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.


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?


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.


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. 
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