Saturday, May 26, 2012

Author Speaking Opportunities in the Asia Pacific Region

By Christopher Cheng
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This is a note about networking and contacts. 

They are vital.

I have always loved exploring new countries and recently my life as a full time children's author (my first title was published in 1990) has dramatically increased these opportunities.

In late 2011, I had the privilege of speaking at Bookaroo - a children’s literature festival in New Delhi, India. I love traveling the world, but India was not a country on my radar.

How did I get offered a speaking gig at Bookaroo?

It all came about because, in 2010, I was presenting at another international children’s festival in Singapore - the Asian Festival of Children's Content. After I had finished my first day of speaking in Singapore, the Bookaroo organisers asked me to present at their upcoming festival.

As I had already accepted another festival for the same time, my fourth for the year, I had to decline but that was immediately followed with “Would you speak next year?” and so in November 2011, I landed in India.

It’s a long way to travel from Australia to New Delhi for a three-day festival so thankfully my trip was extended when the Australian Government sponsored my visit under the visiting artists programme, taking me on a tour through more Indian cities visiting school and universities.

Why all this preamble? Because it’s all about networking and getting involved and advertising you!

Christopher speaking in Singapore
We authors and illustrators can lead very sheltered lives, barely encountering another human - except maybe our children and spouses - in our daily activities as we produce our works, but we shouldn’t. We need to belong and we need to get out there. In the past 12 months, I have spoken at festivals in India, Singapore, Hong Kong, USA, the Philippines. How come?

Since becoming a full-time children’s author I have learned that for me this job is not only about writing for kids - which is the best job in the world and what I love to do - but it’s also about networking and developing contacts.

As part of my networking, I write articles for journals and blogs and newspapers, and mentor, consult, and promote. I have been a judge and an assessor on writing awards and established international children’s book awards.

Edited by Christopher
I was, for a number of years, a National Ambassador for Literacy Week (a federal government programme), and this year I am one of 18 National Ambassadors for our National Year of Reading. For me it’s all part of the ‘job’ of being a children’s author.

It’s never too early to start developing a list of contacts. I have been published for more than 20 years, and over that time I have gathered a list of industry professionals, bloggers, writers, editors, journal publishers, newspaper columnists and more.

Right from the start I maintained a contact list, grabbing contact details from the magazine and newspaper journalists. It’s a bit like detective work, growing the list. And of course there is social media too - blogs, and Facebook and Twitter. It’s all part of gathering those contacts, networking and getting connected!

Which leads me to why I was presenting in Singapore.

Most of my recent appearances came about because I received an email early in 2010 asking me to advertise a new festival in Singapore. The organisers knew that I had a solid network of contacts in the Australian children’s literature scene and of course my SCBWI membership. They had also investigated my website and found out what I can do and so a request for promotion assistance ended up becoming a speaking invitation as well.

(Which is another lesson - make sure you have a website and that the website sells you!).

With Warren Buckleitner - Children's Technology Review
Five months after the inquiry about broadcasting the festival news, I was presenting in Singapore, and sitting in the audience were the organisers of other Asian literary festivals - and not just children’s festivals either.

Enlightened festival organisers engage speakers with a children's literature focus as well as adult literature. My presentation was also an advertisement - for me - and it lead to appearing elsewhere around the region.

There are festivals exploding all over the Asia Pacific region with a children’s literature component. Many people don’t realise that there is a huge English speaking population that is located not in the Americas or Europe but here in the Asia Pacific region. Children are learning English at school, and they are hungry for English books to read, and they love to hear us speak.

So from that one email enquiry early in 2010, I was able to spread the word about a new festival, encourage other creators to attend, and have myself be contracted to speak at a number of other international literary festivals.

And remember too that speaking contracts are also really important.

So get your lists started. Read journals and blogs and e-zines. And then start sharing, and you never know where that might find you.

Cynsational Notes

More on Christopher
With more than 35 titles in traditional and digital formats, including picture books, non-fiction, historical fiction, a musical libretto and an animation storyline, Christopher Cheng is well experienced in Australian children's literature.

He conducts workshops and residences for children and adults and holds an M.A. in Children's Literature. He is a board member for the Asian Festival of Children's Content and on the International Advisory Board and co-regional advisor (Australia and New Zealand) for the SCBWI.

A recipient of the SCBWI Member of the Year and the Lady Cutler Award for services to children's literature, Chris is a devoted advocate of children's literature, speaking at festivals worldwide.

Christopher will be covering the children's-YA book scene in Australia, New Zealand and across Asia for Cynsations. Read an interview with Christopher. Find out about his appearances and more at Christopher Cheng's Blog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Stefanie discusses Confetti Girl as a model.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Join in "It's Complicated," a conversation about diversity, authenticity and representation at CBC Diversity. See:
  • It's Complicated! an introduction by Roaring Brook editor Nancy Mercado. Peek: "To begin diving into some of these questions, we've asked an author, an agent, an editor, and a children’s literature advocate/reviewer to weigh in on an aspect of diversity in publishing that is meaningful to them."
  • A Prayer to the Silent by author Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek: "You who care so much that you’re immobilized, silenced, I’m asking you to make yourselves heard."
  • Feeding the Demand by literary agent Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel. Peek: "I’ve found it’s important to show publishers there is a demand, and in turn help them feel confident to publish even more diverse voices."
  • Writing Outside Your Perspective by Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein. Peek: " a person who thinks a lot about diversity issues, I would at that point pause a moment and ask myself: Did the voice sound believable to me as that of a Mexican-American teenager, given the character and the world the author created around him? (Here I have to acknowledge that I myself am a white woman, and keep an eye on my own privileges, biases, and knowledge/lack thereof.)
  • It's Even More Complicated Than Most People Know by Debbie Reese of American Indians of Children's Literature. Peek: "Most people don’t know anything at all about tribal sovereignty and what it means."

More News & Giveaways

Uncovering YA Covers 2011 from Kate Hart. A look at color distribution and minority representation on the covers of young adult novels. Note: 90% featured a white character. 1.2% featured a black character. Peek: "Of the groups represented enough to show up in a pie slice, black characters/models are not only fewest in number, they're barely even on their own covers."

When Life Throws You Rotten Eggs...Make Lemonade by Sarah Davies from Greenhouse Literary. Peek: "I’ve known agents who so hate imparting bad news that they just don’t return phone calls; they disengage. It’s like the boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t return messages, hoping their partner will get so frustrated that they’ll initiate the break-up for them."

Five Plot Fixes for Peace Makers by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "I am really a nice person and I want my characters to be treated well. No more."

Author Chat: A Special Aloha from Margo Sorenson by Jama Rattigan from Jama's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "Truly, moving back to the Mainland was a culture shock in so many ways, and, especially as a teacher, I wished that my California students would be able to understand how the aloha spirit worked, as it did in Hawai’i."

Nurturing Your Inner Nerd by Dom Testa from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth. Post includes giveaway of Dom's novel, The Comet's Curse: A Galahad Book (Tor, 2011). Eligibility: North America. Deadline: 12:01 a.m. June 2.

Don't Think Too Much: You'll Create a Problem That Wasn't Even There by Julie Musil from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "I read about noun/verb placement, misplaced modifiers, and comma usage, and began to over-analyze my work. I found myself worrying less about a good story, and worrying more about mechanics."

Think Like an Author by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "An author is someone who goes in and gets the job done."

Traditional vs. Self-publishing is a False Dichotomy from Nathan Bransford. Peek: "We're all writers trying to figure out the best way to get our books to readers. We're all on the same team."

Confusion Is Not the Same as Mystery by Mary Kole from Peek: "...if you give us no grounding information at the beginning–if it’s all action and no context–you run the risk of confusing your reader with not enough information." See also Sounds Great, No Substance.

It's Raining Cupcakes Birthday Party by Lisa Schroeder from Lisa's Little Corner of the Internet. Peek: "Check out all of these adorable pictures, which I was told I could share on my blog. So impressed with all of the details that went into the decorations and everything!"

This is Your Guarantee of Failure. Proceed Anyway. from Danielle LaPorte. Peek: "There will be many, many things that you’ll wish you had said — fiercely loving and bravely tender things, righteously justice-rendering things that could change everything — but instead, you’ll fail to rise in the way you wanted to." Source: Ruth McNally Barshaw.

Fact and Fiction: One Author Sharing Story by Bethany Hegedus from ALSC Blog. Peek: "There is an adage in writing—write what you know.  I do that. But I also write what I don’t know. Fiction for me takes a little bit of facts—some from my own life—and mixes it with a whole lot of what ifs and what thens."

How Much Interaction Should an Author Have With Readers? from Jody Hedlund. Peek: "a few days later she said, 'Mom, I haven’t heard back from that author yet. Do you think she’ll write back to me?'' Source: Stina Lindenblatt from Seeing Creative.

Pace Yourself! The Art of Pacing a  Novel from Elissa Cruz. Peek: "A story with lots of action that's sparse on details is going to be fast-paced.  A story that weaves you through setting and details and inner monologues but where the characters don't do much is going to be slower-paced."

Trailer Talk: While He Was Away and The Summer of No Regrets by Katherine Grace Bond from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "If I was using Karen's trailer as a primer on trailers for my novel-writing students, this is what I'd probably tell them...."

Cynsational Giveaways

Learn more!
Enter to win a signed copy of Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Brendan Buckley" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight May 28.

Read an author interview about the book with Sundee.

The winner of a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012) was Betsy in Ohio.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

The first official day of summer may be June 20, but it feels as if it's already here. Schools are concluding their spring semesters. Austin feels a bit empty with the U.T. students gone. On the upside, the waits are sure a lot shorter at local restaurants, and a sushi joint has just opened in my neighborhood.

Meanwhile, I plan to feature a bounty of ideas for summer reading, including more book trailer posts. If you're a regular Cynsations reader and I haven't previously highlighted your 2011-spring 2012 book, zip me a link to your trailer and maybe you'll see it here in the days to come.

What else? If you haven't already, please join in this week's CBC Diversity conversation. Don't miss my post, A Prayer to the Silent.

Wow! A letter from Dolly!
Yee haw! My 2010 picture book, Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton) has once again been selected for inclusion in Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

This literacy program serves children from birth through preschool. See Dolly Parton's Imagination Library on facebook and find out how you can help. Follow Imagination Library on Twitter.

See also a Pre-K teacher guide for Holler Loudly, created by Shannon Morgan (guides for kindergarten, grade 1 and grade 2 are likewise available (PDFs)).

Personal Links:
Swag shop!

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Central Texans! Mark your calendars for June 9 at BookPeople! Greg Leitich Smith will speak on "Writing Speculative Fiction" at 10 a.m. and Don Tate will host a book launch and signing of It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw (Lee & Low, 2012) at noon.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith this summer?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Voice: Jennifer Shaw Wolf on Breaking Beautiful

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jennifer Shaw Wolf is the first-time author of Breaking Beautiful (Walker, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a horrible car accident—including her memory of the event. 

As their small town mourns his death, Allie is afraid to remember because doing so means delving into what she’s kept hidden for so long: the horrible reality of their abusive relationship.

When the police reopen the investigation, it casts suspicion on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around town. Allie knows she must tell the truth. Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free? 

Debut writer Jennifer Shaw Wolf takes readers on an emotional ride through the murky waters of love, shame, and, ultimately, forgiveness.

What is it like, to be a debut author in 2012? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

I love finally being a “real” author and knowing I have a book coming out. I love that I have something concrete to show for the hours I spend hunched over a computer. I love that I can share my story with the world (although that part still kind of freaks me out.)

I love that my kids can look at me and know that their mom worked hard and accomplished her dreams. My family has been my greatest support from the beginning, so my kids know how much time I spent trying to get where I am. It’s important to me that they understand, dreams are possible, but it still takes a lot of work.

One of my favorite things about being a debut author has been the people I’ve met. This is a tough business, but the people in it are incredible. I love my agent and my editor I appreciate all that they have done to teach me about this business and make the road as smooth as possible. I love meeting with my my critique group and my SCBWI groups. I love the people I’ve met through my literary agency. It’s therapeutic to spend time with people who share your brand of craziness and understand what it is to have voices in your head.

I’m also grateful for my Class of 2k12 Group and my Apocalypsies group. Unless you’ve been through this process you don’t know how hard it is. The best advice I could give a new author is to find a marketing/emotional support group like they are. They get it when I have a deadline and my creative brain seems to be running on empty. They get the stress of constant marketing, bad reviews, and the “what if’s” of a business that’s constantly changing. They get it when the dream I’ve worked so hard for also makes me want to rip my hair out.

The hardest and the most surprising thing for me has been the amount of time it takes to do this job. Being an author means keeping up with edits on Breaking Beautiful, networking, blogging, and marketing. In the middle of all of this, I need to (and really want to) keep writing new stories.

Besides all that, I still have four kids, a house, and a husband. I wasn’t prepared for a job that could literally take up all of my time and brain power.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and I wouldn’t trade where I am, I just didn’t realize the time commitment that’s involved in writing, revising, and marketing a book.

Jennifer on horseback

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

One of my writing teachers, Ann Gonzales, told me that as you write you circle your character. As you get deeper into your story, or as you revise, you get closer to that person.

I really felt that when I wrote Allie. She was definitely more closed in than the other characters I’ve written. I found myself too often, writing what happened to her, instead of writing what she was feeling. I didn’t write character exercises or journals for Allie, although I see the value it that kind of exercise.

Instead, I wrote and wrote and wrote and then went back and revised. With each revision, I got closer to getting inside her head. By the time I submitted my manuscript to agents, I felt like I knew Allie pretty well. However, one of the first comments that my editor put on my edit letter was something like, “We need to get into Allie’s head more,” so I revised again.

Jennifer's revision in action

As a writer, I have a tendency to shy away from bad introspection. Maybe I’m trying to rescue my character emotionally, by not having him or her dwell on the bad things in life. Maybe I want to keep the story moving. But, I’ve learned, when bad things happen to your characters (and they will and should) you need to make sure those bad things have some effect on the way they think. You need to let them feel and express those emotions, or they come out like a cardboard character.

As far as finding a teen voice, there are a couple of things that helped me. First, I have two teens at home and we constantly have their friends in our home so I know how they talk to each other. Second, I majored in broadcasting and I had to learn to write news copy conversationally.

One of the problems with voice and especially teen voice that I see a lot in my friends who are writing YA is that they write too formally.

Jennifer as a teen

I think formal writing has been drilled into us through a thousand essays and research papers in high school and college. When I help my son with his high school papers I’m constantly telling him that he doesn’t need to write in circles, just get to the point and say what you’re saying clearly. His argument is that writing clearly makes it sound too simple. Maybe when you’re doing a research paper you need to sound intelligent, but when you’re telling a story, you need to be clear.

I’m not saying that young adult books need to be simplified or dumbed down. Young adults are absolutely intelligent consumers of literature and there are many beautiful examples of prose in books for teens. But the story needs to be in a teen voice, with teen issues and it needs to be clear.

You aren’t trying to showcase your knowledge. You’re trying to show the world through the point of view of a teen.

Cynsational Notes

Jennifer Shaw Wolf's hobbies include reading, video production, skiing, and running. She grew up in the tiny town of Wilford, Idaho where she milked cows, rode horses, went bridge jumping, and dragged main street. In college, she was a DJ for a small campus radio station and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communications. She lives amid the peaceful forests of Lacey, Washington.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Guest Post: The Walking Writer by Jennifer R. Hubbard

Redwood Trail
By Jennifer R. Hubbard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I don’t know how strong a trend this is, but in the past couple of years I’ve heard of several writers setting up “treadmill desks.”

As I understand it, this consists of a treadmill (set on very slow speed!) and a shelf with a computer. The writer walks while working. It’s supposed to be healthier than sitting at a desk for hour after hour.

I love walking and I love writing, but I’m not sure I could do both at once—or at least, that I could compose on a keyboard while walking. (I write while walking all the time, as I’ll explain later.)

Treadmills make me dizzy. And even though the treadmill in this case would be set to a low speed, my writing sometimes requires moments of absolute stillness for an idea to work its way from my brain to my fingertips.

But for writers who can work this way, it sounds like a great idea. I’m all for movement, however it’s achieved. Writing can be a very sedentary profession. We need to get our blood flowing, our muscles working.

I walk or hike daily. This serves a few purposes, beyond the basic need of exercise. It serves a few writing-related purposes, in fact.

(I also use a stationary bike, but I find I can’t think writerly thoughts while doing that, so I read or watch TV instead.)

Walking enables me to take a break from the writing desk. Sometimes I need to stop engaging my conscious mind with the story at hand, and let the subconscious work. I get fresh air and exercise and mental rest.

But other times, as I walk, my mind will keep working on the story. New scenes and bits of dialogue will come unbidden as I walk. This is how I first learned to tell stories: they unreeled in my head while I went about the daily business of living. A good long walk, with nothing else required of me, allows my mind the freedom and focus to compose.

Hiking vacations also take me to interesting new places, some of which end up in stories.

The waterfall in Try Not to Breathe (Viking, 2012) was inspired by years of hiking trips, many of which included visits to waterfalls. (In fact, as my husband plans our vacation hikes, he knows that anything featuring a waterfall will get an automatic “yes” from me.)

Myrtle Falls

The river in The Secret Year (Viking, 2010) was a composite of several rivers and creeks that I’ve lived (and walked) near. The feel of moss, the scent of pine needles, the crunch of fallen leaves, the glint of mica in the sun: all of these have found their way from my hikes into my stories.

Panhandle Bridge

Writers put a lot of stock in the “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard” moments, as well we should. But sometimes it’s useful to stand up at, or even step away from, the desk.

Trail to Burroughs

Book Trailer: Struck by Jennifer Bosworth

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Struck by Jennifer Bosworth (FSG, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

Mia Price is a lightning addict. She's survived countless strikes, but her craving to connect to the energy in storms endangers her life and the lives of those around her.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

CBC Diversity: "It's Complicated" - Join the Discussion

Join the conversation!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Dear Cynsational Readers:

Please consider yourself encouraged to join in on the conversation at "It's Complicated!", a Blog Dialogue, hosted by CBC Diversity.

Peek: "...a blog dialogue addressing a topic that has frequently arisen at the Diversity table -- the concept of responsibility and authenticity when writing about diverse characters and how authors, editors, and agents can choose/write stories that reflect the diverse nature of our society. "

Raise your awareness and sound off. Your voices matter.


Introduction & Welcome by CBC Diversity Chair Nancy Mercado, Editor at Roaring Brook. Peek:

"...we think it’s possible and necessary to have a respectful and open forum where we are able to chat about some of the challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that exist when we come together as a community."


Read my post & comment.
A Prayer to the Silent by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Peek:

"If you live in the world, you’re in this conversation—and, yes, staying quiet is a statement, too. What that silence means may vary from writer to writer, but for far too many, it’s a product of fear.

"You, the fearfully silent, I’m talking to you. Have you ever thought 'I’ll mess up' or 'they’ll reject me,' and then set aside a story or character or plot line?"


Agent Stefanie Von Borstel, Full Circle Literary, LLC. Peek: "Stefanie von Borstel is co-founder of Full Circle Literary. Prior to agenting, she worked in various editorial and marketing positions with Penguin and Harcourt.... Stefanie represents children's books from baby to teen." Clients include include Monica Brown, Jennifer Ward, Toni Buzzeo, Rafael Lopez, Carmen Tafolla, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Diana Lopez, Malin Alegria, among others."


Executive Editor Cheryl Klein, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. Peek: "After attending the Denver Publishing Institute, I moved to New York City and was lucky enough to land my dream job as Arthur Levine’s editorial assistant in the Arthur A. Levine imprint of Scholastic. I’m now the executive editor in the AALB imprint, and it’s still my dream job, working with a terrific, diverse, and very talented group of authors and illustrators on an equally terrific and diverse array of projects. I also served as the continuity editor on the last two Harry Potter books." See books Cheryl has edited.


Advocate/Reviewer Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "I am tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico. I'm from the Upper Village (Yates family).... I'm a founding member of the Native American House and American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois. I'm on the Literature Advisory Board for Reading is Fundamental and the Advisory Board for Reach Out and Read American Indian/Alaska Native."

Book Trailer: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker (Usborne, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

It’s been 3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since Sherry has seen daylight. When things went wrong up above, she was sealed off from the world in a bunker with her family. But when they run out of food, Sherry and her dad must venture outside. 

There they find devastation, desolation…and the Weepers: savage mutant killers. 

When her dad is snatched, Sherry joins forces with gorgeous but troubled Joshua – an Avenger, determined to destroy the Weepers. But can Sherry keep her family and Joshua safe, when his desire for vengeance threatens them all?

Monday, May 21, 2012

New Voice: Barry Wolverton on Neversink

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barry Wolverton is the first-time author of Neversink (Walden Pond, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, whose jagged cliffs and ice-gouged rocks are home to a colony of odd-looking seabirds called auks, including one Lockley J. Puffin. 

With their oceanfront views and plentiful supply of fish, the auks have few concerns - few, save for Lockley's two best friends, Egbert and Ruby, a know-it-all walrus and a sharp-tongued hummingbird.

But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of Owl Parliament, is dealing with a famine on the mainland of Tytonia - and he has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. 

Now, Neversink's independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it - unless Lockley can do something about it. 

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I signed with my agent in the summer of 2006, and we didn’t sell the book until April 2010. So while I had my coping-with-rejection routine down pat, I was completely unprepared for success.

2006 was also the year my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and given three-to-six months to live. It was because of my mom that I was always put to bed with a story when I was a child, and grew up in a house full of books, even though she almost never had time to sit down to read for pleasure.

Needless to say, when she was diagnosed, I never thought she’d live long enough to see me sell a book. But being the indomitable person that she was, she kept fighting and defying her doctor’s expectations, which made it that much more frustrating when I kept coming up short with Neversink.

Barry's office
When Walden Pond Press decided to take the book to acquisitions, all I needed was a two-page synopsis to go with a revised first act I had written for them.

Unfortunately, writing a good synopsis proved so painful that I missed the deadline for the March 2010 meeting where Neversink was supposed to be on the agenda. I had no idea what that meant — whether it would be another week or month or quarter before I had my shot.

But on April 9, 2010, which was Good Friday, I was about to get in the car and drive to my parents’ house for Easter. I compulsively checked my email before leaving, even though I knew my agent was on vacation.

But there it was. An email from her, from New Zealand, saying we’d sold Neversink. So I celebrated by getting to tell my mom the good news in person.

She also got to show off the Publishers Weekly announcement a couple of months later, which made her very proud. She wanted so badly to hang on until the book came out, but she didn’t quite make it.

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

Story by Robert McKee (It Books, 1997). I am a formerly aspiring/currently failed screenwriter, and though this book is focused on screenwriting, McKee’s dissection of story and structure, down to individual scenes and story “beats,” helped me enormously as a fiction writer. Also, I had tried in my 20s to write an adult novel and never finished.

Writing several screenplays, which are much more compact and formulaic that the typical novel, gave me confidence that I could finish something and also helped me learn to use description and dialogue more evocatively.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

My world came together through different small landmasses bumping into each other. There was my visit to the Baltimore aquarium’s auk exhibit where I got to see these amazing birds in action and wonder why penguins got all the love. There was my fascination with animal collective nouns, like a “parliament” of owls and a “colony” of puffins, which suggested a political allegory waiting to be told. And the natural habitat of Atlantic auks (Iceland and Great Britain, among others) played right into my love of Brit lit, sagas, and Northern Europe’s folklore.

But as a foundation, I’ve always preferred animal stories set in the creatures’ natural environment, whether the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (Penguin Classics, 1990) or Pixar’s "Finding Nemo."

So most everything about my two main settings is based on field guide research and is true to the needs of the species that inhabit them: Tytonia, the woodsy domain of the governing owls, and the rugged, wintry sea-cliffs of Neversink. Both islands, but worlds apart in ways.

And the conflict is rooted in the idea that creatures are adapted to certain habitats, food supplies, and behavior cycles, and there are serious consequences if this interdependence is jeopardized.

Also, though my animals talk, I don’t consider them strictly anthropomorphic. The protagonist, Lockley Puffin, is characterized by his being a puffin; he conducts himself in a way I would expect to discover if we could really speak the auks’ language.

That’s not to say my book is as naturalistic as something like Watership Down by Richard Adams (Avon Books, 1975). To me the puffin looks like a creature Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear would have invented if it didn’t already exist. Same with the walrus or an owl so small it’s basically a head on legs. I felt like the wonderful weirdness of the animal world gave me license to have some fun with the conventions of the animal fantasy, and to venture into the absurd and improbable, like my faction of Owls Wearing Hats.

Why would owls wear hats? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Barry's pal Charlie

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Giveaway: Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy of Brendan Buckley's Sixth-Grade Experiment by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Brendan Buckley is headed to middle school, and he has lots of big questions. Will he be able to keep his green anole, Einstein, alive? Why won't new-girl Morgan Belcher leave him alone? And what will he propose for the national science competition his class is entering?

When his alternative energy idea gets him paired with Morgan, Brendan is more than a little skeptical. But their partnership clicks and they embark on a methane-producing experiment involving bottles, balloons, and the freshest cow manure they can find.

As Brendan spends more time on the experiment, his big questions get even bigger. He misses hanging out with Khalfani, his best friend and Tae Kwon Do sparring partner. 

Will they remain best friends? And Brendan and his police detective father aren't exactly seeing eye-to-eye. Does Dad think he's a science-nerd wimp? Can Brendan prove to him that his scientific pursuits really could be world-changing?

Readers will welcome the return of the popular and appealing Brendan Buckley as he encounters the trials and tribulations of middle school and struggles to forge his own identity within his family. 

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Brendan Buckley" in the subject line.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight May 28. Read an author interview about the book with Sundee.

Cynsational Notes

Karyn on Backstory
Last call! Enter to win a signed copy of Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Book 2 of the Angelaeon Circle)(WaterBrook, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address.

Or email Cynthia directly with "Eye of the Sword,"in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST May 21.
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