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

Follow @LaneyNielson
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Greenburger Associates website:

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

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

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2. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Brooks Sherman

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Brooks Sherman is an agent with The Bent Agency.

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

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

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

ON SOCIAL MEDIA...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON GRIPPING OPENINGS...

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



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

“There are doorways, and there are doorways.” 

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

Who is blackmailing our narrator, and why?

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

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

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

Learn more!
Unfortunately, this does happen.

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

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

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

Thank you, Brooks. See you in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes


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

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

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

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3. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Agent Marietta Zacker

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Marietta Zacker is an agent at Nancy Galt Literary Agency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being willing to empathize with others is the first step.

 Again, we’ll talk more in Amsterdam.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Write big. Right away.

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

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

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

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

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



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5. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Discussion Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

More News & Giveaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaway

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

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

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

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

Read an excerpt of Feral Pride from Candlewick. Peek:

CLYDE

I won't be caged.

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

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

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

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

Learn more & enter the giveaway!


Personal Links

Now Available!

Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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6. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Publisher Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was there one book that started it all for you?

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

Is there a book that changed your life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

Learn more!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would be her “glory backwards”?

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

Writespace Writing Center 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaway

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

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9. Giveaway: Feral Pride Releases: All Tantalize-Feral Universe Novels Now Available

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today's release of Feral Pride means all of my Tantalize-Feral universe novels are available from Candlewick Press.

While all the books can stand alone, there's likely best appreciated in concert.

This finale unites protagonists of the two series and brings back a number of other fan-fave characters.

What's more today's paperback release of Feral Curse by Candlewick means that all but that last book in the series are available in paperback from Candlewick (plus, they're all available in e-format and most are available on audio).

Then there are the three short stories, "Cat Calls," "Haunted Love," and  "Cupid's Beaux," which releases as part of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, March 2015).

So to sum up, we're talking nine novels (including two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle) and three short stories set in the Tantalize-Feral universe.

The early notes on the first book are dated 2000 and the last novel is out today.

The whole shebang totals out at 458,169 words (and I write tight).

Thanks to all who've joined and supported me along the way!

Feral Pride

Anti-shifter sentiment is at an all-time high when Kayla’s transformation to werecat is captured on video and uploaded for the world to see.

Suddenly she becomes a symbol of the werebeast threat and—along with fellow cat Yoshi, Lion-Possum Clyde, and human Aimee—a hunted fugitive.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed weresnake has kidnapped the governor of Texas and hit the airwaves with a message of war.

In retaliation, werepeople are targeted by law enforcement, threatened with a shift-suppressing vaccine, terrorized by corporate conspiracy, and enslaved by a top-secret, intelligent Cryptid species.

Can Clyde rally his inner lion king to lead his friends—new and old—into battle against ruthless, media-savvy foes? A rousing blend of suspense, paranormal romance, humor, and high action.

The explosive finale to the Feral series by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.

"Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. 
Fans will not be disappointed.

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

-Booklist

"...the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel's underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious ('Our legal rights are slippery,' explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle (like the wedge driven between Clyde, a werepossum/werelion hybrid, and his human girlfriend, Aimee, because of her father's prejudice). "...witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy..."

-Kirkus Reviews

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

-The Horn Book

"Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series."

-School Library Journal

"...the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent — 
any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — 
make this series as meaty as it is entertaining."

-The Austin American-Statesman



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Pride in hardcover or Feral Curse in paperback (both Candlewick, 2015). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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10. Alex Flinn's Mirrored Cover Reveal & Towering Giveaway

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Mirrored by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, fall 2015). From the promotional copy:

Mirror, mirror in my hand…

Beauty is the key to everything. At least, that’s how it seems to Violet—ugly, bullied, and lonely. 

To be beautiful, in her eyes, is to have power and love. And when Kendra, the witch, teaches Violet how to use magic, she may finally get what she wants.

For Celine, beautiful since birth, her looks have been a hindrance. She discovers that beauty is also a threat—especially to her stepmother, Violet, who doesn’t want anyone sharing the attention she worked so hard to get and who will do anything to be the fairest of them all.

But beauty isn’t only skin deep and love isn’t based on looks alone. And though Violet and Celine may seem to be completely opposite, their lives are almost…MIRRORED.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Towering by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen) U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

New York Times #1 bestselling author Alex Flinn reimagined the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast in Beastly and gave a twist to the story of Sleeping Beauty in A Kiss in Time. 

Now with her gothic and darkly romantic YA novel Towering, Alex Flinn retells the tale of Rapunzel.

When Rachel was taken to live in a tower by a woman she calls Mama, she was excited. She felt like a princess in a castle. But many years later, Rachel knows her palace is really a prison, and begins to plan her escape. 

She is encouraged by the speed with which her golden hair has been growing. It's gotten long enough to reach the ground. And she's begun dreaming of a green-eyed man. 

Could he be out there in the world? Is he coming to save her? Or will she find a way to save herself?



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11. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron (Millbrook, 2015).

The Universality of Being an Outsider by Jacqueline Jules from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people."

So Many (Too Many?) Issues: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "In the real world, plenty of individuals deal with more than one minority identity at the same time, every day. Obviously a novel is not reality — often, reality is too unbelievable for fiction — but YA fiction that seeks to deal with real-world experiences must be able to address the lives of teens who check more than one minority box."

How to Write Vivid Character Descriptions: Be Invisible by Nola Sarina from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "When I am faced with an apprehensive encounter, I don’t often think about the fact that my hair is faded, or red, or long. I just toss my hair."

The Unlikeable Female Character: Thoughts on Middle Grade Literature by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "...I was struck time and again by the sentence, 'I just didn’t like the main character.' Normally this would be enough to condemn the book right there and then, but that was before I noticed that from time to time, and it is rare, we aren’t really supposed to like the main characters in our books all the time." See also Betsy's The African-American Experience Children's Literature Reference Guide (2010-2015).

The 2014 Cybils Awards from The Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Book Bloggers Literary Awards. Shout outs to Melissa Stewart, J. Patrick Lewis, and Candace Fleming!

Learning to Love Your Fanatic Antagonist by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fanatics...are generally working for what they see as the greater good. And the ends they’re fighting for aren’t necessarily bad things."

USBBY's Outstanding International Books List from School Library Journal.

Interview with Author Kekla Magoon by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "Yes. It is first person present tense narrative, which means sitting at the computer and thinking 'I' and meaning 'Malcolm X.' Mind-boggling."

Multicultural Literature 2014: Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. See 2014 American Indian Log.

Writer Productivity: Have Measurable Goals by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "The incremental effort link talks about taking 34,000 stitches to knit a pair of socks, but one of the ways you stay on track with socks is having a pattern, and having an idea of how much time you can commit to knitting."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes and a plush dino toy is Bethany in Wisconsin.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

My author assistant, Leo (short for Galileo)
The Austin American-Statesman says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015): "...the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent — any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — make this series as meaty as it is entertaining."

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith for sending in the final copy edits for Chronal Engine: Borrowed Time (Clarion). Learn more about Chronal Engine.

Thank you to everyone who turned out last Saturday for my standing-room-only talk on "Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers" at the SCBWI Austin monthly meeting at BookPeople!

My Link of the Week is The Diversity of Diversity from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "My mom was widowed, not (gasp!) divorced, but she was still 'other,' and as such, so was I and I felt it often. I knew the fact that there wasn't a dad in my house made me different. It was a loving, safe household, but I frequently interpreted signals in some disappointing and sometimes even saddening ways."

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

Releases Feb. 24, 2015
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

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

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

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


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12. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Writing Coach Esther Hershenhorn

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Esther Hershenhorn is an award-winning Chicago children’s book author.

She coaches children’s book writers and teaches Children’s Book Writing at the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies and the Newberry Library.

Her recent titles include Txting Mama, Txting Baby (2013) and S Is For Story: A Writer's Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (2009)(both Sleeping Bear Press).

Regional Advisor Emeritus of SCBWI’s Illinois chapter, Esther also served two terms on SCBWI’s Board of Advisors. Esther blogs at Teaching Authors. She was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Your intensive at SCBWI Europolitan is titled Rx for Children's Books Creators: Getting Your Stories Right. Can you tell us more about the idea of the Creator's Story?

I’d been out and about for quite some time, learning and honing my craft, receiving more than my fair share of “admirable declines,” when I was fortunate to attend – three years in a row - the sadly-no-longer-available Vassar Children’s Book Publishing Program.

Each day, each session, each year, I chose the same seat: last row, right corner, next to the glass case that held a first edition of William Steig’s Brave Irene.

That last year, still unpublished, I was thinking about how much Irene and I had in common when the venerable instructor, publisher Barbara Lucas, spoke of The Universal Plotline – the Hero-dash-Heroine, moving forward in scenes of escalating disaster to fulfill a wish/realize a dream/solve a problem until, grown and changed, he or she returns home with something even better than what he or she first sought.

I literally smacked my forehead.

I was traveling the Universal Plotline! That was it!

The inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution would someday be mine.

There’s a good reason Christopher Vogler titled his book on mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters The Writer’s Journey.

As creatives we are often focused on honing our writing or illustration skills. It sounds like your workshop at Europolitan is going to take that to the next level. How do you think a Creator's Story intersects with the stories they are creating?

As we creators toil to tell our good stories well, it’s good to remember just how in synch we are with our questing characters.

All of us are moving forward on plotlines both physical and emotional, driven by wants/needs/wishes; each of us is acting and re-acting, with accompanying emotions, to overcome the obstacles placed before us.

Award-winning author and superb teacher Marian Dane Bauer believes a writer needs to put his story into the story he’s telling if it’s ever to resound in his reader’s heart – and I agree, wholeheartedly.

Not the actual story, but the emotional import of the story. We strengthen our story’s underpinnings – and heart – when we’re in synch with our characters emotionally.

You are an active teacher, speaker and career coach. What are some of the common issues you find in the manuscripts submitted to you for feedback?

The first time I read a manuscript, I read on behalf of the intended reader – no matter the age. More times than not, the writing in the manuscript sings, and I want to go along, really and truly, but the chinks in the story’s logic push me away, forcing me to exit what John Gardner labeled the requisite continuous dream.

Simply put, the story has holes and I’m not buying it.

The Good News is: returning to a story’s characters to dig even deeper usually solves the problem.

Returning to a story’s characters also solves a second common story problem: the absence of an emotional plotline. There needs to be a reason why we care what happens next, why we want to live inside this story and travel along.

This is true for picture books, early readers, middle grade and YA fiction as well as nonfiction.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would that be?

My advice about craft: read like a writer and write like a reader.

My advice about the journey, because writing is just that: story gifts both the reader and the writer.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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13. Video: Making Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

An insight into the making of the book Viva Frida (Roaring Brook, 2014).

With spare, polished text and luscious illustrations, award-winning author/illustrator Yuyi Morales explores the passionate, imagination of the incomparable Frida Kahllo.

Video with Music by Miguel Martinez.

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14. 2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Editor Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo
By Dina von Lowenkraft
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jill Santopolo is the author of the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Sparkle Spa series and the Follow Your Heart books.

She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a certificate in Intellectual Property Law from NYU.

In addition to writing, Jill is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a thesis advisor at The New School, and an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, where she helped develop the curriculum for the certificate program in Writing for Children.

 Jill has traveled all over the U.S.—and to Canada—to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. She was interviewed by Dina von Lowenkraft for the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan conference.

Greetings, Jill! Thank you so much for agreeing to stop by for this interview. I've always been intrigued by people, like yourself, who are both authors and industry professionals at the same time. How did you end up doing both?

I probably ended up doing both because I’m a little bit nuts…

Really, though, I wrote short stories my whole life and always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that “writer” was a hard career to pursue right out of college.

So, while I was in school I started interning at publishing companies in New York City. I totally fell in love with the editorial side of things, so decided to put writing aside and concentrate on becoming a children’s book editor.

After I’d been working in publishing for a few years, I started writing a YA novel after work and on the weekends, just to see if I could actually do it. The answer was “sort of”. I did write the novel, but it didn’t sell. It did, however, get me an agent.

And my second novel sold—along with a third I hadn’t written yet.

I was a little uncertain about whether or not I’d be able to write that third novel, and a colleague suggested applying to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults. I did, and I got in, and it cemented the idea that I wanted to keep writing novels for kids. But at the same time I discovered how much I truly loved editing books, too, so I kept doing both. (And kept loving both.)

Do you think that being a writer affects the way you edit (and vice versa)?

I don’t think it’s changed anything on grand scale, but now that I’ve experienced the process from both sides, I definitely do small things differently.

For example, as an editor, I give myself editorial letter deadlines and share them with my authors so they know when to expect my feedback. And as a writer, I stick to all my writing deadlines and jump in to help plan launch events and promotions when that makes sense.

What I do think had a huge affect on how I edit and how I write was getting an M.F.A.. Spending two years analyzing fiction and learning about craft made me, I think, a more thoughtful, confident editor and a more thoughtful, confident writer.

I know that at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam April 4 and April 5, one of your talks is on using theater games to improve your character development. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Learn more!
Of course. When I do author visits at schools, I always talk to the students about how pretending and storytelling are very similar—in one situation you’re acting out what it’s like to, say, be a turtle, and in the other you’re telling a story about what it’s like to be a turtle.

I think the same thing applies on a deeper level with acting and writing. I acted quite a bit from middle school through college, and I loved the way getting into character meant finding out more about the character than was written on the page.

I think that the same theater games that help actors discover details about their characters that aren’t in the script, also help writers to discover things about their characters that they haven’t yet written into their manuscripts, but that might deepen a character or speak to their motivation throughout the novel.

I think that sounds like a great tool and I can’t wait to participate in your workshop! I know you’re also going to be talking about how writers can look at their work through a sales or marketing lens. Why do you think that’s important?

I don’t necessarily think that it’s important while someone is first writing a novel, but I do think that it’s helpful to be able to encapsulate your story in one sentence or one paragraph, like you’d have to do if you were submitting to agents and editors and also after a book is published, if you’re going to be doing some marketing yourself.

I also think it’s important as far as expectations are concerned. Looking at similar titles and their sales tracks can give writers an idea of what their sales might look like. And thinking about an audience—along with those comp titles—can help writers figure out how to target their outreach once a book has been published and decide how much marketing and publicity they’d like to take on themselves.

The theme of the SCBWI Europolitan is about growing beyond boundaries, can you talk a little bit about diversity in books?

Like pretty much everyone in publishing now, I think that it’s important to publish novels with diverse themes, diverse characters, and diverse life experiences—and it’s something that I pay attention to when I’m working to balance my own piece of Philomel’s list.

Because I edited Atia Abawi’s novel The Secret Sky, which is set in contemporary Afghanistan, I got to go with Atia recently to a panel at NCTE about books set outside of the U.S., which is a piece of diversity that’s not always talked about quite as much.

It got me thinking more about the kids around the globe and the ways in which experiences and feelings are universal—and the ways in which they’re not. I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation at the SCBWI Europolitan (and to having many other exciting conversations as well!).

We’re so excited that you will be one of our faculty members and are looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam and continuing all these discussions!

I’m excited too!

Cynsational Notes

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on four continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Her debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in August 2013. She is repped by Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary.

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15. Guest Post: Henry L. Herz on Dinner Guests

Illustrated by Abigail Larson (Pelican, 2015)
By Henry L. Herz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

With the pending release of my debut picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, I find myself thinking a lot about fantasy and mythological creatures.

And which fantasy characters would I like to have over for dinner.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes includes a hydra, which could be viewed as a multi-headed wingless dragon. And when I think dragons, I think Pern, Earthsea, and "Game of Thrones."

So, my first guest would be Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.

An excellent choice, no? She’s beautiful, brave, and compassionate. She’s been robbed of the throne, but she’s not whiny about it. She can eat raw horse heart without complaint, so my cooking is probably safe for her. But, her dragons would probably wreck my furniture, and formally introducing her to the other guests would mean we wouldn’t start eating until midnight.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes features a dwarf, and that’s just the right character to keep those pesky dragons in check. While Gimli is well-known, I have to go with "The Hobbit"s Dáin II Ironfoot. He earned renown as a young dwarf by slaying the Orc chieftain Azog at the Battle of Azanulbizar.

Like his kindred, the Lord of the Iron Hills is tough and battle-hardened. But unlike some dwarves of Middle Earth, Dáin has wisdom. He knew that even though the goblins were defeated, it was not yet time for the dwarves to reoccupy their ancient home of Khazad-dûm.

After the Battle of Five Armies, he rules the Lonely Mountain with the good sense to keep on good terms with the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale. But, he’d probably drink all my ale.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes also features a witch, an ettin, sprites, a werewolf, and a minotaur. And since the witch in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a false one, I will instead invite Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Châtelaine of Cair Paravel, and Empress of the Lone Islands.

What is it with the ladies and long names? You may recall her by the more convenient title of White Witch, played so deliciously by Tilda Swinton in the movie version of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The seven-foot tall sorceress could teach a class on being cold and goal-oriented.

She uttered the Deplorable Word in order to vanquish her sister, even though that eradicated all life in the world of Charn. She subsequently sends Narnia into a deep freeze, although that skill could turn out quite handy keeping my ale chilled (at least until Dáin drinks it all).


Jadis is tall. She’s immensely strong. She’s petrifying. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. And Jadis has minotaurs, ettins, werewolves, sprites, and other assorted minions. But, she’d probably eat the Turkish Delight I prepared for dessert.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes briefly mentions an elf. The Lord of the Rings offers us many elves, but none more tragic than Fëanor

Here’s a guy born with a mithril spoon in his mouth. He’s immortal, his dad is High King of the Noldor elves, and Fëanor lives in Valinor, which is the primo real estate in Arda. He is the most gifted gemsmith to ever live. He crafted the palantíri, and he captured in the three infinitely valuable Silmarils the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the two trees that illuminate the world.

When Morgoth kills the two trees, Fëanor is told he can restore them by giving up the Silmarils. But his pride, anger, and hatred prevent him from doing so. Morgoth steals the Silmarils, and Fëanor convinces many Noldor to pursue Morgoth to Middle Earth, even killing on three separate occasions fellow elves that won’t do their bidding. Though Fëanor and countless elves die in the attempt, they fail to finally recover the Silmarils.

Hm. Upon further consideration, maybe I should just have some authors over for dinner.

Presenting at the Canyon Crest Academy Writers Conference


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16. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Brian Yansky on the release of Utopia, Iowa (Candlewick, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Utopia, Iowa is about a small town where the supernatural meets the natural. There's some murder and mystery and mayhem in this novel. Ghosts and other creatures and humans abound. 

Some funny moments. Some sad. 

At heart, it's a story about a boy who wants to write for the movies and his struggle with leaving all he knows (family, friends, hometown) to pursue his dreams.

See also The Road to Utopia, Iowa Was Paved with Rejection by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: "How many rejections did Utopia, Iowa, get? I could probably ask my amazing agent for an exact number, but I’ll guess in the neighborhood of fifteen, including one from the publisher who ultimately accepted and published it (though not the same editor). And also--an important detail- the version she accepted was not that same version that had been rejected."

More News & Giveaways

Confronting Grief with YA Literature: An Interview with Jason Reynolds by Brook Stephenson from The Gawker. Peek: "People always say time heals. Time doesn't necessarily heal anything. It allows you to manage things. There are occasions where you feel the pain as if it just happened but you know that it's a fleeting moment."

Seven Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month by Veronica Schneider from Lee & Low. Peek: "we like to not only highlight African Americans who have made a difference, but also explore the diverse experiences of black culture throughout history, from the struggle for freedom in the South and the fight for civil rights to the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz and the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance."

Simple Promotional Tip: Call Your Book by Its Name by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Time and again I’ve seen even the most experienced authors make what I consider to be a big publicity faux pas. It happens at readings, on conference panels and in casual conversation.It can be summed up with these two simple words. 'My book.'"

Congratulations to Isabel Quintero (for older readers) and Duncan Tonatiuh (for younger readers), winners of the 2015 Tomás Rivera Award from Latinas for Latino Lit. Peek: "Established in 1995, the award honors authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican America experience."

Official SCBWI Conference Blog from SCBWI. Note: next best thing to attending the annual winter conference in New York.

Dear Writers and Editors: Some Cautions About Selecting Beta Readers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Speaking to a tour guide at a museum is not enough. They are not the person with the authority to work with you. Obviously they're interested in education but there's an important distinction in what they do, and what a tribe's research board does."

Thematic Book List: Extreme Weather from The Miss Rumphius Effect. Peek: "...a list of books that focuses on storms and other conditions caused by extreme weather conditions."

Creating Fascination with a Character by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Not knowing how we are supposed to feel about a real person, in real life, is not comfortable. But in fiction? It is delicious."

Four Research Hacks for Writing Thrillers by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "One of the most common questions I’m asked as an author is, “How can you write thrillers if you’ve never served in the military/emergency services/spy agencies/etc.?"

Perspectives of Diversity in Book Reviews, Part 1: "Scarcely Plausible" by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "In a novel, the writer’s goal is to cause the reader to lose themselves in the story, so anything that knocks the reader out of the story’s world may appear to be a flaw. When a diverse cast is criticized as 'contrived,' though, it’s a bit more complicated."

2015 Erza Jack Keats Book Award: winners Chieri Uegaki (new writer) and Chris Haughton (new illustrator). See honorees.  

Cynsational Giveaway

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Super busy week! I finished my speech on Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers for tomorrow's Austin SCBWI meeting and critiqued ten partial manuscripts for our chapter's upcoming regional conference. See event details below. What's more, I'm grading my VCFA MFA students' first round of packets. Whew!

This week a sun-shiny beauty appeared in my back yard.
Thank you to readergirlz for the shout out about the upcoming release of Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 24, 2015)!

The Horn Book says of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015): "Cynthia Leitich Smith takes a characteristically paranormal approach in 'Cupid’s Beaux': “slipped” angel Joshua must decide whether it’s ethical to conceal his celestial identity and woo human Jamal.... The assortment of approaches offers plenty of surprises, and the collection can be read in one sitting without becoming repetitive."

Link of the Week: How Authors Get Paid from Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: "This all sounds perfectly obvious, right? But a lot of people I talk to think that authors get paid a lot more than they actually get paid. This is partly because of a wide variety of misconceptions, such as...."


Now available! More coverage to come!
Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia will speak on "Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

Releases Feb. 24, 2015
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

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

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

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

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17. Book Trailer: Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy (Tsilhqot’in) and Mary Beth Leatherdale (Annick Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:


A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today.

Truly universal in its themes, Dreaming In Indian will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots,’ ‘Battles,’ ‘Medicines,’ and ‘Dreamcatchers,’ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media.

Emerging and established Native artists, including acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, renowned visual artist Bunky Echo Hawk, and stand-up comedian Ryan McMahon, contribute thoughtful and heartfelt pieces on their experiences growing up Indigenous, expressing them through such mediums as art, food, the written word, sport, dance, and fashion. Renowned chef Aaron Bear Robe, for example, explains how he introduces restaurant customers to his culture by reinventing traditional dishes. And in a dramatic photo spread, model Ashley Callingbull and photographer Thosh Collins reappropriate the trend of wearing ‘Native’ clothing.

Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, Dreaming In Indian refuses to shy away from difficult topics. Insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully honest, this book will to appeal to young adult readers. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience.



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18. Guest Post & Critique Giveaway: Heather Demetrios on Becoming the Designated Typist

By Heather Demetrios
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
 
For some people, starting a new novel is like that scene in "The Sound Of Music," where Maria’s tra-la-la-ing on a mountaintop, arms spread out, spinning in delirious joy.

If you’re like me, though, that blank white page isn’t cause for bursting into song.

Bursting into tears, yes. The endless possibilities are overwhelming, so many possible plots and characters to choose from—and what about voice, structure, tense and…and…and…

In order to banish the insanity and keep your freak-outs at bay, it can be tempting to hurry up and create a nice, tidy plot that you can stick characters into, much like those Velcro and felt landscapes in preschool classrooms. That’s certainly a way to go about it. And it just might work for some people.

However, I suspect that the difference between a great novel and a good novel may lie in how much freedom we give our characters.

All the fancy plot twists in the world won’t mean a thing if your reader doesn’t care about your protagonist. The best way to get them to care is to create a character who inhabits her world in such a way that the experiences she has (i.e. plot) are true reflections of her inner journey and her nature. This is how you avoid the pitfalls of the contrived plot, the unearned ending, the story that just won’t sing. So how do we do this?

First, we need to listen to our characters. This is impossible when we’re yammering on about what we want their story to be. Doesn’t your character have a say in what happens in her life?

Heather Demetrios
While I believe it’s necessary to have some general idea of where you’re going with a story before you begin, the key is to be willing to throw that whole plot out the window if you have to.

Focus on your character, allowing the plot to come from her.

Put her in a situation—then see what she does.

Maybe you want her to kill someone but she shows an unexpected reluctance to go through with the deed. See how that reluctance plays out. Get to know your character so that you can get in her skin.

You can do this by:

  • creating playlists,
  • interviewing her,
  • daydreaming about her life,
  • journaling in her first-person POV about other characters and events in the story,
  • writing scenes from the POV of other characters so that you can secretly watch her and see what she does.

These are just a few ways you can get out of your head and into the heart of your story. Chances are, you’ll come up with unexpected ideas that are specific to your character and her story, not the regurgitated plot lines of other YA books.

Something else might happen, too. Something magical.

You might feel as if you aren’t writing the story anymore, as if you are simply a conduit. If you’ve ever started writing and it suddenly morphed in amazing, unexpected ways, my guess is that this was a moment in which you—conscious of it or not—handed over the reigns to your character becoming, as Anne Lamott says in Bird By Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life, “the designated typist.”

When we become the designated typist, we let go of our need to control our novel and create space for organic work that radiates the kind of honesty that draws readers in and makes them fall in love with the characters and plot of your story.

So put the outline away, take a breath, and see what happens.

The result may just make you break into song: the page is alive, with the sound of…

You get it.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

Writespace Writing Center 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaway

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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19. VCFA Winter Residency & Cynsational Return

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations! I'll be posting sporadically until I'm up to speed for 2015.

It's been a busy winter, highlighted by teaching at the winter residency of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and speaking at ALA Midwinter in Chicago. Here a peek from VCFA:

Learn more about Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & YAs.
Shelf shot at the campus bookstore in College Hall.
Co-teaching a workshop with Rita Williams-Garcia.
Celebrating Katherine Patterson's honorary doctorate from VCFA.
Toasting Katherine & clowning around with fellow faculty member Will Alexander.
Congratulations to the Darling Assassins (AKA graduating class of winter 2015)!


Cynsational Notes

Huge congrats to this morning's winners/honorees of the ALA Youth Media Awards! See my live-reaction fan-girl geek out @CynLeitichSmith!

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20. Guest Post & Giveaway: Cory Putnam Oakes on The Ten Commandments of the Productive and Sane Writer

By Cory Putnam Oakes
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As much as we would like to commit our entire lives to writing, most of us live in the real world. We can’t afford to spend our time at Walden Pond or in a permanent, never-ending, writer’s retreat.

We fit in writing amongst our day jobs, our kids, our other commitments, and our daily lives.

This past year, I was blessed with a large amount of writing work. I was doing revisions and copy edits for Dinosaur Boy (2015), writing Dinosaur Boy Saves Mars (2016)(both Sourcebooks), and working on another project with my agent.

It was a crazy year, especially when you throw my two small kiddos into the mix.

I’m not saying that I managed to juggle everything perfectly. In fact, there were days and weeks there when I failed utterly. But I learned from the experience. And I ended up making ten promises to myself – commandments, if you will, for my future self – in the hopes that they will help me to stay sane and still produce work that I am proud of:

Cory Putnam Oakes
1. I will respect my writing time and hold it as sacred. It’s valuable and it’s worth defending and anybody who thinks otherwise just doesn’t get it and isn’t worthy of my attention.

2. I will recognize that despite my best efforts, there are days when writing Just. Isn’t. Happening. I will honor those days, and spend my time doing the Necessary Non-Writing Things, such as “Naming That Character in Chapter 4” or “Researching Chapter 9.”

3. I will recognize that there are days when even Necessary Non-Writing Things are too much. And on those days, I will reorganize my closet. Or bake things. Or binge watch "The Bachelor." Or do whatever else I need to do in order to regroup and recharge. I will take care of myself and I will not apologize for it.

4. I will hit my deadlines. Each and every time. Because I am a professional and that’s what professionals do.

5. I will plan for chaos. If I know it will take me ten days to do something, I will budget twelve. Because Things happen.

And the most likely time for Things to happen is right before a deadline. It’s like a main law of the universe.

6. I will be supportive of my fellow writers. I will root for them, laugh with them, cry with them, and commiserate with them. Because they are my people and they do the same for me.

Discussion & Activity Guide
7. I will not compare myself to other authors, my books to anybody else’s books, or my career to anybody else’s career. My journey is my own and I will respect it as such.

8. I will read. At least two books in my genre every month.

9. I will not sacrifice, in the name of “time management,” the thing that makes all the other things in my life possible. (We all have something, without which, the whole dang opry falls apart. For me, it’s my time spent on the treadmill. Whenever I have sacrificed this, in the name of “not having enough time” I have bitterly regretted it. I will make time for the things that matter.)

10. I will respect my own creative process and not pay undo attention to lists like this (which are, after all, written by other people about what works for them). I will do what works for me and it will be awesome.

If anyone has any further commandments to add to this list, I’m all ears! Who says we have to stop at ten, anyway? That’s like totally already been done.

Cynsational Notes

Cory is a former lawyer, a former Californian, and a current Mexican food enthusiast. When she’s not writing, Cory enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with her husband and their two kiddos.

Cynsational Giveaway

A Junior Library Guild selection

Enter to win a signed, personalized (upon specification) copy of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes (Sourcebooks, 2015) and furry prehistoric friend. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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21. In Memory: Bonnie Christensen

Bonnie Christensen
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Farewell to Bonnie Christensen by Elizabeth Bluemle from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

"She radiated loveliness, both personally and in her work. She was a gifted and creative artist, author, illustrator, and print maker, active both locally and overseas in exhibitions and galleries."

Celebrated Authors and Illustrator Bonnie Christensen Dies at Age 63 by Mahnaz Dar from School Library Journal. Peek:

"'Bonnie was an extraordinary human being, full of laughter, wit, and playfulness,' recounts [author Leda] Schubert. 'To create one realistic illustration, she made borscht and threw it hither and yon, taking photos as she did so. Borscht stains pretty much anything it touches, so I’m sorry I didn’t get to see her kitchen afterwards.'” See also The Princess of Borscht (Roaring Brook, 2011).
Bonnie Christensen (1951-2015) from Seven Days. Peek:

"Of her more than 20 titles, the most acclaimed was Woodie Guthrie: Poet of the People (Alfred A. Knopf), whose images Booklist described as 'sinewy and emotionally compelling.' It won the Horn Book - Boston Globe Honor Award and was named a Publishers Weekly's Best Book of 2001 and a New York Times Notable Book."

Henry Holt, April 21, 2015
More Personally

Though we just missed teaching together there, Bonnie and I are both counted among members of the Vermont College of Fine Arts family.

She died in the midst of our winter 2015 residency and, consequently, we mourned her passing and celebrated her life and legacy with stories and the music of Elvis Presley. She is dearly missed.

My sympathies to her family, friends, colleagues, students and young readers.

I first connected with Bonnie through an anthology, In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers (HarperCollins, 2005). She illustrated the book with drawings from photographs of the featured grandmothers, including my own Grandma Dorothy.

The emotional power of Bonnie's work far exceeded that of the inspirational photo and captures my grandmother at her spirited best. Bonnie gave the illustration to me, and it's one of my most precious personal touchstones.

Grandma Dorothy -- Thank you, Bonnie!



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22. Cynsational Awards

2014 Cynsational Book of the Year!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The height of awards season is upon us!

I watched the ALA Youth Media Awards via live stream while escorting a plumber around my master bath. He was amused that I could barely tear myself away long enough to wave at the shower.

He observed, "So, for you, this is like the Oscars!"

Yes, yes, it is.

I'm genuinely thrilled for all the winners and honorees! Shout outs below are directed at former workshop students, VCFA family, personal friends, critique pals, and author pals whose journeys and/or inspiration have significantly intersected with mine.

Children's-YA Book Awards


Congratulations to Jenny Offill, winner of the eighteenth annual Charlotte Zolotow Award for Picture Book Writing from the Cooperative Children's Book Center at The University of Wisconsin, Madison. See honor and commended books.

IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
Congratulations to winners of Notable Books for a Global Society from the International Reading Association! Shout outs to Skila Brown, Bethany Hegedus, Susan Kuklin, J. Patrick Lewis, Kekla Magoon, Duncan Tonatiuth, Tim Tingle, Dana Walrath, Jacqueline Woodson and Paula Yoo.

Congratulations to Candace Fleming, winner of the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award from Nonfiction! Shout out to honor winner Duncan Tonatiuth.

Congratulations to Anne M. Martin, winner of the NCTE Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction! Shout out to honor winners Marla Frazee and Deborah Wiles.

Congratulations to the ALA Youth Media Award Winners and Honorees! Too many friends to mention, but a quick shout out to fellow VCFA faculty member Kekla Magoon and VCFA alumni Jandy Nelson and Julie Berry.

See also 2015 Popular Paperbacks from YALSA and 2015 Best YA Fiction from YALSA.  On the latter, shout outs to Michelle Knudsen, Gail Giles, Kekla Magoon, Jandy Nelson, Laurie Halse Anderson, Mary E. Pearson, Robin LaFevers, Deborah Wiles, and Emily Lockhart.

For post-game, try: Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking: The Post-Game Edition by Robin Smith from The Horn Book; Poetry = Newbery by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children.

More Awards

Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney, winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award and to Kara Stewart, the Honor Winner! Peek: "A first-time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500." See also In the Spotlight: Kara Stewart from Prissy World.

Congratulations to Heidi Kim and Adria Quinones, winners of the 2014 On-the-Verge Emerging Voices Award from SCBWI!

Congratulations to 2015 Thurber House Children's Writer-in-Residence Crystal Allen!

Congratulations to K.T. Horning, winner of the 2015 ALSC Distinguished Service Award!

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23. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Courtney with agent John Cusick at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Courtney Alameda on the release of her debut novel, Shutter (Feiwell and Friends, 2015)(excerpt)! From the promotional copy:

Micheline Helsing is a tetrachromat—a girl who sees the auras of the undead in a prismatic spectrum.
As one of the last descendants of the Van Helsing lineage, she has trained since childhood to destroy monsters both corporeal and spiritual: the corporeal undead go down by the bullet, the spiritual undead by the lens.
With an analog SLR camera as her best weapon, Micheline exorcises ghosts by capturing their spiritual energy on film. She's aided by her crew: Oliver, a techno-whiz and the boy who developed her camera's technology; Jude, who can predict death; and Ryder, the boy Micheline has known and loved forever.

When a routine ghost hunt goes awry, Micheline and the boys are infected with a curse known as a soulchain. As the ghostly chains spread through their bodies, Micheline learns that if she doesn't exorcise her entity in seven days or less, she and her friends will die.
Now pursued as a renegade agent by her monster-hunting father, Leonard Helsing, she must track and destroy an entity more powerful than anything she's faced before . . . or die trying.

Lock, stock, and lens, she’s in for one hell of a week.

More News & Giveaways

Author Interview: Trent Reedy on Burning Nation by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "I’ve written Divided We Fall and Burning Nation (both Scholastic) to show what happens when the bitterness over that [partisan] divide is carried out to its most disastrous potential."

Shining a Light: Announcing the Honorees for the 2015 28 Days Later Campaign: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature from The Brown Bookshelf.

You Can't Take Blurbs with You from Jennifer Represents. Peek: "I've spoken to hundreds of readers, booksellers, librarians and others, and the fact is, the vast majority of the time, the blurb is not the deciding factor about whether or not they spend time and money on a given book. It's just not."

Author Interview: Pat Mora on Día, Children's Day Book Day by Amy Koester from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Spanish is the second most spoken language across our country; there are many others, of course. If we are committed to exciting all our children about bookjoy, we need to meet them where they are, as the saying goes."

Deadlines and the Muse by Juliet Marillier from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fortunately, the final section of a novel tends to be the easiest to write. You know the characters inside out; you know how each of them will act and react, what they will and won’t say; you know how the threads of your story will come together to make that satisfying conclusion."

What The Incredibly Hulk Can Teach Us About Emotion in Fiction by Ron Estrada from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Most characters don’t wear their emotions on their quickly torn sleeves the way Bruce Banner does, and if they did, the resulting story would be pretty exhausting. Too much reaction dulls the impact when something genuinely serious transpires. Yet you do need to show how your character feels."

Dealing with the Publishing Blues by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "Try writing something for yourself that no one will see. Experiment with a style you’ve always wanted to try or experiment with a new genre. If you’re on deadline, try writing a short story (or if you’re a fast writer, a novella). Have fun! But most of all, don’t set any expectations on yourself. Just let the passion you used to have for writing poke through."

Classroom Connections: Diverse Verse by Sylvia Vardell from Booklist Online. Peek: "Following is a list of novels, biographies, and memoirs in verse, published within the last five years, that reflect diverse experiences, cultures, and characters."

How Do I Respond to An Agent's Status Query? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "The volume of emails that an agent gets in a day is large, and I’d err on the side of not adding to it unnecessarily."

Make Your First Page Mind Blowing, Please by Hilary Wagner from Middle Grade Mayhem. Peek: "It may be the manuscript that agent of your dreams has been searching for all year, but she'll never know it because she couldn’t get past the first boring formulaic mundane page of it and you just received a rejection email from her, faster than you could nuke your leftover pizza in the microwave."

What Exactly is Translation? by Yumiko Sakuma, translated by Deborah Iwabuchi from The Society of Writers, Editors and Translators. Peek: "...the translator must understand the style of the author, the mood, the characters, the setting, the subtle allusions, and the core of the plot."" Peek: Follows an introduction to the article by Deborah.

Take Yourself Seriously (As a Writer) by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You’re creative–true. But you’re still in business if you want to make income from your writing. And often it is poor business attitudes that keep others from taking you seriously. Do an attitude check with the list below. Are you harboring these unhelpful attitudes?"

Why I Write for Teens by Carolee Dean from SouthWest Writers. Peek: "Teen stories are compelling because teens stand at a crossroads where childhood intersects with paths of infinite possibility, yet, as we all know, once you start down one of those paths, its not so easy to change your course."

Interview with Morris Award Finalist Isabel Quintero by Lynn Miller-Lachmann from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "As sexual as American culture pretends to be—I mean we see it everywhere: in advertising, television, movies, even in cartoons—we only see sexuality or sexual behavior as acceptable through a heterosexual male perspective, and I would go further and say that we only see sex exist as a heterosexual male fantasy." See also 24 MG-YA Novels by Latinos in 2015 from Latin@s in Kid Lit.

2014 LGBT YA Lit by the Numbers by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "What started out for me as a geeky way to see where my own YA novels fit into the broader YA market has become an ongoing research project that has nothing to do with my books, and a lot more to do with analyzing and interrogating the way mainstream publishing produces stories about LGBT teens." See also the 2015 Rainbow List: GLBTQ Books for Teens from the The Rainbow Project, a joint project of the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) and Social Responsibilities Round Table (SSRT) of the American Library Association.

Is Your Character a Stargazer or a Naval-Gazer? from Christine Kohler. Peek: "Does your protagonist observe the world around him using his five senses? Or does she mutter inwardly to herself, totally self-absorbed?"

Can Better Understanding of Adolescent Psychology Help Us Craft Better Fiction? by Lee Wind from SCBWI Blog. Peek: "Teens often look to fiction for insights they might use in their real lives. So it may follow that in creating fiction, we can get insights into the characters we create by exploring real-world insights."

A Rose By Any Other Name Could Be...a Heather by Mary Ann Rodman from Teaching Authors. Peek: "I do not know how E.B. White decided on Charlotte and Wilbur, but can you imagine them named anything else? A book called Barbara's Web? A pig named Bob?"

What Makes a Good Math Storybook? by Audrey Quinlan from The Horn Book. Peek: "Students predict the capacity of each mitten by guessing how many marbles or beans will be needed to fill each one. A variety of mittens brought in by students could also be used for introducing relative size."

Jill Santopolo and Follow Your Heart: Love on the Lifts by Lisa Doan from The Launch Pad. Peek: "There are more than 7 billion people in the world. So if you go on a date with someone who makes you feel bad or smells funny or spends the entire time talking about his ex-girlfriend, that’s okay. You can always try again tomorrow (or the next day or the day after that)."

10 Editorial Steps from the Agent "Call" to the Final Book by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "When we’re starting out as writers, we rarely look beyond the process of getting an agent. That hurdle on its own seems so huge, but truly, it’s just the beginning of the editorial journey our books will take."

Searching for an Agent with QueryTracker by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "What is Querytracker? In my opinion, it’s the premier website for researching literary agents and familiarizing yourself with their personal tastes and quirks. It also makes for a wonderful base-camp during the query process."

My Work Is Giving My Nighmares from Deborah Halverson at DearEditor.com. Peek: "...the story itself is giving me anxiety and causing unsettling dreams. I don’t want to spend the next several months having nightmares."

28 Days Later

Learn more about emerging and established children’s book creators of color via the eighth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration!

Each day during February, The Brown Bookshelf will showcase an outstanding author or illustrator. Thank you, Don Tate, Kelly Starling Lyons, Tameka Fryer Brown, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, Gwendolyn Hooks, Crystal Allen, Varian Johnson, Paula Chase-Hyman!

Congratulations to Brown Bookshelf co-founder Varian Johnson on The Great Greene Heiste (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2014) being named a 2015 Notable Children's Book by the Association of Library Service to Children! See the whole list.

Cynsational Screening Room



Cynsational Giveaways




See also a giveaway of seven signed copies of We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March by Cynthia Levinson (Peachtree) at Goodreads.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Welcome back to Cynsations!

What a busy hiatus it's been! I wrote a short story for Shaun Hutchinson's Violent Ends anthology (Simon Pulse), taught the VCFA winter residency, and then it was off to Chicago for The ALSC Day of Diversity at ALA Midwinter.

Now, I'm polishing a speech for this month's Austin SCBWI meeting (details below), to be followed by critiquing manuscripts for our regional conference, and after that, my full attention will turn to my MFA students' first packets.

Then what? Well, I'm also supposed to be foremost an author of books. At least in theory, right?

So, I'll launch Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 2015)--the final novel in the Tantalize-Feral verse--and the paperback edition of Feral Curse (Candlewick, Feb. 2015) and then dive into my next YA manuscript in a big way.

Repeat after me: Living the Dream. Living the Dream!


Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015):

"The parts of the story where characters shift or are talking about clothes? Well, I find those parts exquisite and they make me wish I could see all of this on a movie screen. And the parts where characters from the Tantalize series join the characters in the Pride series? Well done!"

Note: Debbie also analyzes how the metaphors in Feral Pride relate to our real world.

Publishers Weekly says of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015):

"Rather than providing tidy solutions to the characters’ dilemmas, the stories focus on the feelings of entrapment and anxiety that go along with living a lie." Booklist says: "The balance and diversity that Angel has achieved here is marvelous, and nearly any teen who picks this up will find a bit of herself or himself—or at least a friend—inside these pages. A collection to treasure and share widely."

 K.T. Horning of CCBC & Debbie Reese of AICL!
Note: The short story "Cupid's Beaux" by Cynthia Leitich Smith features the characters Joshua and Quincie from the Tantalize-Feral universe.

Hugs to those whose careers have been adversely affected by the closing of Egmont USA. See also An Open Letter to Egmont USA Authors from a Former Publishing Orphan from Sarah J. Schmitt. Note: Egmont USA books, including the spring 2015 list, are  available! Please show those authors your support!

Congratulations to Austin's own Carmen Oliver on the sale of her first book, The Favio Chavez Story, to Eerdmans! See Stepping Over the Threshold: The First Children's Book Contract by Carmen Oliver from Donna Janell Bowman.

Congratulations to Austin SCBWI RA Samantha Clark on signing with literary agent Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency, and congratulations to Rachel on signing Sam!

Congratulations to (former) WIFYR and (current) VCFA student Yamile Saied Mendez on being selected among the 2015 New Visions Finalists by Lee & Low!

Thank you ALSC, Candlewick Press & We Need Diverse Books for a great Day of Diversity in Chicago!
See ALA Midwinter Day of Diversity Recap & Reflections by Jason Low of Lee & Low. Peek: "Author Cynthia Letich Smith’s talk created a sense of urgency for me and humanized what is truly at stake. Readers of middle grade and YA novels age out every four years. How many kids have we lost already to adulthood?" Note: post provides links to the other great recaps.

My Links of the Week are:


More Cynsational Links

Jane Kurtz revises her speech (old-school style) at VCFA.

Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24. Giveaway: Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed advanced reader copy of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb (HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Acclaimed writer Margo Rabb's Kissing in America is "a wonderful novel about friendship, love, travel, life, hope, poetry, intelligence, and the inner lives of girls," raves internationally bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love).

In the two years since her father died, sixteen-year-old Eva has found comfort in reading romance novels—118 of them, to be exact—to dull the pain of her loss that's still so present. 

Her romantic fantasies become a reality when she meets Will, who understands Eva's grief. Unfortunately, after Eva falls head over heels for him, he picks up and moves to California without any warning. Not wanting to lose the only person who has been able to pull her out of sadness—and, perhaps, her shot at real love—Eva and her best friend, Annie, concoct a plan to travel to the West Coast to see Will again. 

As they road trip across America, Eva and Annie confront the complex truth about love.

In this honest and emotional journey that National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr calls "gorgeous, funny, and joyous," readers will experience the highs of infatuation and the lows of heartache as Eva contends with love in all its forms.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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25. In Memory: George M. Nicholson

Acquired Rights from Harper.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

George McHugh Nicholson, 1937-1950 by Shannon Maughan from The Horn Book. Peek: "Esteemed literary agent and innovative publishing executive George Nicholson...died February 3 in New York City."

Remembering George McHugh Nicholson from Children's Book Council. Peek:

"Soon after Nicholson moved to New York City in 1959, he took on a position with friend Albert Leventhal, president of Artists and Writers Guild, which published Golden Books. The position provided a valuable overview of publishing, from layout and design to manufacturing. Nicholson went on to work for the president of Dell Publishing, where he championed paperbacks of literary quality."

Literary agent George Nicholson died on February 3. He was 77. from Shelf Awareness. Peek: "Many people credit Nicholson with inventing paperback publishing for children, when he founded Delacorte Press and Yearling Books and acquired Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little from Harper for $37,500, "which in 1966 was all the money in the world," Nicholson told Leonard S. Marcus for an article in the Horn Book."

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