Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Memory: Erik Blegvad

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Erik Blegvad from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Acclaimed illustrator Erik Blegvad, whose artwork appeared in more than 100 children’s books, several of them by his wife, Lenore Blegvad (1926-2008), died on January 14 at the age of 90. Born in Copenhagen in 1923, Blegvad worked as an artist or illustrator from the earliest days of his career, in his hometown as well as in London and Paris."

Children's Illustrator Erik Blegvad Dies from Contact Music: "Blegvad studied at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts and worked as a commercial illustrator in Paris, France before he moved to the U.S. in 1950 and began contributing to American magazines."

Children's book artist Erik Blegvad dies at 90 by Gregory Katz from U-T San Diego. Peek: "Among his best known works are the illustrations for 'Bed-Knob and Broomstick,' 'The Tenth Good Thing About Barney' and his own translation of Hans Christian Andersen's 'Stories and Fairy Tales.'"

Friday, February 14, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Jill Santopolo on the debut of the Sparkle Spa series (Simon & Schuster, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Sisters Aly and Brooke love spending time at their mom’s popular and successful nail salon—it’s their “home away from home.” At the end of another incredibly busy day, Mom complains she is completely overwhelmed at work, even more so by all the kids who come to have manis and pedis. 

That’s when the sisters have a brilliant idea: Why don’t they open up a mini nail salon just for kids within Mom’s store?

More News & Giveaways

Pete Hautman on The Book That Will Save Us from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: "You see, we are all drowning, and that is the reason we keep writing, because every new book is the book that will float us above and away from (choose three) irrelevance, poverty, mediocrity, madness, obscurity, obloquy, ourselves." See also That We May Live by Marion Dane Bauer.

Religion in YA Lit by Aaron Hartzler from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Here are five common stumbling blocks I’ve seen when it comes to writing about religion for teens, and a corresponding book that I think pulls it off with flying colors." See also Thoughts on Jewish Story by Erika Dreifus from The Whole Megillah.

How to Help An Author (Beyond Buying the Book) Part I by Jen Malone from Writers' Rumpus. Peek: "High presales also encourage booksellers to offer extra marketing attention and prime in-store placement to those titles." See Part II. See also (Less Than) Great Expectations by Brittany Geragotelis from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Query.Sign.Submit with Agent John Cusick from I Write for Apples. Peek: "Some folks are fabulous first-draft writers, but have a hard time editing. Others are a mess to begin with, but the manuscript improves 200% with every revise. Everyone’s different, but I need to know a prospective client can get the book where it needs to be before I can start contacting editors."

What I Learned about Depression from Francisco X. Stork. Peek: "I’m one of those who agree with Ursula K. Le Guin that 'one of the things fiction does is lead you to recognize what you did not know before.' I thought I knew about depression before I started writing the book (my long-time experience with this illness was why I agreed to write it), but there were attitudes, feelings thoughts about depression that I now recognize for the first time."

Casual Diversity and the Children's Book by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "She’d been talking with her friends and they decided that what they’d really like would be a list of children’s books in which diversity is just a part of everyday life." See Mitali Perkins on "Casual Diversity" Depends on the Unseen Work of the Author from Mitali's Fire Escape. See also Strategies for Supporting Latino Children's Literature by Celia C. Perez from All Brown All Around.

Choosing Our Mystery's Murderer from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "Mystery writers that I’ve met tend to fall into a couple of different groups—writers who have picked their killer before they start writing their story (or early in their draft) and those who decide by the end of the book who the killer will be."

On Quiet Novels by Lisa Schroeder from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "It's in the details - the little things that make the reader go 'ooooh.'" See also The Heartache and Triumph of Rejection by Hilary Wagner from Project Mayhem.

Ask Questions to Help Find Your Story by C.S. Lakin from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Thousands of hours of critiquing and editing have led me to notice that there are some questions I seem to ask a lot. Which tells me there are some general gaps that many writers have in common in their novel-constructing process."

Conference Dos & Don'ts by Rosie Genova from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Business casual is the way to go, and unless you’re wearing sequins or a tuxedo, slightly overdressing (a day dress, a skirt and cardigan, a shirt and tie for the guys) is rarely a mistake."

The Clearance Kids by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo from The Huffington Post. Peek: "These students inked with gang tattoos, dyed green punk hair, post teen pregnancy appearances or linebacker-sized guys with hidden identities who don't conform to the norm of traditional high school, soon became my heroes."

Boys Will be Boys and Girls Will Be Accommodating: Problems with Gendered Reading from Laurel Snyder. Peek: "By suggesting that on the whole our boys have a limited capacity for empathy, an inability to imagine a world beyond their own most obvious understanding, and an unwillingness to stretch. In the same stroke, we neglect our girls."

Children's Literature Inspires Compassion for Animals from Betsy Devany's Blog. Peek: "...a couple of elderly dogs just appeared on our porch. They were wet and hungry, and Ava squealed when she saw them. 'It’s like Because of Winn-Dixie!' she said. 'And we have to save them, Grandma. Kate DiCamillo would want us to save them.'"

C.S. Jennings illustrates Greg Leitich Smith
Interview with Author-Illustrator C.S. Jennings by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog. Peek: "When I receive a manuscript for a chapter book, I am looking for the places in the text where I can share moments that will grip the reader. Whether it's an emotion, some fun character, or cool element, I ask myself, 'What would I want to see as the reader?' Admittedly, sometimes it's 'What do I want to draw? 'Ah, sweet! Spaceships!'"

Some Economic Straight Talk: Robin LaFevers on The Economics of Frugality, Abundance, and Creativity from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If there can be said to be any averages in publishing, then the average kid lit advances look something like this...." Note: Robin, a successful and acclaimed trade middle grade-YA author, breaks down her annual income (and its context) since 2002.

Writing Habits: Getting Back on Track by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Several writers I’ve read lately say that if you’ve been away from your writing for a week or more, you can expect about ten days of writing that is no more fun than getting teeth pulled when you start again."

Children's-YA Book Awards & Lists

2014 Dolly Gray Award Winners, recognizing "authors, illustrators, and publishers of high quality fictional and biographical children, intermediate, and young adult books that appropriately portray individuals with developmental disabilities," are Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick (Cinco Puntos) and Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks (St. Martin's).

Outstanding Books for the College Bound & Lifelong Learners from YALSA. Categories:

The 2013 Cybils Awards: Children's & Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

Cynsational Screening Room

Congratulations to Lorie Ann Grover on the release of Firstborn (Blink, 2014). Peek from the promotional copy: "Where does a firstborn girl fit in a world dominated by men? When Tiadone was born, her parents had two choices: leave their daughter outside the community to die in the wilds, or raise her as male and force her to suppress all feminine traits." See also the Cover Story from readergirlz.


Author Janet Fox celebrates January/February new releases.


Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of three copies of Feral Curse or one of three paperback copies of Feral Nights (both by Cynthia Leitich Smith and published by Candlewick). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

In honor of Black History Month, Lee & Low is giving away two copies of Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today's Youth, personally signed by Rosa Parks at facebook. Deadline: Feb. 26. Eligibility: U.S. only.  

28 Days Later

28 Days Later is "a Black History Month celebration of emerging and established children’s book creators of color" from the Brown Bookshelf.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin SCBWI Conference

Last week's highlights included the Austin SCBWI Annual Conference.

Author Cynthia Leitich Smith & writer-poet-illustrator Anna Boll
Authors Liz Garton Scanlon & Lindsey Lane with author-illustrator Keith Graves
Fantasy springs from fiction at the silent auction.
Greg Leitich Smith shows off this cake typewriter by Akiko White.
Greg & author-illustrator Don Tate in his Armadillustrators fez
Keynoter Matt de la Peña & Austin RA Samantha Clark
Nikki, Cyn, Liz & Austin SCBWI founder Meredith Davis

More Personally

Happy Valentine's Day to those who celebrate it! A shout out to my valentine, Greg Leitich Smith! Click over to GregLSBlog to check out his Dino-A-Day special illustration by C.S. Jennings!

Exciting news! Feral Curse is now available in hardcover and e-book and Feral Nights is now available in paperback from Candlewick Press in North America. Both books are likewise now available on audio from Brilliance. Future releases are pending from Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker Australia and New Zealand. Learn more at Feral Curse: Giant Steps Through the Ashes, and enter to win at the six-book giveaway!

What else? I'm busy this week with media and updating my school visit presentation. See my thoughts on Young Readers & Author Insights. See also 15 Authors and 20 More Authors Who Promote Diversity in School Visits from CBC Diversity.

Preview Feral Curse on audio
Kirkus Reviews says of Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014): "Campy humor is paired with themes of social justice in this fast-paced, clever second volume in the Feral series....A neat, smart middle novel that clearly sets the stage for an epic showdown between those who champion the rights of shifters and those blind to their humanity."

The Horn Book praises the "light tone," "witty banter," and chimes in: " kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever...but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla—level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature—holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness."

Over at readergirlz, Lori Ann Grover cheers, "Kayla is a strong female protagonist, perfect for readergirlz, while many will swoon for Yoshi. The pacing is fast, the mystery layered, and the adventure full."

Preview Feral Nights on audio
Check out my favorite quote from Feral Curse at YA Series Insiders. The book was 14 years in the making, and I'm celebrating with a six-book giveaway! For more information, see Feral Curse: Giant Steps Through the Ashes. See also more new YA releases this week from Rich in Color and even more still from Radical Releases.

Remember last week's conversation about J.K. Rowling's take on Ron and Hermione's marriage

We have an update! See J.K. Rowling backtracks on 'Harry Potter heresy': Full interview with Emma Watson in Wonderland magazine shows author qualifying doubts over Ron and Hermione's marriage by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek:

"'Maybe she and Ron will be alright with a bit of counseling, you know. I wonder what happens at wizard marriage counseling? They'll probably be fine. He needs to work on his self-esteem issues and she needs to work on being a little less critical,' Rowling told Watson..." 

Note: Raise your hand if you're likewise intrigued by the idea of "wizard marriage counseling"!

Kudos to award-winning Austin illustrator Marsha Riti on her new website!

With Meredith Davis & Betty X Davis
Congratulations to the winners of the Betty X Davis Young Writers of Merit Award from Austin SCBWI. Peek:

"...seeks to recognize budding writing talents and to spark enthusiasm for writing among young people.
"This award is named for Betty X Davis, the oldest and most revered member of the Austin SBCWI community.
"Betty has judged many young people’s writing contests and believes these contests help them feel successful at writing, an important lifelong skill....
"Betty X. Davis was born on Nov. 25, 1915, in Akron, Ohio." 

Note: Betty is my inspiration, a writer's writer. Learn more about her and this wonderful award. Source: Lindsey Lane.

Personal Links

Nikki Loftin, Cyn & Nikki's Nighingale's Nest (Razorbill, 2014)

Cynsational Events

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Young Readers & Author Insights

Photo of Judy Blume by Carl Lender
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Of late, a law school classmate mentioned how learning about an author enriched his reading experience.

As an author, I have mixed feelings about this.

Part of me feels self-conscious, yearns for privacy and wants the work to speak for itself.

But maybe because I write for young readers, because I used to be one, a bigger part wants to provide that sense of connection and role modeling.

I'm familiar with the limits of literature curriculum (and wish they were dictated by teachers, not politicians).

Given the narrowness of what they're so often prescribed, I don't want teens to believe, as I once did, that all authors are long-dead white guys from Europe, England and New England.

Because you know what? I remember when I looked at Judy Blume's byline and realized that, like me, she was still alive and, like me, she was a girl.

Okay, a woman, but to get there, she had to have been a girl once upon a time.

And that realization changed "once upon a time" for me forever.

New Interviews With Cynthia Leitich Smith

From teenreads:

"After Blessed (Book 3 in the Tantalize series) was published, I received notes from a half dozen girls who recognized themselves in the Quincie-Brad relationship.

"They recognized the older guy, pushing them toward substance abuse and/or taking advantage of their vulnerabilities. The story made them think, and in some cases, extract themselves from an unhealthy situation.

"I didn't write the novel with that specific goal in mind. I followed character to plot to theme and didn't flinch when it led me to tough places, but I'm grateful for that real-world result."

Read more from teenreads.


"By happenstance, it was Halloween. Grandma and I stayed up talking until dawn. She hauled out old photo albums and told me things I’d never known before.

"She told me about living downtown with her sisters…the alcohol still in her father’s basement…her tall, handsome lost love…what it’s like to be painted nude…and life in Kansas City during the Second World War.

"We embraced the opportunity to get to know each other as women, for that night both of us young."

Read more from Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers.

Cynsational Notes

It's a new release week here at Cynsations!

Feral Curse is now available in hardcover and e-book and Feral Nights is now available in paperback from Candlewick Press in North America. Both books are likewise now available on audio from Brilliance. Future releases are pending from Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker Australia and New Zealand.

Learn more and enter the six-book giveaway at Feral Curse: Giant Steps Through the Ashes.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award.

Guest Post: Holly Schindler on The Power of Sticking With It

By Holly Schindler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I got my master’s degree in the spring of ’01. Basking in the glow of a few short publications (poetry, fiction, lit critique), and armed with the belief that a life as a novelist was mine for the taking, I decided to dive headfirst into my writing career.

This was made possible, of course, because of support from my family—Mom knew it had been a lifetime dream, and encouraged me to stay home, turn the spare bedroom into an office, and devote full-time attention to my writing.

I sincerely thought it’d take a year, maybe a year and a half to write a book—it’d sell—I’d have money in the bank. And I’d be off and running.

That year and a half went by. Then two passed. Because my pursuit of publication started the day after my grad school commencement ceremony, when a new graduation season rolled around, I’d watch another bunch of caps and gowns parade during the nightly news, and I’d think: “There’s one more year.” Three years went by. Four.

At the four-year mark, I had a serious down-in-the-dumps time. A time when I had to ask myself, “Am I really going to keep doing this?”

In all honesty, I hadn’t really made much progress. Hadn’t really even started to get “good” rejections, those in which the editor takes time to give you advice.

Jake helps with writing

Four years bugged me, I think, because my marker for how much time had passed was tied into school (graduation season), and because it had taken four years to get out of high school. Four years to get my undergrad degree. Now, I was four years into a pursuit of publication, and I felt like all I had to show for it was the hole in the office drywall I’d created after four years of slamming my skull against it.

 (And I wasn’t used to failure, frankly. I’d been a 4.0 student. I’ve always been Type-A to the Max—and a child of the ‘80s, as you can tell by that phrase. I’d worked hard, but I’d excelled at everything I’d tried to do, too.)

I was reminded point-blank that nothing was holding me at home—I could abandon the full-time writing pursuit and get a full-time job… But sometimes, when you see the door is open, you realize the last thing you want to do is walk through it.

I’d already been teaching music lessons for a while, part-time, in order to pay my bills. And I’d been surprised at just how familiar those kids were to the ones I’d known when I was in school.

So I put my bad feelings aside, got my butt in the seat, and I decided to get back to work, this time drafting work for those familiar young readers…Five years went by. Six. At this point, I had a stack of manuscripts that literally stretched from the floor to the ceiling.

Seven years. Seven and a half. Finally , I got an offer—for a YA titled A Blue So Dark (the book released with Flux in ’10).

Two hours after I accepted the offer, an agent called, offering representation for a middle grade novel I’d sent the previous fall. I accepted that offer, as well. That middle grade the agent offered to represent was The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky (my first middle grade novel, which released Feb. 6, 2014).

The Junction was actually the first book I wrote after that down-in-the-dumps time, right around the four-year mark. The first draft wasn’t a middle grade novel—it was a picture book. But the first editors I approached (pre-agent) told me it shouldn’t be a picture book at all (the concept of folk art was too advanced for readers of that age).

Reinventing a 1,000-word picture book as a 45,000-word MG novel wasn’t easy, but that’s what led me to my agent. Even once I had an agent, it still took a year and half of submissions, rejections, and revisions before she sold the book to Dial/Penguin.

That’s the thing about writing—every author has his or her own journey. And you never know when you’re going to hit on an idea or finish a manuscript that finally sells. It’s takes a lot of butt-in-the-chair time, and a lot of listening when spot-on advice does come your way.

Eventually, after putting in the work, you’ll have a book on the shelf with your name on the spine—right there next to the hole in the wall shaped like your skull.

Cynsational Notes

Look for Holly Schindler at facebook, Twitter, YA Outside the Lines, and Smack Dab in the Middle.

Don't miss Holly Schindler’s Middles, featuring reviews from young readers.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

New Voice: Heather Demetrios on Something Real

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Heather Demetrios is the first-time author of Something Real (Henry Holt, 2014)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

Seventeen-year-old Bonnie™ Baker has grown up on TV—she and her twelve siblings are the stars of one-time hit reality show "Baker’s Dozen". 

Since the show’s cancellation and the scandal surrounding it, Bonnie™ has tried to live a normal life, under the radar and out of the spotlight. But it’s about to fall apart…because "Baker’s Dozen" is going back on the air. 

Bonnie™’s mom and the show’s producers won’t let her quit and soon the life she has so carefully built for herself, with real friends (and maybe even a real boyfriend), is in danger of being destroyed by the show. 

Bonnie™ needs to do something drastic if her life is ever going to be her own—even if it means being more exposed than ever before.

What is it like, to be a debut author in 2014? What do you love about it? What are the challenges? What came as the biggest surprise? In each case, why?

It’s a pretty amazing time to be a YA author and I think it’s especially great to be debuting with a contemporary realism in 2014 because I keep hearing more and more that readers are looking for good stories about characters from the “real world.” For a while there, it seemed like all anyone wanted to read was fantasy/paranormal lit.

I also write fantasy and am thankful that YA embraces the genre so much, but it’s great to see excitement surrounding my contemporary novel. I love that there are so many amazing book bloggers out there who are passionate about books and joygasming over everything that’s coming out.

I didn’t realize just how vibrant the YA community was until I started focusing on my social networking more, especially Twitter. It’s really beautiful to see such enthusiasm about a category I love so much (YA) and have often felt forced to defend to people who think what I write isn’t as legitimate as, say, an adult novel.

I’ve made a lot of new friends through Twitter, even though the only reason I started using it was to get the word out about my debut novel. Now, I confess, I’m addicted!

I think the biggest challenge is the increasing pressure to “market” yourself as a writer. My publicist and the marketing team at Macmillan/Henry Holt are great, don’t get me wrong. This is just the new norm in publishing.

As a writer—and I would argue that specifically as a YA writer—we need to be out there in the YA community, creating a public profile and weighing in on everything from the hottest new YA trend to our publishing process to who our newest book boyfriend is (Levi from Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin's, 2013)).

In a way, this is pretty awesome. I think now more than ever, writers have the privilege of getting to interact with their readers one on one. It’s been amazingly gratifying to get messages on Goodreads or tweets from readers who have been touched by my work. It is just so incredibly cool and pretty much my favorite part of this whole process.

That being said, I spend a lot more time on social networking than I ever have before and it certainly can be difficult to go from trying to promote your book and being active in the YA scene to trying to write your next one. I constantly need to remind myself to keep my creative Zen.

I know writers everywhere are facing this challenge. My big thing is to not check my email. Because these days, it all feels important. Whether it’s one of my editors with a question about the cover or my agent or a blogger who’s a stop in my blog tour, it’s pretty rare that I don’t want to answer my email right now. But this blocks creative flow and takes you out of that mindset you need to be in, where you’re connected to your characters, immersed in your world, and playing with words.

I’ve been lucky, too, to have so many wonderfully supportive people in my life, from writer friends to classmates to mentors. These people keep me in check. One of my mentors, A.M. Jenkins, told me that my writing needs to feed me and that I need to protect my core, so to speak.

As writers, we have to be careful not to get so swept up in all the hoopla that we lose track of why we’re here in the first place: the work.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been my inability to enjoy all of this as much as I’d like to. The past few months leading up to my launch have been so busy, not just with my debut, but with the other four books I have under contract and the work I’m doing on my MFA (I’m getting an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts).

My husband is constantly telling me to soak all of this up, and he’s right—you only get to be a debut author once!

I was recently able to quit my day job and that’s an exhilarating and terrifying place to be. A dream come true, yes, but a dream that I want to live in for more than a year or two. So I’m constantly worrying about the next book, or if I’m doing enough to promote my debut, or if I’ve tweeted enough on a given day. But when I get to hold my real finished book in my hands, I’m definitely going to do a serious book shimmy.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

This is a really important issue in my debut novel because it’s about a girl who’s on a reality TV show with her family. So, first, you’ve got reality TV itself, which has only really been around for about twelve years. It’s a phenomenon that might be over by the end of the decade (or it might not, but who knows?). My whole premise might date the book or at least have it be a bit of a time capsule item, but I decided to go for it because I felt the story was worthy of the time and effort it takes to make a book.

In addition to that, Something Real has lots of interpolations, from Twitter feeds to gossip blogs. In this case, I just had to go with the technology that was pervasive during this time in my protagonist’s life.

When you’re a reality TV star, the media is on you like white on rice. I really wanted to show how she is in the middle of a media storm and the interpolations often reflect the different fronts of this war on her privacy.

They’re also, in my opinion, part of what makes the book unique and they give me an opportunity to widen the narrative circle a bit, since the rest of the book is in first person.

Because the book takes place in the present, I also have characters using cell phones and chatting online. This wasn’t too bad until I realized in my first-pass pages that the language I was using for a chat session my protagonist, Bonnie™, was already outdated—I used the abbreviation “IM” and suddenly thought: wait, if you’re on gchat, do you call it ‘instant messenger’? No, you don’t.

So my editor and I went back and forth, trying to figure out what language we could use that wouldn’t date the book too much. Saying my protagonist was on gchat was something we decided against, since who knows how long gchat will actually be around? We went with “message” as in, “Patrick messaged me.” It felt weird, but it was what worked out best.

I envy people who write historical fiction or other genres that don’t have to rely so much on reflecting a teen’s society as it is now (my current fantasy trilogy takes place in Los Angeles, but thankfully moves to the jinni realm, where my characters use magic and swords and ride gryphons).

Everything is changing so much that it is really easy to date your book, and I think you can only worry about that so much.

If there are places where you can cut down on technology, great. But you have to keep it real—teens are not writing notes in class now, they’re texting. So unless you can give us a real reason why they’re not texting the person sitting across the room (like, a cell phone ban in the school or a note that is more of an artistic statement than a conveyance of information), you have to go with what your character would really be doing.

I think in terms of authenticity, you have to tell your character’s story. If she’s living in the twenty-first century, technology is going to be a big part of her daily life. However, I don’t think it’s something a writer should rely too heavily on.

The pervasiveness of technology forces us to think of creative solutions (for example, if a character is lost and you don’t want them to be able to pull up their Google maps, then you’re going to have to create some unique and interesting circumstances or motivations, right?).

I do think it’s something writers need to be very aware of. If you don’t want your book to be too dated, keep pop culture references to a minimum and create scenarios in which technology doesn’t take center stage.

Ultimately, I know Something Real has a chance to last for a while because what’s going to draw the reader to the book is Bonnie™’s fight for privacy and sovereignty, not how she chats with boys online or texts her BFF.

Heather's office

Heather's office from another angle

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Feral Curse: Giant Steps Through the Ashes

Now available!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Are you struggling with a novel?

Is there a manuscript in a drawer that's still haunting you?

Consider my latest story-behind-the-story:

Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) is a novel that rose from the ashes in more ways than one.

In February 2000, I began writing a story inspired by my favorite Halloween decoration. A spooky carousel, complete with lights, motion and music. The story was sometimes called "The Arrivals" and sometimes called simply "Carousel."

By December 2003, I had a draft of a novel that transported its teen heroes from the real world to an alternative Austin, controlled by a haunted carousel. Within the fantasy construct, anyone who touched one of the detached carousel figures was transported from one dimension to the next.

It was submitted once to an editor, received a lovely rejection, and I shelved it.

I didn't shelve it because of the rejection but because the story was more an exercise in intellect than passion and because, having established myself as a realism author, I wanted to more drastically diversify my body of work. A bigger, bolder, scarier, even more fantastical story.

With rare exceptions, neither art nor commerce rewards baby steps. But sometimes you have to reposition yourself before moving forward again.

How did I do that?

Book 1 Tantalize series
Book 1 Feral trilogy
In January 2000, I jotted down notes on a YA novel tentatively titled "Brad, The Impaler."

The story morphed into Tantalize, which sold in 2005 and was released by Candlewick/Walker in 2007. I continued in that vein with Eternal (2009), Blessed (2011), Diabolical (2012) as well as two graphic novels, illustrated by Ming Doyle, Tantalize: Kieren's Story (2011) and Eternal: Zachary's Story (2013). The series is suspenseful Gothic fantasy with mystery and romantic elements as well as some humor.

Then I spun off  the Feral trilogy, which began with Feral Nights (2013) and continues with Feral Curse (2014). The new books are set in the same world but pivot from Gothic to fantasy-adventure. Each can stand alone, but faithful readers are amply rewarded.

At the center of Feral Curse is a haunted carousel.

Sound familiar?

Here's the bigger question: Should I have given up on "The Arrivals"?

As a writing teacher, I've seen students take the ten-plus years they genuinely needed to make a manuscript work, and I've seen students spin endlessly on stories because they're clinging to the security of a draft and they fear that, if they give it up, the time spent will have been wasted.

Did I give up on "The Arrivals"?

Yes and no. I gave up words--30,305 of them (the fashion in YA was shorter back then). I gave up characters I'd built, three of whom were precious to me, and favorite scenes set in the Texas Governor's Mansion, the Austin History Center and at a fictional 24-hour deli inspired by Katz's, which, alas, is no longer on 6th Street.

I gave up a fully imagined and executed draft--a marketable draft.

But I grabbed onto the element that captivated me in the first place: the spooky carousel.

One way I've kept the Tantalize-Feral books fresh is to change settings. Readers have gone from a cosplay restaurant in South Austin to a modern-day castle in North Chicago to a (Texas-to-Michigan) road-trip to a Vermont boarding school to a South Pacific Island and, now in Feral Curse, to fictional Pine Ridge, Texas.

Why there? I began writing Feral Curse in the wake of the Bastrop County Complex Fire of September-October 2011. It was "the most destructive wildfire in Texas history." It was horrible. Two people died, and 1,673 homes were destroyed.

I didn't want to write about that real-life experience. For me, it's far too soon. Instead, I wanted to write a fantastical story for YA readers, an escape and a salute to those who'd been touched by that kind of life-changing devastation. I also wanted to diversify out my cast to include a small-town hero.

Bastrop State Park; photo by Greg Leitich Smith

I'm a sense-of-place writer. To the extent possible, I try to fully experience my characters' world.

Strolling the Bastrop River Walk, my mind's eye could see it: the haunted carousel...along the banks of the Colorado River in the shadow of the historic downtown.

Bastrop became my loose inspiration for fictional Pine Ridge, and a new novel took shape.

Downtown Bastrop; photo by Billy Hathorn.
So, about your story? The shelved manuscript that's haunting you?

Ask yourself: Where is the magic? What element first captivated me?

Pick it up again, let everything else fall away, and give yourself permission to re-imagine.

I'm rooting for you!

Colorado River at Bastrop; photo by Billy Hathorn.

Cynsational Notes

Find Cyn on facebook & twitter.
Feral Curse is now available in hardcover and e-book and Feral Nights is now available in paperback from Candlewick Press in North America. Both books are likewise now available on audio from Brilliance. Future releases are pending from Walker Books in the U.K. and Walker Australia and New Zealand.

To learn more, check out this interview about the Feral series at teenreads. Peek: "My characters are confronted with hate groups, a sometimes unfair judicial system, employment discrimination, pressure to keep their identities secret and so on. But it's not a dystopian world, in the same way that, for all our problems, ours isn't either." Read more. See also an excerpt of Feral Curse.

See also this interview from WIFYR: "My current writing focus is Feral Pride (Book 3). It’s off to my editor and sure to generate a hearty revision letter. I so need her help. I’ve struggled with it more than my past few novels, I think because it’s the last in the Tantalize-Feral universe, which spans six previous prose novels, two graphic novels and three short stories. ...with the last installment comes hefty expectations." Read more.

Kirkus Reviews says of Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014): "Campy humor is paired with themes of social justice in this fast-paced, clever second volume in the Feral series....A neat, smart middle novel that clearly sets the stage for an epic showdown between those who champion the rights of shifters and those blind to their humanity."

The Horn Book praises the "light tone," "witty banter," and chimes in: " kooky a cast of supernatural characters as ever...but they’re all relatable in various ways and easy to root for. Debut character Kayla—level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature—holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness."

Over at readergirlz, Lori Ann Grover cheers, "Kayla is a strong female protagonist, perfect for readergirlz, while many will swoon for Yoshi. The pacing is fast, the mystery layered, and the adventure full."

Check out my favorite quote from Feral Curse at YA Series Insiders.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Guest Post: Alison L. Randall on Resolve to Conference

By Alison L. Randall
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

So you’ve made some New Year’s resolutions for your writing.

You want to add sparkle to your voice or make your characters more real.

You’ve vowed to network more with other writers and you’d love to learn what’s really going on in the publishing market.

As for an agent, you’re still trying to decide. It would be nice to find out more about the agent/client relationship.

If these, or others like them, are your goals, you may have already decided that a writing conference would be the best place to accomplish them. The problem is, there are so many conferences out there, which one—or two or three—do you choose?

Visit Alison Randall
Here are a few things to consider.

Does the conference have a track record? 

Is it hosted by a reputable organization or by authors whose published works are of high quality?

What will be the cost for you to attend? 

You’re a writer, so money is a concern, but time away from your writing is costly, too. Make sure you’ll be getting the best possible experience for the expense. Ask writers you trust which conferences they’ve attended and which ones they would recommend.

What are your priorities in a conference? 

If what you want most is to hear from well-known authors and editors, then a large, big-name conference would be the place to find them. You’ll hear keynote speeches and attend break-out sessions with some of publishing’s brightest stars. And since you’ll be one of thousands in attendance, the networking possibilities will literally surround you.

If your goal is to improve your writing, a hands-on, workshop type of conference would be the best fit. Those conferences are typically smaller and longer—usually a week. They might cost more in money than a weekend conference, but the cost in lost writing time will be less because you’ll actually be writing. You’ll also have the chance to make some great writer friends.

It is possible to find a workshop-type conference that also offers access to editors, agents, and nationally published authors. I found one several years ago in Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers (WIFYR, for short).

I workshopped my picture book manuscript with the amazing Candace Fleming and met the editor from Peachtree who picked it up and published it as The Wheat Doll.

(I’ve since joined the staff at WIFYR and we’re ecstatic to have Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith join us this year as faculty.)

Here’s hoping you reach your writing goals in 2014. Chances are a conference can help you do it. If, however, you’re not yet sure if a conference is worth the cost, check out this blog post by debut author Amy Finnegan. She credits conferences with getting her published.

I’d love to hear your conference experiences. Which do you recommend?

WIFYR classroom

WIFYR discussion circle

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