Thursday, April 30, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Chukfi Rabbit’s Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Greg Rodgers (Choctaw)(Cinco Puntos, 2013) won the children's division of the Oklahoma Book Award. Note: Finders Keepers by Roy Deering (RoadRunner) won the YA division. See more information about the Oklahoma Book Awards. See also A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.

Nikki Garcia, Assistant Editor at Little, Brown: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...deciding to be an editor was much easier than actually convincing someone to let me be one. Once I was finished with my classes, I hit the pavement and had an informational interview with anyone who’d meet with me."

Talents & Skills Thesaurus Entry: Musicality by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...having an ear for pitch; being able to hear parts, as opposed to only melodies; being able to recreate a piece of music once it has been heard; having a basic understanding of music theory."

Be A More Productive Writer While Also Achieving Balance by Jordan Rosenfeld from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Intentions are daily motivators in small, manageable pieces; they spur you into action and carry out your tasks on the way to your goals."

The Top 20 Middle Grade Agents by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report all of their sales to Publishers Marketplace. See also Darcy on the Top 20 YA Agents.

Autism on the Page series
Happy Endings and Overcoming Autism by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "In this trope, autism is the bad guy, the obstacle to be overcome. It’s not seen as just a difference, but as something to be fixed and mitigated in a way that other, supposedly 'normal' character traits aren’t."

Native American Representation in Children's Literature: Challenging the "People of the Past" Narrative by Julie Stivers from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "No books by non-Native authors were set after 1950, whereas 75% of books by Native authors were, with 2/3 of books written by Native authors set in present day."

Caitlyn Dlouhy Gets Imprint at Atheneum by Natasha Gilmore from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing will launch a new imprint under Atheneum Books, called Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, helmed by the editor of the same name who has worked with such authors as Laurie Halse Anderson, Ashley Bryan, David Small, and Sharon Draper in her 16 years with the company. Dlouhy was previously v-p and editorial director at Atheneum."

Survey Reveals Demographic of SLJ Reviewers by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal. Peek: "The vast majority of reviewers for School Library Journal (SLJ) are white (88.8 percent) and female (95 percent), according to a recent survey by the magazine."

10 Books by Asian-American Authors by Audrey from Rich In Color. Peek: "...with Asian-Pacific American Month around the corner..."

What Is Día de los niños/Día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day)? 5 Questions for Pat Mora by Hannah Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek: "Día strengthens communities because it brings diverse children and families together to celebrate all our children and to connect them to bookjoy. Día is a year-long commitment to share literacy creatively with culminating celebrations held in April on or near April 30th."

Green Earth Book Awards

2015 Green Earth Book Award Winners Announced from The Nature Generation:



Picture Book: The Promise, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Candlewick).

Children's Fiction: Deep Blue, written by Jennifer Donnelly (Hyperion).

Young Adult Fiction: Threatened, written by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic).

Children's Nonfiction: Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman and illustrated by Annie Crawley (Millbrook).

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman (Candlewick).

See honor books and more information, including synopsis of each book. 

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

It's a short week at Cynsations, as I'm off to Saratoga Springs today!

Congratulations to Debbi Michiko Florence for signing with Tricia Lawrence at Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Tricia on signing Debbi!

Highlights of my week included finally meeting in person this gorgeous, brilliant & inspiring author-actress-singer-filmmaker, who I first met online back in 2007 on MySpace--lucky me!

Florida YA author Shayne Leighton at 24 Diner in Austin.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.


Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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

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

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Guest Post: Tara Altebrando on My Life in Dioramas

Learn more!
By Tara Altebrando
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I remember the day I finished my first middle-grade novel, The Battle of Darcy Lane (Running Press, 2014), pretty vividly. I sat there for a minute, stared out the window of my office, and thought: "Now I need a new middle-grade idea."

So I started to root around my brain for inspiration by asking myself the question, "What do I like?"

I'd recently become a little bit obsessed with terrariums, but (understatement alert) I didn't think that terrariums would really appeal to young readers.

Then I remembered a shoebox diorama I made when I was ten years old. It was an Olympic year and I made a tobogganing scene. (I must have been assigned tobogganing because I'm pretty sure I would have chosen figure skating if it had been up to me, but no matter.)

I remember exactly how that diorama looked when it was done; how proud of it I was, how mesmerizing I found it; I remember an afternoon I spent working on it at my friend Tracy's house; I remember the materials I used.

I remembered, that day in my office, that I freaking love dioramas.

A minute later the title My Life in Dioramas (Running Press, 2015) popped into my head…so I wrote it down and then started to cast about for the story.

The House That Inspired the Novel
My husband and I had recently bought a vacation house—an old farmhouse in upstate New York and I had become entirely smitten with the place. It made me happy just to be there--watching the stream in the backyard run, listening to the neighbor's cows moo, staring at knots in the high wood-beam ceilings, listening to wind chimes on the back porch.

As silly as it may sound, I ached for the house when I wasn’t there.

So into my brain walked Kate Marino. Twelve years old and living in a big red farmhouse that she adores. It is her Xanadu (so of course that movie makes an appearance in the book because I love it more than even terrariums!) and then her parents announce that they have to sell it.

I decided that Kate would set out to sabotage the sale and that she would start making dioramas of the house. First just one, for a school project. Then a second, because her first one was late and she doesn’t want her grade to suffer. But then she just keeps going and going…capturing scenes from her childhood.

Basically, she catches diorama fever. Which is currently on the loose in my own home, big time. My daughter is in second grade and studying landmarks: Boom. She’s suddenly making a Coney Island diorama.

Coney Island diorama

A group of wonderful girl filmmakers, Teeny Tiny Filmworks, went crazy with the diorama-making for my book trailer and I’m surrounded by those dioramas now. I’m collecting materials for a diorama I plan to make of me doing a signing in my local bookshop…so that I can bring it to my signing in the bookshop.

This fever, it’s contagious! In fact, in coming weeks I’ll be sharing dioramas that author pals of mine have made for me of scenes from their books. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t throw out any shoe boxes. You never know when you’ll need one!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

New Voice & Giveaway: Sarah McGuire on Valiant

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarah McGuire is the first-time author of Valiant (Egmont/Lerner, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Reggen still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true.

Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes far more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king.

But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal.

Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army.

Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.

Perfect for fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine, Valiant richly reimagines "The Brave Little Tailor," transforming it into a story of understanding, identity, and fighting to protect those you love most.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

I think it came in stages for me. I was one of the lucky writers included in the Nevada SCBWI Mentor Program. Harold Underdown chose me as one of his mentees, and for six months, we worked though my novel. I think my biggest takeaway was tackling the middle of the novel and keeping it from sagging.

Even though I had to slide that novel, under the metaphorical bed, I had a much better understanding of story structure. And I used it in Valiant, making sure I had a tent pole of tension to hold up the center of the story.

My next jump was in a Highlights Workshop with Patti Gauch. She taught (among other things) about going far enough emotionally, about reaching a transcendent moment of fear or hope or joy. She taught me to watch for those places in the story that already meant something to me. I learned to circle back to those places and dive into the emotion of that moment.

I think as writers, we're afraid of our emotion in a scene seeming cheesy or overwrought. And from that place of fear, we keep our emotion on a tight rein. I would have said I was being subtle, but the truth was that I was scared– scared of purple prose and people laughing at over the top scenes. When I was afraid, and didn't go far enough, my writing came across as insincere or insubstantial.

And ... here's the secret: it was. I was too scared to reveal the substance of that emotion. I was too afraid to be truly sincere. My fear of emotional triviality actually made my writing trivial.

But now I'm all better.

Ha.

Of course, I still work at this. And I still don't get it right the first or second draft. Or the third. And when I do finally go far enough, I have to loop back a few days later to trim and shape and make sure there's nothing in the writing of that moment that would keep a reader from going far enough. But I'm getting better at it. And knowing when I don't go far enough is half the battle, right?

Right.

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

Photo by Chris Anderson
I found that stories and math (among other things!) shaped Valiant's world.

Let's start with stories. When we think of world building, we often think of government, architecture, all the minute details of daily life. But we forget that we view our own world through the lens of story.

For instance, going off to pursue a dream is most mostly viewed as proper independence in America. In our stories and movies, it's often rewarded. But in other cultures, such independence might be viewed as destructive and selfish.

Anyway, once I realized I'd be writing a story about giants, I knew wanted to work within the stories we all know about giants--even if we don't think we know them. So I did an informal survey of Western myth, folk and fairy tales. Whether it was a titan of Greek mythology or the giant who ground bones to bake bread, giants were brutes who could only be overcome by some form of trickery.

(I found one story of a smart giantess: Oona, the wife of Finn MacCoul. But she defeats another giant through (you guessed it!) trickery. The only story I could find in which someone beat a giant through a straightforward attack was David and Goliath.)

So I had stories where giants were 1) the enemy, 2) stupid, and 3) sometimes ate humans. It seemed only right that the humans in my novel would have similar stories (and thus views) of giants.

David and Goliath, by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)
But things got interesting when I looked back through that same story-lens. Given those stories, how would giants view humans? As unreliable tricksters who used their wits to overcome and kill giants.

So within the giantish world, the most powerful giant might not always be the strongest, but the one who couldn't be fooled.

For me, that was when things got interesting. So I wrote Valiant with the idea that I had two cultures with the same set of stories, but who viewed those stories from two very different perspectives.

I also used math to build my world. (Such a whiplash-inducing change from stories, isn't it? But bear with me.) I was thinking about volume.

Let's say you have a cube that measures one inch on every side. It's volume is length x width x height, or 1 x 1 x 1, which equals 1 cubic inch. If I had a cube that was six times the size of the first cube, 6 x 6 x 6, its volume would be 216 cubic inches.

So–and this is an oversimplification– if a giant was six times as big as a human, he could weigh roughly 200 times more. And he'd need a lot more food than six humans.

Where might giants living in the stony Belmor Moutains find food? And how could they travel the great distance they did in Valiant? I discovered some of my favorite details about the world of the uten by exploring that. What started as mathematical ended with one of my favorite scenes.




Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire (Egmont USA/Lerner, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 27, 2015

Guest Post: Mary Amato on Behind the Scenes of the Art in Good Crooks

By Mary Amato
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What if a brother and sister had parents who were raising them to be crooks? And what if the kids wanted to say goodbye to their life of crime and become…good?

Mom and Dad would be horrified if they found out! The kids would have to do their good deeds in secret!

As soon as I came up with this idea for a chapter book series, I couldn’t wait to get cracking. After much scheming and some critical feedback from my editor, I figured out the voice and overall structure and decided to call the series: The Good Crooks Books (Egmont). My editor loved it and wanted to nab an illustrator right away.

Lots of editors and publishers dislike author involvement in finding or choosing an illustrator. Since publishers are the ones paying for the book to be produced, they are definitely in the driver’s seat. In my case, I had a long-term relationship with my editor, and so she kindly asked if I wanted to give any suggestions for illustrators or for styles of illustration.

Copyright Ward Jenkins
As if on cue, I had just received the monthly magazine from my professional organization, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

The cover was illustrated by a guy named Ward Jenkins. I was drawn to the art and impressed by what the artist had to say about his process in the profile.

I checked out Jenkins’s website. The multitude of characters in his viewable sketchbooks gave me the ability to spy on his range as well as spot characters that I could imagine sneaking onto the pages of The Good Crooks Books.

Quickly I emailed my editor: I think Ward Jenkins could pull off this job!

The editor and her team looked at Ward’s work (as well as other illustrators). They sent him my draft to read and asked him to draw a few quick sketches.

Hired!

Copyright Ward Jenkins

While I put finishing touches on the manuscripts for the first two books in the series, Jenkins drew sketches for the covers and for the spot illustrations inside.

Just as I had to revise my writing, Jenkins had to revise his sketches, based on feedback from the publishing team—and from me, too. This is not common. Often, authors are not given the chance to see sketches for fear that they will be too picky. It’s kind of like the “too many cooks in the kitchen” rule. Authors can make the process difficult by being unrealistic or demanding.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

If given the chance to see art, I try to keep my comments focused on whether or not the images are accurate. Sometimes, an illustrator will forget an element or a fact in the text and then create an illustration that does not match what’s happening. For example, if the author says the kids are wearing hats and carrying flashlights and then the illustrator shows them bare-headed and bare-handed, the reader will sense, even on a subconscious level, that the picture isn’t true to the book. Big inaccuracies do happen, and they can be distracting to the reader.

Copyright Ward Jenkins

Thankfully, Ward did a great job and any little glitches we did find were corrected. I loved seeing his illustrations progress from sketches to final art. He captures such a range of facial expressions and body language. And, he has a fantastic sense of humor!

Now, both Ward and I have the great thrill of seeing Good Crooks stealing spots on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

Cynsational Notes

Mary Amato is the author of fifteen books for children and young adults. Her latest: Good Crooks Book Three: Sniff a Skunk! (Egmont, 2015) is the third in The Good Crooks series.

Ward Jenkins is an illustrator and animator. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Winner of the 2015 Children's Africana Book Award is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Little, Brown, 2014).

Character Talents & Skills: Strong Breath Control by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "A practitioner skilled in this area must also be able to find their center of calm quickly, neutralizing fears and anxieties when they appear as a result of environmental changes, circumventing fight-or-flight responses tied to survival instinct."

Context Matters: On Labels and Responsibility by Jacqueline Koyanagi from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "The difference between 'generic eccentricity' and a formal diagnosis is just that–formal diagnosis. It seems absurd that it bears stating, but a person on the autism spectrum is on the spectrum even before they are diagnosed. Similarly, bullying is bullying regardless of when diagnosis/identification occurs–and, yes, even if it never occurs."

Constructing an Image System from a Verse Novel by Cordelia Jensen from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "Image systems are about showing the reader a new way to look at the world, but they can also add a layer of depth to your writing by helping you convey to your reader a character’s growth and evolution."

WNDB Tells AWP 15: Write Diverse Books That Sell by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Referring to a backlash to the growing momentum of the calls for the publishing industry to publish more multicultural books, Leung pointed out that diversity in literature is the wave of the future. 'Writing about diversity is as much of a fad as writing about human characters is a fad.'"

Learn more!
The Letting Go from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...I can see that the times I gave up on a major project were usually a mistake. But right now I’m talking about the moment when I release something I’m working on so that it can come back to me fresh."

Top Twenty Picture Book Agents, compiled by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report their sales to Publishers Marketplace.

There Are No Secondary Characters by Jill Hill from Project Mayhem. Peek: "You see, the secondary character that I’m dealing with hasn’t been in the story for a couple of hundred pages, and I kind of forget what was driving him. That’s a problem."

Spellbind Your Readers With Realistic Magic by Tal Valante from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...obviously magic needs some limitations, otherwise it all becomes too easy. But what kind of limitations? The trick answer is this: the more interesting (and intuitive!) your limitations, the more interesting your story would be."

Combine Babies & Bylines by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "So between now and Mother’s Day, I want to blog about practical ways to combine writing and parenting throughout these stages. Just as beneficial, I hope I can show you some ways that your kids can be your best source of material." See also Kristi on Combining Writing and School-Age Kids.

The Children's Book Council Partners with the Unprison Project to Provide Prison-Nursery Libraries from CBC Diversity. Peek: "In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 10, the last day of Children’s Book Week 2015, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) is partnering with The unPrison Project — a 501©3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering and mentoring women in prison, while raising awareness of their families’ needs — to create brand-new libraries of books for incarcerated mothers to read with their babies at prison nurseries in 10 states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming."

Cynsational Giveaways


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Thanks again to the Texas Library Association, Texas SCBWI chapters and Candlewick Press for your hospitality and support at last week's TLA annual conference in Austin. It was a joy to see y'all and visit about connecting great books to kids!

TLA Author Goodies! Thank you!

Keep scrolling to check out a very sneaky peek at Greg Leitich Smith's new cover for Chronal Engine II (Clarion, fall 2015).

Personal Links



Cynsational Events

Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, Nov. 2015)
Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

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

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Interview: Dana Walrath on Like Water on Stone

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1984, Dana Walrath journeyed to Palu, in Western Armenia (now part of Turkey), where she saw the mill and farmlands that once belonged to her maternal ancestors, who were forced to flee the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Her family story became the basis of her acclaimed novel in verse Like Water on Stone (Delacorte, 2014).

Dana Walrath is a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the author of the graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s (Harvest, 2013).

See also the companion post Writing from the Marrow from Dana Walrath from Cynsations.

Much of the story is narrated from the point of view of Ardziv, the eagle who suffers, witnesses, and ultimately intervenes. What role do eagles play in the Armenian culture and folklore?

In the last stages of writing Like Water on Stone, Ardziv appeared in the story to protect the young ones as they traveled, to make it safe for readers, and also to protect me as I wrote. This fits with the eagle’s place as a symbol of strength and power in Armenia, both ancient and modern. Eagles grace the currency, the coat of arms, and the architecture of contemporary Yerevan.

The earliest Armenian eagles predate Christianity as on the flag of the Artaxiad Dynasty (189 BC-1 AD) that has two eagles facing each other with a flower between them. When Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD, eagles were incorporated into the designs of their churches.

Eagles’ ability to soar fits well as this brings them close to heaven. Because the genocide often involves religious divisions, Ardziv gave me the opportunity to connect the story with a symbol that predated religions to underline our common humanity.



Throughout the novel, thirteen-year-old Shahen refers to his father and his older brothers as "fools." Would you consider his questioning of them anomalous within his culture?

More than anything, Shahen wanted to go to New York to be with his maternal uncle. You are right that respect for elders counts in Armenian culture. But a mother’s brothers have a special place in the family. They select husbands for their sisters and often these husbands go through life being called “pesah” or groom. Shahen behaves respectfully towards his father and brothers; it is only with an inner angst and voice that he calls them fools. This intensifies after violence comes to their home as Shahen struggles to make sense of the horrible events that have transpired. In the face of horror, we all do or think things that don’t completely make sense, or wouldn't fit in with normal life.

As well, Shahen’s small size and his place as the youngest boy in the family, who had not yet hit puberty, also accounts for some of his internal struggles. He felt impotent. Like no one listened to him when he saw the trouble coming. While researching the biology of eagles, I learned that male eagles are all smaller than females. This in a way brought Shahen and Ardziv even closer.



Shahen is the bold one while the girls and women are more cautious and submissive. Are these gender relationships specific to this one family, or is it more typical of their culture?

I have to admit that the gender roles in Armenia are definitely of a pre-feminist sort! My mother said that her Armenian father did not speak to her or her sister because they were girls.

It is also important to place the Armenians in the larger Ottoman cultural framework. Many of the Muslim women with whom they co-existed were veiled, making Armenian women quite daring in comparison. Marriages were arranged, but this is the dominant pattern throughout the globe.

The United States is unusual in leaving such an important economic decision, the union of two families, to the whims of young people in love. Against this backdrop, however, I think the female characters in Like Water on Stone have tremendous strength. Mariam shows her tenacity and determination with her writing. Mama always had her own opinions and, like a good mother, insisted that Sosi behave according to acceptable norms. I see Sosi and Shahen as equals. Sosi never wanted to leave her beloved home, but she finds the strength to support and honor Shahen during the hardest parts of their journey.

Because this is loosely based on my grandmother, Oghidar’s story—she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from Palu in today’s Eastern Turkey to Aleppo, Syria—I was very conscious of Sosi’s strength. For me going back to Palu in 1984 was such a powerful experience, to walk that land, to stand inside the ruined church, to find a mill that may have belonged to my family.



You don't shy away from portraying the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. How do you handle this in a way appropriate for middle grade readers? How can the novel-in-verse format contribute to making difficult material easier for young readers to process?

The white space of verse absolutely gives readers (and writers!) space to process the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. We do not speak or think in full sentences when something terrible happens. Often words disappear altogether. Free verse allowed for that fragmentation. I could write in rhythmic patterns that captured the fear and panic without leaning into the goriest details.

Ardziv’s role as protector was also important in terms of the violence. He narrates some of the most brutal scenes, following as adults who lovingly cope with the consequences of the brutality. Late in the book, Sosi narrates one terrible scene instead of Ardziv. This is because I see Ardziv as the strength and power that lives inside of each of us. She found her own strength—her inner Ardziv—and used this tough moment to pull her family together and to face the truth about what had happened.

I thought that I had handled the violence delicately enough that it could work for middle grade readers. As a parent, I shared similar works with my children when they were that age. Some of the gatekeepers do not agree and feel that that the book is appropriate only at a high school level and above. I was so honored to have Like Water on Stone be named a book of outstanding merit in poetry and historical fiction yet the mature content 14-16 age range was there again. I suppose this might mean that I have to figure out a way to tell the story of the Armenian genocide for some younger readers.

You received a Fulbright grant to travel to Armenia. Was the grant specifically for the research of this book? What advice would you give other writers seeking funding for international research? 

My Fulbright application, “The Narrative Anthropology of Aging in Armenia” was related to Aliceheimer’s, my graphic memoir series about my mother and dementia, and was not specifically written for Like Water on Stone. I was gathering stories and making art about growing old in Armenia.

It was just amazing good luck that Random House acquired Like Water on Stone during my first few months in Armenia. This meant that in addition to the Fulbright project, I was completing the final revisions of the novel while totally immersed in Armenian culture.

Anthropologists often work through participant observation, so every minute of every day, I was soaking in details that were relevant to both pieces of work. The elders I worked with spontaneously shared their family’s genocide stories with me. I had genocide scholars and the Genocide Museum and Institute right there for fact checking. Regular folk dancing refined the music and dance threads of the story. I had countless maps to draw upon to try and sort out the young ones' journey and got connected to primary sources about life in Palu.

The two projects naturally became connected. Armenia is consumed by memory of the genocide, something that is especially important in the face of Turkish denial. When I told people here about my mother’s memory loss, they immediately asked if she were a genocide survivor, linking trauma to memory loss.



The year in Yerevan also let me reconnect with relatives who landed on the other side of Mount Ararat after the genocide, among them my cousin, Shushanik Droshakiryan. Her great-grandfather and my grandmother Oghidar were brother and sister in Palu. Shushanik has led the direction of a stunning animation of Like Water on Stone that premiered at the Tumo Center for Creative Technology this week. It has been wonderful to be back here in Yerevan for this.

In terms of practicalities, because it is an academic program, you have to have the highest degree in your field in order to be able to apply. In the case of writers, the MFA will do it. I know many writers create beautiful works without this degree. For me, getting an MFA from Vermont was the best present that I ever gave myself. The mentoring the inspiration from stellar lectures and readings pushed me farther in two years than I ever could have managed on my own. Being able to apply for a Fulbright would be an added bonus.

You mention in your author's note seeing the Turkish family that now lives on the land once owned by your ancestors. What did that woman say when you told her this?

This moment of truth was when she decided to tell me that the mill had been owned by Armenians before it came into her family. I think she had already put it together that I might be an Armenian because it was so out of the ordinary for two American tourists to end up in the woods outside of town. She shared that fact and then I told her my story. Then together we shared a moment of silent respect.

I imagine that many families in Turkey who benefited materially from the Armenian genocide feel guilt about the material gain they received. Armenians were forced from their homes, and forced to leave all their possessions behind. The people who remained just took them over.

Charity or Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. To benefit by taking the property of others stands in stark contrast to this notion. I like to think that this woman recognized our common humanity and that she told me the truth out of a desire to make amends for the breaches of the past.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Anne Bustard on Musicality: Composing with Repetitions

By Anne Bustard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every writer wants her work to sing.

Writing that sings is exquisitely crafted. It lifts its voice in praise of language. Its story is pitch perfect. It invites readers to sing along and has the power to linger in a reader’s consciousness long after the last note.

Like a composer creating a musical score, a writer must consider every note, every sound, and use repetition and even silence to bring harmony to the musical score.

Through careful crafting and attention, writers discover which notes to amplify, which sounds to hold, which refrains to reproduce, which rests to sustain and which melodies to draw all the way through.

In music, a refrain is a repeated phrase, verse or group of verses repeated at intervals. Used by authors, repetitions emphasize emotion. Repetitions say, “Pay attention, this is important.”

In The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1996), the word “dolphin” is emblematic of Mila’s world, her life and her desire. Hesse uses it more than 140 times. At first, the abundance of “dolphin” would seem obvious given the large role of dolphins in the story. However, because the artistry of language comes in choice, Hesse has reason to flood the novel with this word.

Hesse creates a character with limited language ability. “Dolphin” is the one word that Mila knows for sure. It is the word that will not change, and the one that she holds close. “Dolphin” is the word that she relates everything else too.

Even as Mila grows her vocabulary on land, her use of “dolphin” remains prolific. Mila talks about them, sings about them, dreams about them. Hesse ensures that readers cannot escape the word and its influence.

With each use, Hesse pulls the heartstrings of the reader. “Dolphin” is Mila’s one-note song. It shows what Mila wants most of all and who she identifies with. It is also the word that brings music to her life. It is the music of dolphins that she cannot live without.

The choice to use the same word over and over, not only serves the story, but defines Mila’s character. It shows who she is on the inside.

Flurries of repetitions can also make an impact. Like trills that sustain a note, bursts of repeated words and phrases make readers notice them above all others.

Used effectively, repetitions deepen the emotional trajectory of the story by underscoring the progression of a character’s growth. Repetitions can build in power and strength as a story reaches its crescendo and then resolves. For instance, when repeated words are introduced early or midway through the novel and come full circle to repeat at the end it, that brings closure and satisfaction to readers.

The story is complete, right down to the word level.

Crafted with care, repetitions are not superfluous, excessive or monotonous. Blending seamlessly into the narrative, repetitions keep readers conscious of what is at stake, what is important, what matters. Repetitions keep the emotions flowing. They take up no extra space. Each counts.

As I wrote and revised what would become my middle-grade debut, Anywhere but Paradise, the last word of the story appeared—home. That word led me to Peggy Sue’s heart’s desire.

Used repeatedly, it led us both home.

Cynsational Notes

Anne's assistant, Sweet Baby James
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate.

She has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster).

Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont, 2015) was released on March 31.

She lives in Austin, Texas. Find Anne at Facebook.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont, 2015). From the promotional copy:

It’s 1960, and Peggy Sue’s move from Texas to Hawaii, the newest state, sounds like a dream—palm trees, blue skies, big waves.
But her cat has to be put in quarantine like he’s a criminal, and Peggy Sue is worriedly counting the days until Howdy will be released—if he can survive.
Then her first encounter with a girl at Hanu Intermediate School is shocking. Kiki, an older student, takes an instant dislike to Peggy Sue, warning her that the last day of school is “kill haole day.” Peggy Sue’s only hope of being spared is to help Kiki with her home ec sewing project.

Things get better when she meets neighbor Malina and starts hula lessons, but it takes a tsunami, a missing dog, and an intervention from the vision of Pele herself to help Peggy Sue understand that even though her new home in paradise isn’t perfect, she’d rather be in Hawaii with her family and new friends than anywhere else.

“. . . evocative descriptions highlight both the local and universal aspects of island life. 
Born in Hawaii, Bustard adeptly weaves elements of 
Hawaiian culture, lore, and history into an emotionally rich story.” 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Guest Post: Joy Preble on Being a Mid-Career, Mid-List Author

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I took pause for a moment when my lovely friend and mentor, Cyn Leitich Smith, asked me to write about what it’s like to be at this stage in my career.

“You know,” she said. “You’ve got a foothold but you’re not a new voice or (yet) a grand dame.”

The truth is that she nailed it exactly. Like so many authors—most of us in fact—I’m somewhere in the middle.

Finding Paris (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, 2015) will be my sixth book, following on the heels of two paranormal series. It will be my first darker contemporary YA, which is very exciting.

Next spring, I’ll follow it with It Wasn't Always Like This, a wildly romantic novel coming from Soho Press, about an immortal girl in search of her long lost immortal true love. Tuck Everlasting meets "Veronica Mars."

To many of my writing colleagues, this means I’ve made it. And in some ways, I have.

Seven published books on shelves is wonderful. It’s more than I ever dreamed of when I was first starting out. I began this career later than some, which makes me even more grateful for how it’s turning out.

I have been toured around the country and presented on panels at various book festivals in various places. I have a new world of author and publishing friends and colleagues. I teach writing as a working writer now, and schools and libraries ask me to visit and often pay me nicely. I’ve been invited to give keynotes and workshops and have had panels accepted at conferences of all sorts.

My first novel, Dreaming Anastasia (Sourcebooks, 2009), is in its fifth or sixth printing. Fairy tale fans continue to find and embrace the series, which is awesome.

I get fan letters. Well, emails, but still!

My family and ‘civilian’ friends and former English teacher colleagues think I’m a rock star. I have stopped trying to tell them otherwise. It’s me in dirty yoga pants typing, I say.

The trade reviews have been lovely for Finding Paris. Really lovely. It’s a genre shift for me, a foray into darker contemporary after five paranormal books, and so this is good to hear. My editor sends me happy notes. The risk reward of trying something new has been worth it.

But.

My career is still not a sure thing. I have written for three different publishers—which is common, but also means that the power of my backlist is sometimes lessened. But not always. I have to work a little smarter to wrangle invites to events. I’m not generally the first name my publicists think of when they’re pitching for panels. Sometimes I am.

The top tier events are still a club that sits just out of reach, at least most days.

I don’t have the luxury of saying, as we’d all like to say: My only job is to write better and better books. (Well, actually most authors except for the elite few worry about publicity and promotion. It’s part of the job.) I really do love reaching out and making my own opportunities.

But mid-listers have to hustle a little harder. Yes, hustle. I know it’s word all fraught with connotation, but I don’t know a better one right now.

In an article on “Top Ten Spring Books You Should Look For,” I might appear in the scroll down as “other titles we’re excited about.” My buzz is a little softer.

Another truth: It’s just less thrilling to promote the breakout of the seventh book. Or the tenth. The splash of the debut is generally the more exciting story. So much so, that I recently saw a very brilliant YA author break out after a number of titles and still be mistakenly referred to as a debut.

It is often easier to trumpet the miracle than it is to promote the norm, which is that after writing a body of work of increasing substance and value, we write the one.

Do you know the actor J.K. Simmons? He just won an Oscar for his role in "Whiplash." He has been a working actor for a very long time, the guy whose face and voice you know but whose name probably escaped you until this year.

He was the police psychiatrist on "Law and Order SVU," Peter Parkers’s boss in the Spider-Man movies. He does tons of commercial voice over work and all those Farmer’s Insurance commercials and cable series like "Oz."

But Whiplash—for whatever reason—that was the breakout. The role that got people talking. A full and varied body of work over many years until it was his turn.

Anyway. I am thrilled about Finding Paris. It’s a more serious platform for me, about blind spots and secrets and how hard it is to find our way, and the imperfect people who love us, even if they don’t know how to help us. I am so excited to talk about this book!

I am fortunate beyond measure to get to make a living (at least part of one!) doing something I love. I am lucky to work with amazing people who love books as much as I do and grateful to everyone who has been so kind on this journey, particularly my wonderful and clever editors and my readers who keep coming back for more. All of these people have allowed me to stay in the game.

And when the breakout moment comes, I will look up J.K. Simmons’s Oscar speech.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: T.A. Maclagan on Spy Novel Covers & They Call Me Alexandra Gastone

By T.A. Maclagan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. Maclagan (Full Fathom Five Digital, 2015):

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.

She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.

Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.

For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.

But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.

Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.

Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

Find T.A. at Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter
As a book cover art aficionado (I have a Pinterest page of covers I fan girl over – yes, I’m that much of a book nerd), I headed into the cover design phase of my publishing journey with both excitement and trepidation.

I wanted a cover that I could love so badly, but knew that authors don’t usually get much input on cover design.

I was both surprised and thrilled, however, by how open Full Fathom Five was regarding the whole process. They asked me for my thoughts at the start, and then after each cover that came in, until we found the perfect one! It really felt like a journey we took as a team.

Yeah, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true nonetheless.

My initial idea for the cover was a close-up face shot of Alexandra that emphasized her heterochromia (two different eye colors), but with the rest of her face being a bit hazy.

With the book’s title being what it is, I thought Alexandra needed to be staring out at the reader and as her heterochromia is a pivotal component of the book, I also felt that should be emphasized. I liked the idea of the rest of her face being a bit hazy because Alexandra struggles with her identity as the story unfolds and the haziness, I thought, could allude to that struggle. In addition to her face, I pictured a Washington D.C. skyline in the background, and a two-headed swan at the base of the cover (a symbol from the book).

As you can see from the final cover, which was the fourth iteration, some of my ideas made it onto the cover while others didn’t and thankfully so, because when I was thinking of cover design, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of book marketing.

With Full Fathom Five being generous about including me in the cover design process, I was able to learn quite a bit about what goes into making a successful cover. What I didn’t at first realize is that the cover should not only represent the book but also represent the genre.

For They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, that is spy fiction, in general, and YA spy fiction, in particular. This is something my original vision for the cover didn’t take into account. When someone looks at your cover, they should know what kind of book they are looking at.

With They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, I doubt anyone would think anything other than spy with the red and black color scheme and the riflescope. The red and black practically screams spy. Just look at these covers for popular spy novels...(photos of spy book covers).



The style of the cover is also in keeping with advertising for one of my favorite TV show, The Americans, which is also about sleeper agents living in the United States. My first drafts of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone were written before "The Americans" hit the airwaves but some of my later editing was definitely influenced by the dynamics of the relationships on the show.

So I find it fitting that there’s some resemblance between Alexandra’s cover and advertising for the show as I believe the book, despite being YA, could easily cross over into the adult market and would appeal to fans of the show.



As far as representing the YA spy genre, broadly speaking YA spy books fall into two subgenres, the “lighthearted adventure” subgenre, and the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre. These two subgenres have very different styles of covers.

Books like Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (Hyperion), Robin Benway’s Also Known As series (Walker), and Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Squad (Laurel Leaf) are all very popular YA spy books that fall into the “lighthearted adventure” category and as such they all have similarly styled covers.



Because They Call Me Alexandra Gastone doesn’t fit into this subgenre, it was important the cover didn’t, in any way, resemble this cover style. Instead, the cover for They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is much more in keeping with books like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion) and Lindsay Smith’s Sekret (Roaring Brook) from the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre—note the use of red on both covers.



After the cover designer nailed the color scheme and spy vibe, we faced one last hurdle. The model featured on the cover was used in every cover version we saw and looks very much like how I envisioned the character. That said, we were struggling a bit with her expression as the cover designer zoomed in for the third cover attempt. It looked too flat. That’s when the riflescope idea came into play. With the scope overlaid across her face, her expression morphed from flat to defiant.

As Alexandra is a kick butt kind of girl, this last minute addition to the cover, sealed the deal for me and gave me a cover I’m more than a little proud to have as the face of my debut!
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Anne Ursu About The Real Boy by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Oscar isn’t labeled as autistic or having any kind of special needs in the book, and it’s been interesting to see who picks up on his autism. And many readers don’t. I’ve found that it tends to be people who are closely associated with autism in some way or another who see it." See also The Joke's On Me! Humor & Autism by Lyn Miller-Lauchmann.

Hand-holding in Dialogue Tags by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "The star of dialogue is the dialogue itself. Holding the reader’s hand through each snippet of dialogue says to me that you don’t quite trust yourself to communicate the scene in a way that the reader gets it."

Interpreting César Chávez's Legacy with Students by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day."

Word Count Intimidation by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "First, be done with numbers. Pledge not to count words until you type 'The End' on the final scene."

Showing Emotion: Moving Beyond the Face by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The face is the first thing we notice in real life, and the focal point during any conversation."

On Writing & Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain?"

How I Got Into Publishing by Faye Bi, publicist at Simon & Schuster from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A love of books is not enough to work in publishing. Some candidates can’t afford to accept an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door, let alone three. Some need to consider higher paying industries to pay off their loans or take care of their families. Others don’t live near New York, or have any publishing companies near them."

Children's Literature for Math Awareness Month (April) by Jennifer Schultz from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Even if you don’t have a special program planned for Math Awareness Month, you can easily mark it with a counting-themed story time or display."

Ten Children's Bookseller Challenges and How Stores Solved Them by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Every bookstore faces obstacles, but the way that it overcomes them can make the difference between being a so-so store and being a great one."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain, 2015) was Rachel in Arizona.

YA Fantasy Cover Survey from Teenreads.com. Once you complete the survey, you'll be able to win a fantasy book or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. Note: for readers age 12 to 29.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

With Michelle Knudsen, Texas librarians & Candlewick peeps at Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill!
Colorful Canon panel at the Texas Library Association Conference, featuring Jeanne Devlin (Roadrunner), Lee Byrd (Cinco Puntos), me, Don Tate and Marina Tristan (Arte Publico), Keri Rabe (moderator). My enthusiastic thanks to all!
Novelists Lindsey Lane, Brian Yansky and Katherine Catmull at the Austin SCBWI Monthly meet at BookPeople.

Local Authors Leading Campaign for More Diverse Books by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Stateman. Peek: "Quick, check your kids’ bookshelf: How many characters look just like them? The answer likely depends on what race they are. And that’s a reality that many in the literary community — including key players from Austin — are working to change." Note: requires registration to read in full.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

This morning Cynthia will appear on the panel "Let's Hear Their Stories: American Indians, Arabs and Arab Americans" from 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. in Convention Center Room 10 C, Level 3 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin. Peek: "Representing American Indians and Arabs/Arab-Americans in library collections is an important component of diversity. The panel of authors and library science specialists surveys the availability of children's and YA books about these groups and will point out ways librarians can evaluate books for accuracy, fairness and freedom from stereotype." Panelists also include: Nancy Bo Flood, Janice L. Kowemy, Elsa Marston, and Loriene Roy.

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

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

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

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.