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1. 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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2. 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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. Guest Post: Deanna Roy on Getting By As A Writer With A Little Help From Your Friends

Kindergarten author talk
By Deanna Roy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There are a lot of lonely jobs out there. Night security. Toll booths.

I once worked at a huge event arena, where my sole job was watching a panel of red lights in case one light up.

When I first became a full-time writer, it seemed like a dream.

No more pesky day job! No more distractions! I could write all day.

Then reality hit.

I was by myself, in my house, and expected to create fascinating people, colorful locales, and dynamic dialogue, all while sitting in a chair.

So I got on Facebook. I would Tweet. It’s part of the platform, I said to myself. I tried coffee shops. I convinced myself that people watching was research. But really, what I needed was a coworker.

Someone who understood what I was going through.

RWA book signing
I was lucky, though. In every step of my publishing journey, I had a lot of writer friends. I’m not afraid to join groups, to start groups, to coerce people to show up for my groups!

As my circles expanded from local writers to ones online, I began to understand how important these connections had become.

And it wasn’t just to keep the Total Hermit Lifestyle at bay. We could share our struggles, puzzle out our problems, cheerlead each other, and help with deadline accountability.

No matter where you are in your journey, finding others to walk beside you, whether on real or virtual paths, is critical. You may believe that you need to already have an agent, a contract, a book published, or a bestseller to feel comfortable reaching out. But it’s not true.

All along the way, I got to walk with writers who were facing similar obstacles. We subbed to agents and pored over query letters. We did overnight beta reads and tried to decipher rejection letters to divine our publishing futures as though the words were tea leaves in the hands of a fortune teller.

As you move from one phase of the process to another, your interests and needs will change.

You find hitting a new goal doesn’t mean you automatically have a million new friends, but it does involve a different set of hurdles and expectations.

Navigating success takes just as much help as working to get there.

There is no magical place where suddenly everyone opens their arms and tells you to join the party. Only as you look back do you realize the friends that you have supported, cheered, and commiserated with along the way are the ones you treasure the most.

So don’t write in obscurity.

Find a place where everyone has the same hopes and challenges as you. If you like to do it in person, find a local chapter of SCBWI (for kid lit) or RWA (romance) or Sisters in Crime (mystery) or any of the local writer groups or meet ups. If you like to start out from the quiet security of home, try places like Kboards and Verla’s SCBWI Kidlit Blue Boards and Romance Divas.

Everything that has happened to me in the process of getting over thirty titles out into the world was not just a product of my own work and initiative. I am the sum of all the things that have been taught to me, the lessons I learned by failing, and watching people approach my path from their own. I made it a priority to stay in touch with these fellow travelers, no matter where their journey took them next, or if their climb to a similar goal was faster or slower than mine.

My next project is absolutely a product of the friendships with kidlit writers I’ve met along the way.

The Adventure Collection is a boxed set of books for middle grade readers from writers I know both online and locally. When Apple iBooks wrote me to ask what I could put together to be featured on their site, I knew exactly who to call. The people who had been with me all along.

Cynsational Notes

Deanna Roy is the author of many books for children and tweens, as well as a long line of adult fiction.

At book signing.

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13. Author-Illustrator Interview: Lita Judge on Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Born To Be Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014):

What do grizzly bear cubs eat? Where do baby raccoons sleep? And how does a baby otter learn to swim? 

Every baby mammal, from a tiny harvest mouse "pinky" to a fierce lion cub, needs food, shelter, love, and a family.

Filled with illustrations of some of the most adorable babies in the kingdom, this awww-inspiring book looks at the traits that all baby mammals share and proves that, even though they're born in the wild, they're not so very different from us, after all!

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I wanted to show the amazing ways in which animals protect and raise their young and how remarkably similar a baby animals needs are to our own.

When I was a little girl, I watched my grandparents raise Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owl chicks. We played foster parent to Green Herons, Red Tailed hawks, raccoons, otters and any other animal that was orphaned or injured.

My grandparents were biologists, and they taught me to respect animals and to study how they live and interact in the wild. My work reflects my upbringing, and the fact that I’ve always felt compelled to bring a better understanding of animals to young readers.

Lita with a Great Horned Owlet

Lita's grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

Lita's grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

This book went fairly quickly as far as my picture books go.

When I say quickly, I mean three years. That’s how long it takes me to build up the text and sketches after I have an initial concept in mind.

The initial sketching is always the most time consuming for me. When I illustrate wild animals, I want to reflect not only how they look, but how they move and relate to each other.

That means I actually do hundreds of sketches of animals from life, videos, and pictures before choosing a gesture that I feel says what I’m trying to convey.

Final art is a mere three months or so after the months and months of drawing and playing around with text. And then there is that year-plus time at the end where you are done but have to wait for release.



What were the greatest triumphs and challenges along the way?

For this book, I wanted to show the topic of baby animals in a universal way, depicting not only the needs that all baby animals have, but also showing the connection between our own needs when we are young to theirs.

This meant I had to do a very broad approach and choose the animals to illustrate each point carefully. For every animal that you see in the final book, there are dozens more on the cutting room floor. Taking out a detail, whether it be text or drawing, that you love is always the hardest part for me, but in the end, you find the best way to depict the topic.




What was your connection to the topic?

I have spent most of my life observing and drawing animals. Whether in zoos, or in the wilderness, I carry a sketchbook, binoculars, and camera with me always, recording what I see.

I’ve always been fascinated particularly with baby animals, their playfulness and open expressions.





How did you go about your research process?

Research for a nonfiction book is always an intense and joyful part of my creative process.

For a book on animals, I rely on a lifetime of watching, drawing, and photographing animals. I chose many of the animals in this book particularly because I had spent time observing them in nature.

If it’s an animal I can’t observe easily in nature, I can often go to zoos to draw them, observing not only their appearance, but how they move. Wildlife videos are also a great help for this.

My parents are wildlife photographers and have built up an amazing reference library of photographs over the years.

There is always a lot of reading about animals that goes into a project like this, but the most important thing for me to be able to capture the expressions and likeness of an animal is to spend a lot of time observing and drawing them.


Lita with her grandfather

How did you approach the art?

For me, drawing animals really comes down to capturing its gesture or body movement and expression. I don’t want my readers to just know what a chimpanzee of meerkat looks like; I want them to feel a connection to them. I want them to look into the faces of my animals and feel like there is an animal looking back at them.

I also want them to get an understanding of the intimate world of animals within their own world; how does a mother panda hold her baby, or a baby orangutan curl up and feel safe with its parent.



To capture all this I first do hundreds of very loose sketches, focusing on body language long before I worry about details.




Once I feel like I’ve captured that intimate portrait between the animals, I start focusing on the details, which describe their faces and bodies.

Slowly my drawings become more refined until at last, they are ready for a light watercolor wash at the end.



Looking back on your career, how have you grown and changed as a writer and artist?

I started writing only nonfiction but have grown to love creating both fiction and nonfiction stories.





I think my background as a geologist, and having grown up helping my grandparents with their research projects in the field, made me very comfortable with the research involved with creating nonfiction.



But the more I drew and wrote, the more I began to want to push myself into creating fictional characters that emoted expressions full of exuberance and whimsy.

I think my background with wildlife made my fictional drawings of animals better because they were rooted in an understanding for anatomy and how animals move.

And I think my work with fictional characters made my nonfiction better because it really helped me focus on building connections between my readers and my subject through studying the subtlety of expressions.

Good Morning to Me!, to be released spring 2015

What advice do you have for budding author-illustrators?

Focus on our craft. Put your emphasis there more than worrying about how, when, and where to get published. I see so many people that are very eager to get published; they really put a lot of energy into trying to make connections or getting published before they’ve had a chance to let their work blossom into a unique voice. There will be time for all that, but until then, draw, write, draw, write, draw, write…. until you have stories dancing out of your mind!



Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that I’m really thankful to get to do the work I love. And thankful to the muses that keep me inspired by all their delightful expressions and loving companionship!




Cynsational Notes

Born in the Wild has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Cynsational Screening Room

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14. Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Picture Books Are Important by Kelly Bingham from Picture Book Month. Peek: "Picture books teach us – young and old alike – lessons about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities." See also Chris Barton on Why Picture Books Are Important.

You're Such a Character by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Even if you do want to tell your readers all about your life, they’re not likely to be interested. You’re going to be selecting details regardless. So it’s not too much of a stretch to give some thought to those details, and what you’re going to emphasize, and what’s going to fall by the wayside."

Is It Ready to Send Out? by James Mihaley from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Obviously it makes sense not to submit a ragged manuscript but in my opinion writers often hold onto their novels far too long before sending them to agents." See also Micro-Level Revision by Kimberley Griffiths Little from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Reading Paired Texts to Increase Student Engagement by Jill Eisenberg from Lee and Low. Peek: "Pairing a news article with a book on a similar topic or theme offers students greater context and a sense of relevancy for the content they are learning, and perhaps a jolt to the creeping apathy over a curriculum students had little input in selecting."

Considerate Craft: Pitching Diverse Characters by Amy from Pub Hub. Peek: "Short answer is it’s up to the writer, and there are lots of choices, including leaving it out of the query. After all, the full complexities of a character or person cannot be summed up in a couple paragraphs."

Interview: Stacy Nyikos and Waggers by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launch Pad. Peek: "Word count helps keep me on task. At 500 words, all of them play double duty. Dialogue reveals plot, and if I choose correctly, also reveals character."

Hope for Non-Artists Submitting Concept Books by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "If you have an opportunity to submit directly to an editor, she likely wouldn’t acquire it until she gets an illustrator to commit."

First Person Point of View: Building Kinship with the Reader by Jim Hill from Project Mayhem. Peek: "First person narratives work by bringing the reader inside a private club for two. Reader and protagonist become confidantes in a shared adventure."

Industry Q&A with FSG Editor Grace Kendall from CBC Diversity. Peek: "If I’m editing a book featuring a culture, heritage, or place that I feel unfamiliar with, I will definitely enlist the help of an expert or someone intimately experienced with the subject matter at hand. I do this most often with nonfiction titles, even if the author might be considered an expert in the field or has had an expert read over their work." See also What? Me Worry? by Charlesbridge Editor Yolanda Scott. Note: includes bibliography of picture books that deal with anxiety.

Patience Or How To Wait and Wait and Wait by Donna Janell Bowman from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "What I have learned is that hovering over the calendar, waiting for a response from an editor, or an impending book release, can be maddening. Forget patience! Just stay busy!"

About Native American Heritage Month, Thanksgiving and Children's-YA Literature by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "In schools across the country, Native peoples appear in the curriculum at specific times of the year. Like this month. November. Thanksgiving. Coincidentally (?), November is Native American Month."

Cynsational Screening Room

The We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign is ongoing -- check it out and signal boost!



Happy Picture Book Month!



Cynsational Giveaways


This Week at Cynsations 
More Personally

K.A. Holt, Salima Alikhan, Lindsey Lane, Anne Bustard, Liz Garton Scanlon, Cynthia Leitich Smith...
celebrating new releases by K.A. and Chris Barton at BookPeople in Austin.
Cheers to Sam Bond on the release of Cousins In Action: Operation Tiger Paw!
Ready for a rockin' take on Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015), just in from Kirkus Reviews? See:
Look for Feral Pride in the Candlewick Catalog!
"...the wickedly funny, quickly paced style is anchored by the novel's underlying theme of the marginalization of people and its effects, both those obvious ('Our legal rights are slippery,' explains Kayla) and more insidiously subtle (like the wedge driven between Clyde, a werepossum/werelion hybrid, and his human girlfriend, Aimee, because of her father's prejudice). ...witty, smart and moving—sure to satisfy..."
Congratulations to Lee Wind on signing with Danielle Smith of Red Fox Literary and to Danielle for signing Lee!

Personal Links

Arthur Slade's graphic novel Modo: Ember's End is in the house!


  • Why Writers Love Low-Residency MFA Programs
  • Joy Preble on Stuff People Say to Authors
  • Donald Maas on the Meaning of Everything
  • Marion Dane Bauer on Why I Don't Want to Die at Age 75
  • How Going Electronic Changed Dictionaries
  • 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People 
  • The What Ifs that Haunt "Ghostbuster" Ernie Hudson
  • Brief History of Racial and Gender Diversity in Super Hero Movies
  • Transgender Model Lea T Stars in Big Beauty Campaign
  • Joss Whedon on Sexism
  • U.S. Racial Diversity by County
  • Shedd Aquarium Teaches Orphaned Pup How to Be an Otter 


  • 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.

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    15. Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on Making the Switch: from MG to YA/YA to MG & Back Again

    By Kimberley Griffiths Little
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    Over the last decade I’ve published seven middle-grade novels with Random House and Scholastic, focusing my last four titles on contemporary magical realism stories set in the bayous and swamps of Louisiana with page-turning plots and a lot of heart and family issues.

    But I also write young adult and always have. I’ve just never published one—until now.

    It’s funny because as promotion and publicity has been ramping up for the launch of Forbidden (HarperCollins, 2014), my YA trilogy debut, I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries filled with curiosity about my sudden change from writing middle grade to YA. Which is kind of humorous because, in some ways, it’s just the opposite.

    During the craze of vampires, werewolves, and Harry Potter, I was writing an epic historical set 4,000 years ago with goddess temples, belly dance, and betrothals gone very, very bad.

    When I first started trying to learn the craft of writing back in the DABI: Dark Ages Before the Internet, I took writing classes through the Institute of Children’s Literature, SCBWI, and the Southwest Writers organization in Albuquerque, that offered local classes and some terrific conferences. I experimented with every children’s genre trying to find my niche/voice: picture books, easy readers, chapter books, and novels. Toddlers to high school.

    Back in the DABI, I printed out my short stories and full-length novel projects, and hauled them to the post office with big fat SASE’s. A practice unheard of in today’s fast pace of email and social media with hashtags like #PitchMadness.

    My first writer’s conference was in Santa Fe and sponsored by a local independent children’s bookstore (which is now long extinct). The owner of that bookstore had chutzpah though!

    She went big, and brought in Steven Kellog, Rosemary Wells, Richard Peck, Lois Duncan, and Katherine Paterson. This was before I even knew SCBWI existed!

    (I helped start our state chapter a few years later).

    Rosemary Wells, a well-known author of dozens of picture books, was overwhelmingly generous. After the conferences she let us newbie attendees send her a project and gave feedback—free of charge. When she read a couple of my picture book manuscripts she told me that she believed my true voice was for older readers.

    I took her advice to heart (and agreed with it!) and began focusing exclusively on my stack of currently-drafting novels for 8-12-year-olds. Which finally garnered some success many years later.

    Novels were my first love, and I’d written the first two longhand, typing them up on my college typewriter (DABWP = Dark Ages Before Word Processors).

    I have filing cabinets filled with practice novels.

    Well over 10 years ago I started the research and writing of Forbidden, which has experienced more reincarnated lives than Shirley MacLane.

    The novel received interest from agents as well as a few editors I was developing a relationship with (when I switched agents and was querying new agencies for over a year). But they were skittish about some of the mature themes; abuse, rape, prostitution, and even though they loved the book they weren’t sure where to sell it—or if it was even young adult. Maybe it was adult—but it wasn’t clearly an adult novel, either.

    Then the Vampire/Werewolf/Fairy/Mermaid/Zombie/Harry Potter decade hit.

    My epic ancient historical floundered. Historical fiction got pushed aside, but I kept rewriting the book because I loved it. The almost fantasy-like time period and sensuous belly dance tapestry of the storyline wouldn’t leave me alone.

    I changed the point of view. I added plot. I experimented with twenty different versions of the first chapter. In the middle of all this, I was orphaned three times on my first three novels - and changed agents because she left the business.

    My new agent loved both my middle-grade and my YA novel. We went on submission. Six weeks later, we had a three-book deal with Scholastic for two MG novels and my YA ancient romance.

    Wowza!

    The Famine was over, right?

    The first two middle grade novels came out to great reviews and enjoyed wonderful Scholastic Book Fair reception. I wrote two new proposals. Scholastic bought those. After the third middle grade novel was finished we turned our attention to Forbidden. After a fresh read, my editor confessed that she had forgotten just how sensuous and mature the book was.

    Conference calls with my agent and editor ensued. Verdict: Based on the success of my middle-grade novels in the Scholastic Book Fairs, would I be willing to rewrite the YA and try to make it more middle grade?

    I was flabbergasted. But I’m a pleaser.  

    Okay, I agreed, albeit with trepidation.

    I did the work, but in my heart the story, characters, tone, and theme was for older readers.

    My agent wholeheartedly agreed.

    We discussed the issue of censoring myself. But the story is what it is—and historically accurate.

    My agent agreed again.

    Learn more from Kimberley!
    So what to do? What to do? The next few months were a combination of agony and strategy as we ended up pulling the book from Scholastic and giving them another middle grade in its place. (That book just came out, The Time of the Fireflies (Scholastic, 2014)).

    Once again, Forbidden was an unsold manuscript. The original book deal happened in 2008. It was now the summer of 2011. I rewrote the book again, putting back in all that I had taken out.

    We went on submission. It was nail-biting. I seriously wondered if this book would ever become a real book.

    But miraculously, three weeks later we had a significant pre-empt from HarperCollins for the entire trilogy, not just a single title.

    They loved it just as it was.

    I began my first, tentative draft of this book in early 2003, after researching the time period and the people and culture and history for several years—and selling short stories set in ancient Arabia and Egypt to Cricket Magazine. I’ve watched the ups and down of young adult publishing run the spectrum from Twilight (Little, Brown, 2005) to The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008) to The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012).

    As we used to say in the DABI, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

    Is the young adult world ready for an ancient historical with danger, murder, blackmail, and goddess temple prostitution? I’m counting on it!

    After all, there have been rumblings in the publishing world since 2012 that readers are ready for juicy historical novels, and there are authors who are already obliging.

    HarperCollins has designed a most spectacular book. I’m deeply grateful to my editor and my agent who took many risks with me to see that this book stayed “in the game” —and now, hopefully, will thrive.

    Cynsational Giveaway

    Enter to win a signed copy of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little (HarperCollins, 2014) and Book Club Cards. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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    16. Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on How a Picture Book Author-Playwright-Journalist became a YA Author

    By Lindsey Lane
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    It’s opening night. I am sitting in the audience at the debut of a play I had written.

    I remember thinking as I watched, “This is as much as I know right now.” It wasn’t a negative thought. I simply knew that this play was the culmination of everything I knew up to that moment.

    The next play I wrote would be the sum of more knowledge. I knew that I would learn from each attempt. I knew I would grow every time I came to the page.

    And I did.

    The thing is, in my career so far as a writer, I have come to a lot of different pages: plays, newspaper and magazine stories, a screenplay, a picture book. I used to look at that pathway and say stuff like, ‘Well, you’ve certainly wandered all over the place.’

    Now I look back and I can see that it all made sense. That each page in each genre taught me a bit more. I can see it because in my YA novel--all of those teachers showed up.

    My first playwriting professor Len Berkman used to say you need something new to happen every three inches on the page. This doesn’t mean that a bomb drops at the top of the page, a bigger bomb drops half way down the page and then the annihilating bomb drops at the bottom of the page.

    No, Len was talking about pacing, about dropping breadcrumbs so that the audience is learning and going deeper into the world of the play with you. His measurement was three inches.

    It’s not a bad pace, but I’ve learned to play with it.

    Theater also helped hear the voice of a character. It helped me with dialogue and intention. I love revealing character through what they say. How little. How much. I love hearing their secret desires in their words and silences. Dialogue also moves the pace of your writing along.

    Journalism helped me probe for truth. I loved interviewing people. I loved watching how they would open up. I would watch how they would avoid certain topics.

    From those interviews, I became aware of the lies that certain characters told. We are all tell ourselves lies, some greater than others.

    But when I’m developing a story and a character, I always ask them, “What do you not want people to know? What are you hiding? What are you lying to everyone about?”

    Answering those questions will often lead me to the emotional arc of the book.

    Though I have only had one picture book published, I wrote many more and every time I did, I remember thinking, How can a story with 300-700 words be told so many ways?

    That’s the magic of picture books. You have to pare down your storytelling to the bare minimum and then spill it on to the page in such a way that it is light and fresh and surprising.

    In my mind, picture books are masterworks. Every time I come to the page now I bring a spareness to my storytelling. And a massive respect for verbs. If you get the right verb in a sentence, it tells a story all on its own.

    All of these pages led me to my debut young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FSG, 2014).

    I hope you can hear the theatre in my first person sections.

    I hope the pacing makes you turn the page and draws you deeper into the story.

    I hope you can see the characters struggle with the truth of their lives in the third person sections.

    And I hope you appreciate the spare quality of the writing and all the spaces that allow the reader to enter in.

    What’s next? Something, for sure. Because no matter what, I am a writer. And the next page will logically turn after this one.

    As always, I’m excited to see what it will be.



    Cynsational Screening Room



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    17. Guest Post: Jane Sutcliffe on The White House is Burning & Bridging a Two-Century Gap

    By Jane Sutcliffe
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    The seed of The White House is Burning: August 24, 1814 (Charlesbridge, 2014) was planted on 9/11.

    Sometime during that day, as we all tried to get a handle on what had happened, a TV reporter compared the terrorist attacks with other national tragedies like Pearl Harbor.

    The burning of Washington was on the list, too, and right away I was intrigued.

    I remembered from some long-ago history class that the British had burned Washington, but that was the extent of my knowledge. So I began the long process of “finding out a little more” that culminated in The White House is Burning.

    For those people who lived through it, the burning of Washington in 1814 was their 9/11. They must have felt the same sick shock I remember so well as they watched first the Capitol, then the White House go up in flames. I wanted my readers to feel it, too.

    I knew some readers would get it immediately. There will always be a certain kind of kid who loves the feeling of being transported by history.

    (Full disclosure here—I was one.)

    But what do you do for the reader who looks at history like a plateful of Brussels sprouts?

    (Full disclosure again—I hate Brussels sprouts.)

    Dolley Madison
    Oh, I knew there was a great story there, with thrilling battle scenes and a last-minute escape. I had a brave heroine in Dolley Madison and a deliciously despicable villain in Admiral Cockburn. I had comic relief in the naïve Private Kennedy, who was so over-confident in his first battle that he brought along his dancing shoes for the party at the White House that would surely follow an American victory.

    And that would be enough for some readers. I would connect with them and they would feel the shame of the American defeat and the tension of Dolley’s narrow escape. They would feel the horror of seeing the Capitol and the White House in flames.

    But I knew there were some who wouldn’t be able to get past—well, to get past the past. They’d take one look at those unsmiling portraits of people long dead and decide that they couldn’t possibly have anything in common.

    My friend calls it MPS Syndrome: male, pale, and stale.

    I had to do more than just transport those readers to 1814. So I decided to leave them right there in the comfort of 2014 and bring the burning of Washington to them instead.

    What if, I asked those readers, they thumbed on their cell phones to see the news that enemy troops had just invaded Washington, D.C.?

    What if cameramen in helicopters captured live images of foreign soldiers marching down Pennsylvania Avenue?

    What if people on the scene tweeted photos of the Capitol and the White House being torched and lighting up the sky for miles?

    What if, instead of Dolley Madison, it was Michelle Obama who had narrowly escaped being captured?

    And I wrote this: “Had it happened in modern times, it would have been called 'breaking news'.”



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    18. Guest Post & Giveaway: Shirley Parenteau on Ship of Dolls

    By Shirley Parenteau
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    This picture of my then three-year-old granddaughter Michelle inadvertently sparked the idea for Ship of Dolls (Candlewick, 2014) and a forthcoming sequel, Dolls of Hope.

    My son and daughter-in-law had taken Michelle to visit her maternal grandparents in Japan in time for the traditional girl’s day festival of Hintamatsuri.


    I’d just begun writing a series of picture books for Candlewick Press. Michelle’s blend of formal Japanese kimono and getas with American girl exuberance suggested a new picture book.

    Online research whisked me through time and space to a surprising and little-known true event, The Friendship Doll project of 1926.

    The exact number is in question, but that year American children collected an astonishing twelve to thirteen thousand dolls for children in Japan, to create friendship between the countries.

    Five ships found space for the dolls, each in her own packing box, to leave for Japan on Jan. 10, 1927, arriving in time for Hintamatsuri on March 3.

    My hope for a picture book took shape instead as a middle-grade novel featuring a fictional 11-year-old Oregon girl who takes part in the project in hope of reuniting with her mother.

    In 2015, Candlewick Press will publish a second novel telling the story through the eyes of a Japanese girl.

    In the mid-1920s, fathers earned about twenty-five cents an hour so it wouldn’t have been easy to find the money for the 16-inch “Mama” dolls, plus passports and steamship tickets. However, children across America, working with school classes, church groups and clubs, sent more than 12,000 of the dolls to children in Japan.

    After receiving the dolls with celebration and ceremony, Japanese children sent back 58 elegant dolls of gratitude, each about three feet tall, with many accessories to show life in their country.

    All the dolls carried messages of friendship and peace.

    Sadly, a few years later World War II erupted and the dolls became symbols of the enemy. The Japanese government ordered the American dolls destroyed. American museums packed the Japanese dolls into storage and forgot them. A few were sold. Others were lost to natural disasters such as flooding. However, the story has a happy ending.

    The surviving dolls are now on display in both countries.

    Once again, children are exchanging letters of friendship.

    I’m thrilled that the Japanese publisher of translations of my “bears” picture books, beginning with Bears on Chairs, has also purchased Ship of Dolls and Dolls of Hope. He plans to publish in Spring of 2015 to tie the story to the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in the Pacific. He feels Dolls of Hope will help express to his young readers his company’s wish for world peace and friendship.

    As an author, I can think of nothing more humbling or more gratifying.

    Cynsational Notes

    Shirley says:
    My husband and I recently moved from a three-acre farm to a one level home about a mile away.

    Our calico cat Folly, once a barn stray and then an indoor/outdoor cat, has settled nicely into strictly indoor urban living. The previous owner’s craft table in a sunny room serves as my desk for now.

    Here’s my current writing space and Folly pretending she hasn’t once again walked across the keyboard.

    Cynsational Giveaway

    Enter to win a copy of Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: N. America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:


    It’s 1926, and the one thing eleven-year-old Lexie Lewis wants more than anything is to leave Portland, Oregon, where she has been staying with her strict grandparents, and rejoin her mother, a carefree singer in San Francisco’s speakeasies. But Mama’s new husband doesn’t think a little girl should live with parents who work all night and sleep all day. 

    Meanwhile, Lexie’s class has been raising money to ship a doll to the children of Japan in a friendship exchange, and when Lexie learns that the girl who writes the best letter to accompany the doll will be sent to the farewell ceremony in San Francisco, she knows she just has to be the winner. But what if a jealous classmate and Lexie’s own small lies to her grandmother manage to derail her plans? 

    Inspired by a project organized by teacher-missionary Sidney Gulick, in which U.S. children sent more than 12,000 Friendship Dolls to Japan in hopes of avoiding a future war, Shirley Parenteau’s engaging story has sure appeal for young readers who enjoy historical fiction, and for doll lovers of all ages.

    Can a ship carrying Friendship Dolls to Japan be Lexie’s ticket to see her fun-loving mother again? A heartwarming historical novel inspired by a little-known true event.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    19. New Voice: Christine Kohler on No Surrender Soldier

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Christine Kohler is the first-time author of No Surrender Soldier (Merit Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

    A young man, an old soldier, and a terrible injustice. Should the punishment be death?

    Growing up on Guam in 1972, fifteen-year-old Kiko is beset by worries: He’s never kissed a girl, and he thinks it’s possible he never will. The popular guys get all the attention, but the worst part is that Kiko has serious problems at home. His older brother is missing in Vietnam; his grandfather is losing it to dementia; he just learned that his mother was raped in World War II by a Japanese soldier. 

    It all comes together when he discovers an old man, a Japanese soldier, hiding in the jungle behind his house. It’s not the same man who raped his mother, but, in his rage, Kiko cares only about protecting his family and avenging his mom – no matter what it takes. 

    And so, a shy, peaceable boy begins to plan a murder. But how far will Kiko go to prove to himself that he’s a man ? 

    Based on a historical incident, No Surrender Soldier is the story of a boy grappling with ancient questions of courage and manhood before he can move on.

    What inspired you to choose the particular point of view--first, second, third, omniscient (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

    point of view revision
    Originally I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this idea; I only had a premise—a 15-year-old Chamorro boy discovers his mother was raped during WWII by a Japanese soldier; what he doesn’t know is that there is a Japanese soldier who has been hiding in the jungle behind the boy’s house for 28 years since the liberation of Guam during WWII.

    So I wrote the Chamorro family’s chapters in third person omniscient. That way I could fully flesh out the characters of entire family—Kiko, tatan (grandfather), tata (father), nana (mother), and Bobo (dog).

    From the very first draft, the story was in alternating point of view (POV) chapters between Kiko and the WWII Japanese soldier, Isamu Seto. But there was no prologue nor framing until much later.

    From the first draft, Seto’s chapters were in third person limited omniscient with a close psychic distance. That never changed.

    All that changed regarding Seto’s chapters is that they increased, and in deeper revisions, I had to keep making his routines bump up against Kiko’s so there was a constant cause and effect, action and reaction, actions and consequences. The plot and subplot run like two railroad tracks that keep intersecting until the big collision (climax).

    Once I had the family fleshed out and knew where they were and what they were all doing and how they would all react to each other and situations, then I needed to peel it all apart and put the focus on only Kiko, since he is the main character and it’s his story.

    point of view notes
    To convert Kiko’s chapters to limited omniscient I highlighted each character and his or her actions, dialogue, internal monologue (most IM should have been Kiko’s only) with different colored highlighters.

    Then anything that did not adhere to Kiko’s plot problems or was from Kiko’s POV got axed. I kept his chapters in third person.

    I didn’t count how many revisions I wrote, so let’s just say that eventually I took the plunge and wrote Kiko’s chapters in first person.

    This was a difficult decision, not because I didn’t know it might make the story more compelling, but because I was so afraid of not being able to write an authentic 15-year-old Chamorro boy’s voice. There is no fudging in first person. And I write narrative in a character’s voice, too, just not as heavy in dialect. (Writing pidgin English is an entirely different writing craft topic.)

    I would never have attempted either of these character voices had I not lived on Pacific-Asian islands, including Japan and Guam, for a decade. But in the end, I was glad I settled on third person for the Japanese soldier and first person for the Chamorro teen because I believe it is what added to making their chapters so distinctly different.

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

    Christine with Abby
    No Surrender Soldier is historical fiction set on Guam during the Vietnam war era, specifically 1972. It also involves a WWII topic, the occupation of Guam by the Japanese. And I needed to research my Japanese character’s pre-WWII life in Japan. So I researched three time periods and two Pacific island locations.

    Although I had lived on both of these islands, I did not live in the specific locales of my characters’ settings nor during these early of dates. What drew me first to this topic and premise was my curiosity about why the Japanese soldier hid in the jungle for 28 years, suffering such extreme deprivation. What I couldn’t shake from working and living in Asia-Pacific was the atrocities done to the occupied people during WWII. So I guess you could say it was seeing human suffering on both sides of battling nations that drew me to combine these two situations/concepts.

    There was never a question in my mind as to when the story would take place—1972, the year in which the real No Surrender Soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, was captured. Of course the Vietnam War was still in action, though winding down. But it reinforced the war theme since my story deals with the after-effects of war and how it affects families for generations.

    Christine's research
    At the time I started writing No Surrender Soldier I had lived on the U.S. mainland for a decade. I had recently left my job as a copy editor at the San Antonio Express-News to write full-time and specialize in children’s literature. So it was more challenging to get the research materials I wanted.

    When I had lived on Guam I had the foresight to buy the Guam history book in high schools, although I didn’t know at the time I would write a novel. I read this history book cover to cover.

    Then I read every book I could borrow from the library (not many) or purchase on-line. But more importantly, I wanted to read all the newspaper accounts—U.S. and Japanese—about Yokoi. I contacted my Gannett publisher, Lee Webber, and he had the archivist Carmelita Blas copy and mail me copies of Pacific Daily News articles. Dirk Ballendorf, then director of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) at the University of Guam, also had an archivist Lourdes Nededog send me copies of everything in the files about Yokoi, which included foreign press clippings.

    To purchase a compilation of Japanese journalists’ articles translated into English, I had to go on-line to an antique book dealer in Canada. I also read Yokoi’s autobiography, which was mostly about his life after he returned to Japan so it wasn’t as helpful.

    Christine's blog
    A funny side note regarding research: I’ve never lived on a farm, so when I wanted to write a pig-slaughtering chapter I checked out from the San Antonio library a book on how to slaughter pigs.

    My husband used to spend his summers as a child on a farm and he said if anyone checked my library history they would show up at my door in the city and wonder what I’m up to.

    Now that No Surrender Soldier is out, it’s being sold on-line at a sited called “Home Butchering Books”. No lie! Look it up!

    I also contacted via internet Raymond Baza, a musician and composer, to ask questions about Chamorro music since it is as integral to the fiesta as food.

    I had no problem building my world—place, culture, customs, food, etc. What was challenging for me was to know what to cut and what to keep in revision. I had to cut a tremendous amount of background and description so it wouldn’t sacrifice the natural storytelling.

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    20. Author Interview: Ginger Wadsworth on Yosemite's Songster: One Coyote's Story

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story, by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Daniel San Souci (Yosemite Conservancy, 2013). From the promotional copy:

    A sudden rockslide in Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada separates Coyote from her mate. 

    Readers journey throughout the valley observing its many famous landmarks on four paws with Coyote. You’ll explore both the natural world and the human world with one’s nose leading the way.

    Who or what inspired you to write this story?

    Illustrator Dan San Souci and I have known each other for years; we’re both part of the San Francisco Bay area community of children’s book authors and artists.

     At an informal party, Dan and I chatted about writing a book together, specifically about a coyote in Yosemite National Park. Dan, along with his brother, Bob, had already written several books for the park, including their Two Bear Cubs, a Miwok Legend from California's Yosemite.

    I had published John Muir, Wilderness Protector (Lerner), Camping with the President (Calkins Creek), about the 1903 Yosemite camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, plus Giant Sequoia Trees (Lerner).

    Photo by Ginger Wadsworth
    I’ve visited Yosemite National Park my entire life as well as many other parts of the Sierra Nevada. In fact, I try to explore the park every year. Dan is just as familiar as I am with this amazing natural wonder.

    We both agree that working in California’s Yosemite National Park, doing research in the library there or hiking the trails with a camera, binoculars, or art supplies, is almost like cheating. To be allowed to work in this gorgeous setting is a gift.

    Besides, who wouldn’t want to work with Dan San Souci? His art is breathtaking! I said “yes,” and the rest is history!

    How did you come up with a story line?

    During one of my stays in the park, I took a nature walk with Ranger Shelton Johnson. We crossed Stoneman Meadow on one of the protective, wooden boardwalks.

    We were a multicultural group and didn’t need to communicate with one another when Ranger Johnson pointed out famous rock formations or falls, or had us cross arms across chests to bang gently against one another to demonstrate how glaciers are formed.

    At one time, when most of the group was looking up, I was peering into the meadow. A pair of pointed ears was moving through the grasses. Every so often, a coyote leaped high to pounce on something. It was “mousing” – hunting for an afternoon snack of field mice.

    And so my story was born . . . of this wild dog that shares the park with us . . . and vice versa, yet we seldom notice one because we’re so caught up in taking pictures of granite walls and waterfalls. I’m just as guilty as the next person!

    Photo by Ginger Wadsworth
    I set my story in the Yosemite Valley because that is where most first-time visitors come. They seldom step beyond the valley in their typical one-day explore. There are many iconic spots in the valley—the wedding chapel, the Merced River, Half Dome, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Bridalveil Fall, and more—and I wanted to include as many as sites possible.

    I am familiar with Dan’s work, and I hoped that my story would offer him a smorgasbord of possible images. After seeing his first images, I was “blown away” by what he captured with his watercolors. I recognized almost spot he painted!

    Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.
    What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

    The book is published by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating visitors about the world that is Yosemite National Park. I could not anthropomorphize the coyote in any way, and I had to be scientifically accurate. I also had to be willing to make changes to reflect the philosophy that the Park Service wants to portray. That meant that the manuscript (and Dan’s art) was reviewed for accuracy by the National Park Service staff.

    Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.
    For example, coyotes are natural scavengers, and in the park they occasionally eat human food. I’ve seen them raid overflowing garbage cans, so I mentioned that in the text.

    The staff works hard, with signs and handouts, to remind visitors that coyotes, bears, and all other wild animals should find and eat their natural food. After my reviewers asked me to revise that section, I took out the raiding of garbage cans. I even corrected the name of a pine tree I’d misidentified, and I’m most grateful that other eyes looked for errors.

    Would you tell us about winning the Spur Award?

    Last spring I stayed in the Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California, where I own a one-room cabin in an isolated canyon. It’s a perfect spot for this writer to concoct stories, photograph passing coyotes, or even go out and howl with them on a warm desert evening.

    I have a well, electricity, and my cell phone sometimes works. Someone from the Western Writers of America called me to say that Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story earned the 2014 Spur Award in Storytelling, the best illustrated children’s book. I was to receive a Spur Award for the text, Dan San Souci for the art, and the Yosemite Conservancy for being the publisher.

    I’ve been a member for many years, and this past June, I attended the Western Writers of America’s annual conference in Sacramento, California. Belinda Lantz from the Yosemite Conservancy and Nicole Geiger, my editor, joined me at the WWA banquet where I received my Spur Award.

    I spoke about the honor of receiving this award that has an actual spur mounted on the plaque. I was thrilled with the award’s description of “the best storytelling for children in a 3,000 word book.”

    After all, isn’t that what each of us strives for every single day?

    It was my second Spur Award. Ten years ago, I earned one for Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion) in the category of juvenile nonfiction. I dedicated my 2014 Spur Award to the memory of my father, Hal G. Evarts, Jr., a founding member of Western Writers of America, and a prolific author of books about the west.

    In fact I am the third generation of writers of the west. I never met my grandfather, Hal G. Evarts, Sr.,who wrote books that first appeared in serial format in many of the “big slicks,” magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and The Red Book.

    My Spur Awards hang in my office, over an original painting by Dan San Souci from Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story. It’s a stunning night image of a coyote howling at Half Dome.

    What’s next?

    Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story has been approved for a second printing! In the meantime Dan and I are under contract to write a second book for the Yosemite Conservancy. Think Sierra black bears that live in around Yosemite National Park. It’s due out in the fall of 2016. I’ve been doing research this summer; Dan will step in once the text is accepted. We have lots of ideas for future park-themed books.

    What else would you like to share?

    Nicholas and Willa via Paws to Read at Orinda Library (A). Photo by Michelle Bea, posted with permission. 

    I have two Golden Retrievers, Scout, and Willa. My third dog, Oreo, is a young, miniature poodle mix. Most of the time, Willa, Scout, and Oreo join me in my office, lying under my desk while I write.

     Willa and Scout are trained therapy dogs. I take them into libraries and schools where elementary-aged children read to dogs as part of national program called R.E.A.D. Our local name is “Paws to Read.”

    Oreo and I are in dog school every Wednesday night. We’ll see if he can settle down and earn his therapy dog certificate.

    Helping children improve their reading, courtesy of my dogs, is a perfect extension of my writer’s hat.

    Cynsational Notes

    Photo by Bill Wadsworth
    Ginger Wadsworth is the award-winning author of over 25 nonfiction books for young readers.

    Biography subjects are John Muir, Rachel Carson, Benjamin Banneker, Cesar Chavez, Julia Morgan, Annie Oakley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and others; books with western American history themes including Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion); and natural histories titles about the desert, rivers, sequoias, and spiders that include Up, Up, and Away (Charlesbridge).

    Her most recent books are Camping With the President (Calkins Creek); First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low (Clarion); and Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story (Yosemite Conservancy).

    She lives in Northern California with her family.

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    21. Guest Post: Chris Barton on Writing & Cross-Generational Interests

    Via Public Domain Pictures
    By Chris Barton
    for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

    There’s never an answer I that I find quick, simple, and faithful to the full truth when someone asks what inspired one of my books.

    Take Shark Vs. Train (Little Brown, 2010), for instance.

    Yes, I’m sure the seed was planted by my now 15-year-old son’s love of sharks and trains. But...

    He loved reading books about sharks. He loved playing with wooden trains. Putting the two things together, however, just wasn’t his style of play. As a small child, he had a much more literal view of the world. Sharks were fascinating ocean creatures. Trains rolled on wooden tracks that he could build with all day long. There was no crossover.

    My style of play as a kid, however, would have been to mash those two concepts together. And I guess that still is my style of play, because that’s how it worked with Shark Vs. Train.

    The idea grew out of my paying attention to my kid, to what he loved, but the book that resulted was much closer to my imaginative comfort zone than to his literal one. I wrote it for me, not for him.

    (See? It took me nearly 140 words to get close enough to the full truth to suit me.)

    As another example, take my new book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (illustrated by Joey Spiotto and published by POW!)

    Once again the seed was planted by the interests of that now-15-year-old, along with his now-10-year-old brother. This time around, those interests were video games such as Legend of Zelda, Wizard101, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft.

    But in this case, my comfort zone would have resulted in no book at all. Though I had played video games some as a kid, I hadn’t played in many years, aside from the occasional encounter with an old arcade game.

    And I was deeply skeptical of my kids’ respective abilities to balance time spent in front of a screen with time spent on their own creative pursuits, on outdoor play, on reading.

    I also, however, wanted to understand what the heck they were talking about when they spoke of mods, sandboxes, attacks, bosses, and cheats. And I wanted to demonstrate to them that I took seriously the things that they loved -- or, rather, their love of those things.

    I guess I could have done that simply through playing video games with my boys. Instead, I chose to demonstrate my appreciation for their passions through my own work. In other words, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for them, not for me.

    Even though those two books resulted from my going down different paths, they both offered a similar choice: Is it for them, or is for me? But then, isn’t the same true for every book for children?

    Chris writing with fellow Austin author April Lurie and Greg Leitich Smith
    Isn’t there always a decision to be made regarding how much the experience of a book reflects the interests of the adult -- be it an author or illustrator doing the creating, a parent or grandparent doing the buying, a librarian doing the recommending, or a teacher doing the assigning -- and how much the experience of that book stems from consideration of what the child audience will bring to it or is likely to take away from it?

    Every book is an opportunity to navigate that territory in the middle, between what we adults want and love and think we know and what those kids want and love and think they know.

    Through my experiences with Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, I’ve come to appreciate just how much room there is to maneuver through that middle ground.

    Yes, I wrote Shark Vs. Train for me -- but that didn’t stop me from trying out scenarios on my boys and trying to crack them up and seeing what they responded to before deciding with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and our editor which competitions to keep.

    Chris with his wife, fellow author Jennifer Ziegler at Texas Book Festival.
    And yes, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for my boys -- but I couldn’t have done that without relying on my own research skills and my own judgment about what was important to include or exclude, even when that put me at odds with a 9-year-old who totally thought that “M” should be for Minecraft.

    Each book we write, and each book we recommend, is partly about us and partly about them. If we keep that in mind before we put our fingers to the keyboard or pull a title off the shelf, and if we consider how best to strike a balance in that particular case, I think we’re all more likely to be happy with the outcome.

    Not every book will fall squarely between our desires and those of our readers. But the more books we share -- truly share -- the more opportunities we’ll have to average out closer to the middle.

    And the more we’ll learn to trust each other.

    And the better the chances that we’ll each be able to think of a book -- one that we give and that they receive -- as ours.

    Cynsational Event

    Join Chris and K.A. Holt, author of Rhyme Schemer, at 2 p.m. Nov. 1 at BookPeople in Austin.

    Cynsational Notes

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

    His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition (Millbrook).

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

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    22. Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral Pride Cover Reveal, Feral Series Book Teaser & Giveaway

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Check out the cover for my upcoming novel, Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015) and the book trailer for the Feral series, produced by Book Candy Studios.

    From the promotional copy for Feral Pride:

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Cynsational Giveaway

    Enter to win Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013), Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) and an advanced reader copy of Feral Pride. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    23. Cynsational News & Giveaways

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Please consider supporting We Need Diverse Books through a donation or signal boosting!

    At the time of this posting, we've raised $56,910, which is 57% of our goal.

    Thanks to all who've already participated.


    Diverse Campaign w Thanks Card from Undercurrent on Vimeo.

    Don't miss John Green on Why We Need Diverse Books and a celebration dance by WNDB president Ellen Oh and her daughter (Ellen promised this if we made $15K within 24 hours). See also Looking for a Diverse Middle Grade Book? from CBC Diversity.

    More News 

    Author Interview: Martine Leavitt and Blue Mountain by Lisa Doan from WCYA The Launch Pad. Peek: "Tuk is the name of my viewpoint character – he is the biggest and the fastest and the cleverest sheep. I love him because he is smart and strong, and yet he doubts himself."

    Story Mapmakers: No GPS Required by Sarah McCoy from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We, authors, are story cartographers. We navigate characters, plot courses of action, and direct readers in an expedition across unfamiliar terrains."

    How Morals and Basic Needs Influence a Character's Strength by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...one of the main reasons we fall in love with characters is because we want them to succeed, to achieve their goals and overcome their flaws; this is where the positive attributes come in."

    I Can't Be Faithful -- To Genre by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: "...many of the writers I love have convinced readers to know them well enough to know that their fiction won’t fit neatly into a genre label."

    Mix It Up: 15 Books About Kindness and Giving from Lee & Low. Peek: "Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year."

    Kapow! Cutting Scenes Like a Superhero by Liz Michalski from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every single one of those deleted scenes was a tiny jewel, and it’s obvious it pained Bird to cut them."

    Not Scary Scary Children's Books: a bibliography by Ally Watkins from ALSC Blog. Peek: "...books for your kids who want to have some Halloween reading but want to be able to sleep at night." See also Scholastic Highlights Books that Celebrate The Day of the Dead! / ¡El Dia de los Muertos! from Latin@s in Kidlit.

    Compelling Middle Grade Boy Readers to Turn the Page by Joe McGee from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Through progressive revelation, shorter chapter construction, and powerful, chapter-ending beats, middle-grade fiction can compel boy readers to keep turning pages, despite the lure of the multitude of electronic sirens."

    Best Illustrated Books from The New York Times. Note: online gallery.

    When Terrifying Leaps of Faith Pay Off: An Art- and Sketch-Filled Q&A with Abby Hanlon by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "When I started the book, the scary thing was that I knew I would get better as I got to the end, and that I would have to re-do everything (somehow before the deadline)."

    November is Native American Heritage Month

    Here are a few links, two from American Indians in Children's Literature, to get you started:

    Cynsational Screening Room

    For those who missed yesterday's reveal of the Feral series book teaser created by Book Candy Studios! Please share the trailer with your networks and the YA readers in your life.


    Morganville: The Series; Rachel Caine's The Morganville Vampires Comes to Life, An Exclusive Behind The Scenes Look At The Web TV Series from Mundie Moms.


    Cynsational Giveaways

    See flap copy & enter giveaway!

    The winner of Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little was Anna in Indiana.

    The winner of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen was Katy in Florida.

    This Week at Cynsations

    More Personally

    Thank you, Reading Is Fundamental, for hosting me at a school visit last week at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. See AP coverage.

    With Judy Blankenship Cheatham, R. Gregory Christie and Carol H. Rasco at Daily Grill in Washington, D.C.
    Thank you, Writers' League of Texas for honoring me with your children's-YA novel award for Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013).

    With children's picture book winner Doris Fisher, author of Army Camels (Pelican, 2013) at the Texas Book Festival.
    I'll post a full photo report on the festival tomorrow, but quickly...

    Greg Leitich Smith (with Anne Bustard and Jennifer Ziegler) was a featured author for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn.

    Last call! My e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect read for Halloween and beyond--check it out!

    Personal Links
    Never Counted Out 

    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.


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    24. Giveaway: What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky

    Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    Enter to win one of two signed hardcover copies of What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wiersbitzky (namelos, 2014). Eligibility: U.S. From the promotional copy:

    Most folks probably think gardens only get tended when they’re blooming. But most folks would be wrong. According to the almanac, a proper gardener does something every single month. 

    Old Red Clancy was definitely a proper gardener. That’s why I enrolled myself in the Clancy School of Gardening. If I was going to learn about flowers, I wanted to learn from the best.

    Delia and Old Red Clancy make quite a pair. He has the know-how and she has the get-up-and-go. When they dream up a seed- and flower-selling business, well, look out, Tucker’s Ferry, because here they come.

    But something is happening to Old Red. And the doctors say he
 can’t be cured. He’s forgetting places and names and getting cranky for 
no reason. 

    As his condition worsens, Delia takes it upon herself to save
 as many memories as she can. 

    Her mission is to gather Old Red’s stories so that no one will forget, and she corrals everybody in town to help her.

    What Flowers Remember is a story of love and loss, of a young girl coming to understand that even when people die, they live on in our minds, our hearts, and our stories.

    Cynsational Notes

    A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Alzheimer’s Association. November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month in the United States.

    In a recent interview with Cynsations, Shannon says:

    "There was a lot of truth I could have drawn from. Moments when we battled the disease and sometimes my grandfather, too, as his personality, as well as his physical and mental abilities changed. In the end, I included only one truth.

    "The emotion of being forgotten." 
    Reviewers say:

    "[Delia’s] frustration, fear and sense of loss will be readily recognizable to others who have experienced dementia in a loved one, and her story may provide some guidance on how to move down that rocky path toward acceptance and letting go. ...What do flowers remember? The stories of the people who cared for them, of course, as Wiersbitzky’s sensitive novel compassionately conveys." – Kirkus Reviews

    “Fans of wholesome, uplifting stories similar to Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul collections, will best enjoy this gentle reminder of the goodness of life and people.” 
    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    25. Event Report: Texas Book Festival

    By Cynthia Leitich Smith
    for Cynsations

    About The Texas Book Festival: "...celebrates authors and their contributions to the culture of literacy, ideas, and imagination."

    Author Michelle Knudsen and moderator Sean Petrie in the green room.
    TBF committee member Carmen Oliver and moderator Anne Bustard in the green room.
    Tim Tingle, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Jacqueline Woodson, Pat Mora, Andrea Davis Pinkney and Don Tate
    With author Kelly Bennett in the Writers' League of Texas booth
    With authors Greg Leitich Smith, Varsha Bajaj and Trent Reedy at the author party.
    With authors Monica Brown and Cynthia Bond at the author party.
    With author-illustrator Carolyn Dee Flores at the author party.
    See another Texas Book Festival photo report by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.

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