Friday, May 12, 2017

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Where Do We Go From Here? by Pat Cummings from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...until books featuring diverse characters are actively marketed to mainstream audiences, diverse books will stay a niche section of the bookstore and a niche in publishers’ marketing plans."

A Cheat’s Guide to Writing a Synopsis by Sarah Juckes from Writers Helping Writers Peek: “The point of your synopsis is to explain the main plot to the reader. It is a technical document and doesn’t need to ‘sell’ your book – your book will do that. This is the golden rule.”

A Plea to Publishers by K. Imani Tennyson from Rich in Color. Peek: "...this year I only went to two panels...I chose not to attend them because the diversity in the panel was glaringly absent. I also did not see publishers pushing any of their authors of color...what do I mean by being 'pushed'? I’m talking about giveaways, signage, call to action items..."

In the Age of Conventions, YA Fans Rule by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly.  Peek: “'Movie, TV, and comic book character cosplay has made room for literary cosplay,' says Brett Cohen, president of Quirk Books."

“Gray Area” Stories: Novels For Older Middle School Readers by Laurie Morrison from Project Mayhem. Peek: “I’ve rarely heard anyone say that middle grade novels shouldn’t deal with hard, sad topics; that seems to be okay, but certain language and certain kinds of crushes and romances are a no-go, many people think.”

Celebration of Humor & Women in Kidlit & YA  by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "A true trickster is clever and foolish. A hero and destructive. Half the time female 'tricksters' are trapped in marriages and the like. That’s no life for them."

Agent Spotlight Interview With Lorin Oberweger by Natalie Aguirre from Literary Rambles. Peek: " has less to do with genre and more to do with character development, plot, and theme. I love characters who demonstrate some level of agency right away. I love to experience a world that I wouldn’t have an opportunity to experience outside of the pages of the book."

Do I Cite My Magazine Writing in My Query Letter? by Deborah Halverson  from Dear Editor. Peek: "Presuming the magazines are editorially discriminating and of professional quality, I support mentioning them in the credentials portion of your query letter. You’re seeding confidence in your professionalism and your writing chops." See also Writing 101: The Dreaded Query Letter by Laura Weymouth from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Complex Characters and the Power of Contradiction by September C. Fawkes from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The contradictions I’m talking about aren’t continuity errors or mistakes. They can relate to internal conflicts, but they are not internal conflicts. If you don’t like the term 'contradiction,' many of the things I’m about to talk about also work as 'contrasts.'"

Sheryl Scarborough on To Catch A Killer! by Adi Rule from the VCFA LaunchPad. Peek: "...denial might be what gets us through the day. But no matter how deep down you push it, your truth is going to find its way out. Needless to say, this was exactly the depth my book was lacking and finding it made all the difference for me as a writer."

Bookseller Suing California Over 'Autograph Law' by Jason Boog from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Assembly Bill 1570 requires anyone selling autographed books to provide an extremely detailed 'certificate of authenticity' with each book...Per the new law, booksellers must keep the certificates for seven years..."

The "And then!" Plot by Jane Lebak from the QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "It's as though the story itself were a bunch of snapshots. Sure, the main characters keep getting together, and sure, they'll probably have their Happily Ever After at the end, but it's not satisfying because none of the events are related to each other...The solution to this is to figure out how to connect your plot points with 'And therefore' instead."

Jenny Han on Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Melissa Walker from TeenVogue. Peek: " don’t see this girl — the one who stays home baking and making scrapbooks on a Friday night — represented as much in media. Lara Jean is also very content in her circumstances. She’s not struggling with Asian identity or worrying about not having a boyfriend."

Under The Skylight: Revision by Erin Dionne from The Writers Loft Blog. Peek: "Having the ability to revise, to not be precious about your words so that you can clearly execute your book’s idea, is one of the single best skills you can cultivate as an author."

10 Amazing Results of Author Visits from The Booking Biz. Peek: "Some children find it difficult to connect with even those who are closest to them. But characters in books can reach those children, and the authors who created them become instant friends."

Deborah Hopkinson on Independence Cake  from Jama's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "My new picture most decidedly fiction....The real Amelia Simmons authored American Cookery, the first American cookbook....Although historians know little about her, she may have been a 'bound girl'...the actual Amelia no doubt led a much harsher existence than her fictional counterpart."

New Canadian Children's Books by Kathleen Keenan from Book Riot. Peek: "Blackflies is (Robert) Munsch’s second picture book with Indigenous artist and writer (Jay) Odjick and is based on a story Munsch learned while staying with a family in northern Alberta. Munsch’s trademark humo(u)r is on display here and pairs well with Odjick’s cartoon-inspired style."

Writers Of Color Discussing Craft - An Invisible Archive by Neil Aitken from de- canon. Peek: "Junot Diaz often comments on the fact he’s almost never asked to speak about craft, and instead always is asked to talk about race, identity, and the immigrant experience...I’m struck by how few POC-authored books on writing I’ve seen." Note: includes resource list.

Ask the Agent by Jennifer Laughran from Tumblr.  Peek: "I haven't heard from my agent in over two months despite a few e-mails to check in. Am I about to be dropped?"

Mary Atkinson on Tillie Heart and Soul by Adi Rule from the VCFA Launchpad. Peek: "...writing superpower? Persistence. Persistence in holding onto a spark of an idea for years...persistence in believing in myself as a writer with self-doubt always knocking at the door, persistence in showing up to do the work."

Books and Authors: Talking with Julie Flett by Kay Weisman from Booklist. Peek: "Though my grandparents were multilingual, they did not pass their indigenous languages (Swampy Cree, Michif) on to their children. Just before my grandfather passed away, I asked him if he would speak to me in Cree. He did....this is when I really started to think about what it means to lose the language in our families."

The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing a Novel by Jessica Lourey from Writer unBoxed. Peek: "All I knew was that my brain wasn’t spinning as much and I was beginning to feel again, even if it was the emotions of fictional characters....Through the gentle but challenging exercise of writing a novel, I was learning how to control stories, which is what our lives are—stories."

Character Motivation Entry: Being The Best At Something by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "What does your character want? This...determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for."

Interview with A.S. King by Inky from Inside a Dog. Peek: "....during my 15-year-long path to publication, I was turned down by many an adult publisher because my work was ‘too weird’. In the YA world, they embrace the weird. I tend to dig deep into difficult subject matter that I wouldn’t be able to write about without using surreal elements."

Submit Your Picture Book Manuscript to the New Voices Award from the Lee & Low Blog. Peek: "Change requires more than just goodwill; it requires concrete action. The New Voices Award is a concrete step towards evening the playing field by seeking out talented new authors of color who might otherwise remain under the radar of mainstream publishing." (Open to writers of color who have not previously had a children's picture book published.) Deadline is Sept. 30.

Encouraging Reluctant/Dyslexic Readers  by Ela Lourenco from the SCBWI Blog. Peek: " best source of knowledge was from Larissa herself and my students in my children’s creative writing workshops. They explained to me what would help them become engrossed in a book and how I, as an author, could make reading not only enjoyable but easier for them."

Puppies and Literacy by Erin Lovelace from ALSC Blog. Peek: "We serve many kids with Autism, behavioral challenges and developmental delays. This amazing pup is able to disarm them all. Their walls come down and they open up so quickly."

Margarita Engle Named Young People's Poet Laureate  from the Poetry Foundation. Peek: "'Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike,' says Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation."

European Commission's New E-book Rules Worry Booksellers by Ed Nawotka from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...a measure that would allow countries to set VAT for e-books at the lower levels applied to print books.... the EU has issued a new rule mandating the elimination of 'geo-blocking of copyrighted material,'...The result is that any bookseller in the EC offering e-books will be required to fulfill orders from any customer in the EC."

Movie Alert: ‘Everything, Everything'  by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Though the love story between Maddy and Olly is central to Everything, Everything, the romantic element wasn’t what first led Yoon to write the novel...she developed the book following the birth of her daughter... she began thinking about what it might be like to have a child who was unusually vulnerable to the outside world."

The We Need Diverse Books Internship Grant deadline is May 31.

Congratulations to Joy Harjo, who was awarded the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize and to the 2017 Indies Choice and E.B. White Read-Aloud Award winners and the Banford Boase Award Shortlist nominees!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally - Cynthia

"I am Groot!"
I am not on deadline! I know, you're shocked. It seems odd to me, too. I turned in the revision of my contemporary Native YA novel to my Candlewick editor on Friday afternoon and celebrated by going to see "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" at the Alamo Drafthouse last weekend.

Since then, I've been quietly productive. I've critiqued a picture book manuscript for one writer friend, a middle grade novel for another.

I've written four short articles inspired by my work in progress to be shared in conjunction with the 2018 release date.

The latter probably sounds like an early (perhaps even premature) effort, and it is. But I have a window, and I've found that I should take advantage when that happens.

Also, the manuscript is much fresher in my mind now than it will be after more than a year in production. Besides, VCFA packets will be incoming shortly, so I don't have time to sink into anything else.

Reminder: In May, the ebook edition of my novel Feral Nights is on sale for only $1.99!

Personal Links

How Much Would Fictional Houses Cost? 
Nigeria exchanges 82 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram for prisoners
Czech Girl Scout Whose Confrontation With Neo-Nazi Went Viral Now Getting Police Protection

More Personally - Gayleen

In between revising my middle grade historical fantasy, I've been reading Lady Mechanika by Joe Benitez, the comic my daughter picked out for me at Free Comic Book Day. And the teaser worked! I loved it and will be buying the rest of the series.

As you might've guessed, Lady Mechanika is steampunk, an alternative history with advanced forms of technology. My own work-in-progress is also alternative history with advanced technology and a healthy dose of unease about that technology. It's something people worried about in the early 1900's and it's still with us today - perhaps even more so.

Personal Links

No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes on the Flying Car
Self-Driving Cars Could Be Here Sooner Than You Think

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Author Interview: Leda Schubert on Lyrics, a Music Legend & Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome Leda Schubert, author of Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing, illustrated by Raúl Colón (Roaring Brook Press, June 13, 2017). From the promotional copy:

There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing. 
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up.

This tribute to legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger highlights major musical events in Mr. Seeger's life as well important moments of his fight against social injustice. From singing sold-out concerts to courageously standing against the McCarthy-era finger-pointing, Pete Seeger's life is celebrated in this bold book for young readers.

What was your initial inspiration for writing Listen?

I had no intention of writing about Pete--until that very sad morning when I found out he had died.

Nobody lives forever, but I hoped Pete would beat the odds. I couldn't stop crying, and before I knew it, I had started a picture book about him. Writing as a way to understand and process sadness and loss? I should have known.

What were the challenges (literary, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

First, Pete lived such a long life. Second, he did enough to pack into 50 lifetimes. Third, was he really as flawless has he seemed? And more.

How could I find something fresh to say, deal with McCarthyism in a picture book, and craft it for a child audience? What compromises would I have to make, if any? What would I leave out? How can music be expressed in words?

Including the song titles is pretty brilliant. Was that how you envisioned it from the beginning, or did that evolve as you worked on the project?

Ha. I wanted to include the beginning two lines of 14 or 15 different songs. I very carefully chose
songs that would reflect each section.

For example, the text says "Pete and his good friend Woody Guthrie/…/they hopped freight trains…"

Here I wanted to include the lyrics to 'Hobo's Lullaby': "Go to sleep you weary hobo/Let the towns drift slowly by."

Or, another example: "Pete said, "I love my country very deeply,"/offered to sing a song,.."

Here I wanted to include the beginning of that song: "Wasn't that a time, a time to try/The soul of man; wasn't that a terrible time."

I contacted the copyright holders early on, which began a year-long (!) discussion about getting the rights. Eventually, I received permission from the family, but then learned that the permissions would be prohibitively expensive.

Lesson: don't try to incorporate song lyrics in your work. I realized we'd have to go with the song titles instead.

Also by Raúl Colón
From there, it was in the extremely capable hands of Neal Porter (the editor), Raúl Colón (the illustrator), and Jennifer Browne (the art director). They decided to use the blue font, which I think was a brilliant decision.

What sort of research did you do?

What sort didn't I do?  I am a research addict, and I have become over time probably the world's best researcher. I am a naturally modest if not completely self-effacing person, but I make this claim with confidence.

So the research I did was basically to read everything that had ever been written by or about Pete and to watch videos and listen to everything he sang (almost).

Fortunately, I already knew a whole lot about Pete's life. The problem I have with research is stopping.

Did you ever meet Pete or see him perform in person?

I did not exactly meet him, but I did shake his hand on two occasions and tell him how much he meant to me. I mention this in the notes. I was also very fortunate to see him many, many times, in concert, at folk festivals, and on pickets lines and demonstrations.

What do you hope readers take away from Listen?

I hope young readers want to listen to Pete's music, learn more about him, and change the world as Pete did. Or at least change where they live. Pete said, as I quote in the book, "If anybody asks you where in the world is the most important place,/ tell them, right where you are."

And I hope knowing his story will lead readers to sing more, especially with others. There's nothing like four part harmony rising to the rafters and drifting to the stars (apparently I now quote myself.).

Also, I hope that readers will go out and buy tons of copies of the book. Then everyone will know about Pete.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Leda reading with mentee at local school
In my journal from when I was 16, I had two wishes (other than falling in love, losing weight, having lots of dogs, etc.): to write for children and to live in Vermont.

I achieved the Vermont part in my early twenties, but it took me about thirty more years to get to the writing part. In between, I was lucky enough to always work in some way or other with children and books.

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

All the usual stuff: write, read, stay tuned in to the world.

Read your work aloud. Find a good writing group. Come to VCFA (Vermont College of Fine Arts, Writing for Children & Young Adults, low-residency MFA program).

But also this: read with children. Experiencing how children respond to your favorite books can be a mixed blessing, but worth it. And be a force for good in the universe!

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Listen a starred review. Peek: "Schubert and Colón capture with affection and respect Seeger’s remarkable lifetime of speaking truth to power through music and engaging the hearts of his audiences. A biographical timeline includes a charming selection from a boyhood letter, contemplating a banjo purchase; the generous resource list includes source notes and recommended recordings."

School Library Journal said "Schubert’s offering is ideal for shared reading. Verdict: Buy this book and sing your heart out!"

Horn Book Magazine described the "focus not on dry facts but on helping child readers understand his essential spirit" and "the text captures the singer’s unmistakable speaking cadence."

Leda Schubert is the author of 10 picture books including Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words, Gerard DuBois (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, 2012), which won the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction, and Ballet Of The Elephants, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Roaring Brook Press, 2006).

She has been a teacher, a school and public librarian, and a consultant for the Vermont Department of Education, and she holds an MFA from VCFA, where she was a core faculty member as well.

She lives in Plainfield, Vermont with her husband and two dogs, one of whom is a saint and the other a sinner.

Leda's favorite Pete Seeger performance, with Bruce Springsteen, 
at President Obama's "We Are One" pre-inauguration concert, Jan. 19, 2009. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Trailer: Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Cinnamon by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (HarperChildren's, 2017). From the promotional copy:

A talking tiger is the only one who may be able to get a princess to speak in this beautiful picture book set in a mythic India by the Newbery Medal-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman, and illustrated in bold colors by Divya Srinivasan.

Previously available only as an audio book, Cinnamon has never been published in print before, and Divya Srinivasan's lush artwork brings Neil Gaiman's text to life.

This stunning picture book will transport readers to another time and place and will delight parents and children alike.

See also New Voice: Divya Srinivasan on Little Owl's Night from Cynsations.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Author Interview: Uma Krishnaswami on the Creative Life, Teaching Writing & Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today we welcome author Uma Krishnaswami to discuss her new MG historical novel, Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh (Lee & Low, May 2017). From the promotional copy:

Nine-year-old Maria Singh longs to play softball in the first-ever girls’ team forming in Yuba City, California. It’s the spring of 1945, and World War II is dragging on. Miss Newman, Maria’s teacher, is inspired by Babe Ruth and the All-American Girls’ League to start a girls’ softball team at their school.

Meanwhile, Maria’s parents—Papi from India and Mamá from Mexico—can no longer protect their children from prejudice and from the discriminatory laws of the land. When the family is on the brink of losing their farm, Maria must decide if she has what it takes to step up and find her voice in an unfair world.

What inspired you to write Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh?

The history itself. I can’t help myself—little-known historical nuggets of information are irresistible to me.

About 15 years ago, I came across a documentary called Roots in the Sand by filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar Hart about this community of families in California in the 20s and beyond, in which the men were from India and the women from Mexico.

They were brought together by a perfect intersection of discriminatory laws that forbade Asians to own land, forbade people of different races to marry, and denied citizenship to people from India. And from all these incredible challenges they made a world of hope and optimism and survival. It’s a peculiarly American story. 

Once immigration from India opened up, the descendants mostly blended back into the Mexican American communities of California, but many retained a nostalgic memory of those fathers and grandfathers from India. I was totally hooked but it took me many, many tries before I could figure out how I should write this history in a way that made sense to kids.

What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?

I don’t think of myself as an author. That title, after all, depends on whether someone else thinks what I write has potential or marketability or whatever. 

But writing. That’s different. I am a writer. I love having an idea zing into my mind. I love the energy of a first draft, even when I know that at some point I’m going to be beating my head against it, trying to shape it into something that a reader could care about. 

I love how I can become enthralled by a story enough to keep returning to it, sometimes for years. And the thing I love best is when a work falls into place, especially after several revisions when it has felt opaque and I have felt dense and inept. Then suddenly, often overnight—as if dreaming has helped this happen—it’s all there and I can’t wait to do the work that has been revealed to me.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I have an office room looking out into my back yard, with a forest beyond the fence, so when I need a visual break I can see green trees. 

I can step out and walk there if I want to. But just so I don’t do that too often, I have a treadmill desk. I set it on slow when I’m writing and it keeps me on track. 

I used to write early in the morning but now I break it up—a couple of hours in the morning, a couple more in the afternoon. About four hours a day when I’m working on a project. During teaching weeks, I don’t do any of my own writing.

How does teaching inform your own writing?

It keeps me honest. I often find myself pointing out things in students’ work, then returning to my own and seeing those very problems staring me in the face. 

Why is it I couldn’t see them before? I think the way it works is this. Story (for me anyway) can often begin as something static—a snapshot, a little description, a place, a lone character, or a single idea. But the words I use to try and get at that story become prisms. They can reveal unexpected flashes of light and color. They can sparkle and create rainbows. But I can’t see that when I first use them. 

In a draft, I’m still chasing a mirage. Before I began teaching I’d often get stuck at that stage, and I left a lot of half-finished projects scattered behind me. 

Teaching forces me to put my own work away. Then when I return to that draft and hold it up at different angles, the light begins to burst through.

What are you working on next?

I’m currently juggling two nonfiction picture books with science themes and a middle grade historical nonfiction book. 

I think every book teaches you how to write that book and no other, so I feel like I’m learning all over again. 

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews called Step Up to the Plate, Maria Singh, "A loving look at a slice of American life new to children’s books" and "filled with heart, this tale brings to life outspoken and determined Maria, her love for baseball, and her multicultural community and their challenges and triumphs."  

Uma Krishnaswami is the author of more than twenty books for young readers, including Book Uncle and Me, illustrated by Julianna Swaney (Groundwood Books, 2016) selected as one of the best children's books of 2016 by Kirkus Reviews, NPR Book Concierge's Guide and USBBY Outstanding International Books List.

She teaches in the low-residency MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Born in New Delhi, India, Uma now lives and writes in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Podcast: Pat Mora, Cynthia Leitich Smith & Don Tate

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What an honor to be interviewed for a podcast also featuring author Pat Mora and author-illustrator Don Tate by Professional Book Nerds.

Peek from my segment:

"It [writing for kids] was a heart decision, not a head decision and part of that heart decision wasn't just about my work.

"It was about the power and importance and necessity of bringing goodness into the world, specifically goodness for kids, and so I was going to do what I could to uplift all storytellers and young readers."

Click here to listen.

Cynsational Notes

About Professional Book Nerds: "We're not just book nerds: we're professional book nerds and the staff librarians who work at OverDrive, the leading app for eBooks and audiobooks available through public libraries and schools. Hear about the best books we've read, get personalized recommendations, and learn about the hottest books coming out that we can't wait to dive into."
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