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1. New Voice: Yvonne Ventresca on Pandemic

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yvonne Ventresca is the first-time author of Pandemic (Sky Pony, 2014)(blog). From the promotional copy:

Only a few people know what caused Lilianna Snyder's sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. 

When people begin coming down with a quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat, Lil’s worst fears are realized. 

With her parents called away on business before the contagious outbreak--her journalist father in Delaware covering the early stages of the disease and her mother in Hong Kong and unable to get a flight back to New Jersey--Lil’s town is hit by what soon becomes a widespread fatal illness.

With friends and neighbors dying around her, Lil does everything she can to survive. 

Just when it all seems too much, the cause of her original trauma shows up at her door. 

Lil must find a way to survive not only the outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The premise of Pandemic is that a deadly, contagious bird flu strikes the U.S. and an emotionally traumatized teen needs to survive on her own. Most of my research focused on the logistics of a pandemic and its consequences.
Yvonne's blog

The deadliest influenza that Americans have experienced occurred in 1918, so I started my pandemic research in that era, with books like The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (Penguin Books, 2005) and Influenza 1918 by Lynette Iezzoni (TV Books, 1999).

I also read about current emerging infectious diseases in books like Spillover by David Quammen (W.W. Norton and Company, 2012) and Secret Agents: Emerging Epidemics by Madeline Drexler (Penguin Books, 2010).

Many people don’t realize that we’ve lived through a recent pandemic that was highly contagious, but fortunately not exceedingly deadly. The H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic of 2009 is well-documented on the www.flu.gov website, so I started with that illness as a rough model for some aspects of my fictional disease.

Next, I needed to figure out how a pandemic experience today would differ from one a century ago. Because of airplane travel, for instance, diseases today spread much faster than 1918 when a rural town could try to isolate itself. I made a list of realistic complications that could occur and I worked many of those into the story. For example, what happens if we lose our electricity and all the service people are too sick to make repairs?

The story is set in New Jersey, and another source of information was government preparedness documents. I was surprised to find some plans online, like the state’s “Antiviral Distribution Plan.” I also found a 2005 Homeland Security Document, “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.”

Based on their planning assumptions, I tried to think about other complications. For example, many people think it is most likely that a pandemic would start someplace else, like Asia, and as a result the U.S. would have a warning period. What if that turned out to be untrue and we had little or no time to prepare?

I didn’t experience any roadblocks but had to fight the tendency to over-research. For example, I spent a lot of time checking the spring migratory flyways of waterfowl when I should have been writing instead. I have a whole folder on “Birds” research which I didn’t really use.

One of my best resources was an interview I did with a local health officer. I generally prefer to interview people by email or phone, but I met him in person in 2011. He spoke frankly about the H1N1 experience and gave me insight into what problems could potentially occur if a more deadly pandemic struck.

He also shared some local planning documents that were in the process of being updated based on what they learned from the H1N1 pandemic. It was educational and also inspired some ideas, like the news story Lil (the main character) sees about who should receive the antiviral first if supplies were limited.

Besides books, online searches, and interviews, I’m a big fan of automated news alerts through email. I used Google Alerts and Talkwalker (both free) to keep me updated on newsworthy items that I might have been able to incorporate into Pandemic.

As a result of all my research, I tend to wash my hands more than the average person.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Yvonne's promotional files
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of how to promote a book and reach readers. As I waited (with cautious optimism) to hear back from my editor about the acquisition of Pandemic, I started reading marketing books and articles. (I had been saving articles since 2005!)

One of my favorite marketing books is Everyday Book Marketing by Midge Raymond (Ashland Creek Press, 2013). From my research, I made a list of possible ideas, some of which I ultimately discarded, but many of which I’m using. I think of this debut book period as the time of saying “yes.”

As in, yes I will visit that library in the town I’ve never heard of to speak about Pandemic. Yes, I will submit proposals to be on faculty at SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conferences. And yes, I will bowl at an event with teen readers even though my bowling skills are non-existent.

I decided early in the process to hire a freelance publicist (Rebecca Grose of SoCal Public Relations) to work with Sky Pony’s team to help promote the book. It’s been great to have her to help with the process, and she’s been an excellent source of knowledge and support. She’s been able to supplement Sky Pony’s efforts with activities like creating a press kit and reaching out to additional reviewers.

I’ve also joined an online group (UncommonYA) to support each other’s books, and a regional group (Kidlit Author’s Club) to do appearances together. It’s helpful to go through the promotion-journey with other writers.

In terms of concrete actions, I’ve developed postcards and bookmarks and swag. I created a mailing list of target libraries to let them know about Pandemic. Twitter (@YvonneVentresca) is my favorite social media, and I’ll be teaching twitter to writers at the New England SCBWI conference later in the spring.

I’ve stepped up my social media presence in general, and began blogging twice a week, with one post always geared toward teen writers. Revamping my website was gratifying as it evolved.

My other activities include guest blogging, planning my launch party, and participating in a few upcoming festivals.

My advice to other debut authors is to figure out what others are doing (through books, articles, or researching online), then do what is comfortable for you. If you like a certain form of social media better than others, focus on the one that doesn’t feel like a burden.

You should experiment, but don’t feel like you have to give the same level of commitment to every idea you try.

Overall, the promotion phase has been an enjoyable one for me. I like to think of it as a big experiment (although it’s hard to tell exactly what the results will be). I’ve created two lists to keep me sane: one of accomplishments, to keep track of what I get done each month, and one of acts of kindness, so I’ll remember all the wonderful things people have done to help me throughout this process.

Rocky and Luna in Yvonne's office--they keep her company and bark out the window.

Cynsational Notes

See additional resources on topics related to the novel such as pandemics, preparing for emergencies, and getting help for victims of sexual assault.

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2. Book Trailer: Don't Call Me Baby! by Gwendolyn Heasley

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Don't Call Me Baby! by Gwendolyn Heasley (HarperTeen, 2014). From the promotional copy:

All my life, I've been known as the girl on that blog.

Do you know what it's like for everyone to think they know you because of what they read on some stupid website? My mother has been writing an incredibly popular, and incredibly embarrassing, blog about me since before I was born. The thing is, I'm fifteen now, and she is still blogging about me. In gruesome detail.

You can read my life as my mom tells it on mommyliciousmeg.com. But this story is my actual life and about what happened when my BFF Sage and I decided to tell the real truth about our lives under a virtual microscope. Thanks for reading . . . Just don't call me Babylicious.

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3. Guest Post: Guadalupe Garcia McCall on Writing & Teaching Poetry

By Guadalupe Garcia McCall
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love poetry, but not like other people love poetry. No.

I mean, I love poetry.

But it's not that I just love it, I think I actually need it. Just as nourishment, and sunlight, and oxygen sustain me—Poetry sustains me. Just as religion, and family, and nature center me—Poetry centers me. Just as writing, and reading, and teaching fulfill me—Poetry fulfills me.

One of my favorite things to do in my classroom is to bring in the poetry.

I love to share great poetry, like "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, "Patterns" by Amy Lowell, and many, many more greatly beloved gems from literature.

However, I also love to share my own poetry with my students. It makes the lesson more valid when I ask them to write, and they see that I am not asking anything of them that I don't ask of myself.

One of my favorite ways to sneak it in poetry is by tying it in with something that's part of my curriculum. It's actually the only way I get away with it these days...oh, how I long for a creative writing class where I can really cut loose and teach the art of writing, but that's a blog for another day!

I recently wrote a poem called, "With a Machete, My Father," from the point of view of the character of Nwoye in the novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). It wasn't anything spectacular or mind blowing. It was quite a simple little poem, really, but with that one little poem, I taught point of view, poetic structure (including the "twist" at the end) and figurative language like imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing, personification, simile, etc.

As a follow up, I asked students to write a response poem to Nwoye from any other character's point of view in the novel. They really got into the assignment, it was like we were having a dialogue on paper—a poem from them in response to a poem from me in another character's point of view.

Complex and challenging, but fun and uniquely their own!

That's what poetry is for me, and that's what I want my students to discover—a unique, fun way to involve themselves and address poetry in a natural way, a way that speaks about their point of view as they explore literature, nature (including human nature), and life.

Here's a look at that little poem for those of who are interested:

"With a Machete, My Father"

Cut him down, severed the tie
That pulls a man away from himself.

So that he might be seen as
Strong, my father ended my brother’s life.

Ikemefuna’s voice called out.
For help he called, confused, bewildered.

Sunlight filtered through the leaves
of our forest, like an ancestral spirit, witnessing.

It glinted off his blade. Metal moved
quick as lightening, loud as thunder, wet as rain.

I did not see Ikemefuna in death, but I
Felt his shadow walking quietly behind my father.

When he entered his obi, my father
Did not speak, but sat down to drink palm wine.

I know why Okonkwo mourns.
It must be hard, to lose two sons in one day.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall, February 2014

Another one of my favorite ways to share, discuss, and explore poetry is to bring in excerpts from a small collection of nature poems I have entitled, "On Prairie Road."

I've been working on this collection for years. It's nowhere near finished, and I suspect I won't ever be finished with it because these poems come to me when I least expect them. They are little moments of truth that just hit me when I sit on my porch or meander around my property to stir and wake the poetic voice.

They are bits of life, mine and the world around me, and thus, I suspect, they will always be a work in progress.

I use these short little nature poems, these visceral snapshots, to teach theme.

I give my students a handout with three or four poems from the collection. I never know which ones I'll use because I always try to tie them in with the literature we are reading at the time.

When I first ask students to read them, it's a cold read, not really tied in to the book or story we're working with.

"Just read," I say. "Try to figure out what it means...what the poet was thinking...why she wrote it."

(I usually don't tell them I wrote the poems unless they ask if they are mine. Then I don't lie, I say, "Yes, it's part of something I'm working on," and we move on to the lesson).

After they do the cold read, I ask them to think about theme: What is the message behind the poems, what is the author trying to tell you about life? We discuss the first one together; we stir the mud using the well known SIFT strategy (Symbols, Imagery, Figurative Language, and Theme) to try to get to the bottom of it. When we all agree on a theme, we write it down beside the poem, quoting textual evidence, of course, to tie it to the novel/story we are reading.

Next, I ask a student to read the second poem to the class. This time, they talk to their elbow partner and try to SIFT through the poem together to find the theme. When everyone has a theme written down, we share and try to come to consensus as to the theme that best relates to the novel/story.

As a third stage of the lesson, the students read the last poem by themselves, SIFT through the poem, find a theme of their own and relate it to the novel/story.

As a follow up, students write their own nature poems to try to relate the theme of the novel/story we are reading to the class.

Once again, we have that dialogue on paper, that back and forth sharing of point of view and ideas between author, teacher, and students—only this time they see that they can find courage and wisdom in nature, and in their own observations of nature and the world around them, to make connections to the text.

This lesson always works because most nature poems are universal enough to fit any novel or story. I can usually find several to match whatever literary piece we are reading at the time.

Before I started writing my own, I used a number of nature poems I loved, anything from well known nature poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay to contemporary poets like Wendy Barker was food for my classroom.

In any event, here are the three poems I used with Things Fall Apart for those of you who might be interested:

"On the Grass"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Two eager grackles walk on stilts.
Raven heads held high. Their golden
Eyes astute, foraging for generous
Seeds to feast upon.

Then, a grub worm, fat and slippery,
Clutched in a black bird’s claw, ripped apart,
Torn open, devoured by one who knows
Its creamy, yellow guts are more substantial.

"Along the Barbed Wire Fence"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

An oak has matured. It’s golden heart
Pierced by the barbed wires of the
Barricade it has engulfed. Four lines of
Barbaric fencing, swallowed up, imprisoned

Within one hundred rings of bark. The
Anchoring posts push, pull, tug with
The passing seasons, but the oak is stoic,
Unmoved, it’s heavy trunk incorrigible.

"Across the Road"
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Cows migrate in unison, slowly, quietly,
Plowing against the forceful rains. Heads
Hung low, shoulders determined,
Eyes to the ground, as if in prayer.

They do not wait for the waters to rise,
The lip of the creek to curl up cynically,
Swallow them up, drag them downstream,
They walk steadily, calmly, don’t look back.

Using poetry, our own or anybody else's, to make connections within and across texts is a fun, easy way to expose students to poetry and its value—not only in literature but also in life.

Exposing students to poetry, its depth and beauty, its relationship to the world we inhabit and the way we live and learn, is one of the best things we can do for our students. It goes beyond educating them—hopefully, it leads them to a love of poetry and a true appreciation of it.

Who's to say? It might even someday sustain them.

Cynsational Notes

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the author of Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low, 2011), a novel in verse. Under the Mesquite received the prestigious Pura Belpre Author Award, was a William C. Morris Finalist and received the Ellen Hopkins Promising Poet Award, the Tomas Rivera Children’s Book Award, and was included in Kirkus Reviews’ Best Teen Books of 2011 among many other honors and accolades.

Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (Tu, 2012), won a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, was an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist, and was included in the 2013 Amelia Bloomer Project List, the Texas Lone Star Reading List, and the 2012 School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year.

Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals across the country and abroad, and her poems for children are included in The Poetry Friday Anthology (2012), The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School (2013), and The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (2014), all by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Guadalupe was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. She immigrated with her family to the United States when she was six years old and grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting of both her novels and most of her poems).

She is currently a high school English teacher in the San Antonio area and lives in Somerset with her husband, Jim, two (of three) sons, Steven and Jason, two dogs (Baxter and Blanca), and one cat (Luna).

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4. Guest Post: Author-Editor Deborah Halverson on Setting, Wherefore Art Thou?

By Deborah Halverson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When Cynthia graciously invited me to write a guest post for her blog, she asked if there was a particular writing craft item on my mind. Indeed, there is. And its color is blue.

Blue screen, that is. The kind they use in movie making when they film actors against a blank blue screen and then Cg in the background.

During a blue-screen shoot, the cameras capture the characters delivering their dialogue and action, but they don’t capture the setting. There is none. It’s just blue nothingness.

The scene doesn’t come fully alive until the special effects people go in and add the setting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I call “bluescreening” in young adult manuscripts.

I’ve been editing teen/tween manuscripts for more than fifteen years, acting as a bridge between writers and their readers, doing my best to ensure that the story the writer wants to tell is the story that reaches her readers.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed an increasing dearth of setting in the manuscripts crossing my desk. Writers are focusing on voice and plot and character arcs, and on fresh, marketable hooks—and rightly so, as these are all integral storytelling elements.

But our poor little friend, Setting . . . she’s barely there. Such a powerful storytelling tool, yet so overlooked of late. Why? What’s happened? Where did setting go?

These days writers are working their tails off to satisfy the increasingly strong call for action and faster-paced plots, with an accompanying call for characters who can shoulder that.

In the process, setting—the quiet workhorse of stories—is being short-changed. The characters are dropped in a location—a room, a park, wherever—and then it’s “Onward, ho!” to the action and the dialogue.

Where’s the sense of place? Where’s the feeling that this scene could happen nowhere else but here? Where’s the full reading experience?

Too often, I feel like I’m watching a movie for which the special affects crew has forgotten to generate the background, leaving the characters walking and talking in front of that vast blue nothingness.

That’d be a pretty big boo-boo in a feature film, wouldn’t it? So, too, in a novel.

Think about the YA/middle grade novels we love.

Without setting, we wouldn’t have Beetle’s warm, moiling dung heap sheltering us from the frosty night in Karen Cushman’s Newbery Medal-winning The Midwife’s Apprentice (Clarion, 1995).

We wouldn’t have the terrifying frozen beauty of The North in Philip Pullman’s bestseller The Golden Compass (Knopf, 2006).

We wouldn’t have Kathi Appelt’s National Book Award Finalist The Underneath at all (Atheneum, 2008).

We need setting in our stories. We need the richness that makes up setting, the sensual engagement that can only come from hearing the crunch of frosty grass under the protagonist’s bare feet, or feeling the sudden whispery kiss of a spider’s web dangling from the eaves. We’d just have a girl walking across a lawn and a creepy old house. Where’s the joy in that?

The lovely thing is, lack of setting is an easy boo-boo to fix. And when you bang that nail into place, the overall effect on the manuscript is substantial.

If you write teen/tween novels, take a look at your current work-in-progress. Is it all action and dialogue? Or have you given us enough sensory detail to fill out the space around the characters?

I’m not saying go all Henry James on your audience. Heavens, no! Few can stomach such long-winded descriptions of setting. Certainly not your average teen reader.

Instead of describing or simply naming your setting, show your character interacting with elements of it, manipulating those elements or reacting to them. Give us the sounds and smells and textures and temperatures and sensations that distinguish that particular place by having your character hearing them, smelling them, and feeling them.

Along the way, you will enrich your entire story because:

* setting influences and illuminates characterization

Imagine one character finding solace in the songs of mockingbirds on a flower-covered (and floral-scented) mountaintop, while his friend hunkers under a freeway overpass and loses himself in the sounds of the traffic, the vibrations of the ground, and the fumes of a world too busy to notice him.

* setting figures directly into plot

A dingy, mud-caked window screen blocks a character’s view of a fight outside. He faces a choice: ignore the fight, or leave the safety of his house to watch it—or to stop it.

* setting influences characters’ word choice

Trip-slipping on the gritty asphalt crumbs of a dilapidated road blurred by heat waves…. Tromping through biting snowdrifts…. Both can put foul words into the mouths of saints!

* setting affects pacing and tension

Compare the discomfort of feeling the flesh of strangers’ arms, shoulders, even cheeks, as a character shoves through a busy train station with the caress of a cool breeze on the character’s cheek as he wiggles his toes into the powdery sand of an empty beach.

* setting provides subtext and ambiance

Catholic school vs. public school, anyone? Oh, the sensory details that distinguish each of those settings.

Above all, characters need a sense of place to know how to behave. Don’t just give them somewhere to be; show how that particular place influences their mood and actions. You chose that setting for a reason, mine it so that readers can feel that sense of place for themselves.

For your audience, a rich setting is the difference between watching characters and being there with them. For you, it means more meaningful and satisfying scenes. Improving your use of setting is a win-win deal—and that’s certainly nothing to feel blue about.

Cyn & Deborah with her sons
Cynsational Notes

This post was originally published in June 2010. Past posts will be sprinkled into the schedule for the duration of Cyn's revision deadline.

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me (2007) and Big Mouth (2008)(both Delacorte/Random House) as well as Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (Wiley), Letters to Santa (available via the USPS) and Cyber World, Meltdown and Robotic World (Rubicon's REMIX series).

She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.

Deborah lives with her husband and triplet sons in San Diego, California, where she also runs her writers’ advice website Dear-Editor.com and freelance edits fiction and nonfiction for both published authors and writers seeking their first book deals.

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5. Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christian Slater, Annie Hall, Rejection, and Me (Not Necessarily in That Order) by Shawn K. Stout from the Writing Barn. Peek: "That feeling, right there. Do you know the one? That crushing ache? The one right there in the middle of my chest that tells me in that moment I’m unloved by the universe? That’s what rejection feels like to me. Every. Single. Time."

A Logic Model for Author Success by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Called the 'Logic Model'...its goal is to help writers make the best decisions about where to focus their creative energies and efforts when it’s time to launch their books."

Do I Capitalize "God" in Dialogue and Internal Thoughts? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "The only rigid rule for capitalizing 'God' in dialogue and thoughts is that you do so when using it as a pronoun: 'Joe, God won’t like that.' Beyond that..."

Think Before You Write by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Even if I were to sit down as soon as I can and start banging out the scene, it never feels quite the same as it did during its inception. I feel like I lose little parts of myself every time that happens."

Carol Lynch Williams on The Haven by Adi Rule from wcya The Launch Pad at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Peek: "Treat writing like a job. It's not behind the dishes or taking out the garbage. It's your profession. You write first."

Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Choctaw author Greg Rodgers: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...the illustrations by Leslie Stall Widener are terrific. They provide the visual clues that this is a Choctaw story. The clothes the characters wear accurately depict the sorts of items Choctaw's wear, from tops like the one Chukfi wears to the baseball cap that Kinta wears."

The Emotional Journey of a Novel by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "...what we’re looking at above is the standard three-act structure but instead of tracking how the plot rises and then falls, we are tracking how the character feels during each step of the process."

Editing for Agents by agent Tina Wexler and author Skila Brown from Literary Rambles. Peek: "Maybe the agent’s comments are prescriptive in a way that you don’t really like, but listen hard to what problem s/he is identifying and see if you’ve got another idea on how to fix it."

What "Frozen" Teaches Us About Storytelling & Publishing by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "There are quite a few plot spoilers in this post, so if you’re planning to watch the movie, do so first."

Cynsational Author Tip: You may own the copyright to your book, but not everything written about it.  Keep review quotes short, and as a courtesy, provide a link to the source.

A character on the autism spectrum.
Characters on the Autism Spectrum by Yvonne Ventresca from YA Highway. Peek: "At a time when one in every 68 children in the U.S. is affected by autism, it’s interesting to see how children’s literature portrays autistic characters. ...odds are high that teens will have an autistic family member, or a classmate with Asperger syndrome, or a neighbor on the spectrum."

Keeping Up with the Racing Rules by Emma D. Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: "We can't wish away the fact kids are growing up fast, doing everything fast, wanting everything fast, and getting everything fast."

Shattering the Multicultural Myth of the Market. Let's Go! from Mitali Perkins. Peek: "We are tweeting, texting, status-ing, and insta-ing that book until our friends are convinced they must buy it right now or their quality of life will diminish."

"Ariel" by Katherine Catmull: a new story from The Cabinet of Curiosities. Note: "about a mistreated bird and its shadow."

This Week at Cynsations

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More Personally

My Week: Travel, Events, Revision! Thank you to TLA, LATFOB, librarians, YA readers, and Candlewick Press for a blurry flurry of bookish fun.

I sent my editor my Feral Pride revision on Wednesday, and she sent notes back on the first half on Thursday. Notes on the second half will come Tuesday. I've been focusing on chapter one, the target of her most substantive suggestions. My goals are to orient the reader, kick off the action, and maintain in the narrative continuity--all of which are more challenging with book 3 in a trilogy and book 9 in a universe. We're almost, but not quite there.

With authors Laurie Halse Anderson & Cecil Castellucci at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Texas Teens for Libraries at the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio (that's my back in white).

See also Nikki Loftin and Lupe Ruiz-Flores on the Texas Library Association annual conference.

The post on my mind this week? The Best Bums in Children's Fiction -- Or Why Are So Many Children's Books About Bottoms? by Emma Barnes from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...for the average five year old, toilet training and bed wetting are still very immediate issues, and getting oneself to the toilet on time can be a source of pride (or sometimes an embarrassing failure)."

Greg models Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn at the Macmillan booth at TLA.
Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on a rave review from Publishers Weekly for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014). Peek: "...an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe."

Author blurbs also are in:

"Aliens, government coverups, bionic limbs, kooky scientists, luau pigs, conspiracy theories, and mysterious patio furniture—I don't know about you, but these are the things I look for in a great story. Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn has all of them, plus a huge dose of humor. Read it and enjoy, but be warned: You may never want to eat roast pork ever again." —Matthew Holm, co-creator of Babymouse and Squish

“Here is a story for everyone who has ever wondered if that brilliant green light was a UFO. It's for everyone who has ever imagined living on Mars. In short, it's for everyone who has ever asked the question, 'who am I, really?’ Read it, then make your reservations at the Mercury Inn. Just don’t be alarmed if you find an alien in the refrigerator."Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of The Underneath

Don't miss my Q&A interview this week at The Horn Book. Peek: "...of late, I’ve become intrigued by wereorcas and Dolphins. I’ve lived a largely mid- to southwestern, landlocked life, so even though most of our world is covered by water, to me it’s as alien and fantastical as anything we’d find in fiction."

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal.

Cheers to Dr. Sylvia Vardell on receiving the 2014 ALA-Scholastic Library Publishing Award!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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6. readergirlz: Support Teen Literature Day & "Rock the Drop"

By Melissa Walker of readergirlz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In conjunction with Support Teen Literature Day, top young adult authors, editors, teen lit advocates, and readers will “Rock the Drop” by leaving their books in public places for new readers to discover and enjoy.

In recognition of the readergirlz’s seventh birthday of promoting literacy and a love of reading among young women, our fans and followers are also encouraged to donate YA books (or time, or even monetary contributions) to seven very worthy literacy philanthropies.

Cyn supports Reading is Fundamental!
The groups include: First Book, The Lisa Libraries, Girls Write Now, 826 National, Room to Read, Reading is Fundamental, and World Literacy Foundation.

For this year’s Drop, we are also teaming up with Justine Magazine and I Heart Daily to help spread the world and build enthusiasm for this always-enjoyable kick off to spring reading season!

A nationwide effort of authors, publishers, librarians, educators, and readers

In its sixth year, Rock the Drop is part of a massive effort by librarians, young adult authors, educators, publishers, and avid readers to spur reading on a nationwide scale. The day aims to encourage teens to read for the fun of it.

Cyn is dropping...!
  • In past years, more than 100 young adult authors—including David Levithan, Sara Zarr, Libba Bray, Sarah Dessen, and Cynthia Leitich Smith—have “rocked the drop,” leaving copies of their books in public places for teens to find.
  • Publishing houses both “Big Six” and indie alike have donated tens of thousands of books to dedicated literacy philanthropies, in addition to rocking the drop, too.
  • Teens, librarians, teachers, and other fans of YA literature are also invited to rock the drop, on their own or as a group.
  • Participants are encouraged to donate to any of our seven suggested philanthropies – or one of their own! Post on the Readergirlz Facebook page to update us on some of your favorite worthy causes.

Operation Teen Book Drop aims to reach a large number of teen groups,” rgz diva Melissa Walker said. “We’re thrilled to be celebrating our website’s seventh birthday with this fun, festive day!”

How to support Rock the Drop:

Learn more!

About Support Teen Literature Day

In its sixth year, Support Teen Literature Day is April 17, 2014, and will be celebrated in conjunction with ALA’s National Library Week. Librarians across the country are encouraged to participate in Support Teen Literature Day by hosting events in their libraries. The celebration raises awareness that young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today’s teens. Support Teen Literature Day also seeks to showcase award-winning authors and books in the genre, as well as highlight librarians’ expertise in connecting teens with books and other reading materials.

About readergirlz

Lorie's new release!
readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy.

Launched in March 2007, in celebration of Women's National History Month, readergirlz was cofounded by acclaimed YA authors - Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen, and Janet Lee Carey. Readergirlz is currently maintained by awarded YA authors - Micol Ostow, Melissa Walker, and co-founder Lorie Ann Grover.

rgz Operation Teen Book Drop has donated over 30,000 new YA books to under-served teens.

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7. Five Questions for Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Horn Book

Compiled By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What fun it was to chat with The Horn Book about creepy cuisine, werecats and the kind of shape-shifter I'd most like to be!

Pop over to check it out and join in the conversation!

See also a review of my latest novel, Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) from The Horn Book. Peek:

"Debut character Kayla — level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature — holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness. Witty banter peppered with pop-culture references keeps the tone light even as the stakes ramp up."

Cynsational Notes 

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal

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8. Guest Post & Giveaway: Michele Weber Hurwitz on Musings about Comparisons

By Michele Weber Hurwitz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I have a quote taped on the wall above my computer so it's the first thing I see every morning when I sit down to write.

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

That little gem comes from some guy named Theodore Roosevelt.

What a simple, true, and startling piece of advice. The idea that comparison is a thief, and it can steal your joy, take away your happiness.

My mother had a more delicate, loving way of putting it: "Appreciate what you have, Little Miss Smarty Pants."

This, in fact, seems to be my life lesson. I wish I could have told it to my younger self.

In this photo of me at five years old, I must have received a gift (what are those? pants? pajamas?) and so did my friend. I'm the one closer to the door. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? There I was, caught in the moment, looking at what she got, not what I got. Comparing.

And as you can see, I'm not smiling.

In high school, I compared my unruly, crazy curly hair to girls with seemingly carefree, straight locks (oh, their swinging ponytails!). In my early twenties, as I struggled to find a job, I compared myself to friends whose careers were taking off.

And later on, when I went after my dream of writing a book, I compared myself to authors who secured an agent and got published easily and quickly, while I stumbled and made endless mistakes.

Let's not even talk about those early query letters. Or those early manuscripts.

Don't get me wrong. I've had many happy, non-comparing moments. And I'm sure that comparison is somewhat human nature. Heck, I bet even cave women compared their hauls when they gathered herbs and berries.

But since authors live (and write) in a world of superlatives, comparison is all too easy to fall prey to. Scroll through your Facebook news feed or your Twitter timeline or the latest Publishers Weekly. It's all there for us comparison-junkies.

Six-figure deal! Auction! Trilogy sold in 44 countries. Starred reviews. Best-seller. Award-winning, must-read, most unbelievable book ever to be published in the history of time; plus it's being made into a movie! OMG!

While I readily and happily applaud my fellow authors' successes, I know I'm not the only writer out there who sometimes feels daunted. And intimidated. And like maybe it's a better idea to spend the day under the covers.

But then I look up.


I have another quote taped next to that one: "I wish that I had duck feet."

That's the title of a favorite book I had when I was little, an early reader by Theo. LeSieg. It's the humorous and insightful story of a young boy who wishes he had various animal parts, like duck feet, a whale spout, and an elephant trunk. But as he imagines the pros and cons of life with these seemingly fun but ultimately troublesome additions, he decides that he's better off just being himself.

Good choice. That's probably my other life lesson. And perhaps, everyone's.

The ideas of comparison and being yourself are themes that run through both of my middle grade books, Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) and my new release, The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014).

In Calli Be Gold, Calli, the youngest child in a super-achieving "golden" family, struggles with the fact that she's a regular kid and isn't talented at sports like her siblings. She finds out what she's good at when she bonds with an awkward second grade boy in a peer helper program at school. In her own quiet way, Calli stands up to her intense, overbearing dad and makes him understand that talent comes in many forms.

In The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days, the main character, Nina Ross, questions whether doing good really makes a difference. She gets inspired from her eighth-grade history teacher's parting words and spends a summer doing secret good deeds in her neighborhood and for her family, despite the fact that she knows her best friend won't understand. Nina is confused and somewhat insecure, unsure of her "group" and where she'll fit in to the overwhelming world of high school.

As the good deeds prompt events she wasn't expecting, Nina has to decide whether or not to stay true to her plan and herself.

Creating and getting to know the characters of Calli and Nina has taught me, as an author, to appreciate the satisfaction in small moments.

While glowing reviews and awards are certainly wonderful, I've come to realize that rewards arrive in many forms, and often the best are the most heartfelt, touching, and personal.

Perhaps it's connecting with a child at a school visit, like the boy who admitted he didn't want to read Calli Be Gold because there was a girl on the cover, but now it's one of his favorite books. Or the email I received from a girl who wrote that Calli "inspires me to be open and kind to everyone. She makes me want to be myself." And the boy who was too shy to come up and have me sign his book at a recent event, and sent his friend to my table instead. When I waved to the boy, his surprised, thankful, light-up-the-room smile was absolutely perfect.

It's these moments when I nod silently to myself and think: these are the real superlatives.


Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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9. Event Report: Texas Library Association Annual Conference

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Wow! What fun I had at the Texas Library Association annual conference in San Antonio. Thank you, Texas librarians, publishers, authors, illustrators, exhibitors and teens for a wonderful event!

With fellow Candlewick YA author E.E. Charlton Trujillo
Author Nikki Loftin
Author-illustrator Don Tate
Author Donna Bowman Bratton & SCBWI Austin RA Samantha Clark
Author Joy Preble
YA Literature Goddess Teri Lesesne & author Laurie Halse Anderson
With Penguin sales rep Jill Bailey
Greg with author-librarian Debbie Leland
Greg models Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (June 2014)
Author K.A. Holt with E.E.
With Greg and children's-YA poetry guru Sylvia Vardell
With fellow author Elizabeth Bluemle
Author Phil Bildner
Bookseller Danny Woodfill with author-illustrator Mary Sullivan
With fellow author Varsha Bajaj
Greg with fellow author Sara Kocek
With author Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)
Author Liz Garton Scanlon
Author Varian Johnson
Texas Teens 4 Libraries
With Teri
Thank you, Candlewick Press!

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10. Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal: Shattered by Mari Mancusi (Scorched #2)(Sourcebooks, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A fiery, action-packed installment in Mari Mancusi's heart-pounding Scorched trilogy

Trinity, Connor, and Caleb are trying to stay under the radar, holed up in an abandoned West Texas farmhouse. Their only problem is Emmy: a baby dragon that's growing like crazy. When Emmy is caught on tape and the video goes viral, they find themselves on the run again. Their only hope comes from an old map leading to a man who has come from the future to help them. But with the government hot on their heels and Caleb's growing addiction to spending time in the Nether world, will they be able to reach him in time? And will keeping Emmy safe end up being too high a price for Trinity to pay? 
See also Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To (And That's a Good Thing). Peek: "These days, when a tween or teen finishes a book they enjoy, the first thing they do is Google the author or series title. They're looking for author websites with cool downloads, fan sites with forums they can chat on, videos on YouTube to watch, Facebook pages they can 'like,' and secret inside information about what's coming up next. In short, they're looking to become a part of the world in any way they can."

More News

Choosing Writing by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...here are the things that kept me tethered to the writing boat while the waves crashed on top of me."

How to Make a Killer Book Trailer (for No Money) by Amy Talkington from Adventures in YA Fiction. Peek: "They told me the best book trailers are short (a minute or less) and convey the tone of the book (versus the story). These were very useful words of wisdom." See also Do You Need a Social Media Platform? Agents Weigh In. 

Love Every Word by Jeanne Kisacky from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I am not thinking about word count, about cutting the work into a number of independently marketable parts, or about publishing rules/trends/standards. I am simply trying to make the work as long as it needs to be to tell the story. No more. No less."

I Am Not Accessible by Shannon Hale from Squeetus Blog. Peek: "A few years ago, I had a choice. I could 1. answer all my emails or 2. write more books. I chose books."

Q&A Simon & Schuster Editor Zareen Jaffery from Story and Chai. Peek: "Of the hundreds of submissions I receive, I only take on about ten new books each year, predominantly novels, and that number includes multiple works by the same writer or books by previously published writers. I signed two debut authors last year. (I edit about 20 original books a year.) What I’m getting at is that the competition to get published is fierce." Note: topics include the publication of books with Muslim characters and themes.

Writing Mental Illness: Stigma & Story by Erin E. Moulton from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I found that I had to cull from a variety of sources to make sure that I was creating an accurate, human and non-stereotypical portrayal of the Bipolar experience. I looked to both fiction and nonfiction for help on this subject."

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

It's a short week at Cynsations as I'm at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio and then off to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California. See details below! See also more Candlewick Author & Illustrator Public Events for April 2014.

Do yourself a favor and meet Betty X Davis in this interview by Meredith Davis from Austin SCBWI. At age 99, Betty is a founding member of the chapter, plays tennis once a week, and plays Scrabble against herself. She says, "it's always a close match."

Here's the Question of the Week (and from the major national media, no less): "Where the African-American Harry Potter or Mexican-American Katniss?" by Ashley Strickland from CNN. Note: I'm honored to be mentioned in such distinguished company. Peek: "Even though young adult literature is enjoying a golden age and authors are working to diversify their stories, lead characters of color or characters who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are still slow to appear in popular mainstream young adult fiction."

The other post lingering on my mind is Keith Cronin on How to Make Somebody Hate Reading from Writer Unboxed. As a teen, I enjoyed literary analysis and went on to get a concentration in English at The University of Kansas. However, as editor of my high school newspaper, I did choose to skip senior AP English in favor of an extra hour each day in the news room.

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal. Check out what I didn't plan about the Feral series from YA Series Insider.

Thanks to Debbie Reese for recommending my picture book Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) in her interview for How Children's Books Fuel Mascot Stereotypes by Aura Bogado from Color Lines.   

Cheers to Lee Bennett Hopkins, the Most Prolific Anthologist of Poetry for Children, as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Kudos to Austin author-illustrator Jeff Crosby for his new website celebrating Rockabilly Goats Gruff (Holiday House, 2014)!

Personal Links:

Cynsational Events

Meet Cynthia Leitich Smith in the author signing area from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 9 at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. Greg Leitich Smith will be signing at that same time and date in Booth 1443 (Book Festivals of Texas). See the complete author signing listings. See also conference signings by Texas authors.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, along with Soman Chainani, Margaret Stohl, Laini Taylor, and moderator John Corey Whaley for "Young Adult Fantasy: The Real & the Unreal" (conversation 1095) in the Norris Theater at 4:30 p.m. (signing to follow) April 12 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

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11. Event Report: Liz Garton Scanlon's Launch for The Good-Pie Party

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Liz Garton Scanlon launched The Good-Pie Party, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton (Arthur A. Levine, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople in Austin.

Liz did a PowerPoint presentation about her own experiences moving from home to home around the globe and then read the book, showing the illustrations on screen.

Liz greets guests in a dessert-themed dress with lemonade, pies and veggie snacks.
Pies donated by Royer's Pie Haven -- new in Austin (2900 B. Guadalupe).
Author Greg Leitich Smith and author-illustrator Emma Virjan
Liz chats with young readers and fellow Austin authors.
Authors Sam Bond and Cynthia Leitich Smith
Austin SCBWI founder Meredith Davis and Cyn
Liz signs her book for Greg.

Cynsational Notes 

From the promotional copy:

Posy, Megan, and Mae have always been the best of friends — but now Posy has to move away. 

Only their favorite activity can comfort the girls: baking pie! 

And when they realize they can host a good-pie party instead of a good-bye party, the sad situation becomes a sweet gathering for their entire community. 

The Good-Pie Party celebrates good friends, good memories, and the joy of the just-right good-byes.

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12. New Voice: Skila Brown on Caminar

Teacher's Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Skila Brown is the first-time author of Caminar (Candlewick, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Set in 1981 Guatemala, a lyrical debut novel tells the powerful tale of a boy who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war.

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. 

The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. 

Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . 

Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? 

A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

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

a mountain in Guatemala, much like the one Carlos must climb
I think I’m like a lot of people in that I write best without interruptions, with a beautiful view, a clear head, a well-rested and well-fed brain, in a comfortable chair, and whenever the muse visits me.

But if I waited for all that to happen, I’d never finish a book. I’d frankly never even start one.

Most writers wear a lot of different hats, juggling a lot of different lives, especially when we’re new writers.

The biggest hat I wear is Mom. I have three kids who are home with me all day, every day, as we’re a homeschooling family. So the answer to this question is: I write whenever I can. And sometimes when I really can’t.

I take advantage of the waiting moments, like music lessons and swim practice, and I hide over in the corner with my notebook or laptop, writing, instead of socializing with other parents or playing games on my phone. I write early in the morning and sometimes late at night. I write after lunch, when I force the kids into an hour of quiet. I stay home and write instead of attending all kinds of events like parties and concerts and whatever else goes on around me.

First draft, written out of order & by hand
I believe firmly that no one is going to give me time and space to write. I have to take it. I also believe I have to keep that in check and constantly remind myself that I’m more than just a writer. That I need to step away from the notepad or computer and turn that part of me off for periods of time.

What works best for me is a few hours a week that are carved out for writing, and anything else is a bonus.

But there are a lot more bonus opportunities out there than we realize. I think about my novels while I’m driving, in the shower, cooking, and falling asleep. I work out a lot of issues during this time that frees me up in my official writing hours.

I also write best by hand. My first drafts are better when I jot them out by hand. It takes longer and that’s a good thing. I’m more careful with my words.

I like to write with pencil, in a variety of notebooks, journals, even scrap pieces of paper. I write out of order, which is frustrating at times, but seems to work best for so I’m trying to embrace it.

Figuring out our writing process is so important, isn’t it? And it takes a few years to really see how and what brings out our best writing.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first--character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

I was first drawn into the period of time and the events that were happening in Guatemala around this time. I’d been reading and learning about Guatemala’s history, and specifically the way the United States impacted that, and it was all troubling to say the least.

I read about villages that were massacred and how a few people, some children, would escape such an event and what their escape would be like. I started to imagine the story of a child who survives. What he must do, how he might feel, where he might go.

During the time that I was writing I continued doing research, reading a lot of journals and interview excerpts from people who lived in the middle of this violence. I watched documentaries. I sought out the help of friends who are a part of this culture. I felt challenged to make sure what I was saying was as authentic and accurate as it could be. I was very much aware of the fact that I was an outsider to this time and place, and that I had an important task to tell the story and to tell it right.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Katherine & Shelley at VCFA
Shelley Tanaka, an editor, author and writing teacher, was inspirational to me in overcoming my angst about writing outside my culture.

She said to me that my worries about this would help me to be as diligent as I could to tell the story with respect and care.

I had the good fortune to be in a writing workshop in which Katherine Paterson was a guest speaker. Someone asked her, “You’ve written outside of your culture a lot. How do you come to terms with the fact that you’re an outsider, and that maybe you shouldn’t be writing about a culture that isn’t yours?”

Her answer was both humbling and reassuring because she made it clear that this is something she struggles with, too. I listened to her talk about this and realized the only hope for tackling this myself was to do it with humility. And that’s just what I’ve tried to do.

I recognize that it won’t be a perfect portrayal of what happened then and why. I see my own limitations as an outsider. But I also feel the story—the sadness and the hope—is an important one, and one that needs to be told.

At the end of the day, I hope I’ve done it in the most respectful manner I can.

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13. Guest Post: Joseph Bruchac on "You Don't Look Indian"

By Joseph Bruchac
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

You don’t look like an Indian.

Ever heard anyone say that? It’s a safe bet that you have if you’re a contemporary Native American. Or, as my friends in Canada put it, a member of a First Nation.

And those were the exact words that I heard this past Saturday. Standing in front of a group of fifty sixth and seventh graders at Henry Hudson Middle School (And no, I shall not go into a rant about its namesake right now) in the Bronx.

I’d just finished doing my presentation to that very polite audience. Great kids. The very fact that they were here spending a sunny Saturday morning in school spoke volumes about their motivation. I’d been introduced as an American Indian author.

And as I told a story and then talked a little about my two YA novels—Wolf Mark (Lee & Low, 2011) and Killer of Enemies (Lee & Low/Tu, 2013)--which had just been given to each of those young men and women, they’d listened attentively.

“So,” I said, “any questions?”

And that was when, in the second row, the young woman wearing a scarf had raised her hand and made that comment. “You don’t look like an Indian.”

Okay, time to explain--for anyone reading this who is not of aboriginal American ancestry—just why those six words went off in my brain like a shot from a starter’s pistol.

Native people have had to deal for decades with stereotyping. Thanks to mass media, it seems as if non-Native person from the 19th century to today has an idea of what a "real" Indian looks like.

It’s an image involving feathers, beads, tipis, bows and arrows, hunting buffalo on horseback, long black hair and a deeply tanned skin. Lacking those accouterments may result in one’s authenticity being questioned. Or lead to the question which frequently follows such an observation: “How much Indian blood do you have?”

(Alas, I had not brought along the dipstick I sometimes have thrust into my belt which enables me to respond to that latter query by pulling said dipstick out and saying “I seem to be down by a quart.”)

My friend Drew Hayden Taylor, Canada’s most prolific (and one of its funniest) indigenous writers has responded to such comments in a highly readable collection of essay series entitled Advenures of a Blue-Eyed Ojibwa, Funny You Don't Look Like One (Theytus, 1999-2004).

My sister Marge, currently heading the Native Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, has a routine that she used to do when she made school visits. She’d arrive in her everyday clothing with a large trunk.

“Do I look like an Indian?” she’d ask.

And the answer (despite her tanned face and long black hair), was usually “No.” Then she would reach into the trunk and pull out a necklace and put it on. “How about now?”

Following which she would extract more items of her regalia until she was finally clothed as a Native woman might be when going to a powwow, or enacting a past era. “And now?” she’d ask. And when the reply was “Yes, you look like an Indian,” she would ask them, “What was I before I was dressed this way?”

Any question, even one that seems to come from a place informed by misinformation, can provide a teachable moment.

So my reply to that young woman was careful and measured. I pointed out that Native Americans today often dress and look like other Americans of various ancestries. I talked about the cultural differences from one Native nation to another. I mentioned the fact that many of us are of mixed ancestry but are accepted by our tribal nations and identify ourselves first and foremost as members of that nation. Nationhood, in fact, is an important part of being Native, knowing our Native languages, practicing and honoring our cultures.

As I talked the image came to me of one of my favorite paintings. "Done" by Rick Hill, the Tuscarora artist and educator, I first saw it thirty years ago in the Akwesasne Cultural Center. It showed an Iroquois man from around the 17th century. Dressed in full regalia, his face was traditionally painted, his hair cut in the classic Mohawk roach. His yellow hair. The title was “The First Blonde-Haired Mohawk.”

“You can’t judge a person by their looks,” I said. “How a person appears on the outside doesn’t tell you what is in that person’s mind and heart.”

At that point one of the teachers sitting in the back chipped in. “People think I’m black,” she said. “But I belong to the Cherokee Nation. I’m listed with the tribe.”

Which led to a discussion of just how many African slaves who found their way to freedom in the American South were taken in by various Native nations, adopted, married in and lived out their lives as American Indians. Look at almost any African American whose ancestry on this continent goes back to the time of slavery and you’ll find there are American Indians in that person’s family tree. Strong roots woven together.

When I finished, that young woman had a smile on her face. Other eager hands were being raised. And I spent another half hour answering questions before moving on to signing everyone’s books. It was a great session. As I shook the hands of the students many of them asked if I’d be coming back again next year, including the young women who made that initial comment.

“I very much enjoyed all that you shared with us,” she said, adjusting her sari back over her shoulder as she spoke. “It was very interesting.”

Nice job, Bruchac. Well done. Right? Ah. . .

Rerun that comment. Consider the context. I was on the train halfway to Albany when it hit me like a dope slap.

A third of the young men and women in the class I’d just visited were typical of the demographic shift that is taking place in the American population. They were from South Asia. And that was why there was a mischievous twinkle in that young woman’s eye when she made that initial remark.

Dang you, Critoforo Colombo!

Yet another misunderstanding stemming from the Genoan navigator’s assumption that the girth of the earth was half its actual size. And that his first landfall in the Bahamas was the East Indies. What was then called India. And thus our many nations ended up being labeled as “Indians.”

That mistaken (some would say misbegotten) arrival of old Chris’s has caused a lot of confusion over the years. Which brings to mind a joke that I believe I first heard from Charlie Hill, the Oneida comedian. “It could have been worse. Columbus could have thought he’d arrived in Turkey.

Getting back to Henry Hudson Junior High and the remark that started this whole text. I really should have guessed the actual gist of her observation. After all, in the last decade I’d heard more and more often from Indian Americans, asking me what the deal was about indigenous Americans referring to themselves as Indians.

“Don’t you have any pride in your own culture?” a young man from Orissa asked me in an e-mail two years ago. The thing is, as I explained it to him, that the word “Indian” has been part of the common parlance for so long that it’s been accepted by Native Americans. “Indian” is written into the American Constitution and found in the language of all the treaties and the legal dealings with our various tribal nations.

And it is not just in the past. The most widely distributed Native American publication is called "Indian Country News." When the new museum reflecting the cultures or the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere was created on the National Mall in Washington D.C. it was designated as the National Museum of the American Indian—a name chosen with the input of countless tribal advisers.

Should we prefer, nay, insist upon the term “Native American?” Consider the fact that it could (and once did) refer to anyone born in the United States. In fact there was a "Native American" movement a century ago or so that emphasized the legitimacy of "Native Americans" of white English and Northern European and demonized immigrants.

Plus, as with “American Indian,” the accepted etymology of “American” stems from the moniker of that other Italian dude, old Amerigo Vespucci. (The “feminized Latin version of his first name”—or so sayeth Wikipedia.)

(There are other theories, I must hasten to add. Such as that the name ‘Indian” came from an observation made by Columbus that the native people he encountered were living in such a state of blessedness that they were people who were In Deo, living “in God.” And that “America” stems from the supposedly native word—some say Carib—of Amerikkua, meaning something like “the Land of the Winds.” There used to be a publication named "AMERIKKUA".)

National Museum of the American Indian
Canada, as I mentioned at the start, officially avoids both the “American Indian” and the “Native American” label. Our neighbors to the North go with First Nations, Aboriginal Nations, and so on. Though an awful lot of my First Nations friends seem comfortable with calling themselves Indian when they’re with a group of other Native people. (The name “Canada,” by the way, does come from a Native word. “Kenata” means “village” in one of the Iroquoian dialects of the St. Lawrence region.”)

What I usually suggest is to let folks tell you what they prefer in terms of the term that refers to their indigenous identity. Start first with one’s individual tribal nation before moving on to one of those blanket designations draped around the unwitting shoulders of all our nations. (Go back before going back to the blanket? Never mind.)

Anyhow, yet again, I have been reminded that there are there are so many ways one can be wrong about being right. And thus I must end this rambling discourse with the simple admission that insofar as resembling someone from the great subcontinent goes, my seventh grade friend was indeed correct when she said:

“You don’t look like an Indian.”

Cynsational Notes

Joe originally published this essay to his facebook page. It is reproduced here with permission.

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14. Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Embrace the Struggles of Writing by Elisa Ludwig from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: "No one is ever going to come to me and say, 'Awesome. You did it. You can go home now.' Which means that as long as I stay with this, I’m going to have to wrestle with doubts."

Writing Humor by Yahong Chi from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Because the characters' experience is, to a certain extent, removed from the reader's experience, you'll often find that readers are laughing when characters aren't." See also "Star Wars" Writing Lesson: Adding Humor to Life or Death Situations from Project Mayhem.

Why Are Booksellers Afraid of Children's Poetry? by Mandy Coe from The Guardian. Peek: "No one doubts that a market for children's poetry exists. Children relish it, parents appreciate its accessibility and infinite re-readability, and teachers who've unlocked its potential in the classroom swear by it." See also On Language--Energy by Naomi Shihab Nye from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words!

Dare I Tell an Agent to Hold That Offer? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "Authors are emotionally invested in their work and can lose sight of representation being a business partnership."

10 Tips About Process by Brunonia Barry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "As I work, I usually find that this initial, situational question leads to a deeper, more philosophical one, which becomes the theme of the novel. I don’t try to answer that deeper question."

What We Talk About When We Talk About Diversity in YA by Zoraida Córdova from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "Let’s be friends. Reach out to someone who has a different experience as you. Read. I to this date have yet to read a YA about a teenage Ecuadorian girl. Not even a slice of life story about a girl who falls in love and there’s a nice cover of them at the beach, or lying down on a lawn. See also White with Envy by CBC Diversity and Diverse Poetry Novels from Rich in Color. Note: scroll for summaries.

What Do Agents Like to See When They Google Writers? from Carly Waters, Literary Agent. Peek: "Blog posts that aren't discussing the submission process in too much detail." See also How to Notify Agents When an Agent Makes an Offer on Your Multiple Submission by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com.

Talent & Skills Entry: Archery by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "focus, perfectionism, self-controlled, studious, disciplined, patience, resourceful, observant, tenacious..."

National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events by Jama Rattigan from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.See also Introducing Students to NCTE's Notable Poetry Titles.

Yes, Book Editors Edit by Barry Harbaugh from The New Yorker. Peek: "In a business as reliant on hope and potential as book publishing is—a business, in other words, reliant on the development of talent—the accumulation of exceptional anecdotes of perfect manuscripts does not tell the whole story."

A Shameless Plea for More Gender Diversity on Middle Grade Author Panels by Caroline Carlson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "I’ve been fortunate to appear on several panels with other middle grade authors, and I have often been the only woman on the panel."

My Take on John Green, the YA World and the New York Times Bestselling List from Laurie Halse Anderson. Peek: "He is not responsible for the sudden dudification of the NYT Bestseller list, nor is it his responsibility to somehow magically fix it. The social problems and pressures that have created this mess are much older and deeper than any one person can repair. However - we..."

Presenting to School Students: Top Tips by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I let students know in advance that I’d be giving away copies of my books to those who asked the most interesting questions."

Spelling Tip: there is no apostrophe in Publishers Weekly.

Looking for a Publishing Job? Lee & Low is hiring a marketing/publicity assistant, educational sales associate and a marketing/publicity intern for summer 2014.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Revisions of Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral series) still continue! But at least we've shifted from re-envision mode to polish mode! That's progress, right? Right?

More about the TLA Conference!
Next week will you be at the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio or the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California? If so, please come see me! Details are below under Cynsational Events.

The post lingering on my mid this week is Laurie Halse Anderson's on John Green, YA Books and Bestsellers. I appreciate the shout out (thanks, Laurie!), but what I loved most about it was the call to action. Also, in case I haven't mentioned it, I want to be Laurie when I grow up.

On a related note, I'm pondering Keeping It Real by Soho Press editor Dan Ehrenhaft from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Yes! It’s true. Overseas, The Market welcomes realistic YA fiction, as well. There is one caveat: As long as that reality is pretty much confined to white people." Note: As someone who writes both realism and fantasy, I'm happy to see fantasy getting some love, but the fact that it's for certain heroes only does concern me.

What else? I was thrilled this week when Donna Gephart informed me that I'm the author of the all-time highest traffic post at her blog, Wild About Words. See Promote Your Book Like a Pro -- Cynthia Leitich Smith -- Top 6 1/2 List!

Likewise, I'm thinking about Joe McGee's Heroes Needed: No Cape Required and Paul Greci's From Concept to Contract.

I'm also honored to have been quoted in "Stories in Art: Picture Books and Graphic Novels" by Katherine Swarts, which appears in Writers Guide to 2014. See cover above.

E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal. Check out what I didn't plan about the Feral series from YA Series Insider.

Reminder to Central Texans! Liz Garton Scanlon will sign The Good-Pie Party, illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton (Arthur A. Levine Books) at 2 p.m. April 5 at BookPeople.

Congratulations to Austin cakelustrator Akiko White on signing with Rising Bear Literary Agency!

 Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Meet Cynthia Leitich Smith in the author signing area from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 9 at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio. Greg Leitich Smith will be signing at that same time and date in Booth 1443 (Book Festivals of Texas). See the complete author signing listings. See also conference signings by Texas authors.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, along with Soman Chainani, Margaret Stohl, Laini Taylor, and moderator John Corey Whaley for "Young Adult Fantasy: The Real & the Unreal" (conversation 1095) in the Norris Theater at 4:30 p.m. (signing to follow) April 12 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at the University of Southern California.

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

Get Ready to Rock the Drop on Teen Literature Day (April 17) with readergirlz.

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15. Guest Post: Lisa Doan on Writing Humor: When Worlds Collide…

Lisa scuba diving.
By Lisa Doan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The phrase ‘When Worlds Collide’ sounds dramatically epic – something that should come with its own background music. Maybe a YA dystopian. Or a tragically doomed romance. Or a tragically doomed romance in a YA dystopian.

But for my purposes, When Worlds Collide is the underpinning of character-driven humor.

Each sentence uttered by every person on this planet is a tiny Morse code flag signaling a complicated internal world that has been carefully built. Facts supporting the world are filed away, facts challenging the world are rationalized or discarded.

This is the nature of the beast, and the beast is us.

Humor writers create larger-than-life internal worlds and then crash them into each other.

Mangrove Bight House - where Lisa lived in the Caribbean.
I’m always surprised when somebody tells me they can’t write humor. I have heard this from some of the funniest people I know.

Mainly I’m surprised because it’s not true.

We all watch When Worlds Collide in our own lives every time we think something like:

When (person I know) did/said (bizarre thing), I couldn’t imagine what (person I know) was thinking.

You know you can fill in the blanks to that sentence.

As humor writers, we can imagine what (person I know) was thinking - we built the internal world that led to the thinking.

And because of that, we can construct future (bizarre thing) did/saids that will be consistent with the character’s internal world, while at the same time inconsistent with societal norms.

One of the most effective vehicles to collide worlds is dialogue in which it is clear that multiple characters are coming at a situation from entirely different directions.

No explaining, no describing, no setting up – just let the characters have at it.

In The Berenson Schemes first book, Jack the Castaway (Darby Creek, 2014), when Jack’s parents have done something particularly egregious in Jack’s eyes, they often conclude with something along the lines of, “Now don’t thank us, son. We were happy to do it.”

Place those larger-than-life internal worlds in a plot that lives in its own unique world by skewing or super-sizing a truth about the real world. The Berenson Schemes series idea occurred to me after I heard about “helicopter parents.”

I thought, what about a helicopter kid who is saddled with very un-helicoptery parents? They could lose him.

No, strike that. They could lose him in foreign countries.

No, strike that. They could lose him in the wilderness in foreign countries. There we go.

One last thing I should mention about preparing to collide some worlds - look fear of failure in the eye and make it blink first. If it doesn’t blink, hit it over the head with a mallet or kitchen appliance - whatever is handy.

Fear produces tepid and time-worn jokes. Fear causes writers to water down an original idea.

Readers can smell fear.

And anyway, there’s nothing to be afraid of. You would never be that (person other people know) that did/said (bizarre thing), that other people couldn’t imagine what (that person who may or may not be you) was thinking. Right? ‘Cause I’m pretty confident that I’m never that person.

Aren’t you?

Beach Roatan in front of Lisa's Caribbean's house.
Cynsational Notes

Learn more about The Berenson Schemes Book 2, Jack and the Wild Life, and Book 3 (title to be determined).

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16. Book Trailers: Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Violeta Dabija

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Laura Purdie Salas on the release of Water Can Be, illustrated by Violeta Dabija (Millbrook, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Water can be a...

• Thirst quencher
• Kid drencher
• Cloud fluffer
• Fire snuffer

Find out about the many roles water plays in this poetic exploration of water throughout the year.

Water Can Be has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. See CSS Reading Guide and Teacher's Guide. See more tie-in resources.

Laura and Lisa Bullard have also released a new e-book, Getting Published: How to Access Editors (A Children's Writer Insider Guide from Mentors for Rent).

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17. New Voice: Crystal Chan on Bird

Curriculum Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Crystal Chan is the first-time author of Bird (Atheneum, 2014). From the promotional copy:

It’s only natural to have silence and secrets in your family when you’re born on the same day that your brother died. At least, that’s sure what it seems like for twelve-year old Jewel.

Add to that the fact that you’re the only mixed-race family in your rural Iowan town, and well, life can get kind of lonely sometimes. But when a boy named John moves into her town, his courage and charisma immediately stand out and the two kids instantly click.

John’s presence, however, has an unsettling effect on her family. As the thick layers of silence in her family begin to unravel, Jewel finds that her life is not as stable nor her family’s expectations as certain as she once thought. Suddenly, Jewel needs to choose whether to stay loyal to the person her family wants her to be or to claim her own identity, no matter the cost.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

I needed to do tons of research for Bird. Jewel, the protagonist, is mixed race - Jamaican, Mexican, and white - and she wants to be a geologist when she grows up. Her sidekick, John, is a transracial adoptee (black adopted into a white family) and wants to be an astronaut when he grows up.

Find Crystal on Facebook.
I'm mixed race (Chinese-White), but not Jewel's mix: I could speak to the mixed-race experience but needed to familiarize myself with the cultures she dealt with. I'm not an adoptee. And I'm awful at science. Clearly, a lot of work needed to be done.

I started off by learning as much as I could about Jamaica. I went onto Jamaican forums, news websites, and anything that gave me an "in" on Jamaican culture. I also picked up a college text on the various religions in Jamaica and paired that with online research.

The funny thing is, even though I live in Chicago and there are a lot of Jamaicans here, I didn't meet a lot of people who wanted to be interviewed. (I even called the Jamaican embassy in desperation!)

A friend of mine said he knew a lot of Haitians in the area; if I change her race, I'd have a big pool of interviewees. A generous offer, which I turned down - I just knew she was part Jamaican. I even went to a meetup group where I knew the leader was Jamaican-American and got my first interview by attending her meetup group.

It was hard. I did find one other person willing to be interviewed, and I had two Jamaican-Americans read the manuscript cover to cover to give their impressions. That made a big difference for me: I felt I could relax a little after that.

Being mixed race, I often find myself misrepresented, and I want to really make sure that what I create is the most respectful and authentic work I can make. No short cuts.

Dad from Hong Kong
Polish-American mom from Wisconsin
For the transracial adoptee part, I hopped onto a number of Korean adoptee blogs.

I was surprised at the level of anger I found among adoptees.

And confusion.

And isolation.

Beyond the blogs, there was this essay I read: "Raised by White People" by Gina Miranda Samuels, published by the University of Chicago.

It really hit home for me that a lot of the identity issues of adoptees and mixed-race people are quite similar.

I also picked up some books written adult adoptees giving advice to potential adopting parents.

As for the science, I started off with a college geology textbook on Iowa, coupled with a lot of online research - Iowa DNR, for instance - on the geological history of Iowa.

I also looked at a lot of different minerals and gemstones, as that would be Jewel's fodder for how she describes her world ("his face turned to onyx").

With the astronomy, I picked up Astronomy for Dummies by Stephan Maran (For Dummies, 2010), went onto NASA's and Hubble's websites, browsed around there.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

I was invited to a private, full-manuscript critique at a writer's house: it was 10 or so of us, our manuscripts, and an editor, Namrata Tripathi, for a weekend. It was really cool, and we prepared/ate meals together, etc.

I was working on my second manuscript at the time but didn't have it finished, just 50 pages of a work in progress (WIP), but I submitted it anyway and hoped she liked it.

Well, a couple months later my agent and I were submitting my polished, fine-tuned manuscript (the original, not the WIP), and we decided to add Namrata to the submission list.

Crystal with Jia-You, also called Juanita
Well, imagine our surprise when she comes back and says: "Thanks, but no thanks - but I want to purchase that first 50 pages I read at that weekend some months ago - I can't stop thinking about it!"

So my agent and I had some pretty big conversations, decided to stop our submission with the first manuscript, and sold the partial as a debut.

I was a little scared - I mean, what if she doesn't like the ending? What if I choke?

Namrata was very clear that she didn't want to interfere with my writing process - unless something disastrous happened, she only wanted to see the manuscript. after the first full draft. Which she did.

And then she was with me for the subsequent drafts and through publication.

Cynsational Notes

Crystal's FAQ, mixed-race links, and recommended books about mixed-race experiences. See also an interview with Crystal from Crazy QuiltEdit. Peek: "Diversity is hard work, plain and simple, and it means giving up a bit of your defined world (your boundaries!) to be able to let others in, to see the 'other' as just as human as you are."

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18. Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Conversation about Diversity in Children's Literature from KQED. Click below to hear  author-illustrator Christopher Myers, author Mitali Perkins, illustrator LeUyen Pham, and, from the gatekeeper community Nina Lindsay, supervising librarian for children's services at the Oakland Public Library, former judge on the Newbery Award selection committee, as well as Kathleen Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Education. See also Mitali's thoughts on the panel, the challenges of doing radio interviews and what she wishes she'd said differently.

More News

How I Got Into Publishing by Mark von Bargen from CBC Diversity. Note: Senior Director of Trade Sales for Children’s Books at Macmillan.

Building a Emotional Anticipation by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "In fiction, the emotional groundwork you’re building should lead to things that are a big deal. Plot points. Turning points. Shifts in relationship dynamics."

Twent Has Two Mommies: In Which an Author Responds to the Angry Mother of a Curious Child by Laurel Snyder from Medium. Peek: "I don’t expect your kid to turn gay. I don’t actually want your kid to turn gay, or Jewish, or into a magical chocolatier. I’d just like to think that when she encounters magical chocolatiers in books, you won’t scare her away from them."

Failure Is Your Friend (Yes, Really) from Joy Preble. Peek: "...if I never fail at things, then what that means is that I am not stretching myself. I am not testing my limits. I have no idea what huge things I can achieve." See also Joy on Writing in the Suburbs: Can You Create Art While Carpooling and Buying Toilet Paper at Target?

Choosing Online Writing Classes by Vonna Carter from Dear Editor. Note: points to consider.

Mira Reisberg, Hummingbird Literary from The Whole Megillah. Peek: "I would love to find a hilarious Jewish writer who has really studied their craft and who writes non-religious, non-Holocaust related children’s books infused with Jewish culture and humor for a broad audience."

The "Divergent" Rape Scene: Here's Why It Matters by Beth Lalonde from Medium. Note: "Rewriting the Script on Sexual Assault and Giving Power Back to Girls."

Is My Character "Black Enough"? Advice on Writing Cross-Culturally by Stacy Whitman from Lee and Low. Peek: "If your local writing group isn’t very diverse, you might need to branch out for beta readers who you can rely on to comment on that particular element of your story—perhaps through an online writing group, perhaps through the SCBWI."

Getting Quiet and Letting Go of Expectations by Alyssa Archer from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Consider developing a set of writing rituals that work much like your waking routine to propel you from the state of everyday being to that of creative master."

Faith in Writing Redux by Lindsey Lane from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "Faith is what gets me to sit down with the blank page. Faith gets me to leap with the smallest wing of an idea or character. Faith that what I have to say matters. Faith that the words will come. The story will come." See also Make the Music You Make by John Vorhaus from Writer Unboxed.

This Week at Cynsations 

More Personally

Set in a small town; Spence is a visitor.
Revisions continue! I've finished my initial, deep character-plot sweep. Today, I'm going to write the author's note and work on an interview. This weekend, I'll reread to see if what I've done makes sense.

The post lingering on my mind this week is Joy Preble's on Writing in the Suburbs. I largely grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City. I'm a sense of place author, and I've had suburban characters like Spence from Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins) and Teghan from Feral Nights (Candlewick/Walker).

But my stories have taken place on the road, in cities and small towns. I suspect that, once I finish the Feral trilogy, that's going to change.

Writers, how does where you live affect your stories?

I'm also thinking about Malinda Lo's roundup of Diversity in Publishers Weekly 2013 Bestsellers.

Cheers to Austin's own Vanessa Lee on signing with literary agent Alexandra Penfolds of Upstart Crow, and cheers to Alexandra on signing Vanessa!

Congratulations Vanessa (in blue with author Lynne Kelly)!
I made a friend at Jeff Crosby's Rockabilly Goats Gruff (Holiday House) Book Launch!

Recommended in NYT!
I'm honored to see my picture book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu recommended by Sharron McElmeel of McBookwords in her letter to The New York Times. Learn more about Jingle Dancer (HarperChildren's, 2000).

Congratulations to Walker Books Australia & New Zealand for winning the Bologna Prize for Best Children's Publisher of the Year in the Oceana Region! Note: Walker publishers my Tantalize and Feral series.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 24 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

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19. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

On Neutral Characters and Relating to the Specific by Shannon Hale from squeetus blog. Peek: "Why can't someone like Maisie be worthy of a story too? I've encountered similar opinions over the years and began to come to an uncomfortable understanding, one that others before me have also discovered."

On Diversity Within Diversity by Ava Jae from Writability. Peek: "Sometimes we forget that the community of that one sect of people is just as beautifully diverse as the world as a whole. Diversity within diversity."

On the Care & Feeding of Writers by Julianna Baggott and David G.W. Scott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Your writer is practicing empathy and understanding of her characters; you can have that same empathy for her."

Why Talking About Girl Reading Matters by Kelly Jensen from Stacked. Peek: "Girls, on the other hand, are unlikable. They have girl problems. They have girl drama (drama, always drama). They are girls in crisis, rather than girls living through the challenges they have to confront in order to be their best selves. In so many of the books that tackle these challenges, girl is a qualifier."

Writing Emotions: Does Your Hero Shrug, Smile & Frown Too Much? by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Are these types of descriptors all bad? Certainly not. The fact is, each of these is a real way people express their emotion. It’s only when we rely on a clichéd rendition of showing these cues or we turn to them again and again throughout the story that they hurt our writing."

Rejecting Rejection: With a Little Bit of Luck by Sarah Aronson from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Four years after reading the manuscript, she remembered some of the details. She asked me what had happened to the story. I almost fell over. As soon as I got home, I opened the file and read that manuscript. And you know what? I’m glad they rejected it."

2014 Nonfiction Award Nominees from YALSA. Peek: "In addition to the finalists and award winner, YALSA publishes a list of vetted nominations for the Nonfiction Award." See also Carla Killough McClafferty on Revealing Your Heart in Nonfiction from Cynsations.

Maybe You Could Do More from Jo Knowles. Peek: "Sometimes, opening my file, or putting on my sneakers, is actually the hardest part of getting back to the task at hand. It's the final commitment to starting again. Starting from what feels like the bottom of a very steep hill. So I told myself: Just write one sentence. It can be terrible."

Writing Tips & Diversity Points at the SCBWI Winter Conference by Cindy L. Rodriguez from Latin@s in Kid Lit. Note: includes seven tips from Katherine Tegen editor Anica Rissi on writing contemporary fiction, Knopf editor Nancy Siscoe on writing for middle grade readers, and PEN America's Susanna Reich on banned books and diversity.

Why Is Historical Fiction Important? by Bobbi Miller from Children's Literature. See also Bobbi on The Conversation of Historical Fiction Continued. Peek: "For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with well-known and accepted facts and consider the genre contradictory at the very least and, at most, it is a betrayal."

A comprehensive list of U.S. college- and university-sponsored or -hosted children’s and young adult literature conferences, festivals, and symposia by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "In 2011, I was looking for such a list, wondered why I couldn’t find one, and decided to just go ahead and make one myself. Since then, I’ve periodically updated and reposted it, and I plan to continue doing so. If I’ve missed any, or included some that no longer exist, won’t you please let me know?"

Rejecting Rejection: With a Little Bit of Luck by Sarah Aronson from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Four years after reading the manuscript, she remembered some of the details. She asked me what had happened to the story. I almost fell over. As soon as I got home, I opened the file and read that manuscript. And you know what?"

2014 Illustrators Gallery at the SCBWI Bologna Book Fair from SCBWI. Peek: "There were 105 entries submitted and, from these...judges have chosen these 34 finalists. The overall winner and four runners-up will be announced on this page at the start of the fair."

Where Do Boys Belong in Women's History? by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Alongside our girls, boys need the language of equality and a broader view of history. Women’s contributions advanced our society and continue to impact all of us. We need to teach that gender totally does matter and, at the same time, totally doesn’t matter."

Writing for the Long Haul: Quitting Writing by Kelly Bennett from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: "...publishing can wreak havoc on our writing lives. It did mine. Having a 'career' requires us to split ourselves in two: part creative writer, part business-minded author."   

Interview with Literary Agent Steven Malk of Writers House from Casey McCormick at Literary Rambles. Peek: "I do think that smaller publishers can be incredibly effective. There are pros and cons with just about any house, but there have been several instances over the last few years of smaller houses publishing books that have enjoyed phenomenal success."

Filmmakers! Check out this contest for a 30 second to three minute video celebrating children's-YA literature from Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Interview with Adi Rule on Strange Sweet Song by Leah Cypress from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "To make it in classical singing, you have to be tenacious and ferocious. But at the end of the day, you also have to captivate an audience, and there's a certain sensitivity -- and vulnerability -- that goes along with that." See also an interview with Adi by Janet S. Fox from Through the Wardrobe.

What to Do When Your Story Feels Rushed by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "...work in setting details with language that conveys an atmosphere, have the characters act upon and react to props unique to the spirit of that place, and include smells and textures that engage readers’ senses."

Migas, Confetti and Martha Stewart by Diana López from Latin@as in Kidlit. Peek: "...'I hate when people tell me I should add more cultural interest to my books.' In other words, I don’t like these details to be forced. They have to feel natural, and as long as I’m not consciously adding them, they will be. Sure, my characters eat migas, but they eat pizza, too."

Here's What Both Pantsing and Plotting Miss: The Real Story by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "What drives your protagonist forward is her internal agenda: she arrives on page one already wanting something very badly, and with an inner issue – a misbelief – that she has to overcome in order to have a chance of getting it."

Call the Reading Police from Gwenda Bond. Peek: "Being really well-read in one genre or in all sorts of genres is a beautiful thing. Most of my favorite people on earth are. But...I have zero patience for reader shaming or for making people feel lesser or unwelcome or clueless because they haven't read the same things you have from some inevitably problematic canon checklist."

NAACP Outstanding Literary Work Awards

Children's Award: Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson (HarperCollins)


Youth/Teens Award: Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone (Candlewick)

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a signed and personalized copy of Robot Burp Head Smartypants! by Annette Simon (Candlewick, 2014) and a set of alphabet-and-numbers foam stickers. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Enter here. Note: scroll through the photos to the entry form at the bottom of the post. 

Don't miss Seven Book Giveaways from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Austin SCBWI

This week's highlight was hearing P.J. Hoover speak on world building at Austin SCBWI's monthly meeting at BookPeople. In addition to offering great information, P.J.'s presentation was a terrific example of an author presentation. She did a wonderful job with visuals, incorporating humor, and encouraging interaction in a kid- (and grown-up-) friendly way. P.J. is a top author speaker!

Hat & umbrella -- Austin in late winter/early spring.
Cheering on P.J. Hoover (blonde in blue) with Marsha Riti, Amy Farrier, Samantha Clark & Jeff Crosby.
Marsha & Greg Leitich Smith (notice how he's wearing more vests lately)

More Personally
Hibiscus tea & "Downtown Abbey" at South By Southwest

I've working steadily on my revision of Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral series) on my sleeping porch with bands from South By Southwest playing in the background.

Despite living in Austin some 15 years, I've never had a chance to embrace the festival in a big way because it typically coincides with a novel deadline or author travel.

I'm so sorry to hear of the injuries and lives lost due to the drunk driving incident on Wednesday night. My thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones. See also Blood Donors Needed After SXSW crash.

My revision is going well. I thought I'd do a sweep to streamline the antagonists' construct and then revisit my alternating protagonists, but I'm finding that much of the character work is coming naturally along the way.

Everybody writes differently, but I encourage y'all not to cling to your process, especially when it's not conducive to productivity. Especially if you are transitioning from apprentice to published professional (with its industry demands), you may have to stretch in new ways. Or, if like me, you're an established pro with an ever-faster-moving schedule, then you may have to find a way to do that, too.

Ellen Oh's post on Sexism in Publishing
On Cynsations, there's been a lot of buzz around Ellen Oh's post on Sexism (prejudice by women against women and female characters). Don't miss it or the continuing conversation in the comments. See also the post Ellen recommends by Sarah Rees Brennan on the portrayal of female friendships in YA fiction. Note: Ellen reports having lost 53 Twitter followers in the immediate wake of her post--you know, for being against sexism. You can follow her @elloecho.

I'm also thinking about How Do Authors Know When Their Manuscripts Are Ready? at Sub It Club and Janni Lee Simner's thoughts On the Amtrack Residency: Residencies Versus Contests, Dreams Versus Desperation. See also Writers Say, "Not So Fast, Amtrack Residency."

Congratulations to Teresa Runnels (Sac and Fox Nation) of Tulsa City-County Library for being featured as one of Library Journal's Movers & Shakers 2014!

Personal Links

Deleted Scene from Blood Coven Series

I disagree with banning language, but we should reconsider how we use "bossy."
Cynsational Events

The SCBWI-OK Conference will be March 29 in Oklahoma City. Speakers are: Liza Kaplan, Editor, Philomel; Melissa Manlove, Editor, Chronicle; Andrew Harwell, Editor, HarperCollins; Colleen AF Venerable, Design Editor, First Second and author of Guinea PI series; Kristin Miller-Vincent, Agent, D4EO Literary Agency; Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary. See more information and registration.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.


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20. In Memory: Cynthia Chapman Willis

Compiled by Alison Ashley Formento
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Middle grade author Cynthia Chapman Willis left this world on March 3.

According to her family, she didn't want anyone to be sad at her passing. That embodies the kind of woman and giving author friend Cindy was to so many, and those that knew her could not help but be dazzled by her lovely smile and giving nature. Her determination and strength to beat cancer and continue writing never wavered.

She was a founding member of The KidLit Authors Club and always had a natural, friendly connection with readers she met at author appearances. She loved animals and writing, and the best way to honor this memory of this special author is to read her wonderful middle grade books Buck Fever and Dog Gone (Feiwel & Friends).

From My Central Jersey: "Cynthia Chapman Willis, 52, passed away on Monday, March 3, 2014. Born in Mount Vernon, NY, she resided in Whitehouse Station until moving to Neshanic Station nine years ago. Cynthia enjoyed yoga, swimming, and traveling. Her passion was horseback riding and riding competitions. Cynthia had a love for all animals, especially Siamese cats. She volunteered her time to organizations that helped animals."

More Thoughts & Memories

"Cynthia Chapman Willis, full of heart and always in our hearts." -The KidLit Authors Club

"Cindy was the lightbulb before Edison invented it. She lit up any room she entered. Her writing reflected her warmth and the beauty of her soul." -Wiley Blevins

"Cindy joined the Chudney Agency way back in 2003, and I so enjoyed working with her. She was a terrific writer and was getting better and better with each novel. 
"We had a really tough time placing her first novel, Dog Gone, but I loved it and we persevered and we were finally so pleased with it's publication with Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, who also published her other novel, Buck Fever. 
"Cindy was hard working, always open to listening to thoughts about her writing, and never shied away from revisions. She had a great sense of humor and we had many good laughs. 
"I know she will be missed." -Steven Chudney

"It's an honor to have known Cynthia. She had an inner (and outer) spark and a special ability to truly to connect with others. She always encouraged me, through tough rejections and revisions, to keep doing the work. She will continue to inspire me." -Alison Ashley Formento

"I never met Cynthia, but in the few email exchanges we had, her grace and generosity of spirit shone through. As it does in her photographs, with that warm, beautiful smile of hers."-Kit Grindstaff

"Cindy was a wonderful critique partner, always generous with her knowledge, celebrating when I had success, and commiserating when I received rejections. My life and my writing are better for having known her." -Shannon Hitchcock

"Cynthia and I interacted mostly through our writer blogs. She always left warm, thoughtful, encouraging feedback--for me and for my guest bloggers." -Jennifer R. Hubbard

"The first time I met Cynthia, I was sitting next to her at a B&N signing. I was new to the game and feeling discouraged by the slow traffic through the store—also wondering if it was going to be a competitive scenario at this group event. But Cynthia quickly showed me that it was anything but.
"Warm and gentle, she was a reassuring presence as she very honestly shared her own experiences and encouraged me to be persistent and patient. Whenever I saw her after that, it was Pavlovian—I instantly felt a sense of calm and belonging. She pretty much epitomized everything that is lovely and wonderful in the kid lit world." -Elisa Ludwig

Photo: ESA/Hubble; see memorial by Cynthia's sister Carey.
"I met Cynthia when Dog Gone first came out and she was speaking to teachers about how it could be used in the classroom. Her warm smile and lovely manner captivated us all.
"In the years that followed, Cynthia was a wonderful asset to the KidLit Authors Club, and anyone she met instantly became a good friend." -Nancy Viau

"Cynthia and I once did a signing event at a B&N in Pennsylvania where no one bought any of our books or even spoke to us. We had a wonderful time just chatting." -Tim Young

More tributes to Cynthia may be found on her Facebook page; see also RIP Cynthia Chapman Willis from Shannon Hitchcock's Pen and Prose (featuring a wonderful blog post with Cynthia's sweet vlog about her book Dog Gone). You can learn more about her work at her official author site.

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21. Highlights Retreat Scholarship Opportunity

Courtesy of Kristy Dempsey
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 2008, several children's writers joined together for a retreat in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, the home of Highlights Magazine and the wonderful Highlights Foundation.

We were all working on different stories in different genres, and so we planned a working retreat, not one where we would meet often to learn from a speaker, but one that would allow us the time we needed to dive deep into our stories and come up for air when we needed it.

As it turned out, we usually came up for air about 4 p.m. every day, meeting together to share not only what we had written, but also a few tears and a lot of laughter.

The time we spent alone writing and the time we spent together encouraging one another was important for the stories we were working on at the time and to prepare us for the stories we would work on after our retreat at Boyds Mills. It was so important for us that we want to provide the same opportunity for another writer. The Highlights Foundation is offering Unworkshops during various dates throughout 2014. Consider it time to get away and write what your heart most wants to work on. We can't work it out for any of us to go back right now, so we're sending one of you!

If you are a sincere and dedicated writer who could use this focused time, our retreat group is offering a five-night's stay at a Highlights Foundation Unworkshop, daily writing prompts/encouragement from the members of our retreat group (picture book, nonfiction, middle grade and young adult authors) for the length of your workshop and hopefully even a Skype gab session with one or more of us during your Unworkshop (depending on dates and availability.)

Highlights Foundation cabin
(You would be responsible for your own transportation to Boyds Mills.)

To qualify for consideration for this prize, send a statement by March 31 (to retreatscholarship@gmail.com) explaining why this retreat could be important to you as a writer/illustrator of children's literature. Share a little about the project you would plan to work on during the retreat and your experience writing or illustrating for children. We'll consider all entries and announce the recipient on April 15.

Happy Writing!

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22. Book Trailer: Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Saving Baby Doe by Danette Vigilante (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Lionel and Anisa are the best of friends and have seen each other through some pretty tough times--Anisa's dad died and Lionel's dad left, which is like a death for Lionel. They stick together no matter what. 

So when Lionel suggests a detour through a local construction site on their way home, Anisa doesn't say no.

And that's where Lionel and Anisa make a startling discovery--a baby abandoned in a port-o-potty. Anisa and Lionel spring into action. And in saving Baby Doe, they end up saving so much more.

Danette Vigilante crafts an accessible, heartfelt and much needed story for the middle grade market featuring Latino characters.

Source: Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse Eight Production

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23. Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal: Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover (Starscape/Macmillan) from Roots in Myth.

How I Got Into Publishing by Simon & Schuster Editor Zareen Jaffery from CBC Diversity. Peek: "What people don’t tell you about publishing is that more than half your job requires being social—this is an industry based on relationships. Those 'connections' I had been afraid of before I started my career were more about having people vouch for your work ethic than about nepotism."

Hands Across the Sea: "dedicated to raising literacy levels in Caribbean children."

Seasonal Writing Disorder by Lydia Sharp from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I am a victim of the earth’s annual weather cycle in the region that I live. It’s called seasonal affective disorder, and it pretty much rules my writing process. Does this mean I am not a professional writer? No. It means I have a mental circumstance to work around."

10 Diverse YA Historicals About Girls from CBC Diversity: Diversity in YA. Peek: "In honor of Women’s History Month, here are 10 diverse young adult historical novels about girls." See also 10 Great Women of Color Whose Stories You Should Know from Lee & Low.

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out: An Interview with Susan Kuklin by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "...she’d tell her client about the book and about me. If they were interested, she gave them my contact information. From that point on the relationship was between the teenager and me. Everyone who called was included in the book. No one was rejected. This process – from the first queries to the first participant’s phone call – took close to a year." See also part two.

Young Adult Mastermind Cecil Castellucci: "There's No Way I Can Write a 'Hunger Games'" by Sara Scribner from Salon.com. Peek: "I do think that writing contemporary young-adult fiction in these days in extremely difficult and I think that’s why you find a lot of books set in the ’80s, before there was Internet or mobile phones, because once you start having the technology..."

Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books? by Walter Dean Myers from The New York Times. Peek: "In 1969, when I first entered the world of writing children’s literature, the field was nearly empty. Children of color were not represented, nor were children from the lower economic classes. Today, when about 40 percent of public school students nationwide are black and Latino, the disparity of representation is even more egregious. In the middle of the night I ask myself if anyone really cares." See also The Apartheid of Children's Literature by Christopher Myers from The New York Times and both Diversity in Kid Lit "On Fire" at National Latino Children's Literature Conference by Lila Quintero Weaver and the 2014 International Latino Book Award Finalists from Latin@s in Kid Lit.

Conflict Resolution: Upside Down by Eileen Cook from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Common feedback from editors or agents is that the story is missing enough conflict. So how do you increase it? The same techniques I use for counseling can be used in fiction, only instead of reducing conflict, they can provide a springboard to take your conflict to the next level."

2014 Spur Awards

From the Western Writers of America: "given for works whose inspiration, image, and literary excellence best represent the reality and spirit of the American West."

See finalists in each category. Note: Congratulations to Tim Tingle, whose How I Became a Ghost (Roadrunner Press) was a finalist in Juvenile Fiction.

See also 2014 Indies Choice, E.B. White Read-Aloud Finalists from Publishers Weekly. Source: Bookshelves of Doom.

Short Lists & Finalists

Cynsational Giveaway

The winner of Robot Burp Head Smartypants by Annette Simon (Candlewick) is Akiko in Texas.

Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Eligibility: fiction of any genre for any age group, including picture books. Deadline: midnight, March 22, 2014.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

This sudden, plummeting treepocalypse in the back yard missed me by literally two inches. Whew!

Piñatas of Willie Nelson & Lil Wayne, by Brian Anderson for "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Wowed by Austin children's author Brian Anderson's piñatas? Check out the Piñata Boy website!

My revision of Feral Pride (Book 3 in the Feral series) continues! It's going well, but time is short and I have events coming up. Though mid April or so, I will be re-posting some of the best articles from Cynsations' past, along with roundups and breaking news.

Describing Aimee from the Feral series in One Sentence from YA Series Insider.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Chris Barton on the sale of his six-book series Super Truck to HarperCollins! See also Eliza Wright's announcement of Our Baby by Varsha Bajaj (Nancy Paulsen).

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

The SCBWI-OK Conference will be March 29 in Oklahoma City. Speakers are: Liza Kaplan, Editor, Philomel; Melissa Manlove, Editor, Chronicle; Andrew Harwell, Editor, HarperCollins; Colleen AF Venerable, Design Editor, First Second and author of Guinea PI series; Kristin Miller-Vincent, Agent, D4EO Literary Agency; Tricia Lawrence, Agent, Erin Murphy Literary. See more information and registration.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

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24. Event Report: Jeff Crosby's Launch for Rockabilly Goats Gruff

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

My weekend highlights was author-illustrator Jeff Crosby's launch of Rockabilly Goats Gruff (Holiday House, 2014) at the Writing Barn in Austin.

For the celebration, the Barn was converted to the "Shimmy Shack." Jeff hosted a 1950's rockabilly costume contest (with art as the prize), and refreshments included musical mini cupcakes, moon pies, and floats! 

Authors, illustrators & book event planners: this launch was a huge win with fans of all ages, a hit with the creative community, gatekeepers and families.

Take a look at how reading, art, music, and yes, livestock came together to make it such a success!

Writers Carmen Oliver, Varian Johnson & Greg Leitich Smith
With Greg & a rockabilly goat!
Don Tate purchases copies from BookPeople, Austin's own independent bookstore.
With illustrators Patrice Barton, Amy Farrier & author-illustrator Don.
Rockin' goat ears with cakelustrator Akiko White.
Author-illustrators Divya Srinivasan & Shelley Ann Jackson
Illustrator Erik Niells & his wife Maggie model faux (but convincing) tattoos!
Jeff reads with accompanying music provided by Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers.
It's a packed house and enthusiasm is high!
A fun event for kids & grownups!
Another rockabilly goat; photo by C.S. Jennings.
Goat on the loose; photo by C.S. Jennings.
Getting your goat; photo by C.S. Jennings.
The band plays on; photo by C.S. Jennings.
Jeff signs books; photo by C.S. Jennings.
And the troll is chased away; photo by C.S. Jennings.
Cynsational Notes

Photos by C.S. Jennings are used with permission. Also for sale were copies of Ten Texas Babies by David Davis, illustrated by Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby (Pelican, 2014).

Support Jeff and The Rockabilly Goats Gruff: #rockabillygoats

Photo by C.S. Jennings.

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25. New Voice: Lamar Giles on Fake ID

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lamar Giles is the first-time author of Fake ID (HarperCollins, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Nick Pearson is hiding in plain sight. In fact, his name isn't really Nick Pearson. He shouldn't tell you his real name, his real hometown, or why his family just moved to Stepton, Virginia. 

And he definitely shouldn't tell you about his friend Eli Cruz and the major conspiracy Eli was uncovering when he died. About how Nick had to choose between solving Eli's murder with his hot sister, Reya, and "staying low-key" like the Program said to do.

But he's going to tell you—unless he gets caught first....

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?

I did have concerns. Fake ID is not the typical YA novel in a few ways.

First, the hero, Nick, is a 15-year-old African-American male. The percentage of YA books that feature an African-American male (or any person of color, male or female) as the main character is shockingly low. That alone presented an edge that I knew many publishers would shy away from.

Second, having the story be a contemporary murder mystery added another edge. Dealing with a modern, streetwise male in a town that is full of seedy figures, and trying to incorporate a noir sensibility into it all, meant themes of cynicism, violence, and for this story, sex.

All of these things can exist in the extreme in an adult novel, but in YA many folks have ideas of what you can’t do. So, it was tempting to pull punches.

However, I didn’t want to shy away from harsh language (used in moderation), or the flaws in Nick and his peers. There are plenty of books out there that soften language, or cut away from hard visuals, or give the hero an exaggerated sense of morality and social enlightenment. I’ve enjoyed many of those books, but I didn’t want Fake ID to be one of them.

Lamar's shelves
There’s a reason why the first line in my book is, “This is how you get your ass kicked.” (A line that’s never changed over the course of five drafts) I wanted people to know what they were getting into. That way if a reader or a reader’s parent picked the book up, and took issue with the language in line 1, they could easily choose to go with something else without a lot of wasted time.

Now, was that decision the right one? Depends on how you’re judging. I have had a few readers reach out to me with concerns over the language, mainly the cursing, and some terms Nick uses that are considered sexist. I appreciate every single person who reads my work, so when I get emails about things like that I take them very seriously. It’s never my intent to demean or offend. But, I feel like I’ve been true to the character. The book’s told totally from Nick’s point of view. He’s a 15-year-old boy who uses language that feels realistic considering his culture, geography, and scene context. Unfortunately, that has the potential to draw ire.

But, I believe if you’re writing fiction with the goal of pleasing everyone who reads it, you’re writing bland fiction. Overall, the vast majority of readers have expressed appreciation for Fake ID. Even people who’ve taken issue with the language have pointed out things about the book and Nick’s character that they enjoyed. With that in mind, I think my decisions have been sound.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

Follow Lamar @LRGiles on Twitter.
I approached promotion with an eight-week plan (because I’d read somewhere that was the amount of time that was feasible to promote a book after its release…not sure how true that is, but it felt solid).

The planning for those eight post-release weeks started well before Fake ID debuted, with the heavy prep taking place about four months prior to release.

First, a budget. I set aside about $1,500.00 as a baseline for promotional costs.

A small portion of that involved printing costs (bookmarks, promotional giveaway items, wardrobe items for events) and larger chunks were dedicated to travel, and the rest for online advertising opportunities.

I got these ideas from other authors who’d published before me, trying to take note of what they felt was effective or ineffective.

I’ve been using Facebook’s advertising features a lot. I don’t know many authors who’ve used those tools (not to say authors aren’t doing it...I’m just not familiar with many who are). I like the idea of running short, low budget campaigns to increase awareness around what I’m doing. I have no clue how that’s translating to sales, but I’ve been to several events where people have shown up because they’ve seen the facebook ads, so I know it’s doing something.

Anyhow, during my eight weeks, I’ve pretty much had signings, conferences, or some other form of public interaction happening every weekend, which is about the only time I can do book events due to still having a day job. I’ve yet to have a poor turnout at any events, which is a plus.

As anyone who’s involved in publishing can attest, it’s a bit of a mystery just how well your book’s selling until you see a royalty statement, so seeing enthusiastic people when you go places helps subdue some of the “am I doing okay?” anxiety.

Lamar's work space
I’m enjoying doing promotional things, and I have several events scheduled beyond the end of my initial eight-week plan, but it can be fairly exhausting.

I attribute this to the fact that I do have a day job, so juggling that and my writing career has resulted in about four solid months of working seven days a week.

If I had any advice to give to anyone debuting in the near future, it’s that you should schedule some downtime. Build in a weekend (or two, or three) where you can completely step away from publishing duties.

Maintain your mental and physical health above all else. We all want successful careers, but we should also want to be around long enough to enjoy those careers.

No one is going to take better care of you than you.

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