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

By Dana Walrath
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

“What’s it about?” people ask me.

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

Genocide and smiles do not go together.

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

Ardziv also protected me as I wrote this story.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human connection deserves our widest smiles.

Cynsational Giveaway

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

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2. In Memory: Norman Bridwell

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In less than thirty words, tell us about Creed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Describe your research for this book.

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

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

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

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

Which character in Creed intrigued you the most and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What draws you to YA horror fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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4. New Voice: Matt Phelan on Druthers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside Matt's Studio
Inside Matt's Studio

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5. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

More News & Giveaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaways


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

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

Cynsational Screening Room

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



Wherein my Very Merry Publisher Rocks Out, Candlewick Style!

 

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

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

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

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

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

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


Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know What You Need

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

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

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

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

Questions to Consider

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

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

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

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

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

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn


Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

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

By Bruce Hale
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

I was a child spy

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

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

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

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

Yogic inspiration

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

Mine came during yoga class.

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

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

Half the class was mystified, the other half terrified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational Giveaway

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9. New Voice: Miriam Busch on Lion, Lion

Miriam and Lucy
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

A little boy is looking for Lion.

Lion is looking for lunch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do your work. Quell your impatience.

Be willing to revise a million times.

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

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

Know your characters deeply and well.

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

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

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10. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Book Awards


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


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

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

Cynsational Giveaways


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

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

See also ReaderKidZ December Extravaganza Giveaway!

Cynsational Screening Room

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



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



This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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11. New Voices: Kirsten Lopresti on Bright Coin Moon

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook)

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

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


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

Chronal Engine (Clarion)

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lorie Ann Grover
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

Thankfully, my baby shower has been attended!



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

So that’s the aftermath of the launch.

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

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

I am #hitwithgratitude!



Cynsational Giveaway

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

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

By Janet Nolan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I admit it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Grocery Store.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then comes the writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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15. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Book Month


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

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

Learn more from and about the work of:

Arree Chung


We Need Diverse Books

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

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

$150,000 and beyond: Sustainability

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

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

Kid Lit for Haiti

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

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

Cynsational Giveaways

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

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even More Personally


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

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/

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16. Giveaway: ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A space prostitute to be exact.

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

You might ask why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was so appalled by that question.

No one at VCFA told me what to write.

No one told me how to write it.

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

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

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

This proved to be essential in launching my career.

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

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

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18. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A Trio of Trailblazing Performers by Joy Fleishhacker from School Library Journal. Peek: "Introducing three African American women born in the early 20th century, these noteworthy picture book biographies resound with compelling storytelling, expressive artwork, and a sonorous message about overcoming obstacles and following one’s dreams."

Selling on Proposal AKA The Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "It’s a double-edged sword, of course. While you’ve managed to charm an editor and publisher with your synopsis and/or pages, you still have to deliver a final manuscript on or before a due date, and the pressure of scheduling your creativity can be crippling."

How to Choreograph a Great Action Scene by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "It’s not just movement, but conflict made concrete. Movement across a scene without a purpose is just the beat of a scene and action implies much more."

Should Book Reviews Mention Characters' Race? by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: "...we are always trying to figure out where and how to mention ethnicity, especially in reviewing books in which skin color plays a part only in the illustrations and goes unmentioned in the text." See also Writing More Diverse Characters: the Third Culture Individual from Tu Books.

Rejecting Rejection: Terror Days by Amy Rose Capetta from The Writing Barn. Peek: "The first two books I wrote have a straight main character. The projects I kept coming up with after that? Besides being in a different genre, the main characters were queer. And I had a thousand worries attack me all at once."

Librarian's Corner: Vicky Lorencen on Playing With Words from Ann Jacobus at ReaderKidz. Peek: "Without formally saying so, Grandma taught me that words weren’t just for communicating, they’re also for enjoyment. I was encouraged to play with words."

Manuscripts on Submission 101 by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents... Peek: "If I get an offer, or a request for revision, of course I share it immediately. The same goes for a really kind/complimentary or otherwise uplifting decline."

Positive and Negative Character Motivation by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "We often react to adversity by stubbornly wanting to best it. But it’s important to note that this is a reaction to something negative in life that we’re inspired to overcome."

Character Skills and Talents Astrological Divination by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "A character who has studied astrology extensively can chart an individual’s celestial path by using the date and hour of their birth."

Everything I Need to Know About Character I Learned from Buffy by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Even his darkest characters have balancing characteristics that make them interesting and often redeemable – the Scooby Gang has included at times two vampires and a demon. D’Hoffryn, for instance, though a Lower Being and Lord of the Vengeance Demons, is always unfailingly polite."

The Point of Writing by Meg Rosoff from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading long after you’ve spent the money that someone may or may not have paid you for your work."

Bibliotherapy for Teens: Helpful Tips & Recommended Mental-Health Themed Fiction by Erin E. Moulton from School Library Journal. Peek: "While mental illness is clearly prevalent, a stigma persists. A recent article in Time, prompted by the suicide of actor Robin Williams, estimated that about 60 percent of those suffering from mental illness don’t seek assistance. Reading is not a replacement for professional therapy. But surely, the right books can help." See also Books to Celebrate and Teach About Adoption by Jill Eisenberg from Lee and Low.

Scholastic Picture Book Award: "...a joint initiative between the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NDBCS) and Scholastic Asia, and it is presented biennially to an outstanding unpublished picture book with distinct Asian themes by an Asian team of writer and illustrator." See also from SCBWI Japan Translation Group: "Entries of unpublished, Asian-themed picture books up to 500 words will be accepted until Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. Singapore time. Picture book text must be in English, but works in languages other than English may be considered, if an English translation is submitted with the original text and illustrations."

What Do You Have to Do Online? Authors Have Surprising Freedom by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Do you like to write short, write long, take/edit photos, produce audio, or produce video? Those are the only options you have, regardless of the platform. Think about which form of communication you are good at, and can consistently produce."

Starving in the Midst of Plenty by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "I will return from the conference with a suitcase packed with books (or I will be mailing a ton of them). They will float on to other hands as soon as they are read. But I am a trifle embarrassed by these riches."

The Stakes Should Always Be Death by Maureen McQueery from Teaching Authors. Peek: "For the reader to be concerned, risk has to be real and the protagonists' motivation worthy. Worthy motivations involve noble concepts like: forgiveness, love, redemption, self-worth."

National Book Award


Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, for Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books)! Don't miss coverage of Brown Girl Dreaming from NPR and How This Year's National Book Awards Could Change the Face of Children's Literature by K.T. Horning from The Conversation.



We Need Diverse Books

The initial $100,000 goal for We Need Diverse Books has been met--hooray! And thank you! But the campaign is ongoing and the organization has announced our stretch goals. Peek:

"Once we’ve reached our first stretch goal, WNDB will be able to create a paid internship program to help interns from diverse backgrounds (as noted in our mission statement) who demonstrate financial need. We hope our grants will allow people who might not otherwise be able to achieve their dream of a career in publishing. We will also be able to fund a year-long mentorship program for multiple writers....

"We will expand our outreach and create more educational kits and educational materials to be used to discuss diversity in all its ways and forms. And we'll offer travel grants, to help currently-published authors attend conferences and events that would otherwise not be accessible to them.

"Finally, we plan develop a WNDB app. The WNDB app goes beyond recommendations and looks for new interactive ways to support diverse authors and books. With it, WNDB is excited to create a new high-tech way to bring diverse books to you, the reader."

Note: Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), after apologizing and describing his comments with regard to Jacqueline Woodson at the National Book Awards as "monstrously inappropriate, and yes, racist" has donated $10,000 and will be matching donations today up to $100,000. (Jackie is on our advisory board.)

Marketing Diverse Children's Books by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Rodriguez also witnessed a parent refuse to purchase her daughter a copy of My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Velasquez (Abrams), which is about an African-American ballerina. Regardless of the skin color of the main character in the story, Rodriguez said of the girl who was so drawn toward the book: 'She too was a ballerina. That’s all she saw.'"

See also Lindsey Lane on Why We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "We are trying to understand what it means to write diverse characters if we are white. How do we do it? Can we do it? Are we allowed? How can we contribute to the We Need Diverse Books campaign?'" Note: a heartfelt, respectful contribution to the conversation.

Cynsational Giveaways

Jingle Dancer Interior Image.

The winner of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little is Jen in Texas. The winner of Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau is Akiko in Texas. The winners of What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wierbitzky are Donna in New Jersey and Frances in Illinois.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Where Are the Characters of Color in Science Fiction & Fantasy? panel at YALSA Symposium in Austin.

With authors Justina Chen, Janet Wong & Lorie Ann Grover at the Hyatt Regency Austin.
Thank you to Mighty Girl for highlighting my picture book Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins, 2000)!

Link of the Week: Four Mistakes Made in Children's Books About Natives and Books That Fix Them by Debbie Reese from Indian Country Today.

Even More Personally

In the holiday spirit with Greg Leitich Smith at Whole Foods!
Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

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

Cynthia Leitich Smith will serve as the master class faculty for the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency from June 19 to 21.

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

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19. Giveaway: 10th Anniversary of Cynsations

Speaking at KidlitCon 2013
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of Cynsations!

The blog launched on Nov. 12, 2004; and featured children's author Chris Barton, talking about consolidation and marketing.

There was no introductory post and no images--until Blogger introduced that option.

Thanks so much to each of you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

This is a condensed excerpt from a keynote I delivered at the 2013 KidLitCon in Austin:

I embraced the earliest days of the kidlitosphere for two reasons:

First—with all the optimism of a 20-something but not a word on the page—I quit my law job in downtown Chicago to write children’s books full time.

A favorite book from childhood.
For me, children’s literature had been a great blessing, and I committed my life to it.
I take my own writing to heart (and sometimes to play), but my plan was bigger than that.

It included the community. It included you.

It included everyone who plays a role in the connection of books to kids.

I got busy, writing and reaching out—by mentoring, teaching, advocating in person and online.

I began in part by, in 1998, establishing a substantive children’s literature resource site and launching a monthly e-newsletter that went out to a little over a thousand people and featured two author interviews along with a handful of recommended links. (I recall thinking that was a lot of content.)

My blog, Cynsations, launched in 2004. It likewise casts a broad net, emphasizing the craft of writing, the business of publishing and the writer’s life.

Wanting to offer something positive to children's-YA lit lovers, to the big wide world, that was my reason one.

Reason two?

My first book.
American Indians are vastly underrepresented in the body of literature and the industry more broadly.

When I entered the field, the literary depictions of Indians were almost uniformly historic, New Age-y, and/or inaccurate.
It was time to help change perceptions or I’d never be able to publish many of the stories I wanted to write.

By putting myself out there via tech, I was able to send the message that Native people are multidimensional. And that we have a past, a present and a future.

With that in mind, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Cynsations, I'm giving away a copy of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

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20. Cynsational News & Giveaways

The cat on the cover was modeled after Anne's cat!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The 10,000th Try: Rejecting Rejection with Anne Bustard from The Writing Barn. Peek: "That I had a story was the good news. That it was deeply flawed, the bad. And that I must start completely-from-the-very-beginning-over, the scariest." Note: check out Anne's newly redesigned official author website.

Reviews: Positive, Negative, and the Big Picture from April Henry. Peek: "...what I think is even more painful is to be told that your book is going to be reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, one with tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and then the 'critic' decides he or she had better live up to the title."

How to Survive Writing Through the Holiday Season by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "...as I edit my manuscript and think about the other project I want drafted by the end of the year, I’m slammed by a daunting thought: how the heck am I going to survive?"

It's Not Just You by Dahlia Adler from The Daily Dahlia. Peek: "It is not just you who feels like you have no idea what’s going on, what you’re supposed to be doing, how best to promote your book, how to write a perfect query, how to form relationships…any of it. It is not even just you who randomly cries about things for no reason."

Battling Excuses by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Excuse 2: 'I keep getting rejected.' Fabulous. You are now one of us."

Five Questions for Children's Author Sharon Flake by Kathleen T. Horning from The Horn Book. Peek: "My parents often recalled the fifties with both fondness and frustration. From what people wore, to the jobs African Americans could and couldn’t get, they remembered it all and shared eagerly. My mom has since passed, and the time I spent talking to her, my sister, and my dad about this era means even more to me."

Prequel e-novella to Killer of Enemies
Native American Heritage Month: 10 Books By Native Authors from Lee and Low. Peek: "For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices."

Reminder! The SCBWI Emerging Voices Award deadline is Nov. 15. Peek: "The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books." See also Diversity in Nonfiction by Hannah Ehrlich from Multicultural Children's Book Day.

Creating Authentic Characters by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez from Esther Hershenhorn at Teaching Authors. Peek: "The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is. To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise."

So How's the Book Doing? by Laurie Ann Thompson from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "Is how the book is doing a week or a month after its publication date necessarily all the relevant to how it will be doing a year or two from now?"

Author Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia by Elizabeth Pandolfi from Charleston City Paper. Peek: "We are living the effects of history every single day. By the same token, we all play a part in living history by simply being, acting, witnessing, and telling. Each and every one of us makes up those pixels that create some part of that picture of a historical era or event."

Christine E. Elden Memorial Fellowship for Unpublished Middle Grade Writers. Note: The Eldin Fellowship has two purposes "1. Honor the memory of Chris Eldin. 2. Provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction author whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career." The first year's award will be $1,000 and a trophy. The judge is author Louise Hawes. Deadline: Dec. 31. There is a $10 entry fee.

Cynsational Screening Room

Great news! The We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign has met our $100,000 fundraising goal! At the time of this posting, we have raised $102,744! Hooray!

The campaign is still ongoing--with 27 days left, and the future donations will allow us to do even more to support diversity in children's-YA lit!

Thank you to everyone who donated and/or signal boosted! Please keep supporting the campaign!



Authors on Diverse Books from Undercurrent on Vimeo. See also #WeNeedDiverseBooks Chat at 8 PM CST, 9 PM EST via Debbie Reese at American Indian Literature for Youth. #SupportWNDB.



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win!
The winner of the Feral trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Erin in Michigan.

Enter to win one of five ARCs of Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2015) at Goodreads.

See also Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, Plus a Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Giveaway from Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the founding of Cynsations! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! It's been an honor, hosting this blog over the past decade, and I have learned so much in the process.

On a related note, thank you to Project Mayhem for recommending Cynsations in its round-up of blogs! I'm a huge fan of what y'all do, too!

With fellow Austin author Jennifer Ziegler at the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Illumine Benefit

With fellow Austin author Ruth Pennebaker at the Illumine Benefit

Carmen Oliver, holding coffee, with Austin SCBWI ARA Shelley Ann Jackson at BookPeople
Congratulations to Cynsations reporter Karen Rock (half of the J.K. Rock writing team) on hitting the Amazon Top 100 Teen Romance List with Camp Forget Me Not! Readers are invited to download the book, and Karen and her co-author will give you two Camp novellas for free!

Congratulations to fellow Austinites P.J. Hoover, author of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Tor), and Varian Johnson, author of The Great Greene Heist, for being named to the Texas Library Association 2015 Lone Star Reading List!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events


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

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

Cynthia Leitich Smith will serve as the master class faculty for the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency from June 19 to 21.

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

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21. New Voice: Tracy Holczer on The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Teacher's Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Holczer is the first-time author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. She thinks she's found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter Lacey, so when her mother says it's time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels. 

She'll always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

Now faced with making a home with a grandmother she's never met, and according to her mother, didn't want her in the first place, Grace is desperate to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey. 

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, may must be the key. It all begins with a crane. And Grace is sure it's her mother showing her the way home.  

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Back in 2003, when I’d been writing for about a year, I applied for a scholarship to Chautauqua, a workshop given by the Highlights Foundation.

I tried not to giggle too hysterically as I filled out the paperwork, thinking, “Who the heck do you think you are? You can’t go anywhere for a week! Besides, scholarships are for writers. Not wannabes with three young children to care for.”

“Pfft,” said the Rational Voice, and I sent it in.

When Kent Brown called to let me know I’d have a tuition scholarship, I immediately burst into tears and accepted with no idea how I’d cover room and board. We’d just started a new business and moved into a house and every penny was allocated to something much more important than my writing hobby.

My husband was the first person to suggest that maybe it wasn’t a hobby. When my family stepped in to cover the rest of the cost, expressing the same sentiment, I burst into tears all over again.

So, in the summer of 2004, I left behind a ten, seven and two-year-old to study craft and meet the rock stars of the kid lit world. For heaven’s sake, I sat right next to Jerry Spinelli for dinner one night. And talked to him as though he were a normal person. I’m sure I didn’t drool too terribly.

But what changed everything (aside from Sharon Creech just stopping by because she was in the neighborhood) was having Patti Gauch as my manuscript advisor. I started to get the idea that I’d lucked out when I began noticing people following her around in little clumps.

When you meet her, you really want to do this, too, because all that comes out of her mouth are these snippets of brilliance you immediately want to wear on a T-shirt.

Then, it was just Patti and me for our meeting. She told me to dig deep. To take the images as far as they would go. She told me to make sure there was a surprise on every page. A unique turn a phrase, a special image, a new way of looking at something. She told me to ignore my “homogenized self” and to embrace the part of me that was different.

She made me feel as though all my weirdness, everything I’d ever tried to hide from everyone, was the very thing I needed to cherish and put down on paper.

Then she talked about character being the heart of the story. After failing miserably at any sort of plotting, this was a new and breath-taking perspective. Maybe I could write a story by following the character, rather that expecting the character to follow a story. It changed everything.

It still took me six long years to write The Secret Hum of a Daisy, but Patti Gauch, and the Highlights Foundation, helped put me on the right path.

Lisa blogs at Smack Dab in the Mid^dle: A Middle Grade Authors' Blog.
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Grace came by magic. During that sleep/waking time when everything is half-real, half-imagined. She stood on the front porch of an old farmhouse wearing Mary Janes.

“They’re the only decent ones I’ve got,” she’d said, and rocked back and forth from heel to toe.

Photo of Tracy by Lisa Williams Photography
I knew her mom had just died. I knew she had to live with a grandmother she’d never met, one she was afraid of. I didn’t know what else was in store for Grace, but I knew it would be a magical experience for me. And it was.

Samantha, however, the twelve-year-old in my new book, is not coming magically. She is a tough nut to crack.

What I’m doing to coax her out is more writing exercises with her running the show. She’s writing Haiku and journal entries (even though she would never do either).

I’m asking her to tell me secrets and what she yearns for. Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of her best friend, Milo, and have him ask her questions that she might actually answer.

What I’m learning, this time around, is that I have to listen even harder to my instincts. And that some characters express themselves in different ways. Just like real people.

Interestingly, in this case, it wasn’t until I did a character biography on her dad that I saw Sam more deeply. She hasn’t been as easy as Grace, but we have come to an understanding. She'll be in bookstores in summer, 2016.

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22. Guest Post & Giveaway: Deborah Halverson on Five Things YA Writers Should Know about New Adult Fiction

New Adult Covers
By Deborah Halverson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Just as the difference between a middle grade story and a young adult story is more than the characters’ ages and grades in school, the difference between a young adult story and a new adult story is more than the characters’ ages and their graduation from high school.

Young adult writers often ask me to articulate that “more than”—a task I’m happy to take on.

Some of those writers want to work out whether their stories on the upper cusp of teenhood are YA or NA, and others just want understand this new category that brushes up against their own.

Here are five key differences you need to know about YA and NA:

1.) Age: Yes, age matters. YA protagonists are usually 12 to 18 years old, still living the high school life or under some kind of adult oversight or power structure. NA protagonists are 18 to 25, often in college or taking first steps into career.

Notice the overlap at 18? Some young people are free from adult oversight at that age and are embarking on the next phase of life, so you’ll find them in NA. This is where you can get tripped up by focusing on age as the delineator: People point to stories of teen orphans or adventurers out battling the world for survival, far from their parents. Does being on your own mean you’re no longer a teen? No one would claim that about 14- and 15-year-olds, but what about 17- and 18-year-olds? At what age do you draw the line? See, problematic. That’s why numbers 2 and 3 below matter, too.

Research for Writing New Adult Fiction
2) Narrative sensibility and character mind-set: This is about how your characters process the world, which affects their priorities, goals, dreams, and fears, and it's about about how they express themselves.

Teens are typically starting to look outward as they try to find their places in the world and realize that their actions have consequences in the grander scheme of life.

In contrast, new adults are typically picking up the self-exploration that began in adolescence, expanding their worldviews and becoming fully self-responsible after leaving some kind of adult-regulated life. They are now free to determine their own schedules and activities, are generally responsible for no one but themselves, and are increasingly making their own life plans as they gain wisdom through experience.

Overlaps remain between the two life phases, though. Friendships are intensely important to both age groups, although in new adulthood the traditional family structure gives way to a new “family” of friends. That word “new” matters, as new adulthood is a time of immense change and new stuff. Thus, new adulthood throbs with instability and the stress that goes with it.

Peer pressure is also important to both groups, as the part of the brain that helps us inhibit impulses, plan and organize our behavior to reach a goal, and manage our reward system isn’t done developing until age 25. This means teens and new adults are hyper-interested in risk-taking situations and very influenced by peer pressure; only, NAs are now totally free to indulge, so the partying and other risky behaviors can intensify.

This is why many people describe NA as seeming “bigger” or more intense than YA, even though teenhood is pretty dang intense itself.

Deborah's "mobile office"
3) Circumstances: The storylines we create for each age group reflect their phases of life. YA fiction features teens yearning for full independence despite their lack of experience and perspective. These young people think big and take big action, struggle with over- and under-confidence, mature in their decision-making and coping skills through their adventures, and embark on their first forays into romance, with romantic attraction becoming a significant part of life.

NA stories show young people with a little more experience under their belts—often just enough to make them over-confident. We get to watch them deal with the realities of that independence they craved, have high expectations for themselves that don’t always match reality, strive to break from their teen social status and build an identity from scratch, continue to mature in their decision-making, take big risks as they experiment and explore, and delve into more intense romances, laced by self-exploration and influenced by new a freedom to explore their sexuality.

Because there’s lots of planning and replanning during new adulthood, NA fiction includes first forays into careers, allowing the characters to test their career plans before they have to settle into adult life.

4) Sexual Explicitness: Romance is a part of almost every upper YA and NA story, as well it should be—love is a main area of identity exploration starting with puberty. Teens tend to be exploring love for the first time, trying to understand what it feels like, and NAs are starting to gauge who they want to be in these relationships and what they want out of their partners.

The explicitness of the physical love scenes differs for the two categories, big time. YA has its sexual content but writers must be sure that their level of detail is organic and necessary to the story. Generally, that which doesn’t happen off-scene altogether is softened so as not to be overly graphic. Even so, those stories can face “gatekeeper” challenges because they’re clearly positioned as teen fare.

The constraints are gone for NA, which is marketed for over-18s. New adults are free to explore relationships and sexual identity, experimenting as interest, opportunity, and willing partners allow.

Pioneering NA novels often featured explicit love scenes, but now, two years into the category’s evolution, NA writers and readers are debating just how vital steamy sex scenes are for the literature.

5) Audience: The YA audience includes teens and “crossover” adult readers.

NA may get some teen readers because young people do read up, but that said, many teens aren’t interested in that time of life yet.

NA writers who craft stories about 18-year-olds are aware they may have young readers, so often they’ll opt for a “Mature YA” label, giving them the elbow room to go into more detail with the sex but still keeping it tame.

We don’t have industry studies to confirm this, but it’s believed that the biggest NA readership is that same crossover adult readership that made YA a publishing industry juggernaut.

New adults themselves are considered a large secondary readership, happy to see their experiences finally reflected in their own fiction.

I hope these five things illuminate how YA fiction and NA fiction are near neighbors yet still distinct categories.

Personally, I’m happy to see NA fiction in the mix—the category is exciting for readers who long craved stories about this time of life, and it’s exciting for writers who yearned to explore the new adulthood experience and now have the opportunity to do so.

Happy readers, happy writers … sounds darn good to me.

View from Deborah's mobile office
Cynsational Notes 

Deborah Halverson is a veteran editor and the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies.

Visit Deborah
Learn more
Her latest book, Writing New Adult Fiction, teaches techniques and strategies for crafting the new adult mindset and experience into riveting NA fiction.

Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years and is now a freelance editor, the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com, and the author of numerous books for young readers, including two teen novels.

Visit DeborahHalverson.com or DearEditor.com.

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23. Guest Post: Candace Fleming on The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

By Candace Fleming
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I first read Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra (Atheneum, 1967) the summer between my seventh and eighth grade year after pulling it off my mother’s bookshelf.

“You’re not going to like that,” she warned. “It’s pretty dense history.”

She was right. It was dense, but I loved it! Imperial Russia (and its demise) intrigued me. I was hooked!

And that sense of curiosity has stuck with me over the years. I’ve read dozens of books on the topic. I’ve watched documentaries and gone to museum exhibits. And I can recite – seriously – whole passages from Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago (1957).

But I’d never considered writing about the Romanovs until five years ago. That’s when students in middle schools – mostly girls – suddenly started asking if I knew anything about Anastasia Romanov.

I would visit a school and inevitably during the question-and-answer period of my presentation a hand would wave wildly in the air. No matter that I’d come to talk about Eleanor Roosevelt or Mary Lincoln. Time and again I found myself talking about Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter.

Why the sudden interest in Anastasia?

I finally found answer. Those students had seen the 1997 animated movie, "Anastasia," and realized it was based on a nugget of truth.

But what was that truth? They longed to know. And they hoped I could tell them.

Sadly, in the little time allotted, I really couldn’t… not enough anyway. And so I began to conceive of a book for them, one that would reveal the truth about Russia’s last imperial family.

It’s a story as big as the country itself – compelling, heartbreaking and, at times, downright weird.

Imagine this: The Russian royal family is living a fairy-tale existence. The richest man on the planet, Tsar Nicholas II owns one-sixth of the world’s land, thirty palaces, gold and silver mines, five yachts, an endless collection of priceless painting and sculpture, two private trains, countless horses, carriage and cars, and vaults overflowing with precious jewels. The Romanovs have it all!

But Nicholas is a man of limited political ability. He’s simply not suited to rule Russia. And his wife, Alexandra, is held spellbound by a charismatic, self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin. She believes Rasputin can save her hemophiliac son, Alexei, from bleeding to death. Desperate, she will do anything – anything – including handing over the reins of power to the charlatan.

Bust of Nicholas which sits on Candace's desk
Meanwhile, in the palace there also live four, beautiful grand duchesses – Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. But they are kept isolated from the world by their paranoid and overprotective parents. They don’t attend balls or banquets. They don’t have any friends their own age, or suitors, as they grow older. The have only each other. Living in this bubble stunts them emotionally.

Even at age twenty, Olga giggles like a schoolgirl and blushes when she sees an onscreen kiss. And with all this craziness going on inside the palace gates, no one is paying any attention to the dark clouds that are gathering outside them.

Starving, war-weary Russians are tired of Nicholas and Alexandra’s inept rule. They revolt, and the Romanov’s fairy tales lives come crashing down, leading to ninety days in captivity… a horrific and bloody mass murder… hidden bodies and rumors of escaped princesses. Riveting, yes?

And demanding. Every word of my telling had to absolutely true. Those middle-schoolers deserved it. And so I plowed into research, following four paths of inquiry.

The first path was primary research. After all, the heart of all research is the firsthand accounts and eyewitness testimonies of those who lived through an historical event. And so I read reminiscences written by the children’s’ tutors, by Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting and by Nicholas’ courtiers. I delved into the royal family’s letters and diaries and other personal papers. I read Yakov Yurovsky’s chilling account of the murders; statements from the guards; depositions from the priests and cleaning women who visited the Romanovs in their last hours. All of it was so personal, so intimate.

If you think about it, primary research really is the height of nosiness…and probably the reason I love it so much. I get to be part detective, piecing together testimony from all that conflicting testimony; part gossip, reporting on all the juicy details I uncover.

My second path? Secondary source material. There are hundreds of books about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution (although almost none for young readers). Dozens of scholars have made the rigorous examination of Russia’s past their life’s work. They’ve written insightful, enlightening histories. I read dozens of these.

For months every night I curled up with books with titles like The Russian Revolution of February 1917 or The Fall of the Romanovs. There’s no denying that my book stands on the shoulders of these works.

My third research path led to experts – scholars, historians, and other writers. Experts, I’ve learned, are incredibly generous.

All my nonfiction titles have been immeasurably improved by their time and effort. But no one was more helpful than Dr. Mark D. Steinberg, professor or Russian, East European and Eurasian studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

 In the course of my own research, I’d come to rely on Dr. Steinberg’s work – his accessible histories of Russia, his impeccable translations of documents recently released from the Russian archives, his re-examination of Nicholas’ leadership abilities, his new and brilliant scholarship on Lenin. Can you tell I’m a fan?

So as the first draft of the book neared completion I approached him tentatively. More than anything, I wanted him to read what I’d written. I wanted his opinion and knowledge. I wrote him, explaining my purpose and my readership. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped he’d answer.

He did…enthusiastically. Over the course of the next six months, he read my draft, made suggestions, pointed out errors, suggested more appropriate source material and forced me to look at the evidence in different ways. He sent along books and articles he believed would help in my work. He re-read portions of the book I’d reworked based on his comments, and patiently answered what must have felt like a tireless stream of questions throughout the entire publication process. That’s generosity!

Last, but certainly not least, my fourth path took me traveling. It’s important, I think, to visit the places where the story happened. Landscapes speak and houses hold memories and secrets. This was especially true when writing The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia (Schwartz and Wade, 2014).

Not only was visiting Russia the best part of the research process, but it also contributed volumes to my understanding of the story. Just walking around and feeling St. Petersburg’s air brought the family closer to me. At Tsarskoe Selo, I wandered down shaded lands and through lush gardens.

I didn’t just learn how the place looked. I discovered how fragrant the lilacs are after a rain shower, and how the ornamental bridge creaks when you cross it. I discovered how vast and empty the place is. It didn’t feel lived in. And I suddenly imagined that’s how the place must have felt to Alexandra. It was all so grand, but so lonely. No wonder she searched for something more intimate. For the first time I understood her choice to hide her family away in a set of rooms in the small Alexander Palace. I understood her. No historical document could have given me that.

Candace in front of the children's playhouse at Tsarskoe Sel
Wandering through the family’s private quarters within the Alexandra Palace also informed the book. I expected to see small rooms furnished in ordinary – some eyewitness said “tasteless” – décor. The place was described in numerous primary sources – it’s hideous wallpaper, it’s horrible lilac color, its icon-cluttered bedroom walls.

So I wasn’t prepared for how homey the space was. These were rooms people lived in. None of it felt royal. It was a country house, rather than a palace.

And again, I couldn’t fault Alexandra for her choice. She’d created a nest for her family, away from the prying eyes of the world. What mother doesn’t want to do that? In fact, for the first time I began to admire – just a tiny bit – her decision to turn her back on those royal trappings.

I’d walked through her rooms at the Winter Palace earlier – the place she abandoned for Tsarskoe Selo – and they’d been so gorgeous, so regal, so cold. I began to see why she wanted her family to be here instead of there. And it made me rethink those primary accounts I’d read earlier.

All had criticized her choice. They called her rooms tasteless because she didn’t want to live between marble walls. They called her selfish for removing her family to country. They called her crazy for choosing a simpler life.

Teaching Ideas
I’d bought into their criticism until I saw the Romanov’s home. But now I was questioning those eyewitnesses. Alexandra was growing more nuanced…more complex… more human.

Oh, and there is one last, important discovery from that trip to the Alexander Palace. In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate. I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes. Not so.

The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway. Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side. It gave me pause.

The family was so close to its people. They were right there, just on the other side of the gate. The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them. They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony. They could smell their cooking and their livestock. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe.

It gave me pause.

Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects?

The question led me down entirely new paths of thought. And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first-hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”

The result? Five years later, I can say I’ve offered up my answers to those middle-schoolers’ questions. Is it the royal fairy tale most of them imagined? Probably not, but it’s definitely the truth. And really, isn’t that what they wanted all along?

Candace's pets -- Oreo, Oliver and Oxford



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24. Guest Post: Melanie Chrismer on Author-Author Promotion & Reciprocity

Melanie at Blue Willow Bookshop
By Melanie Chrismer
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love being a children’s author. The writing time, the “yes, we want to publish your book,” the camaraderie with other writers and the school visits.

Yep, I like them too, a lot.

School visits let me see the kiddos who want to read and do read my books. They giggle and “woe.” They open wide eyes and laugh as loud as they can. It’s great to experience; a terrific boost. But some of my books would never be introduced without a dear, sweet librarian. I love librarians.

The added factor here is that librarians are researchers, detectives, protectors, introducers and economists. They have to be. Therefore, with all of the books out there, the competition is fierce. All we writers want book lovers attention and desire for our books to be upper most on their minds. We want our babies to at least catch their eyes.

How do we do this? In the best case scenarios you get what you put into it. If the publisher is behind the book fully they will market and publicize it. Yeah. But sometimes that dwindles quickly.

If the sales reps like the book they may champion it. Double yeah. But sometimes that doesn’t happen.

If a bookseller is charmed by your book they may order it with dollar signs in their eyes. Super yeah.

But, you guessed it, maybe or sometimes not.

The rest is up to you.

After the hoopla of the book debut (and actually before) the author has to hit the road running and spread the word. It doesn’t have to mean a billboard but hinting to librarians is helpful. The school visit is a goal for continuing to spread the word. Those visits often carry an author through to the next royalty dispersal or new contract advance.

The average children’s author (one who writes good books and has a continued career) only makes a bit of money. Writing and literary entertaining is the best, but it helps to have a profit.

Okay, so the librarian is a nucleus for book notoriety and school visits help. Going to a library or reading association conference is a great book connection. Even so, take it from a die-hard conference go-getter, it is not always enough. Neither is sending out two hundred-fifty post cards or mass E-mailing and calling schools. (Yet those do work about one out of 25 times.) The extra book marketing is word of mouth; librarian and author word of mouth.

The authors who gather together for publication advertizing have the right idea. But even two authors working their chops together can double their publicity. Recommending a colleague to a librarian or bookseller is a small act with great potential. Reciprocal actions are a thanksgiving to the writer pal. The opportunities may not be a windfall but with each partner the chances increase. And don’t forget, the librarians talk to each other too.

My challenge is to ask you to pass on the publicity. Recommend someone you honestly think has a good book. This may be considered automatic. If so, terrific. If not, talk to a writing comrade or several. A good word is free, shared recommendations can be profitable. That isn’t mercenary. It is a basic need for any business. We are in a business, not a hobby.

Melanie's "writing shoes"
Also, don’t suggest someone you don’t think is recommendable. A book that one person likes may not be a book for you. The partnership must be mutual or the shared benefit isn’t. A one-sided relationship is simply sad. If someone rejects your offer—get over it.

We’re writers. We get rejected all the time. Do we quit?

Not if we want to continue being published.

Oh, and by the way, I’m game. If you are not familiar with my books—what are you waiting for?

Look them up on my website. If you like what you see, send me an email with a link to your site. I’ll be honest and you should be, too. If we agree to recommend, well, there you go.

Reciprocity is the beginning of author-author publicity.

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25. Guest Interview: Lindsey Lane on A Heap of Talking with Edward Carey

Edward in Edward Gorey's coat; photo by Allison Devers
By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am sitting at Sweetish Hill Bakery & Cafe, waiting to interview Edward Carey, author of the forthcoming middle grade/YA novel Heap House, Iremonger Book One.

If I’d read his bio before the interview, I might be a little bit intimidated.

Not only is Carey the author of two adult novels, Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva: the Twins Who Saved a City, which have been translated into thirteen different languages, and both of which he illustrated, he is also a playwright with a long list of credits in England, Romania, Lithuania and Malaysia.

He has lived all over the world and currently makes his home in Austin with his wife Elizabeth McCracken and their two children and occasionally teaches creative writing and fairy tales at the Michener Center and the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Gulp…Instead, I’m happily oblivious when Edward Carey bursts through the door of Sweetish Hill, hair blown back, red faced. I wonder if he’s driven here on a motorcycle.

Edward Carey: Parking. There’s no parking. I couldn’t find any parking. I had to run a great distance. I’m so sorry I’m late.

I assure him that six minutes past a meeting time in a town with too much traffic and not enough places to put cars is not late. In fact, my mother would argue, five minutes of lateness builds the anticipation of meeting someone. Particularly someone whose book I really loved.

Heap House is brilliant, original, inventive and unlike any book I’d ever read. The writing is smart and funny. The premise is ancient and fresh.

While Edward orders tea, I’ll share a brief description of the book:

Clod is an Iremonger. He lives in the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London.
At the centre is Heap House, a living maze of staircases and scurrying rats. Clod has an illness. He can hear the objects whispering. His birth object, a universal bath plug, says 'James Henry', A storm is brewing over Heap House.
When Clod meets Lucy Pennant, a girl newly arrived from the city, everything changes. The secrets that bind Heap House together begin to unravel to reveal a dark truth that threatens to destroy Clod's world.

Already, it has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

L2: Can you give me a one sentence description on Heap House?

EC: It’s a coming of age love story set in the rubbish heaps of Victorian London.

L2: So how did you come to write Heap House?

EC: I love Dickens. I love illustrations. I love kids books. I love Robert Louis Stevenson. I love books with a sense of adventure.

L2: Okay. But why Heap House? What was the inspiration?

Edward in China; photo by Hugh Ferrer
EC: Well, there was this museum outside Bejing. I can’t remember the name of it. And when I went in there, they had rooms full of things.

One room full of mirrors. One room full of keys, one full of doorhandles. One room was full of bathtubs.

And it seemed to me all these objects put together were somehow communicating with each other.

L2: Really?

EC: Well, that’s what it seemed like to me. A 14th century tub talking to 19th century tub. They were going on and on.

L2: And that visit led to a book about objects that talked?

EC: It started me thinking about it. In Victorian England, during the height of Britain’s Empire, there was also an horrendous amount of poverty and neglect, and poor people were just crushed under the weight of industry. There were massive amounts of poor people and children were left at orphanages with one object from their families.

There’s a place in London called the Foundling Hospital (now it’s a museum) and sometimes when the mother anonymously left her baby there in the night, she’d leave a small object behind with it, a thimble say or a button or the metal label from a gin bottle, and this would be all that was afterwards to give any hint of where the child came from.

Can you imagine? Your mother is so poor she can’t keep you and she leaves you at an orphanage with one object. What tremendous power these singular objects have.

L2: Ahh, I’m beginning to see the heft and history of the objects in Heap House and their relation to people. But at Heap House you have massive heaps of things and rubbish not just the characters’ birth objects.

EC: Right. That’s what we spend our whole lives doing. Consuming and spending and acquiring and what happens when we don’t look after those things? We throw them away.

And what happens when we die? Those objects, those precious things get orphaned and thrown into the rubbish.

Terribly sad, really.

copyright Edward Carey
L2: How did Clod start coming into focus amongst all the objects?

EC: I started drawing this odd, ill-faced child who looked slightly miserable and I wondered, Hmm, what do you have to say for yourself?

L2: Do you draw a lot?

EC: All the time. But not all of them become characters. Clod did, because he looked so concerned about something. I gave him a bathplug for his object. It worked symbolically because a plug keeps things in or lets them out.

L2: And Lucy? Her object?

EC: I gave her a box of matches. Her name comes from Lucifer. When she comes into the house, she turns things up side down. Almost like a burning, a purifying or a transformation. So…matches.

L2:What would you like your birth object to be?

EC: I think a pencil sharpener would be quite nice.

Edward and I digress and talk about a few of the characters’ objects for a while. He tells me the Grandmother in Heap House gets quite nasty. She’s the one who chooses peoples birth objects and some of them aren’t very nice. Like one poor fellow gets a noose. Not a bright future for that character.

If you would like to have a birth object, you can go to Edward’s website (scroll to bottom) and you will be assigned one. Mine is named Joseph Cecil Tennant and appears to be a little stool.

I try to wheedle the details out of him about Book Two and Three.

EC: Book Two’s done. It will be out next October. I haven’t worked out Book Three. I’ve got tons of stuff but it’s not filled in. I like not entirely knowing what’s going to happen so I have the freedom to surprise myself.

L2: That’s what I loved about your writing. It surprises. Like this description:

Bornobby washed with some sort of scented soap so you could always smell him coming, but always there was an undersmell with him, as if a ghost of a fish was following him about, swimming in his air.

It’s the kind of writing that give other writers permission to write more boldly, more inventively.

EC: Thank you.

copyright Edward Carey
L2: What writers give you permission to draw outside the lines, so to speak?

EC: Angela Carter. Leonora Carrington. Carson McCullers. Shirley Jackson. Patrick Ness. Neil Gaiman. That’s why I love to teach fairytales. Grimm, Hoffman, Andersen these are really dark stories. They are our original stories, Grimms’ tales are a primal source of fiction, which over time have often been sanitized. Originally there wasn’t a stepmother in Hansel and Gretel. It was the mother who sent the kids into the woods because there wasn’t enough food. I love those stories. There are always woods you can’t go into.

If you go into the darkness, what will happen? Death? Or Love?

I also love the Secret Garden, Rudyard Kipling, and J.M Barrie’s original Peter Pan. It has the greatest opening lines in children’s literature: “All children, save one, grow up.”

Or perhaps this first line:

“It really all began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day that my Aunt Rosamud’s door handle went missing.” --Beginning the narrative of Clod Iremonger

copyright Edward Carey


Cynsational Notes

Photo of Lindsey by Sam Bond Photography.
Adapted from Lindsey's website bio:

Lindsey graduated from Hampshire College with a BA in Theatre Arts-Playwriting and moved to Austin where she started writing plays like the award winning "The Miracle of Washing Dishes."

Later, she worked at The Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman where she interviewed death row inmates, cops and wayward millionaires.

When she wasn’t writing, she trained as a boxer and promoted the first all-women’s boxing event to raise money for the Austin Rape Crisis Center.

In 2003, Clarion published her picture book Snuggle Mountain, named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. Later, PicPocket Books published Snuggle Mountain as an app.

Lindsey received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. Her debut YA novel Evidence of Things Not Seen was released by FSG in September.

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

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