Friday, May 05, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Illustrator Elisa Chavarri on the Art of Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora Del Arcoiris by Keilin Huang from the Lee & Low blog. Peek: "I worked digitally, but I’ve included an example of some of the sketches, and the early character design concept art, (before I figured out the appropriate dress), and some unused artwork/ideas."

Imagine Yourself a Young Reader in the Margins #OwnVoices: Three Takes by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas from School Library Journal. Peek: "Those of us who hold literacy to be a transactional social practice believe that meaning is never located solely in texts, but instead is made through the work of readers as they relate to, interact with, and understand stories."

Two NY Teens Fight School Assignment Requiring Defense of Genocide by Liza Wiemer from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "For both young adults, the idea of advocating for the extermination of a people should never be legitimized by intellectual debate. As an alternative assignment, Archer and Jordan presented ... a four-page plan, suggesting extensive analysis of non-fiction and fiction Holocaust books to promote critical thinking."

Up-And Comers On Their Best Publishing Moments by Kelly deVos from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: (Gloria Chao, American Panda, Simon Pulse, Spring, 2018) "Suddenly, there was a real possibility that my book could help a teen feel accepted and seen. Of course, I couldn’t have gotten there without other favorite moments like deciding to write my Own Voices story...."

Spells, Palls, and Poisoned Apples by Donald Maass from Writer unBoxed. Peek: "The main difference between the spells, palls, and poisoned apples that befall us and those that befall characters in stories is that we mostly brush those things off.  For us, those things pass.  In stories, they don’t. Or shouldn’t."

Member Interview: Jessica Lee Anderson from  Austin SCBWI blog. Peek: "While I’m not a native Texan, Texas feels so much like home that it often becomes the setting in my various novels. I’ve created fictional Texas towns like I did in my young adult novel, Border Crossing, and I have researched real Texas treasures like Uncertain, Texas when I was drafting Uncertain Summer (CBAY Books, September 2017).

Celebrating Small Publishers: An Array of Remarkable 2017 Titles from the Smallest Houses by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "While they (The Big Five publishers) have the capital and resources to wine and dine the masses, loads of independent presses are out there making a living, scrambling about, and generally filling in all those gaps the biggies ignore."

How Can Picture Book Readers Feel It If I Don't Tell It? by Deborah Halverson from Peek: "I understand the desire to convey a sensual experience. I generally encourage picture book writers to avoid statements that explicitly tell how the character feels....The beauty of telling stories via the picture book format is that the art and page turns do part of the work."

It's a Brave New World for Teachers and Librarians by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: (Lorena German, High School English Teacher, Austin, Texas) "...we are currently reading Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese....and we are learning about the Asian-American experience in the U.S., stereotypes, microaggressions, the model-minority myth, and more. It is my job to go beyond literary and academic preparation and equip my students to be loving, intelligent, critical thinkers in our world.

Want to Grow As a Writer? Transform Your Critique Group by Michael Hauge from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "It took me a long time to realize, but my best coaching always occurs when I listen....outstanding critique groups want to know how the writer sees her own story."

Are You Clear About Your Writer Persona? Going Public by Design by AM Carley from Jane Friedman's blog. Peek: As writers, we don’t always know how much of ourselves to share with the public. I believe it behooves each of us to create and curate an author persona—the public face for our work."

Eisner Award Nominee
Congratulations to Americas Award winners and honorable mentionsEisner Award nominees. See also the International Literacy Association's Choices Reading Lists.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Sale & Screening Rom

An everyday girl, a dashing werecat and an awkward wereopossum (with a secret even he doesn't know)! In May, the ebook edition of Feral Nights is on sale for only $1.99. See more information!

“Smith’s blend of supernatural suspense, campy humor, and romantic tension is addictive; allusions to both pop culture (‘Thriller,’ Monty Python) and literature (The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Most Dangerous Game) add to the fun.” — The Horn Book

“Smith’s fantasy smoothly switches between the three protagonists’ perspectives, while expertly blending the mythical and the modern. The story’s sharp banter and edgy plot make for an entertaining and clever story about loyalty and reconciling differences.” — Publishers Weekly

More Personally -- Cynthia

Wonderful Gayleen
Thanks to my wonderful intern, Gayleen Rabakukk, for reading my revised YA manuscript (Candlewick, 2018) aloud to me this week.

There's a point in the process when I honestly can't see typos or missing words any more, and right now that's close to where I am when I'm reading quietly to myself. For me, reading aloud helps.

Someone else reading aloud, especially someone who hasn't read it before is key. She brings fresh eyes and voice to the process. Errors leap up and wave their hands for attention.

I've already keyed out a letter to my editor, Hilary Van Dusen, thanking her for her insightful feedback on the initial draft and detailing my revision journey.

The manuscript has been much changed. Basically, I began by deleting about 16,000 words of navel-gazing and boring-ness and then retooled tone and deepened character while reconfiguring plot scaffolding. It's fascinating to me, though, that the seeds of those changes were largely already present in the existing draft.

My friend and VCFA faculty colleague Tim Wynne-Jones speaks about the "inner genius" and the importance of reading yourself. Don't let the word "genius" throw you; it's essentially about trusting your subconscious to plant clues and encouraging your conscious mind to embrace those opportunities.

And--I am so excited!--2018 will be the biggest year ever for Native YA girl protagonists!

Huge congratulations to Dawn Quigley (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa), whose debut YA novel, "Apple in the Middle" (2018), is the second manuscript accepted for the Contemporary Voices of Indigenous Peoples Series at North Dakota State University Press!

From the publisher: "Dawn Quigley recently received the Denny Prize for Distinction in Writing. She is published in more than twenty-five Native American and mainstream magazines, academic journals, and newspapers, with a forthcoming piece in American Indian Quarterly. She works as assistant professor at a Minnesota university, and she is a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. She is also a consultant on Native American literature for the Minnesota Department of Education, and she hosts a blog about Native literature."

Personal Links

More Personally - Gayleen

My daughter and I had a great outing Saturday doing the Austin Bookstore Crawl, part of Independent Bookstore Day. According to Publishers Weekly, 458 stores participated nationally. In Austin, a list of scavenger hunt tasks was posted the night before that required taking a picture in each store.

At BookWoman we need to take a picture with an inspiring children's book. I chose Liz Garton Scanlon's All the World (Little Simon, 2015) board book. Scavenger hunt rules then required posting the photos to social media, tagging the bookstore and using #atxbookstorecrawl. Participants who visited at least three stores were entered into a drawing for books and swag from all the stores. I don't have sales statistics, but clerks at all the stores I visited said they were busier than usual.

Personal Links

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Guest Post: Lindsey Lane on Marketing & Paperback Release of Evidence of Things Not Seen

By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What are you supposed to do when your debut novel releases in paperback?

a) Nothing

b) Heave a sigh of relief

c) Let everyone know

d) All of the above

Ahhh, the conundrums of marketing.

Guess what? There is no prescribed method for marketing our books. There is no must-do, have-to do, should-do list. There is no recommended amount of time you spend doing marketing.

And guess what else? Marketing is counter-intuitive to every thing we love to do as writers: stay home in comfy attire and create imaginary worlds. Marketing is a little too real world, right?

So of course, I was tempted to let the paperback release of Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) slip into its soft cover without much fanfare.

I chose not to do that because I’ve always had this vision of Evidence passing from hand to hand in the hallways of high schools and I always saw it happening in soft cover format. Certainly the paperback price point made that vision more attainable.

So what to do? 

Lindsey & Cyn at the Turkey Trot in Austin
Because I live in Austin, I have the luxury of going out to lunch with friend, mentor, colleague and super kidlit guru Cynthia Leitich Smith.

“Why not reblurb it?” she said.

“Wait?! I can do that?” I asked.

She explained that because Evidence has been out since 2014, lots of other writer pals have read it, liked it and probably want to support it. 

I loved this idea because part of what makes sense about marketing for me is building community. No community is better than the children and young adult literature community. We cheer our releases, our successes and our causes. 

I reached out to three young adult writers Jennifer Matthieu, Conrad Wesselhoeft and J.L. Powers, all of whom had loved Evidence, and asked them to write a few lines.

Here’s what they said:

"This is the kind of book you tuck in with and escape into, and it will stay with you long after you finish the last lines. Haunting and beautiful.” Jennifer Mathieu, author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook Press, 2014), Devoted (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), Afterward (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) and the forthcoming Moxie (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

"Ever look at a pearl and notice that its one color is, in fact, many colors? That’s the beauty of Evidence Of Things Not Seen, the stunning debut novel by Lindsey Lane.” - Conrad Wesselhoeft, author of Adios Nirvana (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010), Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways To Fly (Harcourt Brace, 2014).

“The narrative jiggers between unexpected opposites—joy and fear, love and violence, grief and hope—all the while holding forth the constant idea that the world offers us credible evidence of what seems impossible if we only know where to look.” J.L. Powers, author of Amina (Allen & Unwin, 2015), This Thing Called The Future (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011), and the forthcoming Broken Circle (Black Sheep, October 2017).

What happened after I received those new blurbs was like sprinkling fairy dust on me and my book. I got reinvigorated.

Let me explain. 

When your book debuts in the world, it begins a journey, which is somewhat separate from me (think kid going off to college). People would ask me how Evidence of Things Not Seen was doing. Other than royalty statements, I didn’t know. 

I imagined my book toddling around the world perched on book shelves, cradled in someone’s lap or passed to a friend with, hopefully, an urgent recommendation. Yes, I had school visits, speaking engagements and signings but really after your book is out in the world, it has its own experience with readers.

After receiving those blurbs, I researched advertising and book tours. 

Advertising is a bit of a gamble. One time in Publishers Weekly or Booklist is hugely expensive. But Facebook is doable. It’s cheaper, effective and targeted. If there is one reason to have an Author page, it is being able to run these kinds of ads.

As for blog tours, I decided to try out LoneStar Literary.

I’d been receiving their newsletter for a few months and noticed that their content and readership was growing. It was also Texas-based and helmed by women (always a plus).

Because Evidence is set around Blanco alongside US 281, I decided LoneStar Literary would be a great fit. For a very affordable price, I had a 10-stop tour, which included four new reviews and a giveaway.

It was a blast. Great exposure. A lot of fun. Terrific support on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently, it
was a successful tour because Evidence had the most giveaway entries so far for a LoneStar Book Blog Tour. Here is a link to the complete tour.

Promoting the paperback release of Evidence was like taking a honeymoon trip with my book. Even though I am currently engrossed in a new world and its characters, I remembered why I wrote Evidence and why I loved that world and its characters.

Putting together a little hoopla for the paperback release was unexpectedly fun. Highly recommended.

Book Trailer

Cynsational Notes

Lindsey Lane is the author of the young adult novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2014) and the award-winning picture book and iTunes app Snuggle Mountain (Clarion/PicPocket Books). She is represented by Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Before she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010, Lindsey was a features journalist (Austin Chronicle and Austin American Statesman) and an award-winning playwright (The Miracle of Washing Dishes).

Lindsey is a featured presenter at schools and conferences and universities and also teaches writing at Austin Community College, Writers League of Texas, and the Writing Barn.

She lives in Austin, Texas but loves to travel, especially to the ocean. She loves books, films, good food and her cadre of dear friends. Her idea of a perfect evening is having a dinner party at her home with friends from around the world and discussing everything under the sun while eating, drinking, and laughing.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Author Interview: Laurie Wallmark on Clarifying Complex Topics & Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome Laurie Wallmark to discuss her new picture book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, illustrated by Katy Wu (Sterling Books, May 16, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—and rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. 

Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English.” Throughout her life, Hopper succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. 

Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly was “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys. 

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I think it's important to write about our passions, and I love STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

I'm also passionate about making sure that all children, regardless of race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc., realize that they can become scientists and mathematicians. By highlighting the achievements of woman in these fields, I'm showing both girls and boys, that you don't have to be male to be a computer scientist like Grace Hopper.

What aspect of the subject surprised you most? 

I knew about Grace Hopper and her many accomplishments, but never realized how personable and funny she was. While researching the book, I watched many videos of her, and she always made me laugh.

Illustrations by Katy Wu. Here, a moth caught in the relay caused a malfunction.
"Ever since then, because of Grace's sense of humor, computer glitches have been called 'bugs.'"

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers? 

The standard advice for those starting out is to read extensively the types of books you want to write. But, as Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) taught us, it takes more than a surface reading to understand what goes into making a good book.

You have to study and practice the craft techniques before you’re able to include them in your own writing.

As an author-teacher, how do your various roles inform one another? 

Although I teach at the college level, my day job helps hone my ability to make sure my audience truly comprehends what I'm teaching. The instant feedback of a classroom setting lets you know when you're on the right track.

If I'm not clear in my writing, I hear that imaginary student, now a seven-year-old, saying, "I don't get it." In STEM nonfiction books at the picture book level, you need to make unfamiliar and difficult ideas understandable to an elementary-school child.

My critical thesis for my MFA was on how to explain complex STEM topics in picture books. In my studies, I discovered many possible techniques to use.

In Grace Hopper, I chose to describe how a compiler works rather than use the technical term. “(Her program) translated MULTIPLY and the other commands into instructions the computer could understand.”

In Ada Lovelace and the ThinkingMachine (illustrated by April Chu, Creston Books, 2015), I gave a technical word and immediately defined it. “Ada decided to create an algorithm, a set of mathematical instructions.”

As an MFA graduate, how did that experience impact your literary journey?

I workshopped this book twice while I was at VCFA. The first time, it was written in verse. Doing this allowed me to include much more detail than is usual in a picture book.

That was the positive. The negative? It just wasn't working. I rewrote the story in prose and brought it back for another workshop. The comments of faculty and my fellow students helped me find my way to the final book.

I’m pleased that one of my poems remained as part of the published book.

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code a starred review. Peek: "Wallmark’s tone is admiring, even awestruck, describing Hopper’s skill, inventiveness, and strength of character in straightforward, accessible language, introducing a neglected heroine to a new generation of readers. Wu’s strong, bright digital illustrations perfectly complement the text..."

Laurie Wallmark has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal). It also won several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka! Award from the California Reading Association. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book.

Discussion and curriculum guides are available for both of Laurie's books.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Book Trailer: The Absoluteness of Nothing by C.G. Watson

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Absoluteness of Nothing by C.G. Watson (Simon Pulse, May 2017) releases today in paperback. From the promotional copy:

Caleb Tosh has suffered one personal trauma too many, but this last one - the sudden departure of his mom - has pushed him down a dark and disorienting path.

His favorite video game, the Boneyard, becomes his go-to coping mechanism, and Tosh gladly gets lost in the maps of the game rather than moving through the landscape of his own grief. 

As Tosh falls further and further down the rabbit hole of abandonment and loneliness, he doesn't see that there are others fighting both virtual and real-life battles alongside him. 

What will it take for Caleb Tosh to leave the safety of the Boneyard, rejoin reality, and deal with the wreckage of his actual life?

Cynsational Notes

C.G. Watson is an author, youth activist, and veteran teacher from Northern California. In 1986, she earned a Spanish degree from California State University Chico, a teaching credential the following year, and a masters in education in 1994.

In 2000, C.G. was given a life-changing opportunity: to bring anti-bullying and conflict resolution programs to the high school where she taught. For five years, she coordinated the powerful Challenge Day program, and created and ran a successful student mediation program as well. These have become the heart of her work as both a YA author and youth activist.

C.G. Watson co-founded Never Counted Out, a non-profit organization that provides books and creative mentorship for students, schools, and youth programs whose access to both books and mentorship is limited. C.G.’s debut novel was Quad (Razorbill, 2007) and her novel Ascending The Boneyard (Simon Pulse, 2016) is re-released today in paperback under a new title, The Absoluteness Of Nothing.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Guest Post: Jane Kurtz on Bringing Books Into the World

By Jane Kurtz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Giving birth to a book is hard. I know. I know. Whine whine whine. Anyway, labor pains are almost over. The new middle grade novel is almost out in the world.

On the verge of my book’s birthday, I returned to the Portland school where my brother and fellow author, Chris Kurtz, was teaching third grade the year I was revising Planet Jupiter (Greenwillow, 2017) —and where I got to read the whole manuscript, chapter by chapter, week after week, to those third graders.

As I struggled to understand my own story and its implications, we talked about Jupiter, my busking, kick-ass protagonist and how she seemed to confident and bold and in charge, but how she was desperately missing her dad (while claiming she wasn’t).

We discussed the stuff that was going to bring her down--her adopted Ethiopian cousin and her new, quirky Portland neighborhood and what it costs us when we flex our muscles and boast that “a rolling stone gathers no moss.” We sang. My brother and his students even made up a song about Portland bridges for my book.

This month, when I returned to the school, I showed the students a picture of me interviewing a girl from Chris Kurtz’s classroom the year before I read to them. She came up to me at a reading appreciation night and made me laugh by the way she talked about being a twin. I asked her if I could interview her for the middle grade novel I was writing—and lo and behold it happened.

“So,” I said. “I was working hard to write my first draft when you all were in second grade. And now you’re in fifth grade!”

I have more than thirty books published. How can it take me so dang long to write-revise-revise-revise a novel?

But it does.

And honestly I also love it that the craft is so demanding. That’s one reason I teach at Vermont
College of Fine Arts MFA in Children’s and YA literature: I want to be a student of the craft of writing for my whole life, constantly filling myself up with new ways to think about writing and reading and what it means to tell a compelling and zingy story.

Suma Subramariam and Jane
A few years ago at a VCFA residency, I mentioned in a lecture that I was thinking about creating some ready-to-read books (something I’ve dabbled in for two U.S. publishers) for Ethiopian kids.

I learned to read in Ethiopia. I’ve helped start an NGO that has been exploring the question of what it means to have a “reading culture” and how readers and writers can support each other around the globe.

Now Ethiopians are starting to write children’s books. But this easy reader category is its own beast. I haven’t seen those in Ethiopia yet.

And they’re vital.

After my lecture, I sat with Suma Subramariam, one of my VCFA students, who emigrated from India and supports a school there, at a picnic table. She encouraged me to be more specific.

I told her I knew I didn’t want to commit to production and distribution. I only wanted to see if I could create colorful, appealing, culturally appropriate, local language books that would maybe inspire some Ethiopian artists and writers to try their hand at this particular type of book—one that seems simple but isn’t, one that is a first bridge to reading. Otherwise, I was pretty vague.

My idea took a big step forward a year ago when I traveled in Ethiopia with two professional American painters, two professional Ethiopian painters, two photographers, and another writer.

We went off the grid to the remote part of Ethiopia where I have my best childhood memories.

Jane and her siblings in Maji

When we returned to Addis Ababa, we experimented with a bookmaking day.

The Ethiopian artists read aloud a couple of stories that volunteers had helped translate into Amharic, one of Ethiopia’s languages. Ethiopian and American kids sat at a table and drew and painted.

One of the American artists took the work done that day, scanned it, and showed me what a book could look like:

 Pretty cool!

When we got home, my sister and I tried more simple stories, most of them inspired by Ethiopian terets or wise sayings like, “When spiders unite, they can stop a lion.”

An illustrator friend did thumbnails to show how illustrators start their work.

Then I organized another bookmaking day in Portland, Oregon, where I live and where Cecile—who was about to start middle school—studied those thumbnails and created most of the art for a second book.

Figuring out every step for our first ten Ready Set Go Books has also been haaaaard.

I’m a volunteer, after all, and so is almost everyone else who’s participated. I’ve had to learn about illustration and page turns and layout and digital design.

And then there’s the question of who will handle production and distribution. Last month, several NGOs paid a small Portland printer to print up 900 copies in three different languages and carried them to rural Ethiopia.

Liz McGovern, Executive Director of WEEMA International said, "I can't tell you how much the kids absolutely LOVED the books! I have never in my life seen kids so engrossed and so determined to read. It was such a beautiful thing!"

Ethiopian students reading Ready Set Go Books
Author Edith Wharton said that to be a writer is to dream an eagle and give birth to a hummingbird. Who knew that something as tiny as a hummingbird would cause such despair and exasperation and make me feel—at times—like such a failure? And yet…

There’s power in creating something that captivates another human.

When I read Charlotte’s Web (by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams, Harper & Brothers, 1952) to my brother, he cried, and the tween that I was got it.

Words make us feel things. Words make us imagine ourselves into the skin of other people and even spiders.

Portland students and Jane excited about Planet Jupiter

Now, it moved me to hear that even two years later, those students remembered how much Jupiter wants her dad back, how hard it is for her to quit travelin’ on, to be vulnerable, to even sit still long enough for a little moss to grow.

What else is there?

Cynsational Notes

Planet Jupiter releases tomorrow from Greenwillow Books, a division of HarperCollins. Publishers Weekly said Planet Jupiter had "a playful yet introspective narrative" and called it an "engaging, empathic story" with "a host of quirky and appealing supporting characters."

Kirkus Reviews described it as "a solid middle-grade family story" with vivid characters and fascinating urban village....holding readers' interest throughout."

Jane in Maji, photo by Jeri Candor
Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country.

Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time. When she was in fourth grade, she went to boarding school in Addis Ababa.

By the time Jane came back to the United States for college, she felt there was no way to talk about her childhood home to people here. It took nearly 20 years to finally find a way - through her children's books. Now she often speaks in schools and at conferences, sharing memories from her own childhood and bringing in things for the children to touch and taste and see and smell and hear from Ethiopia.

She is also a co-founder and member of the board of Ethiopia Reads that works to bring books and literacy to the children in Ethiopia. She is a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program, and the author of more than 30 books for young readers.
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