a multitude of great stories about noble sacrifice and the glory of love, I felt compelled to talk about the other story—what happens when someone goes too far for love—when love leaves you with regret and shame instead of Happily Ever After feelings.

It does happen. It happened to me. And it definitely happens to teenagers more regularly than the rest of the population. So I wrote this super edgy story for those people with the hopeful message that there is a light at the end of the tunnel no matter what—or in Rain’s case, a light at the end of the Known Universe.

In my new book, Breaking Sky (Sourcebooks, 2015), I’ve come up against a whole new world of edgy complications.

My new main character, Chase, is unlikeable. Capital U. Self-centered, showoff, maverick—she’s a top fighter pilot at an Air Force academy for teens who keeps her eye on breaking a cold war standoff with Asia—and not on the people in her life.

Like Rain, Chase’s backstory harbors great disappointment, and in response to that hurt, Chase has closed herself off.

How is this edgy? Well, Chase has a reputation for leading on romantic interests for nothing more than a quick make-out session. Nothing deeper.

My beta readers for this story wondered where Chase’s heart-breaker status came from, and the answer to that has become as important to me as showing teen readers the flipside of love in Rain. In short, Chase’s story is about being careless with others. About isolating yourself from anyone who can hurt you—and then the long road back to caring.

After these two books, what I’ve learned about “edgy” is that it can be a powerful force in telling the toughest of emotional stories. For Rain, I chose an edgy premise that was as impossible to swallow as the enormous feelings behind her regret, and with Chase, I created a girl who hurt others in an attempt to keep anyone from ever hurting her ever again.

Could I have told these stories without edgy red flags like prostitution, human trafficking, swears, and “make-out sluts?”

Maybe. But I doubt they would hit home, feel real, and echo through the reader’s deepest life turns.

In the end, I want every reader who identifies with my story to come away feeling like they’re not alone. That may seem a little hokey, but hey, books have always been there for me.

If I can contribute to the great emotional library in any way, I’ll die happy.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

Vermont College of Fine Arts
I would not be an author without the education I received at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Basically, my MFA turned my passion into a career.

I started writing when I was thirteen, poems mostly and a few memoir-type short stories. From eighth grade on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the naysayers. The people who believe that paying money to study fine arts is a waste.

Luckily for me, I had parents who encouraged me to major in creative writing in undergrad. I attended Ohio University, which had an underdeveloped creative writing program and workshops that were overwhelmed by geology majors. I was depressed to be writing with people who took my major’s classes as a joke or an “easy pass.”

Relief came via a year abroad in Dublin, Ireland where I wandered constantly and filled notebooks full of poetry. When I came back to Ohio, I finished my degree and set my sights on film school and screenwriting.

Secretly, I still believed that I would not be able to be a writer unless I made money, and film…that’s where the money had to be, right? Wrong.

Years later while still scribbling in notebooks and writing a fantasy story that had 200 pages of backstory—no joke—I found out about VCFA.

With fellow YA author Amy Rose Capetta
The program completely changed my life overnight.

It taught me hard things, like throwing out that evil temptress of a fantasy novel, and glorious things, like how I could put myself into anything I wanted to write.

I recently heard another author ask what an MFA is good for if you don’t want to write the Great American Novel or short stories.

I was so appalled by that question.

No one at VCFA told me what to write.

No one told me how to write it.

What my mentors and my peers in workshop did for my work was to read whatever I was writing and talk about it openly and honestly.

They taught me how to recognize the easy shortcomings in my writing and how to take the criticism on the not-so-easy shortcomings.

Beyond the glorious craft talk at VCFA, there were many open discussions about literature, the market, the publishing industry, the importance of networking, and the ups and downs of this business.

This proved to be essential in launching my career.

After I graduated, I landed my top agent, but not because she fell in love with my creative thesis—because I didn’t run away with my fingers in my ears when she asked if I had something else.

Not even a year later, that something else sold as The Color of Rain.

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20. Giveaway: ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed advanced reader copy of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

...this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit.

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.

There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

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

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21. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Six Picture Book Biographies Show the Joy of Longer Lives by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging. Peek: "...these picture book bios offer huge benefits to kids—showing them adventure, creativity, and enjoyment, not only over the course of an evolving life, but well into old age."

Outlining: Why I Made the Switch and Tips for Trying It by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...I’d have to outline for the one editor anyway, and I’d either have to be super-organized and not make any mistakes to get the other two out…or else I could try outlining all three of them. I became a reluctant outliner."

Three Tips to Surviving a Public Speaking Event by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Whatever the occasion, when it’s your turn to stand up in front of an audience, make them wait. Not too long, though." See also The Online Presence That's An Extension of Who You Are and What You Do (Or Is It Just a Fantasy?) by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed.

"Ya Gotta Pay Your Dues" by Donna Janell Bowman from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Even now, after a tiny bit of success in my publishing journey, I still find comfort in justifying a rejection as one step toward paying my dues (but I would love to receive a rejection addressed to Princess.)" See also Should Children's Authors Self-Publish? A Conversation with Two Literary Agents by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman.

Fear and Killing the Muse by Linden McNeilly from Quirk and Quill. Peek: "...with all that trepidation around us, controlling our every anxious breath as we try to create stories, what can we do?"

More Than Numbers by Megan Schliesman from CCBlogC. Peek: "...as we talk about numbers, which is an important dimension of the discussion about diversity and publishing, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the terrific books by people of color that are published each and every year." Note: highlights top titles of the year by African Americans. See also Thoughts on Ferguson and Recommended Resources by Jason Low from Lee & Low and Justice on the Lesson Plan by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from the Brown Bookshelf.

Using Google Earth to Research Your Setting by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "...allows you to see the topography, or the terrain, of a setting. Is it hilly, flat, or somewhere in between?"

My First Author/Illustrator Skype Visit, What I Learned and What I'd Do Differently Next Time by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com. Peek: "Make sure you leave time for a Q&A, and coordinate with the teacher ahead of time so that he/she is able to have students prepare questions in advance."

Jacqueline Woodson: "I Don't Want Anyone to Feel Invisible" by Michelle Dean from The Guardian. Peek: "Woodson says she began writing the book when her mother died suddenly. She described the death as a “wake-up call that the people I love, and the people who know my story, and the people who know my history are not always going to be here.” Writing became a quest to make sure some kind of record existed."

Writing Non-Human Characters by Cavan Scott from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "A race of non-humans should never have the same characteristics, unless perhaps if they are a true hive mind. Similar traits maybe, but there should be individuality there."

Becoming a Better Writer in 2015 by Barbara O'Neil from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Maybe one is that I’m going to write about things that scare me, or things that are secret. I might only write those things for myself, as an exercise, but maybe I’ll write them into the work of my novels, too."

Picture Book Month


"Founder Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller) and co-founders, Katie Davis (author/illustrator), Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author), and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator), put together their worldwide connections to make this happen.

"Every day in November, there is a new post from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important." Each also features teacher guides and curriculum connections."

Learn more from and about the work of:

Arree Chung


We Need Diverse Books

The fundraising campaign is ongoing and will close Dec. 10. Thanks to all for donating, signal-boosting and participating in the larger conversation in children's-YA books!

"First we announced that we reached our initial goal of 100K. Now we can announce we have reached both of our first two stretch goals! Thank you so much for making this possible, and now it's time announce our third stretch goal:

$150,000 and beyond: Sustainability

"The problem with diversity in children's literature won't be solved over night or even in a year. Battling entrenched barriers for diverse books takes sustained effort. Your donations from here on out, every single dollar, helps WNDB maintain our long-term viability and to continue to change the face of children's literature for years to come."

See also The Problem with Ethic Heritage Months from Lee & Low and A Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity from Grace Lin (PDF).

Kid Lit for Haiti

Kid Lit for Haiti is an online auction featuring talent donated by authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents. 100% of the proceeds benefit the students supported by the 501c3 nonprofit organization called The Friends of Haiti Inc. All money from this auction will be used for scholarships for students in Haiti.

Participants in the auction include: Stephen Mooser, co-founder of the SCBWI and author of more than 60 books; Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books; Ingrid Law, Newbery Honor author; Jen Rofe, agent at Andrea Brown Literary; Matt de la Pena, acclaimed author; Denise Vega, two-time Colorado Book Award winner; Giuseppe Castellano, art director at Penguin Random House; Dan Lazar, agent at Writers House, and many more (found on blog at Kid Lit for Haiti).

Cynsational Giveaways

See also a two-book giveaway of The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton from Tara Lazar at Picture Book Idea Month and a giveaway Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky from Goodreads.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

It's a short week here at Cynsations! Lots to do around the house. I'm taking off early for the holiday and will be back on Monday. Cynsational readers, I am thankful for you!

Playing at Alamo Drafthouse with fellow Austin authors Cory Putnam Oakes...

and Greg Leitich Smith! Learn more about "Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1."

See a review of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" by Shoshana Flax from The Horn Book.

Rain talks about Thanksgiving...
Link of the Week: Thanksgiving: What It Means for Native Americans: An Audio Interview with Suzan Shown Harjo from The TakeAway with John Hockenberry. Peek: After discussing the conflicting concepts of many Native people (a day of mourning) versus most others in the U.S. (a day of celebration) with regard to Thanksgiving, she says in part, "Giving thanks is a genuine Native tradition, and it's a wonderful tradition, and I especially like the idea of a feast that everyone's having that is comprised soley--if you do it right--of Native foods." See also Suzan Shown Harjo Receives Presidential Medal of Honor.

Another Link of the Week: Writing Native Lives in YA: An NYPL Discussion by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Thinking in conventional editorial terms, Klein sought solutions to what she perceived as persistent questions in the book, and looked to other works of young adult literature as models. But many of these models, she came to realize, derive from western literary archetypes..." See also a full recording of the event.

Even More Personally


What a thrill it was yesterday to celebrate fellow Austin children's writer Betty X. Davis's 99th birthday--still playing tennis, still writing, still quick with a joke. Betty: "People ask me what's my secret to a long life." Dramatic pause. "I started young."

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. Details TBA.

Now Available!
Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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

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

http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/

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22. Guest Post: Janet Nolan on PB&J Hooray! Your Sandwich’s Amazing Journey from Farm to Table

By Janet Nolan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I admit it.

I have a favorite sandwich. It’s peanut butter and jelly.

Loved it when I was a kid, and I still do.

So, when I first started thinking about writing a picture book that examined where our food comes from, I didn’t have to look any further than the ingredients in my favorite sandwich: peanut butter, jelly, and bread.

PB&J Hooray! Your Sandwich’s Amazing Journey from Farm to Table (Albert Whitman, 2014) begins:

Peanut butter,
jelly,
Bread.
PB&J Hooray!

Easy to make,
yummy to eat.
But where does the food come from?

The Grocery Store.

Visit Janet Nolan
Working in reverse order—in a question and answer format—the book takes readers through the shopping, delivery, production, harvesting, farming and planting processes.

The book ends with the planting of seeds for peanuts, grapes, and wheat.

In essence, PB&J Hooray! is the back-story for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When I want to learn something new, I know exactly where to go. I head to the children’s section of my local library. The chairs might be a little small and the tables a tad too short, but I’m like a kid in a candy store pulling books about farming, manufacturing, and shipping off the shelves.

I love the visual and visceral appeal of children’s books and believe the word usage and imagery is the great starting point for acquiring knowledge.

Once I feel I have a handle on a topic, which in this case was how peanuts, grapes, and wheat are grown, I’ll move onto other sources: articles, interviews, nonfiction adult books.

A surprising help in the researching of PB&J Hooray! turned out to be You Tube videos. It was great, sitting at my desk watching wheat being harvested, seeing grapes growing on long twisting vines, and tripping down memory lane when I stumbled upon an old Sesame Street video my kids must have watched a dozen times: A tour of a peanut better making factory accompanied by the catchy tune. I was singing the song for days.

Then comes the writing.

Ladybug
This book was particularly fun to write, because I had such a great time with the language.

Bread in the bread aisle,
peanut butter stacked on shelves,
jars of jelly lined up in a row.

Put in a shopping cart,
pay on the way out.
Carry into kitchens where sandwiches are made.
PB&J Hooray!

The repeated refrain allowed me to maintain the question and answer format, while continually returning the focus to the sandwich making experience, as I described how peanuts, grapes and wheat go from farm to table.

To add to the magic, I was blessed with an amazing illustrator, Julia Patton. She lives in Northumberland, England and had never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

She had her first—research for the book—and claims to have liked it! Her artwork is amazing; there is so much to see and absorb on each page.

Looking at the finished product feels as if I’ve gone full circle. I can imagine someone else, sitting in the children’s section of their local library, reading the book, and feeling the joy of learning something new.



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23. Guest Post & Giveaway: Lorie Ann Grover on The Aftermath of a Book Launch

By Lorie Ann Grover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In true form, I dreamt of my novel as a baby, prior to the release. I dreamt I arrived, great with child, at my baby shower, and everyone left. Seriously. It’s not hard to find the symbolism.

Thankfully, my baby shower has been attended!



My book Hit (Blink, 2014) has launched. In the midst of the #hitwithgratitude tour with Justina Chen, I have a break between cities to sit and think of my words reaching the hands and eyes of readers. Sometime they connect, wholeheartedly. Other times they are mulled and considered. And then there are readers whose journeys don’t intersect well, and those folks walk on.

From one extreme to the other, it’s all a part of the release of a book into the world.

The beginning of Hit, began in 2004, when my daughter’s best friend was walking to school before dawn, and she was struck in the crosswalk. Her urgent brain surgery left her family and friends spinning through the long dark wait of her operation and recovery.

Inspired by her accident, I wrote my contemporary young adult novel, Hit.

In the story, Sarah is hit by the very teacher she is crushing on. I wanted to explore how in one moment dreams, hopes, and goals can be shattered. Yet, within the most difficult trial are sweet, red seeds. One tragic moment might give us the opportunity to stop, assess our pursuits, and help us realize we actually want to take a different road.

After the accident, I received permission from my friends to tell their story. Following the novel’s launch, I’m happy to say I’m still friends with all of the McCormicks, including Sarah! The family is so gracious and giving in the hope that their hardship might encourage another.

Just recently, Sarah texted me: “I’m in the airport!” when her husband’s cousin spotted copies of Hit on the bookstore shelf. The fact Sarah identified the fictional book she inspired with herself was a sweet comfort to me.



I’m also happy Hit is driving traffic to #redthumbreminder. The site is Steve Babcock’s simple, yet innovative solution to text safety. Embraced across the country, men and women are painting one thumbnail red to remind themselves not to text while driving. It worked for Steve, and he was able to break the habit. It’s working for Hit readers as well!



Polyvore has been a great way to create images and spread the word. My collection is growing. Hopefully it will be as pertinent and useful as the Gendercide Collection I built for Firstborn (Blink, 2014).

So that’s the aftermath of the launch.

From holding the first copy, to reviews, to parties and a tour, words are flying free.

May they land close to you, kind reader. Thanks for finding me at facebook, and thank you, Cyn!

I am #hitwithgratitude!



Cynsational Giveaway

U.S. only; publisher sponsored. No P.O. Boxes.

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24. Giveaway: Four Middle Grade Novels by Greg Leitich Smith & Pterodactyl Puppet

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a set of four signed copies of middle grade novels by Greg Leitich Smith and a pterodactyl puppet!

Today he makes his home in Austin, but Greg grew up on the north side of Chicago.

He is of German and Japanese heritage, and many of his characters are similarly mixed-race.

Greg holds degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, he holds a degree in law from The University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor. His interest in science and law has influenced his writing.

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook)

Beach culture and UFOs collide in this lighthearted adventure story about an alien encounter at an aging Cocoa Beach motel.

Twelve-year-old Aidan lives and works at his parents’ motel on the Space Coast in Florida, so he’s seen a lot of weird stuff. Even his best friend, Louis, is a little bit crazy—he’s obsessed with UFOs and swears he saw one two years ago. But things at the Mercury Inn are about to get a whole lot weirder.
When an actual unidentified flying object suddenly appears in the sky over the motel, Aidan begins to realize that some of the residents of the Mercury Inn may be much more unusual than he thought. And Louis might not be so crazy after all.
Filled with quirky characters and atmosphere, this beachy alien caper, like the aging motel where it takes place, is anything but ordinary.


“In this gleefully absurd tale, Smith (Chronal Engine) unfurls a series of alien-inspired hijinks at a space-themed motel on Florida’s Space Coast…Arnold’s skillfully drafted spot cartoons give this offbeat story a lively layout and match Smith’s light and breezy tone, grounded by the occasional serious moment. The result is an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe.” –Publishers Weekly

Chronal Engine (Clarion)

Activity Kit
When Max, Emma, and Kyle are sent to live with their reclusive grandfather for the summer, they’re dismayed to learn he thinks there’s a time machine in the basement.

But when Grandpa Pierson predicts the exact time of his own heart attack, and when Emma is kidnapped by what can only be a time traveler, they realize he was telling the truth about the Chronal Engine. And if they want their sister back, they’ll have to do it themselves.

So Max and Kyle, together with their new friend Petra, pack up their grandpa’s VW and follow Emma and the kidnapper back in time, to Late Cretaceous Texas, where the sauropods and tyrannosaurs roam. Can the trio find Emma and survive the hazards of the Age of Dinosaurs, or are they, too, destined to become part of the fossil record?

“[T]his is exactly the book young dino fans would write themselves, crammed with sandbox-style action and positively packed with words like Nanotyrannus and Parasaurolophus. Great back matter clarifies fact from speculation, while Henry’s manga-inspired illustrations provide a good sense of the monsters’ scary scale.” – Booklist



Ninjas, Piranhas and Galileo (IntoPrint, originally Little, Brown)
Elias, Shohei, and Honoria have always been a trio united against That Which Is The Peshtigo School. But suddenly it seems that understanding and sticking up for a best friend isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Elias, reluctant science fair participant, finds himself defying the authority of Mr. Ethan Eden, teacher king of chem lab.

Shohei, all-around slacker, is approaching a showdown with his adoptive parents, who have decided that he needs to start “hearing” his ancestors.

And Honoria, legal counsel extraordinaire, discovers that telling a best friend you like him, without actually telling him, is a lot harder than battling Goliath Reed or getting a piranha to become vegetarian.

What three best friends find out about the Land of the Rising Sun, Pygocentrus nattereri, and Galileo’s choice, among other things, makes for a hilarious and intelligent read filled with wit, wisdom, and a little bit of science.

“Smith’s sparkling debut offers three seventh grade narrators, each of them precocious, intelligent, and wickedly funny…Readers will identify with these smart characters and enjoy the vicarious attendance at their idiosyncratic school.” -Publishers Weekly

  • Parents’ Choice Gold Award Winner 2003
  • Writers’ League of Texas Teddy Award, 2004
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • An ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adult Readers, 2006 

Tofu and T. rex (IntoPrint, originally Little, Brown)

Vegan Frederika Murchison-Kowalski returns to the Peshtigo School after a brief “hiatus.”
But she then discovers that she has to live with her grandfather, who just happens to own a butcher shop and sausage deli.

Not only that, Freddie’s cousin, Hans-Peter, is a diehard carnivore but needs Freddie’s insider knowledge to get accepted into the Peshtigo School himself.

Throw in a flaming dinosaur, a recipe for vegan kielbasa, and an accidental amputation, and this battle of generations, wills, and diets will have readers laughing out loud.

“This book will make kids laugh out loud.” –School Library Journal

“Tofu and T. rex captures the quirky eccentricities of small private schools, especially in the way they seem to foster and nurture quirky and eccentric (and highly intelligent if quixotic) personalities. This book is a fun read and a fitting continuance of the earlier work, Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo.” –Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

  • Finalist, Texas State Reading Association Golden Spur Award
  • Finalist, Writers' League of Texas Book Award

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25. New Voices: Kirsten Lopresti on Bright Coin Moon

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kirsten Loprestiis the first-time author of Bright Coin Moon (Sky Pony Press, 2014)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Allen is an A-student who has her heart set on becoming an astronomer. But first she must break away from her mother, an eccentric failed beauty queen who has set up a phony psychic reading shop in their Oregon garage.

Lindsey is biding time until she graduates high school, reading tarot cards for the neighbors in her mother’s shop and recording the phases of the moon in her Moon Sign notebook. Her life changes when her mother, Debbie, decides they should move to California to become Hollywood psychics to the stars. 

As they pull out of the driveway, Lindsey looks up at the silver morning moon. It’s a bright coin moon, which means only one thing: what you leave behind today will rise up tomorrow.

When mother and daughter arrive in Los Angeles with new identities, they move into a leaky, run-down building and spend their nights stalking restaurants and movie premieres to catch that one celebrity they hope will be their ticket. 

When it seems they will never make it in LA, Lindsey is assigned a new mentor through her school. Joan is a lonely, wealthy widow who can’t get past the death of her husband, Saul. Debbie is convinced they’ve hit the jackpot, and plans for a future séance commence.

As Lindsey grows closer to Joan, guilt over the scam consumes her, and she must make the ultimate decision. But can she really betray her mother?

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

I prefer to write in the morning. If I have to, I can write at almost any time, provided I have enough caffeine, but it’s harder for me to get started and I’m much more likely to get distracted by other things. I think it’s true that you can train yourself to work best at certain times. I’m used to writing in the morning now, but when my daughters were babies, I used to write in the afternoon while they napped, and that worked well, too.

I have a small office in my home where I generally write. I’m always changing it around, so it’s been several colors, the latest of which is a dull, medium blue. I have two large bookshelves inside it, a reclining chair, and an old craftsman style desk that I bought off someone on Craigslist, after he told me it brought him good luck.

I also have one of those see-through bird feeders on the window. I like to stare at it when I’m stuck or procrastinating and see who shows up. There’s a woodpecker that frequents the feeder, and a bunch of bright yellow finches.

Once in a while, a squirrel will dive bomb it from the roof, and that’s always amusing to see.

Sometimes, if it’s a nice day, I’ll take my laptop outside and sit out on the screened porch. We have a bunch of big, old trees in the back yard, so it’s cool and shaded even in the summer.

We also have a pet rabbit who lives out there. He’ll hop around my feet while I work or jump up on the chair beside me to see what I’m doing. At one point, he hopped into my novel. One of the characters in Bright Coin Moon, a rich widow named Joan, also owns a rabbit.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always had a good amount of support for my writing. My husband was very helpful the entire time I was writing Bright Coin Moon, and my parents always encouraged me to pursue my interests growing up.

I’ve also been a member of a writing group for several years. The group is made up of some of my fellow graduates of the George Mason University MFA program, and we meet pretty much every month.

We exchange work, and we attend events together, and we celebrate each other’s successes by going out for drinks or dinner. There are four of us who have been with the group since the start, and others who have moved in and out.

In the beginning, we were pretty formal. We made a schedule, and when your date came up, you had to come up with something to turn in, but as time went on, we loosened up. If someone has something to share, that person can certainly bring it in, but if not, the meeting will still go on. We’ll talk about books we’ve read or whatever trouble we’re facing with our manuscripts, or just about writing in general. If there is an event like Fall for the Book, which is a week-long festival put on by our Alma Mater, we will revolve around that for awhile, e-mailing each other and meeting up here and there on campus for various events.

I’ve found that the group is invaluable. Not just for feedback, but also to chat with about writing. Other writers just get you in a way that other people don’t. If you tell a normal, sane person you are down one day because several magazines rejected a story you wrote, the sane person might say, “You know, my cousin might know someone who can get you an office job.”

But another writer will say, “I’m going through that right now, too,” or she’ll tell you to try a new ending or something like that. Of course, I’m lucky that I still live fairly close to the school I attended, so I have this opportunity to stay in touch that I might not have had.

If you are looking for a critique group and are a YA or children’s writer, I highly recommend joining SCBWI. They have local chapters with events where you can meet other writers, and there are always sign-up sheets going around at meetings to help you find a group.

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