Friday, December 19, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jan. 27 Designated Multicultural Children's Book Day by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The mission of MCCBD, co-founders Wenjen and Budayr explained to PW, is to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries."

Diversity in Single Serving Slices by Day Al-Mohamed from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "People are perceived as being gay or autistic or black and usually one of those identities is the 'defining' one. If we are already seeing the 'real world' in this sort of compartmentalization, seeing it in fiction becomes a natural outgrowth of these assumptions."

Creating Unforgettable Characters by Kathleen McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The story lies in how those inborn personality traits lead characters to make choices that shape the events of their lives and, in turn, how events work with temperament to shape character."

Reasons My Son Is Crying: Writing Edition by Cory McCarthy from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Dearest lovely writer friends, my wish for this holiday season is that we can all be proud of what we’ve written no matter how fancy everyone else’s writing might seem."

The Fiction Puzzle by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always get better if you keep fighting to find new ways to improve your skills."

Four Logic Problems That Will Ruin Your Day (and Your Manuscript) by Harrison Demchick from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Logic problems remove readers from the world you’ve created. They take from you your narrative authority. They undercut conflict and tension. And if not identified and fixed, they will ruin your manuscript."

Cynsational Screening Room

 

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

More Personally


My sympathies to the family and friends, colleagues and fans of Choctaw children's author Greg Rodgers. I occasionally feature obituaries at Cynsations; however, in this case, I refer you to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature, in conjunction with Greg's dear friend, fellow Choctaw children's author Tim Tingle: A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers. Note: Greg and Tim also have created books for grown-ups. Tim writes in part:

"We already miss you more than you will ever know, Brother Greg. Too soon, you left us staggering far too soon. But we forgive you, on the sole condition that you work your magic through the fingers of young Choctaw writers, doing their best to continue your work."

With Frosty and the gang outside GSD&M in Austin.
Feral Curse is on Toby Paws' sleigh on The Writing Barn card by Jeff Crosby.
School Library Journal says of Feral Curse: "Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series."

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

Link of the Week: Newbery/Caldecott 2015: The Final Prediction Edition by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. See also Cry to the Captain by Kara Stewart at From Here to Writernity.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jennifer Wolf Kam on Words from the Past

Meeting young writers at The Voracious Reader.
By Jennifer Wolf Kam
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In the spring of 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia completed a successful orbital mission around the Earth, my hometown New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup and eight-year-old me wrote my first fan letter. It was not a letter to Shaun Cassidy or Scott Baio, or any other Tiger Beat sensation.

I’d just read The Little Leftover Witch, and my letter was to its author, Florence Laughlin.

Writers were (still are) my rock stars.

After reading this wonderful book I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought perhaps, I might be a witch, too, but writing seemed more practical—especially since, try as I might, I could not get my room to clean itself just by snapping my fingers and wishing it so.

I can imagine what my letter to Florence Laughlin was like, written in my best penmanship. I likely told her about the construction paper and crayon creations I read to my third grade class. I probably described how I dressed up and performed stories for whomever would listen. I may have declared that, since reading her book, I would be a witch for Halloween. I know I told her I loved to read. I know this because her generous reply began with:

“You are my favorite kind of people! You tell me that you just love to read.”

I swooned.

She described how the idea for the book had come to her twenty years earlier, and that the little witch herself nudged and pestered her to write her story.

The thought of the mischievous little witch pestering Florence Laughlin (like I often pestered my mother) delighted me. But I also heard something else—the story needed to come out. It needed to be written.

I knew that feeling. I carried stories inside of me, too—all asking for a chance to be told. I got to work at once. In the ensuing years, I wrote whenever I could, and even when I couldn’t.

I studied the craft, attended conferences, joined critique groups, and earned my MFA at the fabulous Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I spent countless hours at my laptop, writing and revising, creating and honing, immersed in worlds of my own creation.

None of my efforts led to a book contract. There were dark moments, soothed by chocolate and loved ones, when the “what ifs” and “never wills” mingled with the stories inside my head. My dream drifted further away, like a little witch, gliding off into the Halloween night on her broomstick.

What I wouldn’t have given for a touch of her magic!

Learn more!
But I kept at it. Just like the little witch’s, my stories wanted to be told and I needed to write them. Slowly, that started to become enough.

Then, an amazing thing happened. My novel, Devin Rhodes Is Dead (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014) won the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award, and I received a publishing contract from marvelous Charlesbridge. I do believe the best things happen when we least expect them.

Much time has passed since I was the girl who opened that letter and dreamed of writing books. I want to tell her—that impatient little one in a hurry to dance with words and share her stories—that it won’t be easy. But then, we all have our journey, and this is hers. This is mine.

In the end, we write our own stories. Mine was filled with hard work, determination, stick-to-it-iveness and bucket loads of gratitude.

And I think, a bit of magic, after all.

Kitty and muse, KitKat
Cynsational Screening Room

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Devon Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America and the U.K.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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

By Dana Walrath
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

“What’s it about?” people ask me.

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

Genocide and smiles do not go together.

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

Ardziv also protected me as I wrote this story.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Human connection deserves our widest smiles.

Cynsational Giveaway

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In Memory: Norman Bridwell

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

New Voices Interview: Trisha Leaver & Lindsay Currie on Creed

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In less than thirty words, tell us about Creed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Describe your research for this book.

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

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

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

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

Which character in Creed intrigued you the most and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What draws you to YA horror fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Voice: Matt Phelan on Druthers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside Matt's Studio
Inside Matt's Studio

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

More News & Giveaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaways


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

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

Cynsational Screening Room

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



Wherein my Very Merry Publisher Rocks Out, Candlewick Style!

 

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

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

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

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

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

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


Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

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

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

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

Illustration by Beth Krommes; learn more about Blue on Blue!
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Post: Jean Reidy on Choosing a Writer's Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know What You Need

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

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

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

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

Questions to Consider

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

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

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

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

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

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn


Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

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

By Bruce Hale
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

I was a child spy

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

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

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

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

Yogic inspiration

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

Mine came during yoga class.

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

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

Half the class was mystified, the other half terrified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Notes

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

Cynsational Giveaway

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