Monday, March 02, 2015

Guest Post: Cecilia Galante on Where to Start Your Story?

Cecilia Galante
By Cecilia Galante
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the things I’ve noticed my graduate creative writing students struggling with is where exactly to start in a book.

I’ve had two students fill up the first 40 pages of their novels with excruciating back-story details involving family history, blood-lines, place of birth, and so on.

Another one began her book with a five-year-old protagonist relaying her ideas on life, which might have worked if any of her musings had eventually found their way into her adult life. (They did not.)

The truth is, it is a very difficult process to figure out where in your character’s life you should start telling his or her story. But it’s not impossible.

Here are a few pointers that have helped me navigate this process in my own writing:

1. Don’t ever start at the beginning. Unless you’re writing a memoir, starting out with your character as a kid and then following them up through the teen years and into adulthood is not only boring, it’s missing the point of writing good fiction.

(Random House, April 28)
Most people don’t read books to learn how other people navigate their entire lives; they read books to learn how others navigate a certain part of their lives. The hell of eighth grade perhaps, or a loveless marriage. Don’t cheat your readers by weighing down enormous life experiences such as these other unnecessary ones.

Start right at the crux of things, where the details are the ugliest. The truest. Your readers will trust you right away.

2. Back off the back-story. Even if writers don’t start at the beginning of their characters lives, a lot of them still seem to think that they have to get into all their messy histories, as if apologizing beforehand for all the coming mistakes he or she is going to make.

Don’t fall into that sandpit. Not only will your reader get bored by all the unnecessary details, your story will stop dead in its tracks, which is certain death for both the reader and the writer.

That’s not to say of course, that you don’t need some back-story. Every character needs a little fleshing out when it comes to their pasts. But insert that kind of information sporadically, here and there in little fits and starts, especially when things come up in the present that remind the character of the past.

3. Write big. Right away.

All I knew, when I sat down to write my first book, The Patron Saint of Butterflies (Bloomsbury, 2009), was that I had a scene in my head that had to be put on paper. The scene involved a little boy whose finger was accidentally amputated in a door.

I could see this scene in my head. I could feel it. Taste it. I wrote it out in two days, flush with detail, pulsing with life. And from that scene, the next one came. And then the next, until, a year or so later, the book was finished.

But the finger amputation scene did not end up being the beginning of the book. In fact, it ended up being somewhere in the middle. But because I’d pulled up the anchor and started somewhere, the ship had been allowed to set sail.

Don’t get bogged down by the details of starting. Just start. And if you’re like me, start with something big. Something exciting. Something that makes you want to get back into the chair every morning and keep writing.

And one day, maybe much sooner than you think, you might find yourself climbing up on that deck to see something that looks very much like the end in the not so distant shore.



Friday, February 27, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Discussion Guide
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Nikki Loftin on the release of Wish Girl (Razorbill, 2015). From the promotional copy:  

Annie Blythe is dying, but she can give Peter Stone the strength to live.

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.

Magical Places by Nikki Loftin from Nerdy Book Club. Peek: "I spent countless hours standing on the crumbling limestone cliffs on the sides of my valley, singing into the constant wind, watching the trees sway and move below while turkey vultures wheeled above. It was the safest place I knew, and the most dangerous."

More News & Giveaways

Lerner Publishing Group Acquires Egmont USA List by Jim Milliot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "According to Egmont Publishing, after it announced its plans to close the unit Lerner approached the company about buying Egmont USA’s remaining assets. Under the deal Lerner will fold the Egmont titles into different imprints including Carolrhoda Books, Carolrhoda Lab, Darby Creek, and Millbrook Press."

Becoming a Student of Your Own Creative Process by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Hours, days, and even years are spent in a state of confusion or frustration regarding how to write better, how to best publish, how to best develop a readership and encourage sales. Each of these, in its own way, is a creative process. Each filled with its own emotional complexity."

Carmen Oliver
Stepping Over the Threshold: The First Children's Book Contract by Carmen Oliver from Donna Janell Bowman. Peek: "I used to think about how incredible it would feel to say I’m published. And I won’t lie; it feels great to get to this point where I’m stepping over the threshold! But not because of the reasons you might think. It’s because I’ve learned so much more about myself."

Banish Stick-Figure Writing: How Concrete Sensory Details Make All the Difference in Fiction by Katherine Catmull from Yellow Bird. Peek: "In 1979, a revolutionary book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain pinpointed why so many adults and older children can’t draw. It’s because they aren’t drawing what they see—they’re drawing what they know. In other words, they’re drawing a category, rather than the thing itself."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "When one thinks of an incredibly strong person, the image of a muscle-bound body builder comes to mind. But while many times that can be an accurate representation, strength can also come in smaller packages."

No Boys Allowed: School Visits as a Woman Writer from Shannon Hale. Peek: "Should I have refused? Embarrassed the bookstore, let down the girls who had been looking forward to my visit? I did the presentation. But I felt sick to my stomach. Later I asked what other authors had visited. They’d had a male writer. For his assembly, both boys and girls had been invited."

Multitasking Is Death to Creative Writing by Michael McDonagh from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Multitasking impacts the creative process more severely than analytic processes. Writing fiction also involves an element of multitasking in itself."

Little, Brown Editor Alvina Ling: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I worked full-time at B&N while doing both internships, and worked seven days a week for a 3-4 month period. Grueling, but worth it."

Interview with Cecil Castellucci by Stephanie Kuehn from YA Highway. Peek: "...I am always writing about the exiled and outsiders, about finding your true tribe and following your heart and about how art can save you. And about real true long lasting life long love, in other words, not necessarily romantic, but the people that you keep forever as you travel along." Watch the trailer!

Reminder: 28 Days Later: "During the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, we profile a different children’s or young adult author and children’s illustrator, looking for the best new and unnoticed works by African-Americans. From picture books to novels, books fresh off the presses to those that have lurked in the background unsung for months or years." See Awards and Grants for Authors of Color compiled by Lee & Low.

Why Literacy Teachers Should Care About Math by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Reading teachers are also math teachers."

Can We Talk About Ageism in Picture Books? by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging, B Is for Books. Peek: "...only 200 picture books still in print showing older adults in positive, meaningful roles—this over a span of 30 years."

Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading In Print. Yes, You Read That Right by Michael S. Rosen from The Washington Post. Peek: "Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension. But that is more difficult on screens...."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of an ARC of Kissing in America by Margo Rabb is Deena in New York.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Huzzah! The hardcover edition of Feral Pride and paperback edition of Feral Curse are now available in North America from Candlewick Press.

This means all the Tantalize-Feral universe series books are now available!

Read an excerpt of Feral Pride from Candlewick. Peek:

CLYDE

I won't be caged.

Not again. I tense at the crackle of the police radio. I check the side mirror. Not yet. I rub my eye-lids, look again. I’m not the only one who’s freaking out. The stink of shock and fear is weighty. I can hear my girl-friend Aimee’s heart thudding in her chest.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the series and this last North America hardcover launch. Most appreciated!

"Kayla is only baby steps into recovering from the death of her first boyfriend and Yoshi, who has legendary experience with ladies, is suddenly faced with the first one with whom he could have a real relationship, a real future, if they both survive." 

--Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Feral Pride, on Fans Inspiring a New Series from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Learn more & enter the giveaway!


Personal Links

Now Available!

Cynsational Events

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.

Now in Paperback!
Cynthia will sign the Feral series at 1 p.m. at Costo on March 14 in Selma, Texas.

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

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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://www.memyshelfandi.com/2015/01/mmsai-tours-presents-third-twin-by-cj.html

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Publisher Greet Pauwelijn of Book Island

Greet Pauwelijn
By Mina Witteman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Greet Pauwelijn is publisher with Book Island, as well as a translator.

True to Book Island's bold dream of enriching children's and adults' lives in the English- and Dutch-language market, she publishes children's books in English and Dutch.

She does this by bringing unique stories from Europe to the shores of New Zealand, then using only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books.

Book Island books are available in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands. Follow @bookislandbooks on Twitter.

Greet is part of the SCBWI Europolitan Conference faculty. The conference will take place April 4 and April 5 in Amsterdam.

Was there one book that started it all for you?

For me, it was really the ability to read my first words and sentences that started it all, not just one particular book. As soon as I had discovered the magic of reading, I immersed myself in books, devouring them voraciously. I must have been one of the very few children in the world who often got punished for reading too much.

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are too many titles that have influenced me to name them all. Having grown up in a country where literature in translation plays an important role, I was exposed to stories from all over the world, which instilled a desire to travel and explore in me.

However, as a child I particularly looked out for titles from Dutch publishing house Lemniscaat, who after all these decades, still publish the most amazing books.

We are very proud to have one of their recent titles on our list: The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert.

You started your career as a translator of Polish, but after your move from Belgium to New Zealand you founded a children’s book publishing house. What inspired this change?

After relocating to New Zealand at the end of 2009, one of the first places I visited was the children’s section at the local library. It was quite a culture shock.

Back in Belgium we had been spoilt for choice when selecting books for our sons, then aged three and one. I immediately noticed that most of the beautiful picture books that European readers have access to were unavailable in the English-language market.

Most stories at the library were rhyming, poorly illustrated, with very predictable endings. I was desperate to find more challenging books for my kids and myself.

At that stage, I was still translating Polish literature for Belgian and Dutch publishers. I rapidly realised that due to the ongoing crisis in the book industry, this source of income was about to dry up.

Polish literature in translation had never been a gold mine for foreign publishers and they were becoming increasingly reluctant to publish more titles from Poland. I decided to look into adding English to my portfolio and soon after that I came across a children’s adventure novel by a well-known New Zealand author, Barbara Else.

Thanks to its universal story, it seemed just perfect for the Dutch-language market. I convinced a Belgian publisher to buy the rights to The Travelling Restaurant and this way I landed my first translation job from English.

While working on this title, I suddenly wished I hadn’t told the publisher in Flanders about this possible bestseller and had acquired the rights myself. Also, there were so many more foreign books out there that had been overlooked, so here was my chance.

That day I decided to become a children’s publisher and fill the gap that I had identified earlier.

To make it slightly more challenging I thought: why not publish in two languages, English and Dutch, at the same time?

Obviously, I knew very little about publishing and its challenges!

Book Island is based in New Zealand, but also active in the Dutch-language area - Belgium and The Netherlands. You publish both Dutch-language and English-language picture books. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the two?

The differences between the Dutch- and English-language market are significant, which makes our selection process quite challenging. Very few titles work well in both markets.

Quite often the content of European picture books (i.e. from the European continent) is not entirely acceptable or suitable for the English-language market, where there tend to be a lot more taboo topics.

The Dutch market is a lot more open-minded. The illustrations are generally also more sophisticated. More care has been attended to the design and production of the books.

Bookstores in the English-language market sell predominantly paperbacks, while our customers in Belgium and the Netherlands only want hardbacks.

For one of our latest titles, the two-way books Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! – Excuseer, heeft u soms een knipperlichtje gezien?/ Hup, konijntje! by Bernardo Carvalho, we had to design a new paperback edition for the English-language market, while the Dutch title was released as a hardback, like the original Portuguese edition. I will talk about these differences in more depth at the conference in Amsterdam.

How would you describe your house’s publishing focus? What kind of books do you love working on?

With Book Island, we want to share the treasures of children’s books in foreign languages with Dutch- and English-speaking readers.

When selecting new titles we particularly look for layered picture books. Each time you return to the book it will reveal a new layer, in the illustrations or the story. These layers make our books suitable for young and older readers alike, which is an important Book Island selection criterion. I like how Belgian ALMA winner Kitty Crowther compares such picture books with Russian nesting dolls.

We’re drawn to books that tackle quite difficult but very important topics. A perfect illustration is Maia and What Matters by Tine Mortier and Kaatje Vermeire (translated by David Colmer), a story about the enduring relationship between a little girl and her grandmother in the face of illness and aging.

We believe that the children of the 21st century are a lot brighter and more mature than we were at their age, hence we feel we need to publish titles that don’t dumb down their ability to understand and learn.

Our world has also become increasingly diverse, which should be reflected in books of all kinds.

We love stories with strong characters and a little twist. Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt and Marjolein Pottie (translated by Laura Watkinson), which is a gorgeously illustrated chapter book about reversed role models, is still one of our favourites. There’s also Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis and Pieter Gaudesaboos, a wonderfully absurd story about a little boy who thinks he’s very hungry and wants to eat a giant sandwich.

The illustrations in our titles are as important as the story, and if they don’t match 100 percent, we sadly have to reject the book. Sometimes we also have to turn down stunning books because they’re just not translatable.

You publish books in translation. Could you tell us how the acquisition and translation process works?

Once we’ve preselected new titles, we check with the original publishers whether the rights are still available for English and/or Dutch. Subsequently, we negotiate the royalty payments etc with them.

Once we’ve acquired the rights we immediately start the translation process.

Since the pages in a picture book hold very few sentences, which are supported by equally important illustrations, we need to pay attention to each single word. I love having long discussions with the translator about the meaning of one particular word. Every word has to be right.

Fortunately, we’re not translating novels, because we’d probably never publish them, still trying to change words here and there.

Editing is the next step. Editors are as important to us as translators and too often they don’t get mentioned. We’ve been working with Frith Williams who has an incredible eye for detail and a great feeling for rhythm.

Once we feel like the translation is about right we pour the text into the original files. Then we reassess the result in relation to the illustrations.

Often, we have to edit the text a couple more times before we’re entirely satisfied.

Finally, we send the finished PDF to the original publisher for approval.

Cynsational Notes

Mina Witteman is a published author, writing in Dutch and English. She has three adventurous middle grade novels, over 40 short stories, and a Little Golden Book out in The Netherlands.

The first volume of a three-book middle grade series, Boreas and the Seven Seas, is scheduled to come out in April 2015. She is the Regional Advisor for The Netherlands and Chairman of the Working Group Children’s Books of the Dutch Authors Guild.

In addition to writing, Mina teaches creative writing. She is a freelance editor and a mentor to budding writers. She is represented by Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Follow her on Twitter @MinaWitteman.

Learn more!


Hollins Launches Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature

The annual award will showcase the best picture book manuscript as selected by a panel of judges and will be among the few children’s book honors with a cash prize.

Roanoke, Va. – Hollins University is paying tribute to one of its best-known alumnae and one of America’s most beloved children’s authors by establishing a literary award in her name.

Presented annually beginning in 2016, the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature will recognize the author of the best text for a picture book published during the previous year.

Winners will be given a $1,000 cash prize, which comes from an endowed fund created by James Rockefeller, Brown’s fiancée at the time of her death. Each recipient will also receive an engraved bronze medal as well as an invitation to accept the award and present a reading on campus during the summer session of Hollins’ graduate program in children’s literature.

Hollins will request prize nominations from children’s book publishers. Then, a three-judge panel, consisting of established picture book authors, will review the nominations and choose a winner.

“The Margaret Wise Brown Award will be one of the few children’s book awards that has a cash prize attached,” said Amanda Cockrell, director of the children’s literature program at Hollins.

Brown graduated from Hollins in 1932 and went on to write Goodnight Moon (Harper & Brothers, 1947), The Runaway Bunny (Harper, 1942), and other children’s classics before she died in 1952. Hollins celebrated her life and work with a year-long Margaret Wise Brown Festival in 2011 and 2012, which featured stage and musical adaptations of her work along with readings, workshops, guest lectures, and other activities for all ages.

The study of children’s literature as a scholarly experience was initiated at Hollins in 1973; in 1992, the graduate program in children’s literature was founded. Today, Hollins offers summer M.A. and M.F.A. programs exclusively in the study and writing of children’s literature, an M.F.A. in children’s book writing and illustrating, and a graduate-level certificate in children’s book illustration.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Guest Post & Critique Giveaway: Heather Demetrios on The Hope You Hold: A Character-Centered Approach To Plotting Your Novel’s Ending

Heather Demetrios
By Heather Demetrios
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Sometimes it can be helpful to think about endings when you’re at the beginning of the process—not plotting the ending, but doing a bit of free, no-holds-barred thinking about your character’s emotional inner journey and where you hope she goes.

This is what you write towards, that hope you have for her in your heart. Your plot is moving toward something, a climax that, especially in YA, results in some sort of self-discovery on the protagonist’s part, a revelation about the world and their place in it.

In real life, we have no idea what comes next. Our journeys are fraught with the unexpected. But we often know where we want to go, don’t we? Thus, much of what we experience comes from what we put out into the world and the choices we make.

It’s not a surprise to see where we’ve ended up once we go back and connect the dots. It’s often inevitable. In fact, when we do this work, we see how much of a hand we have in our own fate regardless of who’s pulling the strings of our future.

So how can our protagonists experience this inevitability if we’ve imposed a plot on them with a preconceived notion about what exactly is going to happen?

The key is to have an idea about where you want that character to end up emotionally. Not, “she’s going to be the queen,” so much as, “she’s going to be in a place of power, secure and finally free of the demons of her past.” With the former, we’ve decided on a fixed ending, forcing the plot to get in line. With the latter, we’ve left room for our character to influence her own fate, for the dots to connect in such a way that the story arc parallels the emotional one.

Tolkien touches on plot in a way no one else does when he discusses the concept of “eucatastrophe.” It’s a fancy word for the feeling you get when you finish reading a novel and you think, Yes, this is the only way it could have happened.

Eucatastrophe is inevitable. It’s true and organic. It’s not about a happy ending, it’s about it being the only possible ending.

In his essay "On Fairy Stories," Tolkien describes eucatastrophe as a “turn”: “a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by tears)…It reflects a glory backwards.”

This glory backwards means that you should be able to go from your climax all the way to the very beginning of your story and see that the protagonist was on the path to “glory” long before she ever realized it.

Try it for yourself. Close your eyes and envision your main character. Think about the possibilities of where she might end up. What do you hope for her at novel’s end?

What would be her “glory backwards”?

Got it? Good. Now this is the place you write from. Hold that hope in your heart, just like a parent would for their child, then give your protagonist room to live her life.

Lucky you, she’s letting you come along for the ride.

Cynsational Notes

When she’s not traipsing around the world or spending time in imaginary places, Heather Demetrios lives with her husband in New York City.

Originally from Los Angeles, she now calls the East Coast home. Heather has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award for her debut novel, Something Real (Henry Holt, 2014).

Her other novels include Exquisite Captive (Balzer + Bray, 2014), the first in the Dark Caravan Cycle fantasy series, and I’ll Meet You There (Henry Holt, 2015). She is the founder of Live Your What, an organization dedicated to fostering passion in people of all ages and creating writing opportunities for underserved youth. Find her on Twitter @HDemetrios.

Writespace Writing Center 


Heather will be teaching up to six intermediate and advanced students during six sessions from March 11 to April 15 at Writespace in Houston. Note: Writers arrange their own most convenient classroom times and meetings with instructor. About the class:

Feb. 3, 2015 release date!
Sometimes it feels like a story isn’t working. The voice might feel off, or the plot seems contrived. Perhaps scenes are reading dull or your main character feels paper-thin. You might have a brand new idea that you can’t seem to get off the ground because every plot point you think of feels like a cliché.

When a book isn’t working or a new project feels stunted, we’ve often lost sight of our work’s protagonist and secondary characters. Rather than listening to what our characters want and need, we have imposed a pre-conceived notion of what we think the book is supposed to be.

Regardless of whether you tend to write from a plot or character standpoint, being able to tune into your characters in order to find the truth of your novel is a useful skill for any writer.

In this six-week workshop, we’ll look at how to plot or revise your YA novel through exercises that will help you get out of your head and into the heart of your work. In addition to weekly writing exercises and submissions of your work for critique, we’ll consider new ways to access your character, such as through taking field trips with him or her, by creating music playlists, and other unique methods. Along the way, we’ll look at how this shift affects all elements of our work including voice, dialogue, structure, theme and—of course—plot.

This course is designed for intermediate to advanced writers working in any genre within YA. If you’re looking for a challenging, dynamic workshop that will take your writing to the next level, this workshop is for you.

Please be prepared to spend at least three hours a week on short reading assignments, your own writing, and online discussion. You will be asked to turn in two 10-page submissions of your novel for critique and to read two YA novels to enhance our discussion (if you'd like to get a head-start, please read the novels The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2011) and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Speak, 2011).

Together, we’ll create a supportive community through reading one another’s work, discussing the assigned reading, and sharing insights garnered from our exercises. Expect lively discussions and lots of fun!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a five-to-ten page critique of your English-language young adult manuscript by Heather. Eligibility: international.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Giveaway: Feral Pride Releases: All Tantalize-Feral Universe Novels Now Available

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today's release of Feral Pride means all of my Tantalize-Feral universe novels are available from Candlewick Press.

While all the books can stand alone, there's likely best appreciated in concert.

This finale unites protagonists of the two series and brings back a number of other fan-fave characters.

What's more today's paperback release of Feral Curse by Candlewick means that all but that last book in the series are available in paperback from Candlewick (plus, they're all available in e-format and most are available on audio).

Then there are the three short stories, "Cat Calls," "Haunted Love," and  "Cupid's Beaux," which releases as part of Things I'll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, March 2015).

So to sum up, we're talking nine novels (including two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle) and three short stories set in the Tantalize-Feral universe.

The early notes on the first book are dated 2000 and the last novel is out today.

The whole shebang totals out at 458,169 words (and I write tight).

Thanks to all who've joined and supported me along the way!

"Kayla is only baby steps into recovering from the death of her first boyfriend and Yoshi, who has legendary experience with ladies, is suddenly faced with the first one with whom he could have a real relationship, a real future, if they both survive." 

--Cynthia Leitich Smith, author of Feral Pride, on Fans Inspiring a New Series from Adventures in YA Publishing.

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.

"Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. 
Fans will not be disappointed.

"HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Smith's fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility."

-Booklist

"...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..."

-Kirkus Reviews

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

-The Horn Book

"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."

-School Library Journal

"...the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent — 
any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — 
make this series as meaty as it is entertaining."

-The Austin American-Statesman



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Pride in hardcover or Feral Curse in paperback (both Candlewick, 2015). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Alex Flinn's Mirrored Cover Reveal & Towering Giveaway

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Mirrored by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen, fall 2015). From the promotional copy:

Mirror, mirror in my hand…

Beauty is the key to everything. At least, that’s how it seems to Violet—ugly, bullied, and lonely. 

To be beautiful, in her eyes, is to have power and love. And when Kendra, the witch, teaches Violet how to use magic, she may finally get what she wants.

For Celine, beautiful since birth, her looks have been a hindrance. She discovers that beauty is also a threat—especially to her stepmother, Violet, who doesn’t want anyone sharing the attention she worked so hard to get and who will do anything to be the fairest of them all.

But beauty isn’t only skin deep and love isn’t based on looks alone. And though Violet and Celine may seem to be completely opposite, their lives are almost…MIRRORED.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Towering by Alex Flinn (HarperTeen) U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

New York Times #1 bestselling author Alex Flinn reimagined the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast in Beastly and gave a twist to the story of Sleeping Beauty in A Kiss in Time. 

Now with her gothic and darkly romantic YA novel Towering, Alex Flinn retells the tale of Rapunzel.

When Rachel was taken to live in a tower by a woman she calls Mama, she was excited. She felt like a princess in a castle. But many years later, Rachel knows her palace is really a prison, and begins to plan her escape. 

She is encouraged by the speed with which her golden hair has been growing. It's gotten long enough to reach the ground. And she's begun dreaming of a green-eyed man. 

Could he be out there in the world? Is he coming to save her? Or will she find a way to save herself?



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Friday, February 20, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron (Millbrook, 2015).

The Universality of Being an Outsider by Jacqueline Jules from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people."

So Many (Too Many?) Issues: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "In the real world, plenty of individuals deal with more than one minority identity at the same time, every day. Obviously a novel is not reality — often, reality is too unbelievable for fiction — but YA fiction that seeks to deal with real-world experiences must be able to address the lives of teens who check more than one minority box."

How to Write Vivid Character Descriptions: Be Invisible by Nola Sarina from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "When I am faced with an apprehensive encounter, I don’t often think about the fact that my hair is faded, or red, or long. I just toss my hair."

The Unlikeable Female Character: Thoughts on Middle Grade Literature by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "...I was struck time and again by the sentence, 'I just didn’t like the main character.' Normally this would be enough to condemn the book right there and then, but that was before I noticed that from time to time, and it is rare, we aren’t really supposed to like the main characters in our books all the time." See also Betsy's The African-American Experience Children's Literature Reference Guide (2010-2015).

The 2014 Cybils Awards from The Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Book Bloggers Literary Awards. Shout outs to Melissa Stewart, J. Patrick Lewis, and Candace Fleming!

Learning to Love Your Fanatic Antagonist by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fanatics...are generally working for what they see as the greater good. And the ends they’re fighting for aren’t necessarily bad things."

USBBY's Outstanding International Books List from School Library Journal.

Interview with Author Kekla Magoon by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "Yes. It is first person present tense narrative, which means sitting at the computer and thinking 'I' and meaning 'Malcolm X.' Mind-boggling."

Multicultural Literature 2014: Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. See 2014 American Indian Log.

Writer Productivity: Have Measurable Goals by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "The incremental effort link talks about taking 34,000 stitches to knit a pair of socks, but one of the ways you stay on track with socks is having a pattern, and having an idea of how much time you can commit to knitting."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes and a plush dino toy is Bethany in Wisconsin.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

My author assistant, Leo (short for Galileo)
The Austin American-Statesman says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015): "...the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent — any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — make this series as meaty as it is entertaining."

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith for sending in the final copy edits for Chronal Engine: Borrowed Time (Clarion). Learn more about Chronal Engine.

Thank you to everyone who turned out last Saturday for my standing-room-only talk on "Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers" at the SCBWI Austin monthly meeting at BookPeople!

My Link of the Week is The Diversity of Diversity from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "My mom was widowed, not (gasp!) divorced, but she was still 'other,' and as such, so was I and I felt it often. I knew the fact that there wasn't a dad in my house made me different. It was a loving, safe household, but I frequently interpreted signals in some disappointing and sometimes even saddening ways."

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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.

Releases Feb. 24, 2015
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Writing Coach Esther Hershenhorn

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Esther Hershenhorn is an award-winning Chicago children’s book author.

She coaches children’s book writers and teaches Children’s Book Writing at the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies and the Newberry Library.

Her recent titles include Txting Mama, Txting Baby (2013) and S Is For Story: A Writer's Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (2009)(both Sleeping Bear Press).

Regional Advisor Emeritus of SCBWI’s Illinois chapter, Esther also served two terms on SCBWI’s Board of Advisors. Esther blogs at Teaching Authors. She was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Your intensive at SCBWI Europolitan is titled Rx for Children's Books Creators: Getting Your Stories Right. Can you tell us more about the idea of the Creator's Story?

I’d been out and about for quite some time, learning and honing my craft, receiving more than my fair share of “admirable declines,” when I was fortunate to attend – three years in a row - the sadly-no-longer-available Vassar Children’s Book Publishing Program.

Each day, each session, each year, I chose the same seat: last row, right corner, next to the glass case that held a first edition of William Steig’s Brave Irene.

That last year, still unpublished, I was thinking about how much Irene and I had in common when the venerable instructor, publisher Barbara Lucas, spoke of The Universal Plotline – the Hero-dash-Heroine, moving forward in scenes of escalating disaster to fulfill a wish/realize a dream/solve a problem until, grown and changed, he or she returns home with something even better than what he or she first sought.

I literally smacked my forehead.

I was traveling the Universal Plotline! That was it!

The inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution would someday be mine.

There’s a good reason Christopher Vogler titled his book on mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters The Writer’s Journey.

As creatives we are often focused on honing our writing or illustration skills. It sounds like your workshop at Europolitan is going to take that to the next level. How do you think a Creator's Story intersects with the stories they are creating?

As we creators toil to tell our good stories well, it’s good to remember just how in synch we are with our questing characters.

All of us are moving forward on plotlines both physical and emotional, driven by wants/needs/wishes; each of us is acting and re-acting, with accompanying emotions, to overcome the obstacles placed before us.

Award-winning author and superb teacher Marian Dane Bauer believes a writer needs to put his story into the story he’s telling if it’s ever to resound in his reader’s heart – and I agree, wholeheartedly.

Not the actual story, but the emotional import of the story. We strengthen our story’s underpinnings – and heart – when we’re in synch with our characters emotionally.

You are an active teacher, speaker and career coach. What are some of the common issues you find in the manuscripts submitted to you for feedback?

The first time I read a manuscript, I read on behalf of the intended reader – no matter the age. More times than not, the writing in the manuscript sings, and I want to go along, really and truly, but the chinks in the story’s logic push me away, forcing me to exit what John Gardner labeled the requisite continuous dream.

Simply put, the story has holes and I’m not buying it.

The Good News is: returning to a story’s characters to dig even deeper usually solves the problem.

Returning to a story’s characters also solves a second common story problem: the absence of an emotional plotline. There needs to be a reason why we care what happens next, why we want to live inside this story and travel along.

This is true for picture books, early readers, middle grade and YA fiction as well as nonfiction.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would that be?

My advice about craft: read like a writer and write like a reader.

My advice about the journey, because writing is just that: story gifts both the reader and the writer.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Video: Making Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

An insight into the making of the book Viva Frida (Roaring Brook, 2014).

With spare, polished text and luscious illustrations, award-winning author/illustrator Yuyi Morales explores the passionate, imagination of the incomparable Frida Kahllo.

Video with Music by Miguel Martinez.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Editor Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo
By Dina von Lowenkraft
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jill Santopolo is the author of the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Sparkle Spa series and the Follow Your Heart books.

She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a certificate in Intellectual Property Law from NYU.

In addition to writing, Jill is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a thesis advisor at The New School, and an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, where she helped develop the curriculum for the certificate program in Writing for Children.

 Jill has traveled all over the U.S.—and to Canada—to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. She was interviewed by Dina von Lowenkraft for the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan conference.

Greetings, Jill! Thank you so much for agreeing to stop by for this interview. I've always been intrigued by people, like yourself, who are both authors and industry professionals at the same time. How did you end up doing both?

I probably ended up doing both because I’m a little bit nuts…

Really, though, I wrote short stories my whole life and always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that “writer” was a hard career to pursue right out of college.

So, while I was in school I started interning at publishing companies in New York City. I totally fell in love with the editorial side of things, so decided to put writing aside and concentrate on becoming a children’s book editor.

After I’d been working in publishing for a few years, I started writing a YA novel after work and on the weekends, just to see if I could actually do it. The answer was “sort of”. I did write the novel, but it didn’t sell. It did, however, get me an agent.

And my second novel sold—along with a third I hadn’t written yet.

I was a little uncertain about whether or not I’d be able to write that third novel, and a colleague suggested applying to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults. I did, and I got in, and it cemented the idea that I wanted to keep writing novels for kids. But at the same time I discovered how much I truly loved editing books, too, so I kept doing both. (And kept loving both.)

Do you think that being a writer affects the way you edit (and vice versa)?

I don’t think it’s changed anything on grand scale, but now that I’ve experienced the process from both sides, I definitely do small things differently.

For example, as an editor, I give myself editorial letter deadlines and share them with my authors so they know when to expect my feedback. And as a writer, I stick to all my writing deadlines and jump in to help plan launch events and promotions when that makes sense.

What I do think had a huge affect on how I edit and how I write was getting an M.F.A.. Spending two years analyzing fiction and learning about craft made me, I think, a more thoughtful, confident editor and a more thoughtful, confident writer.

I know that at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam April 4 and April 5, one of your talks is on using theater games to improve your character development. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Learn more!
Of course. When I do author visits at schools, I always talk to the students about how pretending and storytelling are very similar—in one situation you’re acting out what it’s like to, say, be a turtle, and in the other you’re telling a story about what it’s like to be a turtle.

I think the same thing applies on a deeper level with acting and writing. I acted quite a bit from middle school through college, and I loved the way getting into character meant finding out more about the character than was written on the page.

I think that the same theater games that help actors discover details about their characters that aren’t in the script, also help writers to discover things about their characters that they haven’t yet written into their manuscripts, but that might deepen a character or speak to their motivation throughout the novel.

I think that sounds like a great tool and I can’t wait to participate in your workshop! I know you’re also going to be talking about how writers can look at their work through a sales or marketing lens. Why do you think that’s important?

I don’t necessarily think that it’s important while someone is first writing a novel, but I do think that it’s helpful to be able to encapsulate your story in one sentence or one paragraph, like you’d have to do if you were submitting to agents and editors and also after a book is published, if you’re going to be doing some marketing yourself.

I also think it’s important as far as expectations are concerned. Looking at similar titles and their sales tracks can give writers an idea of what their sales might look like. And thinking about an audience—along with those comp titles—can help writers figure out how to target their outreach once a book has been published and decide how much marketing and publicity they’d like to take on themselves.

The theme of the SCBWI Europolitan is about growing beyond boundaries, can you talk a little bit about diversity in books?

Like pretty much everyone in publishing now, I think that it’s important to publish novels with diverse themes, diverse characters, and diverse life experiences—and it’s something that I pay attention to when I’m working to balance my own piece of Philomel’s list.

Because I edited Atia Abawi’s novel The Secret Sky, which is set in contemporary Afghanistan, I got to go with Atia recently to a panel at NCTE about books set outside of the U.S., which is a piece of diversity that’s not always talked about quite as much.

It got me thinking more about the kids around the globe and the ways in which experiences and feelings are universal—and the ways in which they’re not. I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation at the SCBWI Europolitan (and to having many other exciting conversations as well!).

We’re so excited that you will be one of our faculty members and are looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam and continuing all these discussions!

I’m excited too!

Cynsational Notes

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on four continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Her debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in August 2013. She is repped by Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary.

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