By Cynthia Leitich Smith
: "Martine Leavitt
has written several award-winning novels for young adults, including My Book of Life by Angel
(FSG, 2012), which garnered five starred reviews and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; Keturah and Lord Death
(Boyds Mills, 2012), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Heck Superhero
(Boyds Mills, 2014), a finalist for the Governor General's Award. She lives in Alberta, Canada."Congratulations on the release of Calvin (FSG, 2015)! Could you tell us about the book?
Thank you, Cynthia! It is the story of a seventeen-year-old boy who has a schizophrenic episode in school. He can hear the voice of a tiger named Hobbes.
He decides that Bill Watterson
could cure him of his mental illness if he would draw one more comic strip, Calvin healthy and without Hobbes. He gets it into his head that he can make Watterson draw this comic if he goes on a pilgrimage to show his true intent and devotion.
He decides to walk across Lake Erie in winter – a deadly thing to attempt.Why did you write Calvin?
A single neuron in the back of my brain pulsed with sadness for many years, perhaps all my conscious life, because there is such a thing as mental illness. Then one day it touched me, a form of mental unwellness, and it touched my family. Now I was sorry for myself as well as those who suffered with worse than I. Self-pity, sadly, has always been a motivating factor in my life.
Anyway, that single neuron pulsed away even more persistently, hoping for something, the way we send radio waves into space hoping to contact life on other planets.
One day as I was rereading my Calvin and Hobbes collection, it occurred to a single neuron in the front of my brain that Calvin, in the wrong hands, could be thought of as a maladaptive daydreamer, or as schizophrenic. That neuron in the front of my brain made instant contact with the lonely neuron in the back of my brain, and it was like Adam touching the finger of God in the Sistine Chapel.
Okay, it wasn’t that grand, but you get the idea. A sort of electronic storm was fired up between the two neurons, and they went on like that in their little electronic way for a while. Not enough to make a book quite yet, but something was happening.
And then I read online about a man named Dave Voelker
who walked across frozen Lake Erie (to a place near Cleveland, where Watterson was once reported to live – coincidence? I think not), and I suddenly had a story wishing to be told. And that is why I wrote Calvin.This is your tenth book. Does it get easier?
You would think, wouldn’t you. But in fact, no. Every book is a new adventure is insecurity and inadequacy. Every book asks something of you that no other book has asked.
Nicola Yoon’s debut novel, Everything, Everything, is a must-read, inviting a broad spectrum of audiences, from preteens to the older generations.
Our hand-picked list from the Best Selling Young Adult list from The New York Times remains the same this month. The best selling young adult titles include books by super-talents Rainbow Rowell and Marie Lu.
SOULPRINT is a fantastic modern thriller by Megan Miranda. Miranda has previously published three novels, including FRACTURE, HYSTERIA and VENGEANCE.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh is now solidly one of my all-time favourites. Wow…just…how do I even sum up my love for it?! It’s beautiful and visually delicious and the characters were absolute perfection. BLURB Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old […]
Lauren Oliver, author of the Delirium trilogy, Before I Fall and Liesl & Po, has created a tense psychological thriller in Vanishing Girls.
This month, the best selling young adult titles include books by super-talents Neil Gaiman, Chris Riddell, Rainbow Rowell and Sarah Dessen.
Shalanda Stanley grew up in Louisiana and earned her BA in creative writing at Florida State University. She’s an assistant professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, where she also lives with her family.
I absolutely fell in love with Talon by Julie Kagawa, as you might recall from this gushing review of mine last month. What’s not to love?! Dragons! Guns! Missions! The occasional delicious summery smoothie? Consider me 100% hooked. So of course I had to get my hands on the sequel: Rogue. And of course I must gush about […]
Oh this book is utterly glorious! I picked up Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth on impulse and am totally glad I gave it a chance. This book is so special and I’m squawking with the effort of writing a review to give it justice! It’s about Australian twins, Justine and Perry (who has autism), who […]
It’s a tough assignment, and the best I can do is choose five YA books that, if I were shipwrecked today, I’d want with me.
Well, just WOW. I did not expect to be terrified absolutely witless while reading this. BUT I WAS. This book is wonderful and addictive and…frightening. If you need me, I shall be the one rocking in the corner giving random pterodactyl screeches from the trauma. True story. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes is about […]
Everyone else is doing it, so I thought I'd post my five reasons why you should apply to be a Cybils Awards judge.
As you would expect, there's a lot of overlap with other people's reasons, but I'll add my own spin on them, and with an emphasis on my category, Young Adult Speculative Fiction. For those who don't know what speculative fiction
is, it includes fantasy, science fiction, horror, dystopian, steampunk, and basically anything else with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements.1. Read and discuss good books.
Hopefully you don't need an excuse to read, but it doesn't hurt to be able to say, "Sorry, I can't do the dishes, I have to finish this Cybils book." Cybils judges engage in intense reading - and for Round 1, a LOT of reading - and intense discussions with a small group of people who share your book passion.
In YA Spec Fic, we've sometimes had upwards of 200 nominated books in Round 1, and while you don't have to read them all, Round 1 judges in YA SF can expect to have to read at least 40 books over a 3 month period. (Presumably, you'll already have read some of the category nominations). It's crazy intense, but so much fun! Round 2 judges have to read 5 to 7 books in a little under 6 weeks, but they get to read "the best of the best" and choose a winner.2. Make lifelong friends.
Those intense discussions with like-minded people? Turns out they're a great basis for a friendship. I've made lifelong friends from serving together on a Cybils panel. (And KidLitCon
is a great place to meet up with them in person!)3. Influence the books available for children/teen reading.
Yup, awards do have an influence. And while the Cybils don't get as much media as, say, the ALA awards, we have a pretty big and dedicated following that includes teachers, librarians, and booksellers. The books you choose may end up on reading lists, getting purchased by a library, or in bookstore displays. Books that win awards and get that attention may be more likely to be reprinted or have a sequel or other books by the author published.4. Get your blog better known.
Did I mention we have a following? Round 1 judges are encouraged to blog about the books you read, and while Round 2 judges can't blog the finalists during the round, they can post reviews after the winners are announced. Throughout the Cybils season, we post review excerpts with links to reviews by both Round 1 and Round 2 judges to the Cybils blog, thus further aiding discovery of judges' blogs. During the summer, you can contribute themed book lists for posting on the Cybils blog. Being a Cybils judge can bring greater visibility to your blog, increase your traffic, and give you greater credibility with publishers.5. Learn a lot.
I mean, a lot. I sometimes think I know a lot about YA SF, but every year I'm blown away by the knowledge and expertise of my fellow judges, and every year I learn more from them.
What I'm looking for
As Category Chair for YA Speculative Fiction, I have the responsibility to choose the judges for my category. It's my least favorite part of the Cybils: I hate having to choose one person over another, but unfortunately we usually don't have room for everyone.
Here are some of the things that I look for:1. A passion for speculative fiction.
If your "about" on your blog says that you don't really like most spec fic, then I'll most likely pass. If you don't post about SF much, I'll think long and hard before choosing you.2. Knowledge of spec fiction and its subgenres.
Speculative Fiction is a very diverse genre. One day you might be reading a scary ghost story, and the next a futuristic dystopian. I look for people who have read broadly within the genre and can discuss the various aspects, literary elements, and tropes of the genre.3. Critical thinking skills.
I have to know that you can think critically about books and analyze the literary elements and readability of a book. Reviews are a great way to demonstrate this, but if you don't review books, hopefully you can submit other blog posts that demonstrate your critical thinking skills.4. Open to diverse perspectives.
I want to see that you have a demonstrated interest in diversity, and a tolerance for worldviews different from your own.5. Diverse backgrounds.
I mean this in two ways. First, I look for people who can bring expertise or experience with one or more under-represented groups, in what we usually mean when we say diversity. For example, do you blog about people of color, LGBTQA+ characters, differently-abled characters, different religious or worldviews, etc.? Second, I look for a variety of personal and work experience, so that the panel is hopefully made up of a good mix of librarians, teachers, parents, booksellers, authors, etc.
So I have I scared you off yet? Oops, I was supposed to be convincing you why you should apply! Please do apply,
and if YA Speculative Fiction isn't your thing, we have plenty of other categories ranging from Easy Readers to Young Adult. We even have a book apps category!Here's the information on how to apply!
Also, see the following posts for more reasons to apply!
I was reading an interview with NYT Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen over on Novel Rocket, yesterday, and she mentioned that her favorite piece of writing advice is to focus on the character's predicament. I love, love, love that, because it actually addresses four different aspects of your WIP.
In one fell swoop, you can nail the core of your character, the movement of your story, the place you start it, and how you tell it.
- Start by putting yourself in your character's head. What's her problem? What no-win predicament does she find herself in? Journal this, just as a rough paragraph or two or three, writing as if she is screaming at someone for putting her in that situation. Let it all loose. Imagine the confrontation, all the emotion, the frustration, the desire to move forward and fix something.
- Examine that thing that she has to fix and establish the consequences if she fails. Brainstorm why she wants to fix it and jot it down your on one page in a notebook, note software program, or on a Scrivener entry. Why does she need to fix the problem? Why does she have no choice to act to change that situation?
- What is your character willing or forced to give up to fix her predicament? Add a second page to your notes. Write down what is most important to your character. Explore what defines her view of herself, and how this predicament effects that. What wound from her past or weakness of character is going to make it harder for her to repair the problem? What unexpected strengths can she find along the way that will help her?
- Now build your plot like dominos. Once you have a pretty good grasp on the predicament itself, it's relatively easy to make a timeline of how the problem, the person who created that problem (or personifies it) and your character intersect. You can build your plot as if it's inevitable: this happened, your character reacted, because your character reacted, this other thing happened, and so on. One thing leads directly to another.
- Next, taking into consideration who your character is, find the place in the timeline, or right before what you've jotted down, where the problem first rears its head. This could be something that your character did that set the problem in motion, or something coming in from outside to shake things up, but there has to be a change. This is where you're going to begin your story, on the day that is different, with the first domino. Write down what that incident is.
- Finally, put everything together to set up the story. Your opening has to show the inciting incident, suggest the story problem, and jump start the action, but you also want to foreshadow your character's strength and the weakness that is going to hold her back. You want to give us a hint of the personal lesson she will have to learn in order to get out of the predicament she's facing.
That's it. When you look at it from the standpoint of the character's predicament, every aspect of the story comes together. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, and regardless of whether you're writing a fantasy or sci fi novel, a romance, a contemporary, or virtually anything else, these six simple steps will help you get enough information to structure it in a way that will let it feel like it's writing itself.
This Week's Giveaway
An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa TahirHardcoverRazorbillReleased 4/28/2015
I WILL TELL YOU THE SAME THING I TELL EVERY SLAVE.
THE RESISTANCE HAS TRIED TO PENETRATE THIS SCHOOL COUNTLESS TIMES. I HAVE DISCOVERED IT EVERY TIME.
IF YOU ARE WORKING WITH THE RESISTANCE, IF YOU CONTACT THEM, IF YOU THINK OF CONTACTING THEM, I WILL KNOW
AND I WILL DESTROY YOU.
LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier— and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.Purchase An Ember in the Ashes at AmazonPurchase An Ember in the Ashes at IndieBoundView An Ember in the Ashes on Goodreads
I have exciting news! Want to know the title for the final book in the Heirs of Watson Island trilogy? Head on over to Elizziebooks.com. Liz has my first ever video about Compulsion and the title, plus a great new giveaway. There are two additional places to win a necklace and T-Shirt, and you might even find a Persuasion teaser along the way. : )
There's also a grand prize, and you'll be automatically entered to win it when you enter any of the three T-shirt giveaways. But if you'd like even more chances to win, keep an eye out here, and on my Facebook page. I'll be posting a separate Rafflecopter in a little while!
And finally, don't forget. There's a new Compulsion for Reading bag of books this month!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
What About You?
Have you wrestled with this kind of an approach to writing your story? Are you a plotter or a pantser, and is this too much or too little planning for you?
As a reader, do you like stories where the plot feels inevitable? Can you think of an example of a book that read like the characters never had any choice but to do what they did?
I'm about to spill one of my worst kept writing secrets, by which I mean that I'm going to talk about why I include a lot of the kinds of scenes that legendary agent and author Donald Maass, whose many books about writing I usually agree with in their entirety, says to leave out of a novel. What kind of scenes are those? The ones that take place in kitchens, living rooms, and cars driving back and forth. Let's call them the everyday scenes.
Now it's true that these scenes are the ones that usually are left out of successful novels--especially young adult novels. Why? Because they tend to be low-tension scenes. Scenes where people are sitting around talking and not much is happening.
But low action doesn't have to mean low tension. Novels aren't necessarily about action; they're about conflict. And conflict can occur anywhere. That's what a lot of writers overlook, and it can result in low-tension (aka boring) action scenes as well as scenes that end up being just two characters talking.
There are many valid reasons to have those everyday scenes, though. Which means it's a good thing there are easy ways to beef them up so they engage instead of disengage your reader.
Read more »
Emotionally wrought and sharply written, The Last Good Day of the Year explores and examines the capacity of evil and the result is a fine, smart read that isn’t afraid to uncover the frailty and weight of guilt and family relationships.
Lori Goldstein | The Children’s Book Review | July 16, 2015 I grew up on the Jersey Shore and now live outside of Boston, where on the right day, I can smell the sea from my back deck (though it still takes an hour to get to the beach). Maybe that’s why the beach is my happy place. For […]
You know those books that make you sit back and go, “Um, woah” and then are super hard to talk about because they’ve messed with your brain so much? WELL. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill definitely fits in that category. It’s the kind of book that makes you think. It took me ages to formulate thoughts. WHAT DO […]
I am so dragonishly pleased with Talon by Julie Kagawa. It was just so excitingly good! I do love me some dragons, though. I absolutely adore them, so I had a feeling this book would be “my thing”. It isn’t flooded with dragonishness (that is a word, don’t doubt me now), but it has loveable characters and sparky humour […]