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

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

Middle Grade/YA Winner

(Candlewick, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

Picture Book Winner

(Pelican, 2013)

Finalists

Discovery Prize Winner

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

By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What inspired the Atlantis series?

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

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

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

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

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

Ultimately, how did that happen?

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

How did research for Atlantis compare with research for Merlin?

Good fantasy must be true.

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

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

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

Rejections hurt, but they are just part of life.

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

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




Cynsational Notes & Screening Room

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

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

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






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

Curriculum Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

There are also the Skaldi.

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

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

If he can’t, he’s their next victim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh Bellin and Big Green, White Cloud MI, age 11
As a science fiction writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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5. Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cynsational Giveaway


This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Summer reading PSA with animated art by Don Tate.





More Personally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Screening Room

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



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



Personal Links

Cynsational Events


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, are you married? Do you have kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dori: Interesting! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurore: I never really thought about that!

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

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

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


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7. Guest Post: Irene Latham on Author Infidelity: When One Genre Isn't Enough

By Irene Latham
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I sold my first novel for children, I was advised to commit myself fully–to set aside my fledgling poetry for adults writing, and focus 100% on fiction writing.

Since I'd previously published only one volume of poems – with a small press – I could see the wisdom in the advice.

My heart, however, did not.

Poems popped up everywhere, as they are wont to do, and I, being a lifelong wordcatcher, could not set down my net. I developed a habit of prose in the mornings and poetry at night.

My second book of poems was released around the same time I sold my second novel. I embraced the image of myself as “poet and novelist,” and found comfort in Walt Whitman's words, “(I am large. I contain multitudes.)” I relished having not just one love, but two.

And then everything changed. Two loves became three.

It happened when I attended an SCBWI-sponsored Poetry Retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, where I learned that children's poetry is not all Shel Silverstein, wonderful as his voice is; I didn't have to be funny when what I like to write is beautiful.

That weekend I dived head-long into a collection of ocean poems. My fingers were at full tide for weeks. I wrote poem after poem. All of them for kids.

When I informed my agent, Rosemary Stimola, who originally signed me as a fiction writer and claims no expertise in the field of poetry, she replied, simply, “the world needs good poetry.”

And off we went, searching for an editor.

The first three collections we subbed didn't find a publishing home – and rightly so. It's one thing to write good poems, and another entirely to write a collection that hangs together, has a beginning, middle and end, and holds some appeal for the picture book audience.

Other things I've struggled with include avoiding themes that pervade my poetry for adults: romantic love, loss, longing. Tamping down the Wise Woman voice and approaching topics with a sense of wonder and fun and discovery. Flexing and stretching with rhyme as a poetic technique – one I use very little in my adult poetry. Using metaphor and similes that refer to a child's world (chocolate milk) instead of the adult world (morning coffee). I'm still learning.

Meanwhile, I've done my best to be attentive to those other loves. Some days it feels like too much – like I'm bubblegum run out of its stretch. Some days I can't blow a bubble to save my life.

I've learned to assign months for one or the other genre – for instance, this month is a prose month.

Some days other writing sneaks in – and that's okay. Being unfaithful requires both discipline, and the relaxation of boundaries. You have to be forgiving of yourself, open to what the universe is presenting you at that moment. Know that this means ready-to-sub manuscripts may come at a slower pace – and that's okay.

It helps to think of each genre as a relationship. Each of the sister-wives needs love and reassurance and affection. Each requires practice and patience. Trust that your heart is big enough for all of it – and more.

This month, as I deliver to the world my first book of poems for children, Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole, with illustrations by Anna Wadham (Millbrook), I'm at peace with my writing heart's infidelity.

I like to think of it not as a problem, but a strength. It's like being multilingual – and how marketable is that in today's world?

Ultimately it creates a writing life filled with movement and adventure.

I can't wait to see where the current takes me next.

Cynsational Notes

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist from Birmingham, Alabama. The award-winning author of three volumes of poetry for adults and two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend (Putnam) and Don't Feed the Boy (Roaring Brook), she has yet to meet a genre she didn't like.

Her debut book of poems for children Dear Wandering Wildebeest (Millbrook) has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was inspired by photographs taken by Greg du Toit, who submerged himself in a Kenyan water hole in order to best capture the animals drinking.

Two more poetry books for kids Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmer's Market and Summer in Antarctica will be released in 2016.



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8. Guest Post & Giveaway: Mari Mancusi on When the Problem Is The Market, Not the Manuscript

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Ten years ago, when I began my publishing journey, I was under the assumption that if you wrote it (and it was good) it would sell.

Sell to a New York publisher.

Be stocked at Barnes and Noble and (sniff!) Borders.

Be discovered by readers.

Happily ever after, the end.

And it certainly seemed that way when my tween YA time travel novel, The Camelot Code, sold to Dutton/Penguin at auction in 2007. It was a sweet two-book deal and the editor was very excited about the project.

The gist was this: a teen King Arthur ends up in our world, Googles himself and finds out his true destiny, then decides he’d rather play football than pull the sword from the stone. And it’s up to our intrepid 21st century heroine, Sophie, to get him back in time before history is changed forever.

All was going well, until through a series of events, a change was made. The editor asked if I would do the second book in the contract first—as it seemed more “timely” – (and, of course, a time travel novel is supposedly timeless).

So I did—writing Gamer Girl instead. And when that was finished I went back to my precious Camelot Code, excited to finally finish it and get it out there at last.

But at that point, a year and a half after the original deal was made, the YA market had changed. Publishers had realized there were profits to be made on the so-called crossover audience (i.e. the adult readers) and YA started growing up—growing edgier and darker and deeper. And when my editor read my version of The Camelot Code, she realized she could not publish this book as it was and asked for a major revision.

To make matters worse, as I was revising, my editor moved houses. Then Dutton was reorganized into a boutique imprint that put out only a few titles a year. Many of the current authors were sent to Dial to finish out their contracts.

Me and my ill-fitting book, however, were dumped.

“No problem!” I said at the time. “I’ll just sell it to someone else!” Certainly a novel that sold at auction the first time would have some takers the second time around.

But I was wrong. No one wanted it. Everyone said, “It’s not middle grade, it’s not young adult. We don’t have a place for this book in our line.”

With Cory Putnam Oakes & Christina Soontornvat at Lindsey Lane's launch.
I refused to give up at first—scouring the Internet for YA publishers I might not have heard of and forwarding their names to my agent. To her credit, she was intrepid, sending out manuscript after manuscript, long after I’m sure she gave up on the book.

But the rejections still came in. Each one a knife, twisting in my gut. The worst part, I think, was that I knew it was a good book.

The problem was the market. No one was buying light, funny, tween. They wanted the next Hunger Games. And I was not going to sell this book by sheer force of will.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I’d wasted years of my life. I lost faith in the publishing world and I felt adrift in my career. If a book I felt so strongly about couldn’t sell, what made me think I could ever master this publishing thing? Yes, in the meantime, I was selling other books to other publishers, but The Camelot Code remained a big Excalibur in my side.

Then one day my husband took me aside. He brushed away my tears and reminded me of all the good The Camelot Code had brought me. The original advance money had allowed me to move to New York City, a lifelong dream, and the place I met him.

When the manuscript was rejected by my editor and I realized I wasn’t getting paid, I ended up moving in with him to save money, bringing us closer than ever.

And eventually, out of this cursed book, came the most precious blessing of all. My three-year-old daughter Avalon. Imagine—an entire human being—on this planet—all because of a publishing deal gone south. Of course I had to give her an Arthurian-inspired name, right?

Publishing can be a brutal industry. But roses can still grow in the cracks in the pavement. And it’s important for authors to look at the big picture. To remember that sometimes it’s just timing or trends or an editor having a bad day—not a reflection of the quality of your book.

Sometimes good books just don’t fit the mold.

And we can’t let that break us or cause us to lose faith in our work and ourselves.

Now, seven years after the original sale, I’ve decided to self publish The Camelot Code. To make it available to readers for the very first time. And who knows, maybe New York is right—maybe there’s no market for this tween book and I won’t sell a single copy.

But maybe they’re wrong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to find out. That, in and of itself, feels like a bit of a happy ending.

Deanna Roy, Mari & Sam Bond chat Alternative Publishing Options with Austin SCBWI.

About The Camelot Code

The Camelot Code is available in print or digital formats on all major platforms, including Overdrive for libraries and Ingram. It is age-appropriate for 10+.

To purchase, see paperback at Amazon, paperback at Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Overdrive

All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan Le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame. She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead.

Of course Arthur's not king yet--he hasn't pulled the sword from the stone--and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny.

And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time--to modern day high school--history is suddenly in jeopardy.

Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time--and decides he'd rather try out for the football team instead.

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time--forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs. Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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9. Guest Post: Barbara Bottner on Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome)

Learn more!
By Barbara Bottner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am very opinionated, as a reader, a writer, writing teacher and coach.

I am also righteous, and stubborn about my opinions to the point of intolerance.

This attitude is what made me write Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t.), illustrated by Michael Emberley (Knopf). I like to use my own childish nature as a resource for picture books because it is always authentic and it is a good source for stories and always offers conflict.

In the first Miss Brooks book, Missy refuses to be seduced into reading by her over-zealous, inspired librarian, Miss Brooks. This is a parallel to me in my book club. I tend to be disappointed in many novels--good, award-winning novels.

While I long to leave my own writing and daily life behind, I need the work to offer an intense experience.

Make me love you or I will walk away and never turn back.

On the other hand, when I love a book, I love it like a girl loves her first boyfriend, her tutu, her grandmother. I will love it and reread it forever.

When I thought of writing a sequel to Miss Brooks, I knew I had to up the action. Thus, I decided that the still opinionated Missy would have to face an even more difficult challenge than liking stories. She, herself, would need to come up with one and it would have to be a doozy at that. She would have to stay in character of course, but in the creative arena, she could use her own imagination.

Learn more!
Thus, the school temporarily loses electricity due to a storm, and the clever Miss Brooks now can justifiably ask the children to invent their own tales.

I am lucky that Nancy Siscoe, my editor at Knopf, doesn't shy away from Missy's over-the top idea of a neighbor who keeps all kinds of animals in her basement, including a snake, and that in the end, Missy decides she is "dead, dead, dead" (then changes her mind).

I like darkness in tales, even for young readers. Do they never wish a younger sibling or cousin would be "dead, dead, dead'?' I believe that kids live at a very deep emotional level. If I were five, I would be tired of rhymes and adventures as a steady diet. I would want the occasional "off with their heads" moments.

I also love the story within the story--it offers another level of fantasy, while keeping the real life problems in the foreground.

Missy needs to face down a bully. She needs a tale to embolden herself, but one that will also put her nemesis, Billy Toomey, in his place. Stories about kittens won't do.

I try to use heightened issues for picture books in honor of my readers. We humans are a complicated, difficult tribe. I consider it my duty to reflect that in my books.

Never underestimate the power of a good story, or the complicated nature of even a very young child.



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10. We Need Diverse Books Announces Incorporation as a Non-Profit & Inaugural Advisory Board

See FAQ!
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Grassroots organization files for incorporation as a non-profit organization in the state of Pennsylvania, and welcomes its first advisory board members, authors Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon

New York City, NY: More than just a hashtag, We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature.

We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. Its mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.

In order to accomplish its mission, We Need Diverse Books reaches out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including but not limited to publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students.

“Incorporating will give us the legitimacy and standing we need to move forward with our mission,” says Lamar Giles, VP of Communications. “We have many exciting projects in the works.”

In addition to a Diversity Festival planned for 2016, We Need Diverse Books plans to initiate a grant program to support diverse authors, bring Diversity into the Classroom with collaborations with First Book and the National Education Association, and develop a “diversity toolkit” for librarians and booksellers.

Ellen Oh
Inaugural advisory board members includes Grace Lin, Jacqueline Woodson, Matt de la Peña, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Cindy Pon.

“Each of these members has a history of advocating for diverse books, and is a pioneer in the field of children’s literature. They will not only increase our visibility as an organization, but light the way going forward,” said Ellen Oh, President of We Need Diverse Books.

On the heels of its enormously successful panel at the inaugural Book Con, the We Need Diverse Books team has been invited by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) to present the first ever diverse author signing and reception, and present panels at the Baltimore Book Festival, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the American Library Association (ALA), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), among others.

Cynsational Notes
 
New Board Member -- Cynthia Leitich Smith
Diversity Movement Gains Visibility at ALA Annual by Wendy Stephens from School Library Journal. Peek: "If you ran into a youth services librarian at the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Las Vegas (June 26-July1), odds were good that they were sporting a colorful 'We Need Diverse Books' button. That recent campaign harnessed the collective power of social media to highlight the need for more resources depicting a range of cultures and experiences."

We Need Diverse Books to Launch a Diversity in the Classroom Initiative from Children's Book Council. Peek: "Every month, students will explore a diverse author’s book. These readers will then be treated to a visit from the author (in-person or through Skype) to have a discussion."

In Public Schools, White Students Are No Longer the Majority by Janell Ross and Peter Bell from The Atlantic. Peek: "U.S. classrooms will enter a new era this fall—one in which black, Hispanic, and Asian students form the majority."

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11. Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Longlist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature from the National Book Foundation:

See also Gail Giles on Writing Across Mental Abilities.

More News

Asking an Editor: Hooking a Reader Early by Stacy Whitman from Lee & Low. Peek: "How do you get your writing to have that “zing” that captivates from the very beginning?" See also Stacy on Nailing the Story.

Intersectionality and Disability by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kid Lit. Peek: "Why is it that diversity in young adult, middle grade, and children’s literature is often represented as an either/or, without intersectionality? Characters can either be autistic or gay, for example, or a wheelchair user or Black, but rarely both."

No Name by Tim Tingle (Seventh Generation, 2014): a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Choose your framework for sharing it: It is a basketball story; it is a realistic story of alcoholism; it is a story about the Choctaw people."

When It Comes to Creativity, Are Two Heads Better Than One? from NPR Books. Peek: "'We think of Martin Luther King and Sigmund Freud and Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs as these great solo creators, but in fact, if you look into the details of their life, they are enmeshed in relationships all the way through.'"

Not Enough Willpower to Meet Your Goals? Make Mini-Habits. By Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "For me, feeling overwhelmed and getting started has always been the hardest part. Having mini goals in order to create habits is so easy."

Writers--Be Careful How You Sit from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "We thought we had the kinds of jobs where injuries might be limited to paper cuts or possibly dropping a laptop on our foot."

What Nobody Tells You About Publishing Deadlines by Cavan Scott from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...deadlines can shift when you least expect it, which can have a house of cards effect."

Blasting the Canon: Teach Stories that Speak to Young Readers by Randy Ribay from The Horn Book. Peek: "Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list."

Four Tools for the Writing Parent by Joanna Roddy from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Here are four tools that have helped to ground me and other writers I know in the midst of a life that sometimes feels like it's been reduced to tantrums, skipped naps, and bleary-eyed late night feedings."

Giving Up The Giver to Hollywood: A Q&A Interview with Lois Lowry by Jessica Gross from The New York Times. Peek: "...in the book she’s 12, and in the movie she’s 16. I advised them that some of the costumes were too sexy. And so the hem was dropped a little bit."

Middle Grade & YA: Where to Draw the Line? by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "We ask booksellers across the country to weigh in."

Five Important Ways to Use Symbolism in Your Stories by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "How do we come up with the right symbols in the first place? What should they be symbolic of? And how do we incorporate them into our stories without making them so obvious we lose all their symbolic value?"

Marketing Tips for Authors and Agents by Elisabeth Weed from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I’ve come to peace with the fact that there are many facets of the business which I can not control but that there’s power and autonomy in focusing on the things that we can."

On Giving Feedback by Peter Biello from Burlington Writer's Workshop. Peek: "I want to focus our attention today on one of the thorniest circumstances, and of course the one with which I have a great deal of experience, and that’s the process of giving feedback to a writer who is working on an early or late draft of an unpublished piece."

Evil, Insane, Envious and Ethical: The Four Types of Villain by K.M. Weiland from Fiction Notes. Peek: "They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!"

How to Hook a Literary Agent: 16 Agents Share What Gets Them Reading by Jan Lewis from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Want to get a literary agent? Tired of getting rejected?"

Soho Teen, June 2015
Diversity 101: Gay in YA by Adam Silvera from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...if you’re not gay but want to write characters who are, don’t simply turn to current gay culture to craft your character. Common mistakes include gay guys being automatically interested in fashion and Lady Gaga, and lesbian girls competing in sports or fighting all the time."

How to Publicize Your Children's Book by Paula Yoo from Lee & Low. Peek: "To my shock, this “out of the box” creative publicity idea not only worked… but it went viral."

Rejection Stamina: How Much Can You Take? by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "She (Meg Cabot) points to her own experience with rejection, and I challenge you to read this without fainting..."

The Surprising Importance of Doing Nothing by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...in a world where output, production, and speed are the gold standard, it’s important to remind ourselves that fast doesn’t always mean better. For some people, speed gets in the way of producing their richest, deepest, most creative work."

Picture Book Month Promotion Kit -- get ready for November!

Courage and Confidence by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Sometimes I think we spend too much time analyzing our fears as a way to bolster our courage. Maybe–just maybe–the problem would take care of itself if we planted our seats in our seats and worked harder."

Tales of Reconciliation Rooted in Judaism by Janni Lee Simner from Arizona Jewish Post.

(Scholastic, 2014)
Join author Sharon G. Flake in Telling the World #IAMUNSTOPPABLE from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "On Sept. 30, my new novel, Unstoppable Octobia May, will hit bookstores nationwide. On that day I would love you and/or the young people you influence to join me in shouting out to the world that they too are unstoppable by holding up the following sign, words, image: I AM UNSTOPPABLE #UNSTOPPABLEOCTOBIAMAY.

Why Does the Opening of John Green's The Fault In Our Stars Work? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations..."

Transparency is Paramount: Consider the Source by Tanya Lee Stone from School Library Journal. Peek: "...the problem arises when I feel duped or manipulated into thinking I am reading nonfiction and discovering I am not—or worse, not being able to determine whether anything was made up, save writing to the author."

A Conversation with Norwegian Author-Illustrator Stien Hole by Julie Danielson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I am a collector of bits and pieces that I move around and try to put together. That is what I do for a living. Like in a theater, I have a huge prop stock." Note: click the link if only to be mesmerized by Hole's art work--gorgeous and fascinating.

Cynsational Screening Room




This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Lunch with Sarah Enni of YA Highway and First Draft at Tacos & Tequila.
My most heartfelt and enthusiastic congratulations to my former Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers advanced novel workshop student Yamile Saied Mendez on her admission to the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program!

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith and my many other friends who were selected as 2014 Featured Authors at the Texas Book Festival! Kudos also to Greg on his characters from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014) making the 2013-2014 Yearbook Superlatives from The Horn Book. Guys Lit Wire says of the novel, "This is a cool book about friendship, about overcoming obstacles and about being open to different possibilities. The laid back first person viewpoint makes it accessible to a wide variety of readers."

Check out the cover for Things I'll Never Say: Stories of Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick/Brilliance, 2015), which will include my short story, "Cupid's Beaux," which is set in the Tantalize-Feral universe and told from the point of view of the guardian angel Joshua.

From the promotional copy:

Fifteen top young-adult authors let us in on provocative secrets in a fascinating collection that will have readers talking.

A baby no one knows about. A dangerous hidden identity. Off-limits hookups. A parent whose problems your friends won’t understand. Everyone keeps secrets—from themselves, from their families, from their friends—and secrets have a habit of shaping the lives around them. 

Acclaimed author Ann Angel brings together some of today’s most gifted YA authors to explore, in a variety of genres, the nature of secrets: Do they make you stronger or weaker? Do they alter your world when revealed? Do they divide your life into what you'll tell and what you won't? The one thing these diverse stories share is a glimpse into the secret self we all keep hidden.

With stories by Ann Angel; Kerry Cohen; Louise Hawes; Varian Johnson; erica l. kaufman; Ron Koertge; E. M. Kokie; Chris Lynch; Kekla Magoon; Zoë Marriott; Katy Moran; J. L. Powers; Mary Ann Rodman; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and Ellen Wittlinger.

My fun link of the week: Kidlit Mashups (AKA Merged Children's Book Sequels).

The smartest one: Why You Don't Need to Rush Your Writing by Meg Rosoff from Writer Unboxed.

And the one that makes me dream: 20 Writing Residency You Should Apply for This Year.

Personal Links

Marsha Riti, Bethany Hegedus, C.S.Jennings & Amy Farrier at Austin SCBWI
Cynsational Events

P.J. Hoover will speak and sign Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life at 2 p.m. Sept. 20 at The Book Spot.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl's Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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12. Guest Post: Chris Barton on A New & Diversity Bookselling Strategy: BookPeople's Modern First Library

Newlyweds Chris & Jenny
By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Many of my ideas -- good, bad, and otherwise -- originate while I’m exercising, and Modern First Library was among these.

One evening this past winter, while my wife, fellow author Jennifer Ziegler, and I were walking our dog, I bemoaned an article I’d read about an independent bookseller’s baby gift registry.

Of the classic picture books mentioned in the article -- through no fault of the store, I’m assuming -- the newest one was published during the first Nixon administration.

We’re in a pretty terrific era for picture books. You might even call it a golden age, and I’ve been working for years to try to contribute to it myself. But how, I griped, was the general book-buying public going to know about contemporary standouts such as I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (Candlewick, 2011) if major media outlets so readily reinforce shoppers’ tendencies to look to their own youth -- or even to earlier decades -- for the books they give as gifts to modern kids?

If only, I thought, there was some way to leverage the public’s interest in buying the tried and true into the purchase of classics and contemporary titles. I wasn’t interested in just shifting sales from old to new -- booksellers and kids alike would benefit a lot more if those parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and godparents and family friends bought two picture books instead of just one.

Our walk ended, and that was as far as it went. But not for long.

A couple of weekends later, the groundshifting essays by Walter Dean Myers (“Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”) and Christopher Myers (“The Apartheid of Children’s Literature”) ran in The New York Times.

A widespread urge to Do Something About This led to lots of conversations among authors, editors, librarians, and other champions of children’s literature. It led to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.

And it led me to email Meghan Goel, the children’s-book buyer at my beloved local indie BookPeople, to discuss a new spin on the notion I’d had on that recent walk.

Wait -- email Meghan in what capacity?

As an author? Yes, but also as a BookPeople customer, and as a dad, and as a member of the community. Of various communities, in fact, large and small.

What’s important is not whether I felt especially qualified to lend my voice but rather that I had an idea that I thought might be worth trying and I decided not to keep it to myself.

Sharing an idea was the least I could do.

Here’s what I emailed, under the subject line “Getting past Goodnight Moon”:

Hey there, Meghan,

Like apparently half of everyone I know, I've read the Myers' New York Times essays with tremendous interest. And those essays sparked a diversity-encouraging idea that I wanted to run past a bookseller or two before I get too enamored of a notion that may be either entirely unoriginal or totally unworkable or both.

My sense is that there a lot of gift-giving adults whose familiarity with picture books doesn't go far beyond the likes of:

Would there be an effective way to encourage these adults to buy the classic titles they have in mind and a new picture book that reflects the modern, diverse world that the recipients inhabit? And could such an effort be widespread and long-lasting enough that it could reward publishers for doing a better job of making good on their good intentions?

Am I nuts? A simpleton? Both -- and way off base, to boot?
I'd love to know what you think.

Chris

Meghan’s reply?

“I love this idea.”

Right away, she came up with the name “Modern First Library.”

Meghan suggested partnering with a small but diverse group of other authors whose voices on behalf of such a program might make it more successful. And she thanked me for reaching out to her.

We worked together to come up with a list of other authors we wanted to have involved. We tossed around ideas for great, vibrant, fun contemporary titles that we ourselves would want to have as the foundation for a child’s first collection of picture books alongside the established classics.

All the while we kept in mind the need for a program that would work specifically for BookPeople -- for its staff, its available space for in-store and online promotion, and local tastes and demographics -- while being potentially repeatable by indie booksellers in other communities.

Author-illustrator contributor Don Tate
We didn’t rush into anything, even as the conversation about diversity in children’s literature remained a passionate one within the publishing and bookselling industries.

By the time our planning was done and the program launched the first week in July, Modern First Library consisted of a simple in-store display of both standalone titles and starter sets of similarly themed books, plus an online campaign that soon began featuring insightful, inspiring blog posts by locally based and nationally established creators of books for children and young adults.

More starter sets are available online, and the program is still picking up momentum. Those pre-wrapped gift sets will be heavily featured at the store during the upcoming holiday season.

Let me tell you, it feels great to know that young readers will be receiving selections from Modern First Library as gifts this year.

I stop by the Modern First Library display, just to admire it, every time I’m in BookPeople. Seeing it makes me glad all over again that I reached out to Meghan rather than assume I had no part to play in addressing the dearth of diversity in children’s literature.

And considering that all this began with my wife and me walking the dog, it’s certainly provided positive reinforcement for us to keep on getting plenty of exercise.

In all sorts of ways, this entire experience has been a gift in itself.

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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13. Author Interview: Paula Yoo on Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus

Learn more about Paula Yoo.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Twenty-two Cents: The Story of Muhammad Yunus, illustrated by Jamel Akib (Lee & Low, 2014)! 

What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Thank you! The initial inspiration was from one of my editors at Lee & Low Books.

I worked with Jason Low on my last book, Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009).

After that book came out, he and I discussed what my next book should be. At the time, Jason had read Muhammad Yunus’ autobiography Banker to the Poor: Micro-lending and the Battle Against World Poverty with Alan Jolis (Public Affairs 1999). He thought Professor Yunus would be a great biographical subject for Lee & Low Books. He suggested I read Baker to the Poor, too.

I read and loved the book - like Jason, I was very inspired by Muhammad Yunus’ work. I agreed with Jason that Muhammad Yunus’ life would make for a fantastic children’s picture book biography.

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

The timeline took about a year, from idea conception to research and writing and submission for publication and acceptance. I worked with editors Jason Low and Emily Hazel for a few months as I crafted a first draft and received their editorial input.

After several rounds of revision, they felt the book was ready to submit for official consideration. And then I received the good news - the book was accepted for publication!

I then worked with editor Jessica Echeverria for the final version.

As for any major events, I would say the biggest event was meeting and interviewing Muhammad Yunus himself when he visited Los Angeles for a conference. It was truly an honor to meet and interview the man who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

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

There are so many challenges into bringing a historical picture book biography to life for young readers. I’d say one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to balance historical facts and figures with an engaging and compelling narrative storyline that keeps the young reader’s attention.

Another challenge is making sure young readers can identify with the main character - what was Muhammad Yunus like as a child?

How can a modern-day child from America relate to a young boy growing up in Bangladesh from the 1940s to '60s?

What are the universal elements of Muhammad Yunus’ life that any child can relate to and understand?

I discovered that Muhammad Yunus was a very sensitive and caring young boy who questioned why so many people in his country grew up in poverty. He wanted to help them. His spirit of generosity influenced all his decisions from childhood to adulthood. I wanted to share that beautiful and very universal compassion with today’s young readers.

In addition, the book also touches upon some very complex issues, from the history of Bangladesh the nation to the concept of “micro-credit” and banking and interest rates. These are topics that even adults can find complicated and confusing. So another challenge was figuring out how to write about these issues not only accurately but also in a way that did not bore or confuse a child reader.

Let’s just say there were many drafts and revisions before I finally figured it out!

What advice do you have for children's nonfiction writers?

Paula Yoo & Muhammad Yunus
I have two pieces of advice for children’s nonfiction writers.

First, I cannot stress enough how important it is do “primary source” research. There’s so much information out there on the Internet, and a lot of it is second-hand information that is not credited properly.

Fact check your information. See if you can do live in-person interviews with sources for your book. There’s nothing wrong with “cold calling” a subject - I did that with Muhammad Yunus.

I found his website and left emails and voicemails with his office in Bangladesh. They responded immediately and graciously arranged a full sit-down interview with him.

You never know unless you try. Do follow-up interviews. Triple check facts with other sources. Make sure you footnote and credit your information.

All of this research advice is based upon my own background as a former journalist - I wrote for The Seattle Times, The Detroit News and People Magazine and received an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University. So I am very meticulous with my reporting.

Photo of Paula by Sonya Sones
I know it may seem like overkill, but trust me, you will feel so much better when you sit down to write because you really did your “homework.”

Now having said that, my second piece of advice is the exact opposite.

Once you have completed your research…walk away from it. Focus on finding out what the story is… and figure out who your main character is… a nonfiction book is not a magazine article or academic essay crammed with facts and figures.

You’re still telling a story.

So I also recommend using the same fiction-writing techniques you use for fiction picture books and novels for nonfiction books. Find out what the beginning, middle and end is for your story - what’s the conflict? What are the obstacles? How does your character change and grow on his/her journey?

Then for revisions, you can go back and figure out how to blend the nonfiction facts seamlessly into the “fictional” narrative story you’ve written.

How about those concentrating specifically on picture book biographies?

I’d say the exact same thing as above but with an emphasis on character. Your main character - the biography subject - is no different than a character in a fictional picture book or novel.

Your character is going on a journey - he/she is going to have a goal or desire. That goal or desire will be met with obstacles that your character has to overcome.

How does your character change at the end of the story? For Muhammad Yunus, he wanted to help poor people. But he soon found out that helping poor people was a lot more difficult than he had anticipated.

Instead of just using his economics degree to teach classes at the university, he went into the rural villages and met with poverty-stricken villagers so he could truly understand the vicious cycle of poverty. This led to his “out of the box” thinking and using his creativity to set up Grameen bank and the concept of “micro credit” and small loans for groups of women in order to teach them how to become financially independent.

This led to Muhammad Yunus winning the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize… his journey took him from being a compassionate child to a professor who used his intellect to make a huge difference in the world and change people’s lives forever.

For anyone working on a picture book biography - think big. Your main subject should have a compelling and interesting childhood and many obstacles that he/she must overcome in order to triumph as an adult historical figure who helped change the world for the better.

My other picture book biographies - Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009) are both equally as “big” as my book on Muhammad Yunus.

Sammy Lee was not allowed to swim in his town’s public swimming pool in the 1920s-30s because he was not white. He overcame racial discrimination to win two Gold Medals as a diver in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics.

Anna May Wong grew up as a poor laundryman’s daughter in downtown Los Angeles and overcame racial discrimination to become one of the first Asian American movie stars.

For those who are new to your work, could you tell us a bit about your back-list titles?

In addition to my picture book biographies, I also have a YA novel called Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) that was re-issued in paperback in 2012.

It’s a funny and heartwarming story about a Korean American teen violin geek. I poke fun at the “Model Minority Myth” and tackle other Asian American stereotypes/racial discrimination, but the bigger story is about a young girl who learns the difference between success and happiness and following her own path.

This novel was inspired by my real life background as a violinist.

(When I’m not writing, I play the violin professionally in various local orchestras and with rock bands in Los Angeles.)

I am also a TV writer/producer. I’ve written for everything from NBC’s "The West Wing" to SyFy’s "Eureka." I’m currently a Supervising Producer on the writing staff for Amazon’s "Mozart in the Jungle," which is based on professional oboist Blair Tindall’s memoir of the same name. The series was created by Paul Weitz, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Alex Timbers. It’s a fun look behind the curtain of professional classical musicians.

I love how your blog pays proper attention to your cats! Please share with us how they contribute to your writing life!

Thank you for the cat shout-out!

My three cats Oreo, Beethoven and Charlotte help me write quite a bit. They will sit by my side while I write (especially Oreo!).

Sometimes I have to “pitch” story ideas out loud for my TV job as well as for my books.

So I find myself pitching out loud to my cats… that way I don’t feel as strange talking out loud to no one else in the room. The cats are easily distracted, so it’s good practice for me!

They also keep me calm with their purring. And because they get restless and want to eat or play, it helps me from procrastinating because I know I only have a limited period of time to write before the cats start nudging me with their paws and heads, demanding attention.

Cynsational Notes

Paula Yoo is a children's book author/novelist and a TV writer-producer.

Her latest book is Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (Lee & Low, 2014), illustrated by Jamel Akib. Her YA novel Good Enough (HarperCollins, 2008) was a 2009 Honor Book of the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

Her other books include the IRA Notable nonfiction picture book biographies Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low, 2005) and Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009), which also won the 2010 Carter G. Woodson Award from the National Council for the Social Studies.

She is currently a supervising producer for the show "Mozart in the Jungle" on Amazon. Her other TV credits include NBC’s "The West Wing" and SyFy’s "Eureka."

When she’s not writing, Paula teaches, plays her violin and hangs out with her three cats. Her website is http://paulayoo.com and you can follow Paula and her cats on Twitter @paulayoo and @oreothecatyoo

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14. Book Trailer: The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Vast and Brutal Sea by Zoraida Córdova (Sourcebooks Fire, 2014). From the promotional copy:

This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother–and there can only be one winner. 

In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. 

The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. 

Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. 

It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.


Cynsational Notes

Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes by Cindy Rodriguez from Latin@s in Kid Lit. 

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15. Guest Author Interview: Chris Cander on The Word Burglar

By Emma Kate Tsai 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Chris Cander happened upon a children’s story by way of her real life as a mom of two kids.

Below, Emma Kate Tsai interviews Chris about how she conceptualized The Word Burglar, illustrated by Katherine Tramonte (Bright Sky, 2013) and her perspective on children’s literature as a writer who’s also a mother of two.

Can you tell the story of how The Word Burglar came to be?

My daughter, who is now eleven, was going to camp for the first time when I wrote it.

At the time, I would tell her a story that I made up on the fly every night. When she went away to camp, it was the first time she wasn’t going to have a story at night. But the camp allowed me to email a letter by 10 a.m. that they would then print and, by bedtime, give to her.

So I would get up and give myself forty-five minutes to write a story. I’d drink coffee while I was doing it and try to keep the baby occupied, then I’d email it.

I really didn’t know if she was liking them, but I started posting them on Facebook every morning. They amassed a bit of a following. People were downloading them and reading them to their kids.

There was some urgency behind it because I only gave myself forty-five minutes. That was how the story made its way to Bright Sky, because a good friend of mine had just published The Storm Wrangler (2011), and he introduced me to the publisher after seeing my stories on Facebook.

Did it come out of your head like that--that forty-five minute exercise—or did you go back and fine-tune after it became popular? 

It was the forty-five minute draft. I’d wake up, and I would grab anything I could think of.

My son was trying to learn how to read.

Now, of course, he didn’t have fourteen brothers and sisters like The Word Burglar, or parents who didn’t know how to teach him. But I immediately thought: Sasha’s gone, he doesn’t have his role model here—she and he would read together in bed—and then it happened.

That was the kernel of the idea and, believe it or not, it’s freeing to have a constraint of time. I wasn’t trying to write for publication. I was trying to write for my eight year old, so she’d have a bedtime story. That internal voice that gets really critical and tells you to over-analyze? It wasn’t there because I had forty-five minutes.

It’s such a great technique if you haven’t tried it. Give yourself either a time constraint or give yourself permission to write the very worst thing that you’ve ever written.

There’s something very liberating about having permission to fail, having permission to do garbage work, because you might actually find something wonderful comes out.

That gatekeeper, that critic, has been turned away.

You used your own illustrator, is that right? 

Was it difficult to convince the publisher to use own illustrator?

My illustrator, who is a very good friend of mine, will say that I strong-armed them, and I kind of did. I had two illustrators in mind, one who did the cover of a novel I author-published this year, 11 Stories. He was one of my top two choices, and he was a friend, too. We went to middle school together.

But his agent said he didn’t have time to do it. Kat is a good friend, and our kids are friends, so when I got the contract from Bright Sky, my contact there asked, “Do you have any kind of illustration style in mind?”

I said, “I’d just really like you to meet my friend.”

Kat had never done any children’s books before. So it was a risk on everybody’s part, but she had great samples and great enthusiasm.

Plus, it was a great story because of the fact that we’d been friends and our kids were the same ages, and so we were able to build the kids into the book. Mine were characters and hers became represented in it: Her son was the model for The Word Burglar, and her daughter’s bunny, Hop, is represented in the bunny on every page.

The publisher got excited about that story aspect. It’s a selling point when we’ve gone to festivals. We go as a pair, and people enjoy hearing the back-story of how we work together.

Most of the time, at the point of the contract being signed, the author has almost no input into the rest of the process, and yet I was able to chat with Kat at five in the morning about sample illustrations. “Do you like this direction?” she’d ask. That part of it was great. I’m glad they gave her a chance.

Could you share with us the story behind your blurb?

50th Anniversary Edition
Leonard Kessler, author of Mr. Pine’s Purple House, which was my favorite book when I was about three, blurbed my first children’s book.

I loved that book when I was little, and I kept it for forever.

At some point, I was inspired to go to my library and curate my own favorite books on my own shelves.

Mr. Pine’s Purple House was there. I thought to myself, I wonder what else he’s done.

He’s published over 250 books for children and young readers, he’s 93 years old, and he lives in Sarasota, Florida.

One day, I pick up the phone—because that’s how intrepid I am—and I looked him up.

I called and said, “I would love to talk to Mr. Kessler. Would you give him my email and pass on a message?”

And the woman that answered the phone said, “Oh no, I’ll just give you his phone number.”

And she did.

So I called him on the phone and we had a lovely, amazing talk that ended in tears, because it was the most satisfying, full-circle of my life.

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16. Guest Post: Barbara Shoup on The Real Jack Kerouac

By Barbara Shoup
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Few writers attained the fame Jack Kerouac experienced after the publication of his novel, On the Road (Viking, 1957). The book captured the spirit of rebellion bubbling beneath the staid and satisfied 1950’s, and inspired countless young people to throw off their parents’ expectations and set out on adventures of their own.

Kerouac himself became an icon, a role he both gloried in and despised—and which, ultimately, undid him.

Looking for Jack Kerouac isn’t about Kerouac himself, but about a boy, Paul, who takes off in search of him because he believes Kerouac can help him figure out what to do with his life.

“Lost in the pages of On the Road, I felt like…myself,” he says. “Like the book knew who I was, what I wanted, and was speaking back to me somehow.”

But the Jack Kerouac Paul finds is nothing like Sal Paradise, the character Kerouac fashioned after himself in the book. He’s living in a tacky little house with his elderly mother in St. Petersburg, Florida—an alcoholic, a bigot, a right wing fundamentalist and full of rage about where his life has taken him.

What could a guy like that offer a grief-stricken, idealistic young man in love with the idea of freedom? That was the biggest challenge I faced, writing the book.

Like most people in my generation, I’d read On the Road. I thought of Kerouac as the ultimate in cool, shaking his fist at the world, going where he wanted to go, doing what he wanted to do. I knew Kerouac was wild and reckless, that he squandered his career and died young of cirrhosis of the liver.

But reading his books and books about him, especially those by people had known him, made me begin to understand what a complex person he had been, what a bundle of contradictions.

The more I read about Kerouac, the more real and sympathetic he became to me. The icon faded, leaving a just a wrecked man, who had just enough left in him to give a grieving kid what he needed to accept his mother’s death and begin the next phase of his life.

I don’t want to do a spoiler here, so I’ll just say that answer lay not in On the Road, but in Visions of Gerard (FSG, 1963), an autobiographical novel about the death of Kerouac’s saintly older brother.

I worried a lot about getting Jack right. I didn’t want to glamorize him, nor did I want to make him seem only pathetic. So I was thrilled when David Amram, a close friend of Kerouac, said this about my novel:

“Like Kerouac's own writing, Barbara Shoup's new book Looking for Jack Kerouac brings you right into his world and gives the reader a chance to spend time with him. Shoup's portrayal of Kerouac is astonishingly real and provides a whole fresh look of what it was like for those few of us left who spent time with him.” 

No matter what happens to the book from here on out, the knowledge that I succeeded in capturing Kerouac’s spirit will always mean more to me than anything else.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

#LookingForKerouac @barbshoup @SamiJoLienSet in 1964, Looking for Jack Kerouac tells the story of Paul Carpetti, a boy from a working class family in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana, whose dreams of a different kind of life and grief at the loss of his mother set him on a road trip that includes a wild night in Nashville, Tennessee, an all-too-real glimpse of glimpse of racism; and an encounter with a voluptuous mermaid named Lorelei—landing him in St. Petersburg, where he finds real friendship and, in time, Jack Kerouac. 

By then a ruined man, living with his mother, Kerouac is nothing like the person Paul has traveled so far to meet. 

Yet, in the end, it is Kerouac who gives him the key that opens up the next phase of his life.

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17. Cynsational News

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Where Books Meet Disaster: A Brief Reading List About Kids and Migration from Meg Medina. Peek: "The difficult story of migration is the Latino story, and it is the human story since time began." See also Eleven Books on Latin American Immigration and Migration from Lee & Low.

Hidden Emotions: How to Tell Readers What Characters Don't Want to Show by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them." See also Angela on Taking Your Character Further and Deeper with...Anger? and Character Skills & Talents: Promotion.

Drawing From Real Life to Enrich Fiction by Keith Cronin from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...in my own fiction, I’d spent a lot of time and energy focusing on being funny or clever, but it wasn’t until I really dug deeper emotionally and explored some areas that hit very close to home that I actually succeeded in selling a book." See also Sarah Callender on Doubt, Fear and Constipation and Robin LaFevers on The Crushing Weight of Expectations from Writer Unboxed.

Submit Your Novel to New Visions Award for New Authors of Color from Tu Books. Peek: "...will be given to a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color." Deadline: Oct. 31.

What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon by Aimee Bender from The New York Times. Peek: "It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure."

a Scheider Book Award winner
Interview with Alyson Beecher, Schneider Family Book Award Chair by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "...there is an increase in the quality, as well as, the number of books being published each year that portray individuals with disabilities. This is a fabulous thing; however, there still needs to be more, especially for young children under the age of eight years old."

In Defense of "Real" Realism in Children's Books by Emma Barnes from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...creating something entertaining and captivating out of the mundane is challenging – maybe more challenging than 'the big stuff'."

Formatting to Indicate a Mid-Scene Break by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "This is more an issue of clarity than of rules."

When Happily-Ever-After Ends Between Writing Client and Literary Agent by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "We’re quick to announce on our blogs, on Facebook, and on Twitter about signing with an agent. We’re not so quick when it comes to announcing we’ve split ways." See also Stina on Balancing Your Writing Career Against Social Media.

Diversity in Children's Books: It's a Question of Power by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "...if the adult is saying, 'This is about this,' sometimes that gets in the way of the child’s imagination."

Character Buy-In by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Before we’re ready to believe that dinosaurs roam the earth again (or whatever), the character has to believe it. Only then will the reader go along with the story and feel safe suspending disbelief." See also Mary on Interiority in the Third Person.

2013 Woodson Award Winner
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Call for Submissions from the National Council for the Social Studies. Peek: "...presented to the most distinguished young reader non-fiction books depicting ethnicity in the United States." Note: Nominations due postmarked Oct. 10.

100+ Picture Book Agents from Mondays with Mandy and Mira.

Did Harry Potter Help Shape the Politics of Millenials? by Anthony Gierzynski from Slate. Peek: "Reading the books correlated with greater levels of acceptance for out-groups, higher political tolerance, less predisposition to authoritarianism, greater support for equality, and greater opposition to the use of violence and torture."

Interview with Little, Brown Editor Alvina Ling from Goodreads. Peek: "I do think that the quality of books featuring characters of color has improved (fewer stereotypical depictions, more variety), and also, if you look at the total number of diverse characters in books, I believe the numbers would be vastly improved." Note: Alvina makes an important point here; most statistics of representation reflect only protagonists.

Picture Book Builders: Published authors/illustrators Linda Ashman, Kevan Atteberry, Jill Esbaum, Pat Zietlow Miller, Jennifer Black-Reinhardt, Barb Rosenstock, Tammi Sauer, and Eliza Wheeler post twice/week about one element of a specific picture book that impresses them and, more importantly, why that element works so well. They hope aspiring picture book writers will return for inspiration again and again."

Innate Identity versus Imagine "The Other" from Karen Sandler. Peek: "Based on who I am, how well can I get into this character’s head? How authentically can I write her identity, her culture?" See also Are We Ready for Unstoppable Characters of Color? by Sharon G. Flake from CBC Diversity.

Cynsational Screening Room

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Jean Reidy is holding a contest with the grand prize being a first pages critique from a New York editor! Until high noon on Sept. 26, children's author Jean Reidy will be holding a contest on her blog. The grand prize is a critique, from a New York editor, of the first five pages of your picture book, middle grade or young adult novel. The contest benefits Reach Out and Read Colorado. See more information.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

With fellow Austin authors Sam Bond and Bethany Hegedus
Chatting books with Belle at Epcot!
Congratulations to SCBWI's Tomie dePaola Award Semi-Finalists!

This Book Is for You by Cynthia Leitich Smith from BookPeople's Modern First Library. Peek: "When we imagine the books our children will hug, what do the covers look like? The heroes? What do heroes look like?"

Dedication Delights from Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature. Note: Includes the story behind Kathi Appelt's dedication of The Underneath (Atheneum, 2008) to me and Greg Leitich Smith.

Links of the Week: Lower 9th Ward Librarian Wins First Lemony Snicket Prize, J.K. Rowling Sends "Dumbledore"-Penned Letter to Texas Shooting Survivor, Matt de la Pena on Secrets Spawned of Machismo, Matchmaking & MySpace and The Writers' Retreat.

Personal Links

Happy 100th birthday to my literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd.!

Cynsational Events

Austin SCBWI Fall Workshop: Research for Fiction, Nonfiction & Historical Fiction Writers will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Laura's Library in Austin. Speakers include: Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at Highlights magazine, along with authors Cynthia Levinson, Greg Leitich Smith, and author-librarian Jeanette Larson.

Divya Srinivasan will speak and sign Little Owl's Day at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 at BookPeople in Austin.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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


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18. Events Report: Kathi Appelt & Rita Williams-Garcia at The Writing Barn & BookPeople

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Highlights of summer included a visit to Austin by two dear friends and coleagues New York City author Rita Williams-Garcia and College Station author Kathi Appelt. While in town, they taught a full-novel workshop at The Writing Barn and teamed up for an event at BookPeople.

Greg Leitich Smith and I also had the opportunity to visit with workshop students at The Barn

With Rita at County Line on the Lake
With Rita at The Driskill
With Rita and Kathi at Maudie's Hacienda
With Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn
Greg entertains students by singing opera at The Barn.
Workshop students & faculty with director Bethany Hegedus; photo courtesy of The Writing Barn.
With Anne Bustard, Kathi, Rita & April Lurie at Trace.
With Greg, bookseller Mandy Brooks, & Kathi at BookPeople.

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19. Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Get It Write This Summer from Nerdy Chicks Rule Summer School 2014. Peek: "Kidlit Summer School is a four week writer’s workshop that will run from July 21 through August 15. Because we (Kami (Kinard) and Sudipta (Bardhan-Quallen)) both enjoy teaching writing classes, we wanted to find a way to offer craft-based writing advice on a particular topic each summer. Our 2014 course is going to focus on writing great characters."

Saying Something Simple by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Why do we have to twist ourselves into sentence pretzels and dive into the thesaurus to turn out a description that’s unlike any anyone has ever written?"

Speech! Speech! by Varian Johnson from Quirk & Quill. Peek: "Whether it’s for the Newbery, Printz, Boston Globe-Horn, or whatever, I love hearing authors talk about their process, or why they were drawn to write a book, or how, even with past success, each new book has its own traps and pitfalls."

Swim Stroke Clinic by Marybeth Whalen from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Guess whose names I found on the stroke clinic list? The finalists from the big meet! Column after column, the names matched up." See also Writers, What Are You Afraid Of? by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed,

Four Characteristics of Author Attitude and Why You Need Them by Nina Amir from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I have created an acronym to help you remember the four characteristics of Author Attitude. The acronym spells a word that recently has come into common culture: WOOT!"

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen Wins Kate Greenway Medal for Illustration from Candlewick Press. Note: "Published by the Walker Books Group – including Candlewick Press in the U.S. and Walker Books in the U.K. – Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat will go into the history books as the first ever title to win both the U.K.’s highest illustration honor with the Kate Greenaway Medal, and also win the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the US, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which was awarded in 2013."

Bid to Win a Phone Consultation with Literary Agent Anna Olswanger in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation's online auction. Note: "...an international wildlife charity that works throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering." According to Publishers Weekly, "After nine years at Liza Dawson Associates, Anna Olswanger has formed her own agency, Olswanger Literary, LLC. She and Liza Dawson Associates will continue to partner on selected projects." Her focus will be picture books (author-illustrators only), middle grade fiction, and adult nonfiction.

The Real Meaning of "Show, Don't Tell" by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Show over tell begins at the scene level--not at the sentence or paragraph level."

Q&A with Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature by Marieke from DiversifYA. Peek: "Biggest challenges I deal with are related to an overall lack of knowledge about who we were, and who we are."

BookPeople's Modern First Library Program by Chris Barton from The Bartography Express. Peek: "So we have put together some modern library starter kits to pair classic picture books that will never go out of style with a selection of other favorites that reflect the vibrant, global society of the 21st century. Perfect for baby showers or special occasions, we think these bundles make wonderful gifts for young readers ready to expand their collections or little ones just getting started. Come check out our display in the children's section." Note: BookPeople is an independent bookstore in Austin, Texas.

How Do You Reveal Character? by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "So revelation of characters, in my humble opinion, should be shown through the action they take in the various situations that the story requires them to move through."

Speech! Speech! by Varian Johnson from Quirk & Quill. Peek: "I’m a junkie for speeches as well, especially author acceptance speeches (especially when I’m struggling with my own writing). Whether it’s for the Newbery, Printz, Boston Globe-Horn, or whatever, I love hearing authors talk about their process, or why they were drawn to write a book, or how, even with past success, each new book has its own traps and pitfalls."

Q&A With Estela Bernal About Can You See Me Now? by Edith Campbell from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "Estela Bernal made her debut as an author this past May with Can You See Me Now? (Pinata/Arte Publico)."

Can I Bend Submission Rules for My Novel in Verse? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "No one will think you’re trying to cheat if you single-space poems in a novel-in-verse submission."

Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! by Carli Spina from The Horn Book. Peek: "To this day, Helen remains a popular subject for children’s literature with several new books about her life being released in the last few years."

Five Surprising Ways Regret Can Deepen Your Hero's Arc by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "It’s grieving for what could have been. Even if there was nothing you could have done. But it also encompasses guilt, remorse, and contrition."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman, 2014) were Nikki in Texas and Deena in New York.

The winners of Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith (Roaring Brook, 2014) were Robin in North Carolina and Jennifer in California.

Enter to win Call of the Klondike by David Meissner (this year's Golden Kite Award winner in nonfiction) from Lee Wind at The Official SCBWI blog. Note: post also includes author interview.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Check out my contribution to School Library Journal's expanded discussion on diversity. My focus is on the sort of self-censorship we as an industry--we, including Native writers and authors of color--sometimes engage in, based on assumptions and predispositions about which books will be supported in the marketplace. Peek:

"Because of the reality—or at least the perception of it—that only certain kinds of books will be championed, writers set aside stories, editors reject submissions, marketing dollars are elsewhere allocated, and, ultimately, young readers are presented a largely monochromatic sliver of the literature—that should rightfully be varied and diverse—and are missing out on diverse heroes and stories that could propel them to a lifetime of avid reading."

Last week's highlight was teaching one of the advanced novel writing workshops at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, Utah. (I also gave two speeches and participated in a panel discussion.) This was my second time at WIFYR, and I absolutely loved the experience.

The Salt Lake City area is gorgeous--and, yes, it did snow (and rain)!
My wonderful assistant Michelle Hubbard! (Can you spot the zebra in the photo?)
Soon-to-debut Courtney Alameda, with her agent John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary!
WIFYR Queen & author Carol Lynch Williams at conference sponsor Barbwire and Lace.
Advanced Novel Workshop classroom; photo by Corrinne Lewis.
Miss y'all already, WIFYR advanced novel writing class!
Who's a chicken?
Love you, Carol!

Don't miss  Greg Leitich Smith's photo report on WIFYR!

Speaking of Greg, the buzz continues to build for his new release, Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014).

Greg and I celebrate with little green men!
  • Ms. Yingling Reads: "This has some very good twists and turns, so I don't want to give any of those away. Keep a close eye on Mrs. Fleance, though-- never underestimate a woman in a flowered bathing cap!"
  • The ABC Writers Guild: "The characters are well- rounded, full of paranoia and angst, and funny. That’s what really makes the book a great read: it’s funny and fun."
  • And Sukasa Reads gives the novel 4/5 stars!

Personal Links:


Cynsational Events

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Writers' League of Texas 2014 Agents and Editors Conference on June 28 at the Hyatt Regency Austin in Texas.

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

Research for Fiction, Non-fiction and Historical Fiction Writers from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at The Austin Centre (3809 South 2nd St.) from Austin SCBWI. Speakers authors Cynthia Levinson and Greg Leitich Smith, author-librarian Jeanette Larson and Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at "Highlights."

Get to know Austin SCBWI; header by Marsha Riti

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20. New Voice: M.K. Hutchins on Drift

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

M.K. Hutchins is the first-time author of Drift (Tu Books, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Only those poor enough to need children to support themselves in old age condescend to the shame of marriage. 

Tenjat is poor as poor gets, but he has a plan. Can Tenjat discover his sister’s secrets in time? Will the possibility of love derail all his plans for a richer, marriage-free life? 

Long-held secrets will at last be revealed in this breathtaking debut from M. K. Hutchins.

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

Drift had a long revision process. I started writing it back around 2005, while attending my first semesters of college.

Originally it was a novella, but it stank at that length. Everything felt rushed and undeveloped. I tossed it in a drawer.

In 2008, I extended a different novella into a novel. I thought back to Drift, which, in truth, was more like notes about a story than a story itself. I expanded it, too. But it still smelled funny.

So I kept writing other books, occasionally looking back. Some things that had given me a headache were easy to fix after all that extra experience. Other problems stubbornly remained. I fixed what I could, got more critiques, and revised again.

Come 2011, I knew the book was the best my skills could currently make it. I’d heard Stacy Whitman speak at a conference, thought she might be a good match for the book, and sent it straight to her. She sent me back a revision letter.

Follow @MKHutchins on Twitter
I’ve heard all the horror stories about revision letters, but for me, it was like Christmas. I could finally see those elusive weak spots in the manuscript.

Armed with that knowledge, I enthusiastically brainstormed solutions to the point that I was getting up every hour in the middle of the night to jot down notes (my husband did not sleep well).

During the rounds of revision, Stacy said something that surprised me: she called my book ambitious.

When I blinked at her, she continued, talking about the worldbuilding.

It never occurred to me that it took so long to get this book right, not because I was just slow and determined to succeed via mule-like stubbornness alone, but because I was trying to throw the reader into a different secondary world fantasy while telling a story and making it all feel effortless on the reader’s part.

I had two big take-aways from all of this.

First, that I need lots readers and critiquers. I need people to tell me when my worldbuilding is opaque, when it is clumsy, and when I’d managed the details just right so it flowed off the page.

I am not the kind of writer that can write well in a vacuum, isolated from feedback.

I wish I’d figured that out a lot sooner. For me, a good critique helps me see the flaws in a manuscript better than rereading it a half-dozen times.

Secondly, the people that you work with in this industry matters. There are lots of talented editors, but Stacy also understood what I wanted to do with this book. I didn’t dread my revision letters. All the things she pointed out or suggested made my book cleaner and stronger -- more the story that I’d been trying to tell all along.

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

In high school, I noticed that a lot of my childhood favorites didn’t study writing -- they were experts in some other area. Thanks to Tolkien, I was already fascinated by anthropology and linguistics.

Yes, I was the nerdy kind of teen that checked out Anthro 101 textbooks from the local library and devoured Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone (Thames & Hudson, 2001) for fun. After I graduated high school, I went to college and studied archaeology.

Drift came from day-dreaming-thinking during my classes. Maya cosmology, especially the idea of the world being on the back of a turtle surrounded by a watery hell, struck me. That image mingled with ideas of burial practices and economic pressures. Soon, I had a world that both physically and culturally felt round and real to me.

I often hear people say that fantasy doesn’t require research. I feel the exact opposite. To create a new world, I need to know as much as I can about the world around me.

Recently, I had a friend talk about trying out new, hard things -- not just coasting by on the talents and skills she already had -- to teach her children that new, hard things are worth doing. I chewed on that for days. Since college, I hadn’t really delved into a new discipline. I’d kept reading in my comfort zone. Both as a mom and a writer, I realized I could benefit from branching out.

So I jumped off the deep end and enrolled in a Coursera programming class (Coursera is free, online, and amazing). It’s been rewarding to explore a strange, new world. I don’t know if what I’ve learned will ever turn up in a story (okay, who am I kidding; it almost certainly will), but I figure everything I learn goes towards my education as a wourldbuilder and a writer of fantasy.

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21. New Voice: Jennifer Mathieu on The Truth About Alice

By Emma Kate Tsai 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jennifer Mathieu is the first-time author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook, 2014). From the promotional copy: 

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.

Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the “slut stall” in the girls’ bathroom: “Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers” and “Alice got an abortion last semester.” 

After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. 

In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they “know” about Alice–and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. 

But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

How did you get into writing?

I was a journalism major initially. Actually, I have no formal writing training in terms of an MFA or even an English degree, but I’ve been a writer my entire life, ever since I can remember—working on my school paper and entering little writing competitions in school.

By RDSmith4
Sometimes I think I probably should have been an English major. But I always thought in my mind: “What does an English major do?” “What kind of job would an English major have?”

It seems silly now, but in the early nineties when newspapers weren’t dying yet, I could write and still make a living, so that’s why I majored in journalism.

I went to Northwestern University and got my B.S., and I did work as a newspaper reporter for several years for the Houston Press. And I actually dabbled in personal essay. I had a few pieces published here and there and I even tried to pitch a book of essays but didn’t really get very far. Then, in 2005, I decided to become a teacher. I got certified by HISD and ended up getting a master’s in education.

How did you decide to write young adult literature?

After I started teaching middle school English, I realized that there was this new world of young adult literature. As a kid I’d read everything I could get my hands on, constantly: Lois Lowry, Judy Blume, and all the eighties teen classics, but I didn’t realize there was this sort of renaissance in young adult literature that was happening.

And of course I taught middle school, so my students wanted to know what was good. I went to the International Reading Association, a big conference for English teachers who focus on reading, and they had this huge room where publishers gave away ARCs and I was like a kid in a candy store.

I shipped home a box of these young adult novels and I started reading them, and I just thought to myself, that young adult literature had become so authentic. It was telling real stories about real kids, and different kinds of kids. Something told me I might be able to do this.

How did you get your first agent?

I ended up writing a manuscript that I took to completion, and after that I went to a teen book conference in Humble where I met a woman named Sonia Sones, who writes YA books in verse: What My Mother Doesn’t Know, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, which is just one of my all-time favorite titles.

I hired her to critique my first young adult manuscript. I asked her, “Please just tell me if you think that if I have like any chance. I trust you. What do you think?”

She said, “You have a voice, you should do this. It’s a tough market, it’s a difficult market, but I think you have a chance.”

I didn’t know what a query letter was, I didn’t how people got agents, that was all foreign to me, but thank God for the internet, and I did a Google search.

I remember going to Barnes and Noble and getting a book of literary agents and trying to figure out how this all worked, and that’s how I found Nathan Bransford, who eventually became my first agent. On my bedroom wall, I have my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree and my letter from Nathan Bransford offering me representation. He never sold the first two books I wrote, but they got me an agent.

How did you get the idea for The Truth About Alice?

I ended up changing agents, and even though my new agent loved the two books I’d written, it was Alice that she sold. When I signed on with her, it was just an idea. But I wrote it, she sent me notes, I revised it.

When I was in high school, I read "Seventeen" magazine. It was 1992, and there was this article about this girl who went to school in Minnesota and she’d been the subject of these horrible, disgusting, sexual things written about her on a bathroom stall. She ended up suing the school under Title IX because the school didn’t clean the stall. Her parents came and tried to help her clean on a weekend and I remember thinking about how humiliated she must have felt. To have her parents have to see that.

That stayed with me and ended up being the seed that started the book. God, what a nightmare for that girl. And I’ve always loved stories that are told from multiple points of view like The Spoon River Anthology.

I remember thinking this might be the one that sells. I was right. It eventually went to auction and four houses bid on it at the same time. I ended up choosing Roaring Brook Press because they showed interest first, they had changes to make that made sense me, and they made a little YouTube video that showed how enthusiastic they were.

What was different about The Truth About Alice?

It was so much fun to write. The characters felt so alive to me in my head. I would see students at my high school where I teach and think that’s Kurt, or that’s Kelsey. They just seemed like real people to me.

Also, the story had some scandal in it, some bite to it, which I think always helps sell a book.

It’s about a girl who allegedly sleeps with two boys at a party, and all these rumors develop, and it’s set in a small Texas town. It was pitched as "Friday Night Lights" meets "Easy A."

Why do you think you can write young adult literature?

I remember high school really, really well. I personally did not like high school very much. I don’t know if that’s why I ended up teaching it and writing about it. But I just remember what it was like to be a teenager, and how painful it was in a lot of ways for me.

One of my eleventh graders read an ARC of it and she came up to me and said that it was the most realistic teenager voice she’d ever read. I think I get teenagers. I think that’s why people seem to like the voice, especially of Alice. It’s like the gloves are off.

Do you have any tips for writing for teenagers?

One thing I do and I think I do well is I try not to use slang or dated language. I don’t reference Facebook or any of that. Because, really, in this book they write graffiti about a girl ion a stall. That’s in a sense somewhat 1950s, but it hasn’t turned off the teenagers I know that have read it because there’s something timeless about being a teenager and feeling ostracized. I think focusing on those timeless elements of being young are how you stay authentic, as opposed to trying to sound young in the voice or the dialogue. You don’t want to be that older person that’s trying to sound young.

What teenagers are is brutally honest, not always out loud, just in that intensity in everything that they think and feel. I try to tap into that.

Everything is such a big deal, everything is capitalized when you’re a teenager. This one character in this book, her name is Kelsey, is very concerned about what other people think of her and she eventually drops Alice as a friend out of fear of being ostracized along with her.

There’s this moment where she says,

“You know how like when you’re learning about Nazi Germany and how everyone is always I wouldn’t have been a Nazi. Well, I would have been a Nazi. I would have been a passive sort of a Nazi, but I still would have been a Nazi. Because everyone says they would have saved Anne Frank, but clearly not that many people did.” 

She has that awareness. Teenagers are not dumb and they see hypocrisy very clearly. Even when they themselves are doing it, when they’re the ones being hypocrites.

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

As I reflect back, I don’t know if I’m surprised to debut in 2014 or just flat out grateful.

More on Jennifer Mathieu
I received the call from my agent that my book had sold – actually, that it was going to auction! – while on a beach vacation with my family. This may sound a bit fantastical, but shortly before the vacation, I’d started “imagining” what it would be like to receive such news while at the beach.

I actually created a vision in my mind of answering the phone from my agent and hearing her say, “Alice sold.”

I’m actually a really rational, logical person (for a writer, anyway!), and I had no logic to base this thinking on – the book went out at the end of the spring and we hadn’t heard anything yet.

Plus, "The Truth About Alice" was my third manuscript to go on submission – my first two had come very, very close but had never sold. But something in me knew on some weird gut level that this one was going to be different.

I even remember thinking, “Third time is a charm.” But nothing my agent or anyone else said or did gave me any actual facts to think it was going to sell at this time. It was just a feeling. And it came true just as I’d pictured it!

Jennifer & Kate Sowa, Blue Willow Bookshop
I’ve been a writer since childhood, but I started writing young adult fiction in 2007 or so, shortly after I became a teacher. It was a two-year process to write my first novel and find an agent.

Then, as I mentioned, my novel didn’t sell – although I got a lot of wonderful positive feedback. I wrote another book. That one didn’t sell either.

Again, more positive feedback that always ended in, “but...”

Then my original agent left agenting, and I was moved to someone else in the same agency who is still my agent today (the wonderful Sarah LaPolla). I started thinking about trying to write a third book – I had this idea for The Truth About Alice swimming around in my mind.

I remember having long talks with my husband about whether or not I should continue, and it always came down to this: I still loved writing.

I remember saying to him, “The day I no longer love writing, I’ll give up trying to sell a book.”

And I still loved it! Of course I did. I’d been doing it since I was young. So I kept doing it.

 I wrote The Truth About Alice over the period of about two years and then it sold.

Lucha tries to stop Jennifer from packing.
I’ve said more than once that I’m very glad this book came out when it did. I’m 37, and I have an established career as a teacher, a profession I really love.

I have a wonderful husband and son and a rich family life and lots of good friends. I feel like I’m in a place to truly appreciate this success and remain humbled by it.

It’s not that I don’t consider myself ambitious or that I don’t want to continue to do my best as a writer. I do.

 But it took seven years to get from the time I started writing young adult fiction to the time I held the copy of my first published book in my hand.

The wait was worth it and I think the wait helps me keep it all in perspective. This is all a dream come true, and I’m grateful for it. This is all icing on a really delicious cake.

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

Well, I can’t get too precious or navel-gazing about my writing. I can’t wait for the moment to strike.

In addition to teaching full-time, I also have a husband and young preschooler. When I’m on deadline, I write every day. I work, pick up my son, spend time with him and then with my husband when he gets home, and after my son is asleep my husband and I take a few minutes to just talk about our days. This is very helpful and rejuvenating.

Then it’s off to the dining room table to write! Again, because I have one to two hours a day at most to really work on my writing, I just have to do it. Some nights I write junk, but that’s okay. I still wrote something.

senior year
I actually write more now than I did before I was a mother. Limited time helps me prioritize what I really want to do, and I really want to write!

When I’m not on deadline, I might not write each day, but I’m always doing something related to my writing career each day – even if it’s just reading a book on my To Read List or connecting with other authors on social media and keeping up with the news. (Although I try not to get too obsessed with all that. I’m a big believer in not getting wrapped up in industry trends or gossip.)

My advice to others who want to write but who also have full-time jobs is to try and create a routine. Something else that helps me is establishing little writing “goals” like writing 500 words on a particular day (or 1,000 words if I have more time).

However, I’m a big believer in finding what works for you. Some people don’t do well with the pressure of a number of words. Some would rather say, “I’ll write for 30 minutes,” or “I’ll write on Tuesdays and Fridays.” It’s almost like exercise – even if you don’t have a ton of free time due to other work commitments, creating little mini goals like that can really keep you motivated.

Another piece of advice is to find a friend or friends with whom you can share your work – maybe a critique partner or group. I’m very fortunate because I have a dear friend who is also a teacher and a young adult lit fan. She doesn’t write herself, but she loves to talk with me about my writing and projects, and she is a terrific sounding board. She has been reading my work since I started all those years ago.

Finding someone you can talk to about your projects can really motivate you and inspire you to keep going! I often feel very energized when talking to my friend about my projects, and after we talk I’m ready to jump back on the keyboard!

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22. Cynsational News & Summer Hiatus

Austin's new boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake!
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations  

Thanks so much for being a Cynsational reader! 

I appreciate your enthusiasm for and interest in the world of books for kids and teens.

Breaking news: Effective immediately, Cynsations is going on summer hiatus until September. 

In the meantime, you can keep up with children's-YA books news on my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

See y'all in the fall!

More News

A Profile of Rita Williams-Garcia (Being Eleven) by K.T. Horning from The Horn Book. Peek: "Rita and I bonded over our mutual love of the Jackson 5. Nothing defined the era during which we were eleven better than the Jackson 5. We both remember the thrill of seeing them on TV for the first time in the fall of 1969." See also Five Questions for K.T. Horning on The Jackson 5.

On Leaving Space for the Reader by Celeste Ng from Glimmer Train. Peek: "There's a difference between leaving space for the reader to interpret and leaving the reader adrift."

Character Talents & Skills: Telling Lies by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "To become an adept liar, a person must learn how to exude confidence, keep a calm demeanor, and speak in a way that appeals to the target’s emotional sensitivities."

Learn more!
Book & Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Ballparks by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. See also Book & Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Zoos.

Writing Real Characters Amid Terrible Violence: Tips from a True-Crime Writer by Dan Morse from Elizabeth Craig Spann. Peek: "To pull readers along for 300-plus pages, though, I needed detailed scenes that not only advanced the plot, but also built out very real characters."

Using Rejection as a Rung in Your Ladder to Success by Janet Fox from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Each rejection letter I received – and yes, they came back on paper in SASE’s – went into one of those narrow drawers, the middle drawer on the left. I decided that I would only quit trying to become a “real” author when I amassed enough rejection slips that the drawer would no longer close."

On Writing the Next Thing by Joy McCullough-Carranza from Project Mahem. Peek: "I’ve heard some people say they cannot focus on something new when they are anxiously awaiting responses from agents or editors. But I think that’s one of the two main reasons to work on the next one."

Infused by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "How do we infuse every moment with unspoken awareness of the need that is pulling a character inexorably through the length of the story?"

Writing a Series: What I Didn't Know by Dianne Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "It wasn’t until I completed the editorial revisions for Book 1 and looked ahead to the submission deadline for Book 2 that it dawned on me how fast things were happening."

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Lupita’s First Dance/El primer baile de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo (Arte Publico) was Johanna in Texas.

The winner of Daughters of Two Nations, by Peggy Caravantes, illustrated by Carolyn Dee Flores (Mountain Press) and Canta, Rana, Canta/Sing, Froggie, Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores(Piñata) was Katy in Texas.

The winners of Hung Up by Kristen Tracy (Simon Pulse) were Christina in New York and Robin in North Carolina. The winner of Kristen's Lost It was Alicia in Alabama.

The winner of Paint Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy (Sky Pony, 2014) was Donna in New Jersey.

More Personally

Last week's highlights included the Writers' League of Texas 2014 Agents and Editors Conference on June 28 at the Hyatt Regency Austin in Texas.

Penguin sales rep Jill Bailey, Macmillan sales rep Gillian Redfern & author Greg Leitich Smith

Austin SCBWI RA Samantha Clark, author Shana Burg & newly agented Vanessa Lee

With Brian Yansky & Cyndi Hughes

Author & WLT Programming Director Jennifer Ziegler with Greg

Thanks also to the YA Book Club at Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library! I greatly enjoyed our conversation about Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)!

The links lingering on my mind is Tim Tingle's keynote at the 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Awards by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature and Capaciousness (re: Kate DiCamillo's ALA speech) by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature.

Personal Links

Find signed copies of my YA novels at Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas!

Cynsational Events

Research for Fiction, Non-fiction and Historical Fiction Writers from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at The Austin Centre (3809 South 2nd St.) from Austin SCBWI. Speakers authors Cynthia Levinson and Greg Leitich Smith, author-librarian Jeanette Larson and Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at "Highlights."

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23. Cynsational News & Return

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations!

I hope y'all had a joyful summer.

By Austin standards, it was blessedly cool in the 80s and 90s.

I finished up edits on the pass pages for Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015) and focused on the business of being an author, deep-cleaning and reorganizing my home, and reconnecting with my close friends and family. Having finished the ninth (and final) book in the Tantalize-Feral 'verse, it felt like a good (and long overdue) time to exhale.

Now, we're back to school, so to speak. Perhaps because I'm a graduate of the 20th grade, I still see September is a time of renewal. New backpacks, new pencils, new friends and opportunities for fun and adventure.

For those of you who stepped away from the Internet this summer, I'll modestly attempt to begin updating you on the important events in the kidlitosphere while moving forward into the fall.

Cynsational News

On Overnight Success (Surprise! It's a Lot Like Failure) by Laurie Ann Thompson from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "Having just the right wait time will eventually put me on the right track with the right skills and life experience for the right idea for the right editor at the right time (hopefully!)."

Public Twitter lists of K-12/Teen Librarians and Children's-YA editors by Debbie Ridpath Ohi @inkyelbows.

Just Walk Away: Authors and Illustrators Who Do by Betsy Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Take J.K. Rowling, for example. Will she ever write another children’s book again?"

Rita Williams-Garcia's CSK Author Award Acceptance Speech from The Horn Book. Peek: "On the one hand, children need to feel secure. They need a stable environment to thrive and to be able to look forward to the future. On the other hand, the change needed to secure that stability, that future, that chance to thrive — it can’t happen without volatile struggle. We enjoy a good deal of what we have today because someone struggled." See also CSK Illustrator Award Winner Bryan Collier's Acceptance Speech.

Ten Reasons to Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper (Or, Go Team Writers!) by Gwenda Bond from A Writer on the High Wire of Life. Peek: "...writers are not competing against each other in some sort of book sales Hunger Games, especially not in districts of self-published/indie authors versus traditionally published authors, with hybrids as jabberjays or something. We're just not. If there are sides, writers are on the same one. But I don't think that there are sides."

Life Doesn't Permit...and Other Wise Words on Making Time to Write by Cynthia Lord from Kate Messner. Peek: "Writing is that still small voice that is easily drowned out by the hundreds of other voices of things you care about or should do."

Character Talents and Skills: Photographic Memory by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The perception about photographic memories is that people with this gift can perfectly recall everything they’ve ever seen, even in moments when they weren’t particularly paying attention. They often describe their brains as being 'cluttered.'"

Should You Hire an Editor Before Querying? Agents Weigh In. By Lisa Gail Green from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Using Picture Books to Teach Satire by Teddy Kokoros from The Horn Book. Peek: "We have failed our students if they graduate from high school and post Onion articles on Twitter and Facebook thinking they are real..."

Why Design Matters for Your Author Website by Maria Ribas from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Design is your brand. And agents and editors want to know that you’re treating your brand like a business, not like a hobby. This means that you’re willing to invest significant time and money into creating a website that clearly communicates your brand."

Five Stereotypes Positive-Aging Picture Books Avoid by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging. Peek: "...people who internalize positive stereotypes of aging, from childhood, live up to 7.5 years longer than those who internalize negative age stereotypes."

Be Brave by Donna Bowman Bratton from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "This symbolic shot of courage has been with me through tough times and triumphant times, in my writing life, and my personal life."

South Asian Children's-YA Book Award

Winners: A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (Atheneum, 2013); Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby (Kids Can Press, 2013).

Honor Books: Bye, Bye, Motabhai! by Kala Sambasivan, illustrations by Ambika Sambasivan (Yali Books, 2013); Gandhi: The March to the Sea by Alice B. McGinty, illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez (Amazon Publishing, 2013); The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia (Peachtree, 2013); Mother Teresa: Angel of the Slums by Lewis Helfand, art by Sachin Nagar (Campfire, an imprint of Kalyani Navyug Media, 2013).

See also Highly Commended Books from Mitali Perkins at Mitali's Fire Escape.  

Note: "The South Asia Book Award (SABA) is given annually for up to two outstanding works of literature, from early childhood to secondary reading levels, which accurately and skillfully portrays South Asia or South Asians in the diaspora, that is the experience of individuals living in South Asia, or of South Asians living in other parts of the world. Up to five Honor Books and Highly Commended Books are also recognized by the award committee." 

More Personally

Celebrating the release of Heap House with fellow Austin YA author Edward Carey at 24 Diner.

Congratulations to Stacey Lee and Don Tate, winners of SCBWI's Book Launch Award, and congratulations to Jennifer Sommer of Ohio, winner of SCBWI's Philip and Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award! See How Don Is Planning to Spend His Grant and How Stacey is Planning to Spend Her Grant.

Cheers to Janet S. Fox on the sale of Chatelaine: The Thirteenth Charm in a pre-empt to Kendra Levin of Viking! (Click the link to view a video sneak peek!)

Seeking Diversity in a Galaxy Far, Far Away by Cynthia Leitich Smith from BookPeople's Modern First Library. Peek: "I decided that Leia must’ve been like me, a mixed blood Native girl. I didn’t know what she was doing a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away or how she’d become a princess and senator. But she was strong and smart and a leader, all of which were compatible with my vision of Native women."

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith on Her Tantalize and Feral Series from Printasia. Peek: "Feral Pride will bring to a head the tensions between shifters and humans, even as the greedy, media-savvy yet secretive yeti-like species manipulating them both comes closer than ever to public exposure. Also, there’s a giant, egomaniacal snake, cool classic cars, and prom."

Crazy QuiltEdi says of Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2014): "The witty dialog and use of present tense writing keep the story moving at a brisk pace. Leitich Smith smoothly packs in a unique, descriptive backstory as she builds an incredible world..."

I love this story: How a VA Middle School Librarian and Her Book Club Raised Funds to Provide 15,000 Meals for Students in South Sudan by Lauren McBride from School Library Journal.

See also The Johnson County First Amendment Foundation Remembers Nancy Garden.

Personal Links

With fellow Austin YA writer H. Scott Beazley at Hyde Park Bar & Grill!

Cynsational Events

Austin SCBWI Fall Workshop: Research for Fiction, Nonfiction & Historical Fiction Writers will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Laura's Library in Austin. Speakers include: Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at Highlights magazine, along with authors Cynthia Levinson, Greg Leitich Smith, and author-librarian Jeanette Larson.

Lindsey Lane will speak and sign Evidence of Things Not Seen at 2 p.m. Sept. 21 at BookPeople in Austin.

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

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

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24. In Memory: Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers at the 2001 Bookfest at the Library of Congress
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations

Over the summer, children's-YA literature lost a legendary author. My sympathies to his family, friends, and readers.

Walter Dean Myers, Prolific and Beloved Author of Award-Winning Children's Books, Dies at Age 76: Myers Touched So Many with His Eloquent and Unflinching Portrayal of Young African American Lives by HarperCollins from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek:

In a career spanning over 45 years, Walter Dean Myers wrote more than 100 books for children of all ages.
His impressive body of work includes two Newbery Honor Books, three National Book Award Finalists, and six Coretta Scott King Award/Honor-winning books.

Sept. 2014
He was the winner of the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award, the first recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement, and a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

In 2010, Walter was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, and in 2012 he was appointed the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, serving a two-year tenure in the position.

Also in 2012, Walter was recognized as an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree, an honor given by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his substantial lifetime accomplishments and contribution to children’s literature.

Walter Dean Myers: Yesterdays by Lee Bennett Hopkins from Onto Tomorrows. Peek: "This post is not about Walter's incredible literary accomplishments; it is about my relationship with one of the greatest human beings one could encounter in life."

Celebrating the Poetry of the Late Walter Dean Myers by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "His deep, resonant voice sticks with you. Perhaps because of his own struggle with spoken speech, his pacing in his poetry is so thoughtful and meaningful."


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25. New Voice: Rachel M. Wilson on Don't Touch

Book Club Guide

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Rachel M. Wilson is the first-time author of Don't Touch (HarperTeen, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A powerful story of a girl who is afraid to touch another person’s skin, until the boy auditioning for Hamlet opposite her Ophelia gives her a reason to overcome her fears.

Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Touch another person’s skin, and Dad’s gone for good.

Caddie can’t stop thinking that if she keeps from touching another person’s skin, her parents might get back together... which is why she wears full-length gloves to school and covers every inch of her skin.

It seems harmless at first, but Caddie’s obsession soon threatens her ambitions as an actress. She desperately wants to play Ophelia in her school’s production of Hamlet. But that would mean touching Peter, who’s auditioning for the title role—and kissing him. Part of Caddie would love nothing more than to kiss Peter—but the other part isn't sure she's brave enough to let herself fall.

Perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson, this debut novel from Rachel M. Wilson is a moving story of a talented girl who's fighting an increasingly severe anxiety disorder, and the friends and family who stand by her.

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

Because of how things work at Harper Collins, there were many “calls” with several stages of increasing excitement: They’re interested! It’s going to an editorial meeting! It made it through editorial! It’s going to acquisitions!

All these different people have to sign off on the book, and on the days of those various meetings, it was surreal going to work knowing that in New York, people I’d never met were making decisions about my book.

We had other interest as well, so I had the opportunity to speak with the prospective editors.

“The call” I remember is the one in which I heard the final offers and needed to make a decision by end of day.

At the time, I was coordinating an after-school program. The kids would be arriving any minute, but I ducked into a classroom to hash out the pros and cons with my agent, Sara Crowe. I also called my friend Varian Johnson for moral support.

I’m terrible with big decisions—I always mourn the loss of the path not taken even when I’m confident I’ve made a good choice—and I needed to hear voices I trusted supporting my decision. I couldn’t really go wrong, but at the same time it felt like a Choose Your Own Adventure book where any path might lead to a swamp monster devouring my book deal.

After I made my choice official, I had to continue on with work and have a normal afternoon, and none of it felt real.

It finally hit me when a friend said she’d seen the announcement in Publishers Marketplace. I saw her message in a parking lot, started to drive away, and then had to pull over and sob.

It was the weekend of AWP in Chicago, so I walked around the conference all weekend with this secret knowledge, wanting to tell everyone.

Luckily, I had plenty of writerly friends in town to share the good news. A few of us went to The Magic Parlour at the Palmer House Hilton, and I went to the VCFA meetup at AWP and won a VCFA teddy bear in the raffle, which was the nicest coincidence since he always reminds me of how unstoppable I felt that whole weekend.

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

How have I approached it? Like a mascot on ice skates, which is to say with much enthusiasm, limited foresight, and little regard for my personal well-being. It seriously feels like a full-time job, and it can become one if you let it.

Organization is key. A production manager friend of mine recently helped me overhaul my task management and email systems. For the first time in my life, I have an empty inbox, and I’ve been using Trello to track to-dos. I try to say "yes" to every opportunity, so anytime I’m offered an interview or guest blog, I add it to Trello and set a deadline so I won’t fail to follow through.

Remy Frankenstein
My main support system and fount of ideas has been the OneFour Kidlit debut author group. On our forum, we ask each other questions like, “What’s the deal with book plates?” “Where does one get book plates?” “What does one do with book plates?” “Do I seriously need book plates?” etc., etc.

For the record, I have not ordered bookplates.

I may regret that.

That’s the thing about promotion—there’s no end to what you could do, little agreement on what you should do, and definite limits on what you can do. This way lies madness.

Knowing myself, I’m more likely to follow through with something I’ll enjoy on multiple levels. And since there is limited time and money for all of this, I might as well spend it on the fun parts.

For example, I proposed a giveaway contest to Fashion by the Book. I enjoy that blog, I want to get more involved with Tumblr, and the contest is something I’d want to do—I like making outfits with Polyvore. After seeing several of my fellow debut authors running giveaways of annotated ARCs and thinking that would be fun, I decided to make my own.

I’m also making a book trailer. That might not be fun for every author, but as a theater person in a major city, I’m able to wrangle many helpful friends, including an amazing director and casting director, Matt Miller, whose webseries, "Teachers," was recently picked up for a pilot with TV Land.

Beyond getting organized and having fun, my advice is to brainstorm all the possibilities—even the ones that seem out of reach, make wish lists, prioritize, be generous in helping out other authors, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to bloggers and suggest promotional posts or giveaways; ask your friends and your publisher for support. As long as you’re being kind and respectful of people’s time, the worst they can say is "no," and I’ve found that "yeses" are far more common.

train tracks in Irondale, AL, where the book is set
Cynsational Screening Room

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