Monday, February 29, 2016

Guest Post: Parker Peevyhouse on Where Futures End

Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Parker Peevyhouse is the first-time author of Where Futures End (Penguin/Kathy Dawson Books, 2016). From the promotional copy:

Five teens.

Five futures.

Two worlds.

One ending.

One year from now, Dylan develops a sixth sense that allows him to glimpse another world.

Ten years from now, Brixney must get more hits on her social media feed or risk being stuck in a debtors' colony.

Thirty years from now, Epony scrubs her entire online profile from the web and goes “High Concept.”

Sixty years from now, Reef struggles to survive in a city turned virtual gameboard.

And more than a hundred years from now, Quinn uncovers the alarming secret that links them all.

Five people, divided by time, will determine the fate of us all. These are stories of a world bent on destroying itself, and of the alternate world that might be its savior--unless it's too late.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Parker Peevyhouse
I set myself up for a tricky revision process when I wrote Where Futures End as a series of interconnected stories. I had to make sure that the stories connected well to each other, even though each is mostly self-contained.

My agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, also pointed out that the first story in the book had to be really gripping. Of course, every novel has to have an opening that grabs the reader, but that had to be especially true of Where Futures End, since the reader would only continue to the second story if s/he loved the first.

I worked really hard to revise the opening story before we sent out the manuscript on submission. But the feedback we got was that the first story still wasn’t working. The tone was too sad and dark, since the story dealt with a boy (Dylan) wrestling with the death of his brother; and Dylan was confusing, since he kept going back and forth on whether he had the ability to visit another world. I was pretty bummed about this feedback because I loved Dylan and his story, but I could see that the manuscript wouldn’t sell as-is.

I scrapped that first story and started over. I brought the dead brother back to life and made the plot focus on sibling rivalry. I created a more linear progression for Dylan’s investigation into whether he had the ability to visit another world, and I had the brother play a larger part in this mystery. To my surprise, this new version of the story felt even closer to what I had originally want to achieve. And it got a lot more interest from editors.

The editor who bought the novel, Kathy Dawson (who has her own imprint at Penguin), wanted me to make even deeper cuts. In the original version of the manuscript, Dylan is obsessed with a series of fantasy novels about the Lookingland, a magical realm Dylan thinks he can visit. Throughout the novel, other characters also try to access the Lookingland, so it became an element that tied together the separate stories that make up Where Futures End. Kathy suggested I cut out the Lookingland entirely; she thought it was too confusing, one more thing for the reader to keep track of in an already intricate novel. But how in the world would I then tie all of Where Futures End together?

Parker's assistant, Arya
We figured out that Dylan, instead of reading novels about the magical land he longed to escape to, should write stories about that land himself. This set up a new way to connect the stories that comprise Where Futures End.

In the second part of Where Futures End, Dylan’s stories come to the public’s attention. In the third part, we see that books and movies have been made from Dylan’s stories. In the fourth part, a main character makes his living playing a video game based on Dylan’s stories. And in the fifth part, the stories take on a life of their own…

It was painful to make all of those deep cuts. I wasn’t always sure I should make such huge changes to my original vision! But I took the advice of my agent and did my revisions in a separate document so that I always had the option of reverting to the original manuscript.

That helped me make bold changes, and in the end, I felt the new versions of the manuscript were better than the old versions.

It helps to have an agent and an editor who are so insightful with their revision suggestions, but I also recommend taking chances with revisions, knowing you can always go back to what you originally wrote if those revisions don’t work for you.

As a science fiction writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time sci-fi reader?

Does anyone else remember “poot” from My Teacher Fried My Brains by Bruce Coville (Aladdin, 1991)? I loved that crazy-weird stretchable pet when I was in grade school. And I was fascinated by the tesseracts in A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1963).

When I was a kid, if there was a book in my library about something strange, I took it home.

Those books inspired me to write my own weird stories about kids visiting alternate realities and wielding supernatural powers.

Reading and writing science fiction was the only thing that could feed my ever-hungry imagination.

What drew me to science fiction as a kid were the strange ideas, the mind-benders, like Meg Murray talking about how time is the fourth dimension.

Where Futures End makes use of the tropes I’ve loved reading about from a young age: alternate universes, time distortion, psychic abilities. But I’ve also grown to love how science fiction explores personal interactions and cultural changes. I wanted Where Futures End to explore culture in the same way Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2002) does, and to explore relationships in the same way that How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (Penguin, 2004) does.

Science fiction, more than any other genre, lends enough distance to gain new perspectives, and that’s the main reason I still love the genre.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Writing While Black/Writing While Indigenous: Two Voices Speak on Literature, Representation & Justice from Zetta Elliott. Peek: "I am an Aboriginal woman who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. I write YA novels and picture books, and I teach law at a university. I’m often told that being a writer and a law academic is a strange combination, but there is a powerful connection between law and storytelling."

#OwnVoices: Why We Need Diverse Authors in Children's Literature by Kayla Whaley from Brightly. Peek: "I have a lifetime of experiences — positive, negative, neutral, and complicated mixtures of all of the above — to draw from when I write a fuller, more authentic wheelchair-using character." See also CBC Multicultural Statistics for 2015 from the Cooperative Center of Children's Books AKA CCBlogC.

Plotting 101: How Decoding Rejection Letters Can Help You Identify Problems with Your Writing Method by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "...find a character you know and love, a story that inspires you deeply, and a problem that is universal enough to interest a lot of different people..." See also Getting the Pacing Right by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers.

Writing India/India Ex-Pat Community: Did I Get It Right? from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek: "...here are some questions I’ve found helpful when reading what I will call an outsider manuscript...."

Simon & Schuster Creates Imprint for Muslim-Themed Children's Books by Alexandra Alter from The New York Times. Peek: "The books won’t emphasize theology or Islamic doctrine, Mr. Chanda said, but will highlight the experience of being Muslim through their characters and plots."

Common Writerly Beginner Tics by Kimberley Griffiths Little from Natalie Aguirre at Literary Rambles. Peek: "It’s very easy to write one or more chapters about what happened to your character before diving into the actual story that the novel is about. Readers want to see your MC in an immediate scene or problem, even if it’s a small problem."

Put Interested Editors on Hold While Seeking An Agent? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "Should one of the editors offer a contract before you sign with an agent, update the agents. They’ll likely review your submission quickly."

Cynsational Awards

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways


More Personally

Grab the Feb. issue of O!
See Jackie Woodson's quote!
I've spent the past work joyously reading and offering feedback to my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA advisees for  winter 2016.

It's not until just now, once that first round is finished, that I feel like I can settle into the semester.

Today, I'll be busy catching up on daily correspondence and responsibilities that were set aside during grading (in potential news, this includes finishing up submissions for a couple of anthologies). I'll keep you updated.

Link of the Week: 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature from The Brown Bookshelf.

Personal Links

Peek at the Poster for Children's Book Week (May 2 to May 8)
Butterbeer and More: What to Eat at New Harry Potter Theme Park
Seven Fascinating Films About Writers
#StepUpScholastic
What It's Really Like to Work in Hollywood (If You're Not a Straight, White Male)

http://www.21cnfc.com/conference-program.html

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Guest Post: Tamara Ellis Smith on Another Kind of Hurricane

By Tamara Ellis Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Space. Not up, as in the final frontier, but between, as in the distance between you and me.

I've been thinking a lot about that kind of space lately, and I've been especially curious about what can happen inside of it. What I've come to believe is that anything can happen—and everything.

I learned this through the process of writing my debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane (Schwartz & Wade.) And I am hoping to nurture this through the Another Kind of Hurricane Project, a community service/creative connection project I am offering schools, classrooms, teachers and students.

Space in Another Kind of Hurricane

"Who will get my pair of pants?" my four-year-old son, Luc, asked me.

It was late August 2005, in the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina, and we were dropping off food and clothing at our local police barracks.

Luc's question was a good one. A great one, actually.

It is just under one thousand six hundred miles from where we live in Vermont to New Orleans. That's a lot of space. But at the other side there was a four-year-old kid who would soon be wearing Luc's green pants with the moose on them.

Lucaiah's question connected the two boys. His question—his curiosity about this other kid—made that space become vibrant and alive; filled it with potential…for interaction, for transformation, for growth.

Who will get my pair of pants?

With Isaiah and the marbles he made at a workshop in New Orleans
I couldn't get the question out of my head. So I stumbled my way through the process of learning how to write a novel, this novel – a story that became about a ten-year-old boy named Henry, who lives in Vermont and whose friend dies in a mountain accident, and another ten-year-old boy named Zavion, who lives in New Orleans, and whose house is destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and the strange, almost magical, way their lives become entwined.

I kind of frantically wrote the novel. Hurricane-style. Fast and furious – ideas whipping around me like wind; words pouring down onto the page in buckets.

I finally finished what I thought was the final draft of Another Kind of Hurricane in 2007. I found my agent in 2008. We sent the novel out that fall, and by the end of 2009…

I had a lot of rejections. I was, I'm going to say it, flooded with them. Something was missing from the story.

In August 2011, almost exactly six years after Hurricane Katrina, Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont.

Hard.

It literally hit the block I live on. The river we live right by flooded its banks and water poured onto our street from two sides. Water reached the stop sign at the entrance to the block. Sheep and pigs from the farm at the other end of the block had to be rescued in kayaks. Our houses flooded. The basement of my house flooded, destroying our water heater and a pellet stove. We lost our kids' artwork, bins of clothing, and some of my manuscript among other things.

We were extremely lucky—no one was hurt. And I know that what we experienced was only the smallest fraction of what folks went through in New Orleans. But still, living through Irene touched me deeply. But not only in the ways you might expect.

At one point during the process of hauling stuff from our basement, someone gave me a box. I was standing by the dumpster deciding what could be salvaged and what had to be thrown away. (Most everything had to be thrown away.)

I opened the box. It was filled with photographs. For those of you who aren't familiar with these, I'm talking about 35mm, developed film, no saving them on your phone, no posting them on Facebook! A picture of my siblings and me at my wedding, a picture of my sister the first time she made Luc laugh, a picture of a camping trip with friends. The photos were soaking wet and covered in mud. I knew there were dozens of similar boxes, still in the basement. I knew I had to throw them all away. But I couldn't do it. Not yet. So I went back to filling the dumpster. Hours later, as the sun was setting, I took a break and walked to the lawn at the side of my house.

What I saw took my breath away.



People I didn’t know—were saving all of my photos. Someone meticulously peeled them apart, someone rinsed them in a shallow bin of water, and someone hung them on a clothesline to dry.

It was one of those moments that shines a light. Instead of quickly chucking that box of photos, I had accidentally left a space for these people. They became like Lucaiah, my son, asking a question:

What should we do with these photographs? And I became the kid who got the moose pants. Without realizing it, I had allowed there to be that vibrant, full-of-potential space. A space, it turns out, spanning those amazing people and me.

And inside of that space, those people and I—we were forever changed; we became friends.

And all of a sudden I knew. This was the something missing from my novel. Space.

One thousand six hundred miles between Vermont and New Orleans. A space just as far and, it turns out, just as close as between those people and me.

Irene had soaked me with a giant reminder about the power of that kind of space. It's a little like the eye of a hurricane, perhaps. That lull in the middle of the storm. But not really. It's less like an eye and more like a heart. A place that quietly beats with life. Or two hearts, really. The magic of space, for me, is the landscape—or maybe people-scape—where the alchemy of one person connecting with another unfolds.

And now I had to create that – and trust that – as I headed into yet another draft of Another Kind of Hurricane.

Jeanette Winterson said in her book of short stories: In the space between chaos and shape, there was another chance.

After my experience with Irene, I revised my novel more slowly. I took that one thousand six hundred mile journey step by step. Page by page. Person by person.

What did that look like in my life? I spent less time furiously writing and more time watching, walking, talking with people. I was more curious and vulnerable, braver about hanging out with not knowing, braver about letting whatever knowing might come, come organically. It looked like sitting at my friend's kitchen table drinking coffee and telling Henry and Zavion's story. It looked like running on the river trail with my dog before the sun came up not thinking about Henry and Zavion at all. It looked like honoring that vibrant and alive space.

Sometimes it wasn't easy – just ask my friends how fun I was to be with sometimes!—but it faithfully continued, like that photograph saving experience, to take my breath away. And to offer epiphanies and spark creativity and teach me what I believe in.

What did that look like in my novel? I cut a lot of words. I am what my editor would call an emotional maximalist! I know, this might be shocking to you. She's an emotional minimalist, by the way, so we're a good team! This left more room for my readers to bring their own experiences and ideas to the story.

It looked like rearranging the timeline of the story, allowing Henry and Zavion to make wrong choices and take missteps. It looked like Henry being an animal fact fanatic, allowing him to feel something other than guilt, and Zavion finally remembering breaking his mother's coffee cup because of a sensory trigger, the bell-sound of a bracelet. It looked like these two very different boys from two very different places almost meeting, and then meeting. And creating comfort and hope and even healing there.

It isn't always easy for them either, but in that space they are brave enough to be open to, they find reflections of themselves. They find connection. They find friendship.

They find another chance in Another Kind of Hurricane.

Space in Another Kind of Hurricane Project

It is my deep desire to create this kind of space for kids across the country to nurture their own connections, friendships and chances.

Tamara's sons: Jafeth (age 4) and Lucaiah (age 14)
The Another Kind of Hurricane (AKOH) Project (created with Kirsten Cappy and Curious City) empowers classrooms to reach out to schools in need. In Another Kind of Hurricane (Random House), two boys from opposite ends of the country make a connection through a pair of donated blue jeans—a pair of jeans with a marble in the pocket.

The AKOH Project encourages classrooms and schools to identify a school in need, hold a blue jean drive and slip letters and items into the pockets of those jeans. We know that reading fiction builds empathy, and we know that children can feel powerless when disaster strikes in other parts of the world. The AKOH Project hopes to turn empathy into the power to build connections between communities.

Cynsational Notes

Tamara Ellis Smith writes middle grade fiction and picture books. She graduated in 2007 from Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Tam’s debut middle grade novel, Another Kind of Hurricane was released by Schwartz & Wade/Random House in July 2015. She is represented by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Guest Post: Linda Joy Singleton on Reinventing & Rebuilding Your Writing Career

By Linda Joy Singleton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

A few years ago, I thought my career was over.

Due to slow sales and a changing market, I’d lost both my publisher and agent—and I was devastated. Also, a science fiction/mystery YA that I’d been positive would sell when it went to acquisition meetings at major publishers had ultimately been rejected.

After over 35 published YA and middle grade books, I was on my own.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal:

“I feel so sad when I think back on how high my hopes were but now everything has led to this point of failure. I am so sad...discouraged...mourning the loss of dreams.”

I moped around for a few days, doing things like eating chocolate, reading comfort books and hanging out with my family. But I couldn’t sit around—I had to write.

So instead of giving up—I got busy.


I researched publishers that accepted unagented manuscripts. I polished then submitted my manuscripts—including a few pictures books. This format was new to me since I’d mostly written novels, but I’d sold one picture book--Snow Dog, Sand Dog, illustrated by Jess Golden (Albert Whitman, 2014) and that gave me hope. So I wrote more picture books.


One of these, Cash Kat, seemed like a good fit for my friend Danna Smith’s publisher Arbordale, so I sent it to them. A year later they offered me a contract—and now Cash Kat (2016) is a beautiful hardback picture book, illustrated by Christina Wald! It teaches how to count money and celebrates the special bond kids have with their grandparents.

More books I submitted on my own sold: Never Been Texted (Leap Books, 2015) and Curious Cat Spy Club series to Albert Whitman (2015). The third book in this CCSC series, Kelsey The Spy, comes out April 1—and I can hardly wait.

Also, I got a new agent—Abi Samoun of Red Fox Literary, who recently sold two of my picture books to Little Bee for 2017 publication.

And remember that YA science fiction/mystery I’d tried so hard to sell? Well, it’s coming out in September 2016 from CBAY Publishing under the new title of Memory Girl.

Instead of my career being over, it’s taking a new shape.

Being discouraged is part of the writing game. Most writers deal with the lows of rejections, losing agents or editors, low sales numbers and having books go out of print. A writing career is like riding a roller coaster, going up and down then up again.

Here are some tips to help you ride the painful downs:
  • It’s healthy to grieve a disappointment or loss—but then get busy. 
  • Network! Writer friends give great advice and publishing tips. 
  • Small publishers can offer big opportunities. 
  • Keep busy writing: books, articles, reviews. Name recognition counts. 
  • Try new genres! You never know when magic will happen. 
  • If you aren’t in a critique group, join one—or start one. 
  • Don’t give up—as long as you’re writing you are a writer.


Cynsational Notes

See more on Linda Joy Singleton's books and writing tips.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book Trailer & Giveaway: Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

Discussion Guide (PDF)
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2015, 2016)--now available in paperback. From the promotional copy:

Peter Stone is a quiet boy in a family full of extroverts, musicians, and yellers. The louder they are, the more silent Peter is . . . until he practically embodies his last name.

When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a peaceful, mysterious valley where he can, at last, hear himself think. There, he meets a girl his age, Annie Blythe, a spirited artist who tells Peter she's a "wish girl." 

But Annie isn't just any wish girl: she's a "Make-A-Wish Girl." And in two weeks she has to undergo a dangerous treatment to try to stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment could cause serious brain damage and take away her ability to make art.

Together, Annie and Peter escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. Sometimes wishes come true in the most unexpected ways.


Trailer: "Wish Girl" by Nikki Loftin from Dave Wilson on Vimeo.

Cynsational Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

2016 SCBWI Bologna Author Interview: Christopher Cheng

By Patti Buff
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Christopher Cheng is the award-winning author of more than 40 children’s books in print and digital formats. The picture book New Year Surprise! is his latest publication. 

His other titles include the picture books One Child, Sounds Spooky and Water, the historical fiction titles New Gold Mountain and the Melting Pot as well as the nonfiction titles 30 Amazing Australian Animals and Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations

His narrative nonfiction picture book Python, was shortlisted in the 2013 Children’s Book Council of the Year awards, and was listed as of “Outstanding Merit” in the 2014 edition of Best Books of the Year for Children and Young Adults, selected by the Bank Street College of Education Children’s Book Committee. 

In addition to his books, Christopher writes articles for online ezines and blogs, and he wrote the libretto for a children’s musical.

He is co-chair of the International Advisory Board for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an International Advisory Board Member for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) and a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for Children’s Literature. 

He is also the director of the digital publishing company Sparklight. He presents in schools, conferences and festivals around the world and he established the international peer voted SCBWI Crystal Kite Awards. He dwells with his wife in an inner-city Sydney terrace and is often heard to say that he has the best job in the world!

Welcome to the blog, Chris! With much more focus on diversity in children's books than has been in the past, how important of a role do you think book fairs like Bologna play in introducing young readers to children from other countries and cultures?

They are critical - we move in a global sphere but we don’t all dress the same or say the same things or behave the same way thus it is important for today’s children, no matter where they are in the world, to be exposed to the authentic literature from other countries and cultures who tell ‘their’ stories with an authentic voice.

Any tips for new Bologna visitors?
 
• It’s big so enjoy the experience.
• Plan out what you want to see, make notes ahead of time and follow your nose.
• Make notes of what you see, how the books are displayed, how the different publishers publish their content, look at the types of books that the publishers and other organizations have on display - can you find a continual link between their titles?
Don't bug/hassle the publishers / agents / marketing folk etc. unless you have been invited.
Don't rush home (this is especially for those of the authorial persuasion) and write the book that you have decided is the ‘happening thing’ at Bologna. It will have already been done and dusted by the time you get down to it.
• There is a lot of ‘paper’ at Bologna - you can’t carry it all … but much of it will be digital!
Visit our SCBWI booth - we are your home away from home!
• And don’t forget to sample, no feast, on some of the amazing food that is available in Bologna.

Bellissimo!

You've had books published in markets all around the world. What do you think makes a book successful in all different types of markets?

Having a global theme, like peace/war/growing up, death, childhood, animals etc.

That said I know you can’t create a book that will fit all markets throughout the world. You have to create your own story!

I’ve read you do weeks and months of research for your historical fiction and that by the time you’re ready to write, the story has already been formulated in your head. Which I can imagine lends itself to easy drafting. 

But once the editing starts, have you had to ‘change facts’ for the story’s sake and if so, how hard has that been?

Easy drafting for sure … not so easy for editing though! There has always been too much in the story. I don’t think I have had to change the essential facts at all to ‘fit the story’ as my historical fiction has always been based on the facts themselves.

The facts themselves are often what make the riveting story!

You write for a wide range of ages and over a wide range of subjects and genres. What advice can you give authors who’d like to branch out and diversify their writing.

Know your audience. Know the genre. Know what you are writing. If it is factual - know the facts and that goes for authors and illustrators.

Write your story, and if it doesn’t work, then try it in a genre you are comfortable with.

And finally, what are you working on now? Any surprises you can share with us?

My newest title, birthed Feb. 5 is New Years Surprise! It was written to tie in with an exhibition of paper art and objects, that is being held at our National Library in Canberra (our national capital) on the Celestial Empire.

At this exhibition, visitors experience 300 years of Chinese culture and tradition from two of the world’s great libraries - the National Library in China and our National Library.

From life at court to life in the villages and fields, glimpse the world of China’s last imperial dynasty and its wealth of cultural tradition.

The exhibition (and thus, by association, my book) is being launched by the Prime Minister of Australia. Woo hoo--will have the glad rags on for that! There will be lots of twittering and facebooking going on!

That’s wonderful, congratulations! Not every author can say their book was launched into the public by the Prime Minister. 

Thank you so much for joining us, Chris. Have a great time in Bologna!
 
Cynsational Notes

Patti Buff
The tenth out of eleven children in a family that took in hundreds of foster kids, Patti Buff found solitude in reading at a young age and hasn’t stopped. She later turned to writing because none of her other siblings had and she needed to stand out in the crowd somehow.

Originally from Minnesota, Patti now lives in Germany with her husband and two teenagers where she’s also the regional advisor of SCBWI Germany & Austria.

She is currently putting the finishing touches on her YA novel, Requiem, featured in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2016 anthology.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Video: Linda Sue Park on "Can a Children's Book Change the World?"

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

"Can books help make readers better human beings?

"[Children's author] Linda Sue Park talks about how books provide practice at responding to the unfairness in life, and how empathy for a book's characters can lead to engagement in ways that have significant impact in the real world.

"Linda Sue Park is the author of many books for young readers, including A Single Shard (Clarion, 2001), winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal, and A Long Walk to Water (Clarion, 2010), on the New York Times bestseller list for more than two years. She has traveled to 46 states and 16 countries to talk to audiences of all ages about books, reading, and writing."



Friday, February 19, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2015 Cybils Winners from The Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Book Bloggers Literary Awards. Congratulations to Grace Lin, Nova Ren Suma and their fellow winners!

Who Can Tell My Story? by Jacqueline Woodson from The Horn Book. Peek: "...more than wanting to write about a boy and a girl falling in love, I wanted to write about the relationship between blacks and Jews. And here, at this point, where boy met girl, where different worlds and belief systems sometimes collided, was a story I knew well. A house I had been inside of."

Writing as Compulsion by Densie Webb from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "They’re just words, right? But, as with tics, the relief is temporary. We all know, just as my son knows, that the urge is always there, just beneath the surface, waiting to burst forth."

Writing Kids Who Say/Do Bigoted Things by Allie Jane Bruce from Reading While White. Peek: "Who are 'kids' in that sentence? It usually refers to kids who aren’t marginalized along the identifier being stereotyped or mocked. And that defense then reiterates the centering of non-marginalized kids."

LoonSong: A Writer's Retreat will take place Sept. 8 to Sept. 12 at Elbow Lake Lodge in Minnesota. Faculty includes "seasoned writers [Will Alexander, Kathi Appelt, Marion Dane Bauer, Kekla Magoon, Katherine Paterson], marketing specialists [Steve and Vicky Palmquist], an agent [Ruben Pfeffer] and an editor [TBA] who will help you grow your career, develop new approaches to craft and think deeply about the writing life." Note: In partnership with the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

Seven Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month from Lee & Low. Peek: "...celebrate both Black History Month and African American culture all 365 days of the year."

Kirby Larson and Audacity Jones to the Rescue from Janet Fox. Peek: "There are so many terrific stories from history, stories that haven’t been told because they’re about children/young adults, especially girls. I have found my passion in trying to share these stories in a such way that today’s readers find connections."

Diversity In Book Awards: A Conversation by Daniel Kraus from The Booklist Reader. Peek: "Shortly after the annual Youth Media Awards, novelist Ashley Hope Pérez (herself a fresh awardee: a Printz Honor for Out of Darkness) contacted me about helping facilitate a conversation she wished to have about diversity in kidlit—a hot topic these days, though Pérez specifically wanted to talk about it in terms of awards and best-of lists." See also How Independent Booksellers Handsell & Merchandise Diverse Books by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly.

Marrying Story Structure & Character Arcs by Joanna Roddy from Project Mayhem. "To have this internally-driven structure woven into the externally-driven one allows for complexity, ingenuity, and well-rounded characters amidst a satisfying story."

The Unlikeable Girl Narrator 101 by Cori McCarthy from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "So let’s look at these characters that rub us the wrong way or steal our hearts, and then decide whether or not your UGN is making your story stronger or less appealing."

Outstanding International Books: Presenting the 2016 USBBY Selections by Terry Hong from School Library Journal. Peek: "Humor, empathy, and creativity all pave the way toward encouraging readers to search beyond boundaries, become more engaged global citizens, and just enjoy good books." See also Notable Books for a Global Society from the International Literacy Association.

28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature



This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of signed copies A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou and handwritten character letters were Annette in Idaho and Cathy in New Hampshire. The winner of a signed copy of The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull was Cathy in New Hampshire.


More Personally

Cory Putnam Oakes, Jo Whittemore & Mari Mancusi at BookPeople in Austin

I'm pleased to announce that Carmen Oliver at The Booking Biz is coordinating my (non-publisher-sponsored) children's-YA author events. We're now accepting invitations for 2017; see: http://www.thebookingbiz.com/cynthia-leitich-smith/

Register for the 2016 Austin SCBWI Regional Conference, scheduled for May 14 and May 15. Congratulations to diversity scholarship winners Noah Weisz and Annette Gulati!

Those seeking bookish fun this weekend in Austin should swing by the first ever children's book fair at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Personal Links

Black Comic Book Festival
Dark Side of Rom Coms
"Star Wars" Episode 8 Starts Filming
Penguins March at Kansas City Zoo
27 Vintage Pictures of Austin
Gender, Bias & Coding
Creating Ads That Don't Objectify Women
What Superheroes' Homes Look Like

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Guest Post: Shawn Stout on Historical Fiction: How Much Research Is Enough?

By Shawn K. Stout
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Several years ago I had a story idea swirling inside my head. It was about three sisters who try to clear their father’s name after he is accused of being a Nazi spy.

The story was based on the real-life experiences of my grandparents, whose restaurant in Maryland in 1939 was boycotted by the townspeople over my grandfather’s purported “secret back room” and rumors of espionage.

It was a story that was personal to me and to my mother and her two sisters, but I kept it safely locked away for a couple of reasons.

The first was that I had never written anything even close to historical fiction before, and the story ultimately would have elements of xenophobia, racism, and super-patriotism of that period—heavy themes that, when I thought of writing about them, gave me the willies. The other reason, and perhaps the bigger one, was that I didn’t know how to balance the knowledge of historical facts with telling a mostly fictional story.

Basically, I didn’t want to write a history book—one that was so bogged down in historical details that the characters were overshadowed by the time period.


When I finally got up enough gumption to give my idea a chance, I began by interviewing family members and others who worked at my grandparents’ restaurant. Then I dived into history books, newsreels, newspaper articles, old radio shows, spy movies, and World War II timelines. A lot was going on in 1939, apparently, and I spent months trying to learn it all.


Pretty quickly, though, I became overwhelmed. I had accumulated piles of folders, newspaper clippings, CDs of digital recordings, and at least a dozen notebooks labelled “Important Pieces of History.” And, unbelievable as it seemed, there was still more to know.

After spending nearly a year in 1939, I wondered, how would I know when I’d learned enough? How much “historical” did a person need to know to write historical fiction, anyway?

Enough turned out to be tricky to define. The truth was that I had already learned a great deal. I knew about the short-lived Studebaker Dictators, about Hitler’s advances in Europe, about the voyage of the St. Louis, about restaurant prices, and about widespread anti-German sentiment.

But was that enough?

Uma Krishnaswami
Shawn K. Stout
And then the incomparable Uma Krishnaswami gave me some wise advice, which was essentially this: You could go on researching forever, but at some point, whenever you think you have a sense of place and time and a feel for that world, you have to take what you’ve got and just start writing.

Just start writing.

You can always go back and do more research, if you need to, she told me, but let your story and characters dictate what else you need to know.

Uma, of course, was right. I did start writing, and as I began filling out the characters of the three sisters, the edges of their small town, with bits of historical detail, became more defined, and their world soon came into sharp focus.

I only ended up using a small fraction of the many historical details I found in my research, but in the end, for my characters and their story, it was enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

2016 SCBWI Bologna Art Director-Author Interview: Laurent Linn

By Elisabeth Norton
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Laurent Linn, art director for Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, began his career as a puppet designer/builder in Jim Henson's Muppet Workshop, creating characters for various productions, including the "Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Muppet Treasure Island" films. 

With Henson for over a decade, he worked primarily on Sesame Street, becoming the creative director for the Sesame Street Muppets, winning an Emmy Award. 

Currently, at Simon & Schuster, Laurent art directs picture books, middle-grade, and teen novels, working with illustrators and authors such as Tomie dePaola, Patricia Polacco, Bryan Collier, E. B. Lewis, Raúl Colón, Debbie Ohi, and Taeeun Yoo

Laurent is on the board of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and is the artistic advisor for the annual original art exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York. 
 
He is also an author: His debut illustrated teen novel, Draw the Line (Simon & Schuster), comes out in May. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and facebook.

Laurent, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions about the world of illustration in children's publishing, and about the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery (BIG). 

As art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, what is the importance of the Bologna Children's Book Fair to you and other publishing professionals?

The Bologna Fair has so much to offer everyone, and for a publisher like us, it serves more than one role. It’s a fantastic event to see what books are being published in other countries that we may want to acquire rights for to publish here in the U.S.

Also, we share certain books that we are publishing in the hopes international publishers will want to acquire, too.

In addition, we’re always on the look-out to discover illustrators from other countries that we’re not yet aware of — there is so much talent on display there!

What makes an Illustration Gallery such as the BIG at the SCBWI booth in Bologna interesting to publishing professionals?

In the U.S. and around the world, children’s book publishers know that SCBWI members are serious about their careers. So it’s understood that the illustrators on display at the SCBWI booth are both knowledgeable and professional — something very important to us when we consider hiring an illustrator who is new to us.

When an art director or publisher views an illustration showcase such SCBWI's BIG, is s/he looking primarily for illustrators for picture books, or are they also scouting talent for other illustration opportunities within the industry?

Speaking for myself, I always consider the strengths of each illustrator individually based on their work. For example, when I see someone whose strength is art that would be best suited for picture books, I may potentially keep them in mind for a future picture book. The same would be true of someone whose style is best for middle grade, etc.

Of course, many illustrators have different styles, which may be right for all types and genres of books, and I’d think about that as well.

Overall, I imagine that each art director and editor look for what he or she is publishing. Having said this, I do think the majority of art directors and editors at Bologna are looking at picture book illustration.

What makes an illustration stand out to you when you are serving as a judge for a showcase like BIG?

A few factors. Talent and skill as an artist is extremely important, of course. But I’m also looking for strong visual storytelling — children’s book illustration is all about a narrative. If a piece is more of a portrait or composed scene lacking story, that doesn’t show how an illustrator could visualize a key moment of a narrative.

Also, I’m always looking to see if an illustration has an emotional connection — readers need to be emotionally invested in a book’s characters.

I think many illustrators, when thinking of a career in children's publishing, think primarily of illustrating picture books. Yet there seem to be more and more illustrated middle grade series, graphic novels are very popular, and your own illustrated young adult novel, Draw the Line, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2016. Do you see a trend in the industry towards more illustration in books for older readers?

It’s such an exciting time for illustration in children’s literature! Picture books are being published with art using all kinds of media and in varied styles. More and more middle grade uses interior black-and-white illustrations within the pages, for all ages from young to pre-teen. And more and more art is even being used YA (young adult) fiction.

As you mention, my own debut YA novel, Draw the Line, has illustrations — 90 pages of art, in fact! It’s not a graphic novel at all, but is a traditional text novel that also has illustrations in it.

In my book’s case, the art is “drawn by” the main character, Adrian, but is of course really drawn by me. It’s a way to tell the story on a visual level to enhance the storytelling in the text. My YA is unusual in the amount of art in it, but we’re seeing more boundaries being broken down.

We have talented author-illustrators like Brian Selznick to thank in many ways. His illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic, 2007) really broke ground.

And then, of course, there are true graphic novels for all ages. A graphic novel differs from an illustrated YA or middle grade in that the format is like a comic book: The entire story is told through art panels with speech balloons and narrative text boxes.

However, now we’re seeing hybrid books that are mixing up all preconceptions, so who knows what comes next?

I love the idea of the illustrations in Draw the Line being “drawn by” the character! I look forward to seeing it when it releases. How important do you think it is for an illustrator to be an author as well? 

Every creative person is unique — many illustrators have no interest in writing or are not good writers, and many are extremely talented writers with a passion for it.

If you look at the most successful top illustrators in children’s literature, you’ll find those that also write their books as well as those who only illustrate books written by others.

For me and my colleagues, whether an artist is also a writer or not has no bearing on if we will work with them or not.

What qualities do you think are important for an artist to have in order to be successful as an illustrator in the children's publishing industry?

Certainly those creative elements I mention above: alent, a unique style and vision, good visual storytelling skills, and ability to bring an emotional connection to the art. But you must also be professional — children’s literature is a collaborative process.

In addition to being realistic and professional about deadlines, you have to keep in mind that art direction and editing are not personal judgments, but useful and necessary ways of communication.

Everyone in the process has her or his expertise, and we all want your book to be the best book possible. It’s a balance of creating a work of art yet being sure it sells and gets into the hands of readers who want and need it.

Another part of being a professional is making connections, getting your work out into the world to be seen, and being engaged in the children’s book world. For example, showing your art in the SCBWI Bologna Illustration Gallery!

Is there something that you think every illustrator should know, that I haven't asked?

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of: always be yourself! Don’t imitate others or create art that you may think art directors “want to see.” There certainly are artistic rules to follow, but within those parameters, find your own vision and dazzle us with it. Yes, use influences and inspirations in your work, but only as tools to enhance your singular style and vision.

Cynsational Notes

Elisabeth Norton grew up in Alaska, lived for many years and Texas, and after a brief sojourn in England, now lives with her family between the Alps and the Jura in Switzerland.

She writes for middle grade readers and serves as the regional advisor for the Swiss chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

When not writing, she can be found walking the dogs, playing board games, and spending time with family and friends. Find her on Twitter @fictionforge.

The Bologna 2016 Interview series is coordinated by Angela Cerrito, SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and a Cynsational Reporter in Europe and beyond.