Friday, May 02, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Watch the Dorothy Must Die book trailer!
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What's Old Is New: Recent YA Books with Allusions to Classic Lit by Emily Moore from School Library Journal. Peek: "Dorothy gets her comeuppance. Young book addicts share their love for Harper Lee’s classic. And Robert Louis Stevensons’s thrilling novel is reimagined as a gothic romance."

Writing So Children Can Temporarily Escape Harsh Realities by Alidis Vicente from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I’m sure to the dismay of many, when people ask why I write for Latino kids, my answer is simple. I don’t."

Interview: Tamara Ellis Smith on the Road to Publication by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: " helps me tremendously to take a big step back from the writing after a good few solid drafts and not write, but talk…a lot…about the story."

It's Complicated. (Wrong Answer.) by David Corbett from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Throwing words at a bad idea does not improve the quality of the idea, no matter how lovely the words."

In the Past or Present by Tabitha Olson from Writer Musings. Peek: "To have a completely effective story told in present tense, the characters must be in the moment, not the author. That means that there should be no reflection or analyzing of what is currently happening. They need to figure things out as they go."

Choosing a Point of View Character by Janice Hardy from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "If you're faced with a story idea and you aren't sure what the best point of view to tell it from, try asking a few questions. These questions can also help if you have a novel that isn't quite working and you're not sure why."

How Author G. Neri and Librarian Kimberly DeFusco Changed a Life by G. Neri, Kimberly DeFusco, and Raequon P. from School Library Journal. Peek: "He had made a conscious decision to not be 'smart' in middle school so he wouldn’t be bullied. He put on this tough-guy, joker persona and started goofing off in school. He did not want anyone to know he was a poet."

National Book Award finalist Franny Billingsley is starting a new semester of private novel study and has room for new students. Peek: "Work on your middle grade/YA novel in an intellectually rigorous semester based on the low-residency MFA program model." For more information, contact:

Too Good for Grownups: On the Art of Writing for Children by Anne Ursu from The Loft Literary Center. Peek: "...mostly, I write for kids because nobody loves a book like a kid loves a book. They need them, and you can tell that by the way they take them into their whole being, absorb them like the blob."

In Praise of Revision from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Let me note, though, that I’m talking about revising, not polishing... That’s when you lovingly caress what’s already there, trimming, refining."


Support The Great Greene Heist Challenge and The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign.

See also:

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win Audio & Print Books from the Feral series by Cynthia Leitich Smith!

The winner of a signed copy of The Summer I Saved the World...In 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb, 2014) was Samantha in Washington.

More Personally

Two characters sent me these cat cookies in celebration of my completing the Feral trilogy!

Great news! My latest novel, Feral Curse, is now available from Walker Australia and New Zealand. (It was released earlier this year in North America from Candlewick Press.)

To celebrate, I'm featuring an interview with the series audio actors and an audio + print book giveaway! Peek from actor Todd Haberkorn: "Sometimes, I have to do the narrator voice, two different females, three different males, and they all have accents all on one page!"

On the writing front, I turned in copy edits for my upcoming short story, "Cupid's Beaux," which will appear in Things I'll Never Say: Short Stories About Our Secret Selves, edited by Ann Angel (Candlewick, 2015). Note: "Cupid's Beaux" is a Tantalize-Feral universe story, set in Austin and told from the point of view of the guardian angel Joshua. Note: Quincie fans should love it, too!

First Book Marketplace is now featuring three of my Native American titles: Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperChildren's, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperChildren's, 2002).

Click title links to purchase. Peek: "The First Book Marketplace is an online resource available exclusively to Title I schools and community-based programs serving children in need."

Like many publishing folks, I'm thinking a lot this week about diversity in the industry and within the body of literature. Thank you to everyone who's supporting diverse books and voices! Please remember to include books by Native authors in your collections and conversations. For recent titles, see Resources and Kid Lit About American Indians by Debbie Reese from School Library Journal.

Reminder: Don't miss my post this week on The Perks & Perils of Author Panels. Be sure to check out the comments!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Middle Grade Mayhem! Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

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 (deadline Monday!). See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Audio Actors Interview & Giveaway: Todd Haberkorn, Amy McFadden, Cristina Panfilio & Nick Podehl of the Feral Series

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thank you for narrating the audio editions of the Feral series (Brilliance)(print and e-editions from Candlewick/Walker)! 

Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to doing voice work for audio books?

Todd Haberkorn: I'm glad I made the cut and was able to work on this series!

Well, I started on stage at the age of 10 and worked professionally in that medium as well as in school for years. I transitioned into films and voice over during college where I majored in theatre. After working primarily in voice over in Texas for a handful of years, I transitioned to LA where I continue to do voice over as well as on camera work.

When I'm not behind the mic or on camera, I produce my own content for online audiences. Over the years, I've had the immense honor of working with some fantastic artists in a variety of entertainment settings that not only gave me wonderful friendships, but also taught me a great deal about my own craft.

I've always been of a mindset that diversifying in one's profession is one of the keys to longevity in their industry. So, I put an audio book demo together and sought out various contacts I knew in the business and luckily, they didn't cringe when they heard my demo and threw me in their studios!

Amy McFadden: I was a full-time teacher and part-time actress for a bunch of years, so I've always been a storyteller. I love hearing, reading and telling stories. There's some basic emotional and psychological need that gets met when we're involved in any narrative. I'm an addict.

When I decided to "retire" from teaching to act full-time, I decided that narration was the area I most wanted to work.

Some veteran narrators I knew from other acting jobs put in a good word for me at Brilliance, I auditioned, and (yay!) they hired me to narrate.

Cristina Panfilio: I got really lucky... I had been looking for work that allows me to still be an artist when I'm not acting and I happen to have a friend who has been a narrator for years and years. He got me hooked-up with Brilliance a few years ago, and I absolutely love it.

Nick Podehl: I graduated from Grand Valley State University with a Communications Major and Theatre Minor. I have been in stage productions since high school, but my love of acting out stories goes all the way back to epic LEGO tales with my brother as little kids.

My mom and grandparents are avid audio book listeners (since the time of tapes!) and they encouraged me to try. So I put together a demo and sent it in, and it's been almost six years of amazing characters and awesome stories.

What do you love about it?

Todd Haberkorn: I love being able to add to the recipe of the literary journey crafted by the author. Obviously, their words are paramount, but I get a little, tiny bit of the landscape where I can come in and bring a different life to the text. I enjoy all the different worlds I get to explore with the novels I've worked on.

Amy McFadden: I love that I get to tell people stories who may not have time to read them. I hope that people can enjoy, escape, engage-whatever they want from a book.

Cristina Panfilio: I love that I still get to be an actor when I'm in the booth, but in a way that is extraordinarily different from being on the stage. I love the challenges and rewards of putting together a story in that way.

Nick Podehl: Aside from the fact that I get to read books for a living?

I love being able to tell a great story. Being able to give life and voice to so many different characters. I see pieces of myself in so many of the characters I get to portray. I just think that is so cool.

What are the challenges?

Todd Haberkorn: The concentration required to sustain such a long recording day. Most days, you try to get through 125 pages, which is a lot of content. Add to that that I stand when I narrate, plus, you've got so many voices in your head that you have to keep track of even on one page!

Sometimes, I have to do the narrator voice, two different females, three different males, and they all have accents all on one page! So it's tough to keep it all fluid and natural so what I'm doing goes with what the author has written.

Amy McFadden: I can't imagine writing a book-creating characters and interactions, threading theme and philosophy throughout--and then handing it to a stranger to interpret before it goes to an audience. I always research the authors first to try to "know" about them and think how they would read it. I always hope to capture how the author "hears" it.

Cristina Panfilio: The turnover can be pretty fast, so sometimes the prep requires long days of reading. And when I'm working on more than one book at a time, it can be a little overwhelming.

Also, when I'm working on a book that is part of a series that has already been recorded, I often have to try to match an existing interpretation of the characters; if I already have something in my head, it can be a big challenge to make that adjustment.

Nick Podehl: When I spend eight hours a day, five days a week reading, often the last thing I want to do when I get home is read more. So my personal reading has definitely suffered. Which is rough because there are so many great books out there that I really want to read!

Are there any special considerations in narrating for the YA audience?

Todd Haberkorn: I take every story as its own unique challenge, but I try to bring the same level of effort and imagination to the mic when I do it. Hopefully I'm successful in that. But each book, whether its a YA book or a romance novel for adults will dictate how I approach it - I just try to bring the same tool box.

Amy McFadden: Well...I always try really hard not to let any characters sound like they're "sending an important message" to young adults. Teenagers are smart and savvy--they don't need lectures. They need to get lost in stories, to watch characters struggle, succeed, or fail--and to make their own judgements. Plus, it's such an insane time of life that sometimes YAs just need to be entertained.

I think that Feral Nights does all of that-and it's funny in a sort of dry, very real way. Which sounds crazy given that one of the main characters is a wereopossom. Also, when we were discussing the characters and story, Nick (Podehl) and I kept referring to the Dillos as were-madillos. Which made us laugh. I think this was the book where Nick brought a light saber into the studio, too.

Apparently, Cynthia and her humor awakened our "inner children," which didn't get much of a break during this book. Fun!

Cristina Panfilio: Whenever I do theater for young audiences, I'm reminded how honest they are. If I'm lying, they'll catch me...and they won't try to hide it.

I think it's the same for audiobooks. I try to be honest in my work always, but I think that younger audiences, perhaps, hold us the most accountable.

Nick Podehl: In my experience, YA books tend to have really fun characters. The challenge is finding a balance between making the character voices fun and interesting, but avoiding being too ridiculous.

YA fans love their books, and I want to make sure that I am doing their characters justice.

How did you connect with your character in the Feral series?

Todd Haberkorn: With this series, it appealed to me because I love the supernatural world to begin with. So what's great about this series is that it takes a story we're familiar with - or at least a genre we're familiar with - in terms of an adventure and romance ride and takes it for a twist with the supernatural element.

So you get a bit of the familiar to make an audience comfortable and add some special spices of uniqueness to bring a different experience to the table. And anytime I get to be a hero with special gifts - c'mon...that's a thrill.

In a werecats series, a Possum gets his due.
Amy McFadden: Oh, I pretty much adored Aimee from her first chapter. She's slightly awkward (being a non-shifter and non-super-girlie-girl) but always all-in when it comes to Clyde. It's tricky to find girls written like she is--she's confused at many points throughout the book, but never turns into a gloppy mush brain about boys or when things get dangerous.

Thank you to Cynthia for writing her that way!

Cristina Panfilio: Werecat or not...I think Kayla is a good kid who's trying to find her way in a really complicated world; love and school and friends, of course, but also really big stuff, like intolerance and faith and trust. I think that's easy for anyone to relate to.

Nick Podehl: Feral Nights was such a unique take in a very prolific genre. I mean, how often do you find a wheelchair-bound werepossum!? That is awesome!

I loved the bravery and growth that Clyde showed throughout this story. He goes from dorky and seemingly weak to strong and more sure of himself without losing who he is inside.

I was kind of a late bloomer in life, not really sure of who I was until I got older and learned a few of life’s lessons. I also really appreciate his sarcasm and wit. Clyde made me laugh… a lot!

Todd, you're from Arlington and received your B.F.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Did you recognize any of the Texas settings or cultural references in the books?

Todd Haberkorn: Totally! I spent a lot of years in Texas, and anytime I get to call upon that knowledge for a project - it's groovy time.

I go back to Texas monthly to work with a few voice over and on camera clients I have, and this series just adds to the Texas goodness I get to experience all the time!

For all, how is it different, doing audio books versus other voice/acting work?

Todd Haberkorn: Audio books definitely take the most amount of focus and concentration. That's not to say working on a video game or cartoon doesn't take focus - but those sessions are typically much shorter and we don't have to switch between five plus voices on the fly.

The focus is more bite-sized in those sessions. With audio books, you have to maintain the journey for hundreds of pages and make sure all the pieces fit!

Amy McFadden: The voice work I've done has all been for commercials, so the intent is to sell something. You have to be persuasive, but still sound like a real, sincere human being. It's fun, too, but I think it's really hard.

Narrating has definite challenges, but the goal is to engage a reader (listener) in a story, not to convince them to do or buy something.

Cristina Panfilio: In theater, the work is so immediate and fleeting. Each performance of the same play is different. We often have four weeks to run a show and learn from our audiences, and once a show's gone.

With audiobooks, we have a bunch of chances in a short period of time to get it "right". And once we're all done with our work, we have this tangible thing to show for it. It's permanent.

Nick Podehl: In most cases, with film or stage acting, I usually only got to play one character. With audio books, I get to play up to 200 different characters depending on the book. That is a lot to keep track of but it is so much fun!

Also, unlike stage acting, if I make a mistake while reading… oops!

Back up. Let’s take that again.

Hooray for editing! Audio book engineers are awesome.

What other "new releases" or upcoming performances should your fans know about?

Todd Haberkorn: Well, book wise, I've very excited about the recent release of the classic, Heroes, Gods, and Monsters of the Greek Myths from Graymalkin Media that I got to work on.

What a fantastic story about the myths we all think we know by heart...but this book refreshes your memory and makes history super fun.

Also, I have an upcoming live in concert DVD ("Live in Atlanta" where I play with the band, Eyeshine) as well as a studio album ("Can You Hear Me Now?" My first studio album) coming out! So if folks are into a bit of rock and know me from my voice over work - I hope they'll like what's coming!

Narrated by Cristina
Narrated by Nick
Amy McFadden: There are lots of books popping out! I said, I'm addicted to stories, but two that are jumping up and down in my brain right now are The Immortal Circus (series) by A.R. Kahler, and a pretty cool translation from Finland called As Red As Blood by Salla Simukka. Caveat: They're not for super young readers.

Cristina Panfilio: I recently recorded This Star Won't Go Out, which is a collection of journal entries and other writings from this really amazing girl, Esther Earl, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.

It's a beautiful, quirky story with a lot of joy and love and humor.

Nick Podehl: Some titles to watch for coming soon Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach and The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel. Great YA books!

What do you do when you're not acting?

Todd Haberkorn: Work on the next project or make the next project...primarily raised by the immigrant side of my family, I got my mom's strong work ethic to live up to. So, I've gotta try to reach her level! But I also stay busy cause I feel so grateful for what I've been lucky enough to achieve and have big goals that I want to see come to life!

Narrated by Nick
Amy McFadden: Well, I work lots of crazy hours so...ummm...sleep. And read. And, you know, there are little forays into cleaning and laundry and bill-paying, and exercising...but really I just love to sleep and read.

Cristina Panfilio: Outside of work, I savor my home in Chicago with my very wonderful husband. We both travel a lot for work, so being at home can be kind of a treat. I spend a lot of time enjoying great food and music, running, visiting family and friends, and being outside.

Nick Podehl: I spend time hanging out with friends from church, playing tug with my crazy puppy Kana, or watching the crazy puppy chase Dreams the cat. But most often I am cooking with, watching movies with, and overall enjoying life with my beautiful wife Erin.

Cynsational Notes

Feral Curse is available as of today from Walker Australia and New Zealand! Note: the series is also published by Candlewick Press in North America and Walker Books in the U.K.

Todd Haberkorn works professionally in Los Angeles as an actor, director, producer, and writer. In the voice-over world, you can catch Todd’s voice in triple A video games such as World of Warcraft, Super Street Fighter IV, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and more. As well as animated properties such as Ever After High, Sgt. Frog, Fairy Tail, Soul Eater, and many others. As far as on camera is concerned, when he isn’t working on films, industrials, and television projects for other companies, Todd does work with his company Out of the Office Productions. This is one aspect of a long history of on camera work in narrative film, commercials, and shorts. When he isn't fighting digital monsters in video games or trying to save the day on film, Todd travels the U.S. and internationally, making appearances at pop-culture conventions as a guest to meet fans and sign autographs. He is represented by The Horne Agency, William Morris Endeavor, and Idiom Modeling.

Amy McFadden has narrated close to 100 titles in many different genres. She is an Earphones award winner, and a finalist for a 2014 Audie Award in Literary Fiction. She has been acting all over Michigan on stage for the last 20 years and in commercials and film for the last 10. Amy is a founding member of Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan; where she currently lives, acts and laughs a lot.

Narrated by Cristina
Cristina Panfilio has narrated numerous titles with Brilliance Audio in young adult fiction, comedy, romance and suspense, and received an Amazing Audiobook nomination for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina. As an actor, she makes her home in Chicago and works regionally with theaters such as Chicago Shakespeare, The Goodman, Northlight, American Players, Milwaukee Rep, Indiana Rep, and more.

Nick Podehl has been named a “Best Voice” by AudioFile magazine in 2010 and 2011. He has narrated many young adult, fantasy, and romance titles, several of which have won awards, and has appeared in a number of theatrical productions and independent films. Nick lives in Michigan with his cat Dreams, dog Kana, and beautiful wife Erin.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two paperback copies of Feral Nights, one of two hardcover copies of Feral Curse,  one CD and one mp3 CD of each title. Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored.

Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Feral Nights, a signed hardcover copy of Feral Curse or a set of 25 signed Feral Nights bookmarks (for YA librarians). Eligibility: International. Author sponsored.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

New Voice: Rebecca Behrens on When Audrey Met Alice

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Rebecca Behrens is the first-time author of When Audrey Met Alice (Sourcebooks, 2014). From the promotional copy:

When frustrated First Daughter Audrey Rhodes discovers Alice Roosevelt’s secret diary hidden beneath the White House floorboards, she’s inspired to ask herself, “What would Alice do?” Audrey’s Alice-like antics are a lot of fun—but will they bring her happiness, or a host of new problems?

It is ridiculously difficult to get a pizza delivered to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

First Daughter Audrey Rhodes can’t wait for the party she has planned. The decorations are all set, and the pizza is on its way. But the Secret Service must be out to ruin her life, because they cancel at the last minute for a “security breach,” squashing Audrey’s chances for making any new friends. 

What good is having your own bowling alley if you don’t have anyone to play with?

Audrey is ready to give up and spend the next four years totally friendless—until she discovers Alice Roosevelt’s hidden diary. The former first daughter’s outrageous antics give Audrey a ton of ideas for having fun . . . and get her into more trouble than she can handle.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I’ve also found a great deal of emotional and professional support from two debut-author groups I’m a part of: OneFour Kid Lit and the Class of 2K14. The OneFours are an inclusive group of kid-lit writers debuting in 2014. Within the group, the middle-grade authors have banded together to do some group blogging (our Mad for MG feature is on the OneFour blog the first Monday of each month). I’ve loved the opportunity to read some members’ ARCs a little early—there are so many amazing debut books being published next year!

The Class of 2K14 is a group of twenty middle-grade and young-adult authors who’ve formed a marketing collective, specifically to reach out to booksellers, teachers, and librarians.

We have a few panels and events in the works and have worked hard to pool our resources for a few splashy ads and promotional videos. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to get to know the talented authors in the group, and I think we all benefit from the collective experience and expertise of the group as we speed through the debut year. I’m continually impressed and grateful for the generosity of those in the writing community.

I also am very fortunate to be a part of a group of middle-grade and young-adult writers in New York City, unofficially known as “Write Night.” We meet at least one evening a week—sometimes more frequently—at a café. First, we eat and talk shop: sharing a shiny new idea, discussing how our revisions are going, updating what’s happening in the querying process, debating where a launch party should be held. As soon as plates are cleared (and coffee mugs are filled), laptops come out and we all sit at a big table and write. Sometimes for hours; we’ve been known to close down the café.

The best part of Write Night, of course, is the camaraderie. As a group, we don’t formally critique one another’s work, although critique and beta partnerships have developed within it. (And it’s great to have other writers at a table with you when you need a little help with a sentence or a scene.)

Instead, it’s an encouraging group of like-minded, dedicated people. Every writer has ups and downs at every stage of the process, and we celebrate and support each other as needed.

I do work full-time, and I have to admit that there are days when I hop the subway to go from my office to wherever Write Night is meeting, and I don’t feel particularly enthused about working for a few hours. But once I sit down with the group that always changes.

There is something so special, motivating and powerful, about looking up from your screen to see a half dozen other writers hard at work. The focus and creativity are contagious!

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of leaving a successful Write Night: a brigade of happy, hardworking writer-friends walking in the shadow of the main branch of the New York Public Library toward the subway and home.

The group existed long before I joined, and I am so thankful to have been welcomed into it.

As a historical fiction writer, how did you capture the voices of the era? What resources did you turn to? Did you run into challenges translating the language of the era for today's young readers? What advice do you have for other authors along these lines?

My book blends contemporary and historical fiction, with about one third of the novel being composed of fictional diary entries written by a teenage Alice Roosevelt.

So I was concerned not only with capturing the voices of her era (the East Coast and particularly Washington, D.C., in the early twentieth century) but with capturing the voice of a real historical figure.

I knew when I started writing, though, that I wanted to create Alice as a fictional character. That’s partly because I’m not a historian (as much as I love history and a good research project), and partly because sometimes good fiction and factual accuracy are at odds with each other.

For this book, I knew I would want to side with storytelling.

Before I wrote any of Alice’s fictional diary, I read extensively about her life. However, I stayed away from a few things: I didn’t read the autobiography she published, and I tried not to read too much about her later life (until I’d completed a first draft). I didn’t want knowledge about what happened to Alice as an older person to color her feelings as a teenager, at least as I imagined them. I also didn’t want her first-person writing in my head as I created “my” Alice’s voice.

Word choice is tricky when writing historical fiction, particularly when writing in a first-person point of view. I spent a lot of time looking up words and terms in dictionaries (I am a huge fan of the Online Etymology Dictionary.) That gave me a good idea of what language Alice might’ve used and which terms came into usage after her time.

An example is the word fussbudget: in early drafts, Alice repeatedly complained about her stepmother having “fussbudget” ideas. But that term didn’t come into use until 1904—after the fictional diary entries, which span 1901-1903. Fussbox came into use in 1901, so I substituted that.

I’m sure there are inconsistencies throughout the novel, in terms of historical details or language. Some of them are intentional—while I wanted to make Alice’s diary entries as believable and accurate as possible, I also wanted this book to be accessible to middle-grade readers—and fun!

Rebecca on the White House grounds
I didn’t want language to get in the way of the storytelling or the characters, so I took some liberties along the way.

Throughout the diary entries, I did incorporate quotes and anecdotes from the real Alice.

Coming from an academic background, I struggled with how to attribute the research I did to find that information. Including foot- or end notes would be distracting to a reader, and complicated by how I blended fiction and fact throughout. My editor suggested that I create an annotated diary, in which I point out what’s “real” and provide information about my sources. That document, Alice For Real, is available on my publisher’s website.

I think there is a fine line, when writing historical fiction, between writing a credible and accurate period story and writing something too bogged down in the facts and details. I hope I did a good job of balancing those two elements!

My goal was to make Alice a fascinating enough character that readers might be inspired to learn more about the real Alice, her family, and her time period—or about history in general.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Perks & Perils of Author Panels

With Jonathan Mayberry, Adam Gidwitz, Marie Lu, Jennifer Ziegler & Fred Perry
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

At conference and festival panels around the globe, children’s-YA authors share our thoughts about the writing process, the writer’s life, the creative journey, book marketing and connecting with our readers.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into favorite voices, discover new ones, find inspiration and educate ourselves about craft and the business of publishing.

For authors, it’s also a chance to raise awareness of our work, get to know one another and speak out on topics of interest.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in every role—spectator, panelist, moderator, and event planner.

Wearing each respective hat, I’ve sparkled, fallen flat, come to the rescue and said the worst possible thing. I’ve also witnessed beloved friends and respected colleagues doing much of the same.

Today, my goal is to share a few observations and suggestions, understanding that each panel—depending on its venue, audience, goals and personalities—offers its own set of demands, limitations and possibilities.

Introduce the authors.

Moderators: We would all love to assume our formidable reputations precede us. But introductions—of approximately the same length and tone per participant—set the stage and prime the audience. (For many authors, introducing and/or selling ourselves is awkward.)

Again, it’s not the credentials that matter so much as the way they're presented.

Let’s say we’re featuring three authors, each at a different career stage. Enthusiasm and word choice can even the playing field and facilitate a more engaging conversation. Say, for example, “I’m honored to present a living legend, a thrilling new voice, and a quickly rising star.” Frame the supporting details along those same lines, and don't forget to introduce yourself.

Announce the time and location of any tie-in signings in conjunction with the introductions and remind the audience of them at the end when you thank everyone and dismiss the session.

Authors: Just in case, be ready for the moderator to ask you to introduce yourself. Keep it short—under five sentences, and if possible, funny. Practice before you go on. No need to do a mini-presentation on your work. Leave yourself something to talk about on the panel.

Both: Mention the publisher(s) of all relevant recent book(s), no matter whether the house(s) provided author/event sponsorship or not.

Smaller panels are usually better.

With Tim Tingle and Chris Barton
Planners: You’re assembling your dream team or trying to sub-categorize a long slate or swept away by the idea of more, more, more!

But unduly large panels risk at least one participant being shortchanged.

Or there isn’t enough time to offer more than an overview of new releases and quick-hit opinions on unifying themes.

Or the program becomes stilted by the effort to keep an even pace and, therefore, skips intriguing follow-up questions or author-generated questions.

Or by the time the seventh author has answered a given question, there’s not much left to say.

A grouping of three-to-four author panelists is ideal.

Moderators: If you are trapped into a large panel, vary the order of authors to whom you address each question so nobody is consistently answering, say, first or last.

Tailor questions and answers to the crowd.

Who's listening? Fellow writers, book creators (don't forget SCBWI illustrators), publishing pros, teachers, librarians, kids, teens, the general public?

It can be helpful for moderators to generate a list of likely topics in advance and then for author-panelists to brainstorm what might be of greatest interest to the specific audience.

That said, don't overdo on preparation. Enjoy the moment. Keep it mostly spontaneous. You don't want to be mentally cycling on a specific script.

Skip the reading. Or keep it under one minute.

Audiences—especially young ones—tune out during readings.

Most authors don’t have acting experience. Odds are low that three or more author-readers, especially unrehearsed, will be able to captivate the audience for an extended period of time.

I understand the temptation to offer a quick taste of the authors’ writing and in their own voice, too. But whenever author-readers are invited, in turn, to read a page or two, invariably, one participant will go on too long.

A better option: The moderator can be the one sharing, say, a paragraph of no more than 125 carefully chosen words (or fewer) per book. This may be presented in conjunction with introductions. As part of the preparation, perhaps ask each author to suggest his or her preferred 125 words (or fewer) and go from there.

Disperse the court.

Author Greg Leitich Smith chats with fellow panelists.
A panel is a shared venue, not one in which it's appropriate to hold court.

If one author is dominating the conversation or otherwise minimizing other participants, the moderator should step in and redirect.

Keep in mind that there’s a surreal quality to public speaking. It’s entirely possible that the self-appointed regent doesn’t even realize what he or she is doing.

Employ phrases like: “That’s wonderful, Cynthia. I love your enthusiasm for the—cough—nine books in your fantasy world. And now, let’s all hear from that adorable debut novelist who looks so terrified that she might swallow her tongue.”

Except, you know, without publicly calling out the sweet debut on her terror. Or the long-standing pro for running on. (Unless it's me. You can throw a dead fish at me. Really, I can take it.)

If the moderator doesn’t intervene, the alpha role traditionally falls to the most well-established (or local/host) author on the panel.

Herd the audience.

Moderators: You may be hosting a big-name or hometown author or one whose fan club is crowded into the first three rows. That’s nifty.

Announce up front that any questions from the audience must be addressed to all of the participants.

Mention that specific questions for individual authors should be asked of them at their tie-in signings. Likewise, statements (rather than questions) should be reserved for this one-on-one opportunity.

End segregation.

Conversations around culture, gender, orientation and underrepresented communities are vital.

However, let’s not default to only one panel on the program where, say, all the people of color and/or Native voices are given the opportunity to speak and exclusively about how their books relate to that part of themselves.

Or put another way, let’s not exclude Shana Burg from conversations about writing African and African-American characters or Cindy Pon from conversations about writing speculative fiction.

Authors, if you do find yourself on segregated panels... Or planners/moderators, if because of circumstances beyond your control, that composition is honestly the best you can do.... Acknowledge the limitation, admit it's problematic, and point your audience to additional books, authors and/or resources for more varied perspectives.

As a preventive measure, authors may want to ask who else is participating and perhaps make a point of thoughtfully suggesting colleagues.

Lift up.

I have publicly made the wrong call, unintentionally offended, and changed my mind after speaking. On the flip side, I’ve felt diminished and frustrated. We've all been there.

What to do? Laugh at yourself, lift up one another, and forgive without second thought. Or at least without third thought. Remember, our job is bigger than us, bigger than our own creative work.

We are ambassadors of youth literature.

Whatever our individual quirks, passions, predispositions and pitfalls, we’re all on the same team.

Go Team Us!

Cynsational Notes
At the Illumine banquet

Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of the Feral series, which includes Feral Nights and Feral Curse, as well as the Tantalize series, which includes Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Diabolical.

Two graphic novels, Tantalize: Kieren's Story and Eternal: Zachary's Story, both illustrated by Ming Doyle, complete the Tantalize series.

These adventure-fantasies are originally published by Candlewick Press in the U.S., Walker Books in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand, and additional publishers around the globe. Her series are often noted for their diverse protagonists, humor, suspense and compelling action.

Cynthia is also the author of several children's books, including Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu; Rain Is Not My Indian Name and Indian Shoes, illustrated by Jim Madsen; all originally published by HarperCollins.

Cynthia was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers in recognition of Rain is Not My Indian Name.

Cynthia has been twice featured at the National Book Festival. Most recently, she was named the first Spirit of Texas Young Adult author by the Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association and the first young adult author to be honored with the Illumine Award by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation.

In 2013, the Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators instituted the Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentor Award in her honor.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Trailer: Hope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera (Abrams, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes.

Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson's poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

With an unforgettable voice with a lot of heart, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel is the story of a young girl who learns to accept her family and herself while trying to make sense of the world around her.

Cynsational Notes

“Herrera’s first novel is quite accomplished, with plenty of heart and humor [...] Star is a unique, determined, and loving child making the best of a bad situation; readers cannot help but root for her.” –School Library Journal, starred review

“In her debut, Herrera has created a delightful narrator with a memorable voice and surrounded her with a unique supporting cast. Got fans of Joan Bauer in your neck of the woods? Send them this way.” –Booklist

“A tender and truthful novel that addresses stereotypes without promising easy answers or cookie-cutter closure.” –Publishers Weekly

See also Author Interviews with Robin Herrera.

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