Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest Post: Carmen Oliver on Founding a Children’s-YA Author & Illustrator Booking Agency

By Carmen Oliver
of The Booking Biz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“I don’t believe in barriers…just fly your plane.”
—Captain Nicole Malachowski from Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts (Candlewick, 2009)

Over the last eleven years, I encountered a lot of barriers.

A lot of uncertainty.

But during that time, it afforded me the opportunity to really focus on studying children’s literature and the publishing industry. I have volunteered and apprenticed in various leadership and communication roles with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Writers’ League of Texas, and the Texas Book Festival.

Carmen & Dianna Hutts Aston at a conference
My agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary is negotiating the sale of my first picture book, and I’m well published in children and adult magazines. I judge children’s writing contests and mentor new writers.

All of this to say has created the fuel to fly my plane.

In March 2014, I founded The Booking Biz, a boutique-style agency specializing in booking award-winning children’s authors and illustrators for school and library visits, festivals and conferences, and bookstores and special events.

I chose to pursue this career because it spoke to a number of my passions. It allows me to connect children with terrific book creators and hopefully, in some small way, make a difference in their lives.

Additionally, I couldn’t wait to collaborate with like-minded individuals who respect and adore children’s literature. Working with librarians, educators, and event coordinators who are passionate about creating lifelong readers and learners, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

For me, like many in the children’s publishing business, the decision to work with someone must come from a connection, respect, and love of their work. But not only that, I have to believe 110% in their ability to reach their audience and deliver a presentation that will enrich, inspire, and motivate long after they’ve left the proverbial stage. Therefore, I only take on clients whereby I’ve seen their presentations or that come highly recommended by someone I trust implicitly.

Librarians, school administrators, and event organizers need to be able to trust my recommendations. I’m not a salesman. I’m an advocate and partner for my authors/illustrators but also for the businesses searching for speakers.

Don Tate drawing at a festival
Here are a few things that leap to mind when someone from my agency presents:

  • Animated & entertaining
  • Audience participation
  • Connecting and relate-ability 
  • Teaching but not preaching

I believe one of the most important roles of a children’s booking agent is to listen. In Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often do we find ourselves doing that? I know I’ve done it many times. Talking before the person has finished speaking. As a booking agent, it’s important to quiet your mind and focus on what is being said, how it’s being said, and what isn’t being said. There’s a lot that can be missed if you’re already concentrating on your next sentence, pitch or comeback.

Not every author needs a booking agent. Not every librarian or event coordinator will work with one either. But when you do enlist their service, here are a few of the benefits:

Bethany Hegedus wows the crowd at a school visit.
  • Professional, personalized pitches to organizations on author’s behalf 
  • Negotiates contract/agreement for fees and scheduling 
  • Acts as a liaison between author and event coordinator 
  • Manages all nitty-gritty details 
  • Assists and/or coordinates book sales 
  • Markets and builds new relationships 

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that creating partnerships with librarians, educators, and event coordinators shouldn’t rely solely on the shoulders’ of the booking agent. Your booking agent is your partner and as partners, you both should be equally reaching out into the community and making connections. Every good pilot needs a supportive co-pilot to fly the plane.

More on the Agency

The Booking Biz represents children’s authors Bethany Hegedus (TX), Dianna Hutts Aston (TX), Dianne de Las Casas (LA), Whitney Stewart (LA), David Elliott (NH), Lindsey Lane (TX), author-illustrator Don Tate (TX), and illustrator Evan Turk (NY). The agency is currently not accepting any new clients at this time. For information, visit the Booking Biz website.


Guest Post & Interview: J.L. Powers & George Mendoza on Children's Book Illustration & Colors of the Wind

By J.L. Powers
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What would your life be like if it felt like you were looking into a kaleidoscope every time you opened your eyes?

What would it feel like to experience strange visions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even at night when you dream?

That’s what happened to George Mendoza when he started going blind as a teenager.

My first picture book, Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza (Purple House Press, 2014), is a picture book biography about George Mendoza.

When George was 15, he lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren't there—eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back.

George describes this condition as having "kaleidoscope eyes."

He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled.

Now a full-time artist, Mendoza's collection of paintings, also titled "Colors of the Wind," is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit. His artwork has also been printed onto fabric and is now sold internationally by Westminster as cloth for clothing and quilts.

Ironically, George paints what he “sees,” an entirely unique phenomenon among painters.

Colors of the Wind is George’s story, illustrated with his paintings (and supplemented with line drawings by Haley Morgan-Sanders).

"Flight of Feathers"
I sat down with George and asked him about the process of becoming a children’s book illustrator.

Powers: What is it like to go from fine artist to illustrator of a children’s book?

Mendoza: Because of my vision problem, being legally blind, I was unable to illustrate the book. But ironically the words that you wrote fit into my paintings. It was kind of a miracle in a way.

Jill Morgan selected those paintings very carefully. And it saved me a lot of trouble because I couldn’t really put paintings to the words.

Wise Tree
Powers: What is it like to have your art used to depict the journey to becoming an artist?

Mendoza: Well, I’ve had great success with painting and having Westminster Inc. do the fabrics, quilts, clothing based on my artwork.

I never thought of doing a children’s book. I think because we’re in a digital age, I thought of doing book covers and CD covers—but never a children’s book.

To have my artwork reproduced digitally on books and fabrics is just a beautiful feeling, to know that people look at my art.

In the beginning, when I first started painting, people said, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing because he’s blind.”

Now they don’t even know that I’m blind because they’re introduced to my artwork only as its reproduced digitally on different types of products.

Powers: Have you ever had art used as covers for CDs? Because I love that idea.

Mendoza: I have actually been contacted by some no-name bands that have put my artwork on their CD covers….and it’s fine with me.

Powers: That’s cool. Anything else you want to say about your journey as an artist and this foray into children’s book publishing?

Mendoza: I grew up with children’s books because my father was a children’s book writer, a very famous children’s book writer. He published over a hundred books with major celebrities like Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, celebrities like sports figures. He’s got a classic out called Need a House? Call Miss Mouse (by George Mendoza, illustrated by Doris Susan Smith (Grosset & Dunlap, 1981)).

Jill Morgan (publisher at Purple House Press) wanted to buy the reprint rights for my dad’s book.

She was like the hundredth publisher—email or phone--that I had received over a two-year period so I finally said, “What about our children’s book, Colors of the Wind?”

She said, “Well, let me look at it.”

And it became a children’s book!

www.purplehousepress.com
Visit Purple House Press!


Monday, October 20, 2014

New Voice: David Zeltser on Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age

Curriculum Resources
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David Zeltser is the first-time author of Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species (Egmont, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding it against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. 

The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. Because Lug is different, his clan’s Big Man is out to get him, he’s got a pair of bullies on his case—oh, and the Ice Age is coming.

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo (a Boar Rider girl!). 

In a world experiencing some serious global cooling, these misfits must protect their feuding clans from the impending freeze and a particularly unpleasant pride of migrating saber-toothed tigers. 

It's no help that the elders are cavemen who can't seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

On Friday, December 7, 2012, I got an international call. It was my agent, Catherine Drayton, in Sydney, Australia. She told me that Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age and a sequel was going to be published. I started sobbing--which felt strange, embarrassing, joyful and cathartic all at once.

My daughter was two at the time, so I remember feeling especially happy that she might read the books one day. After the call--thinking I was all cried out--I called my wife. I immediately started bawling. Then I called my parents . . . you get the idea.

We celebrated by going out for dinner. I have no idea where or what we ate, but I’m sure there was dessert involved and that it tasted especially sweet that night.

One of the best memories I do have--my mother-in-law emailed me to say: "Congratulations! Don't let it go to your head."

She’s from Scotland.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny?

I have a giant stuffed iguana named Pedro next to my computer. I’ve noticed that whenever I write something funny, Pedro winks at me and whispers “Bueno.”

What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

I wouldn’t advise setting out to write in any particular genre or style. I think the key thing is to find a story and characters you love, and then to try various approaches and see what reads best.

Deborah Halverson
Lug started out in third person but--on the advice of the wonderful Deborah Halverson--ended up in first person. It was just more fun to read that way.

More importantly, I would make sure you love the process of creating stories more than anything else. If it’s not your true calling, do the thing you love more.

Be completely honest with yourself--are you doing this more for the love of storytelling, or to ‘become an author’ one day? Are you genuinely enjoying what you’re writing? If the answer is ‘kinda,’ chances are that’s how other people will feel too.

Finally, find writer/reader friends and show them your stories. Listen, learn, and rewrite. Put your story away for a while and look at it again fresh. Then, rinse and repeat. Since you usually only have one shot with a manuscript, only go out to agents after you’ve gone through this process a few times.

Having said all that, I think the funniest books aren’t too focused on the funny. They’re compelling stories with interesting characters who happen to be in comic situations. We’re not going to laugh much if we don’t care about the characters or the story.

Personally, my favorite kind of humor is situational. I like building scenes so that the humor comes from what’s happening to the characters, rather than from the author commenting on what’s happening.

If that’s not enough unwanted advice, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Care and Training of the Writer in Your Life.

Cynsational Notes

David Zeltser emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. He has a forthcoming picture book, Ninja Baby, with Caldecott Honor illustrator Diane Goode (Chronicle Books). David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Follow David on Twitter: @davidzeltser

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Scary & diverse
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition from Lee & Low. Peek: "Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces!"

Green Earth Book Awards from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "Part of this celebration included a donation of 10,000 environmental books to schools. Each year Green Earth Book Awards are given to books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction and nonfiction, YA fiction and nonfiction."

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Strategic Thinking by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The ability to accurately view and assess present-day reality in order to plan for and create the future that one desires (winning a game, reaching a personal goal, growing one’s business, etc.)."

A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Pay attention to how beauty is define." See also The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Book Fair by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews.

Two Pages to Tell a Story by Yona Zeldis McDonough from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant." See also Gender Bias in Writing & Publishing: Fact or Fiction by Julie Munroe Martin from Writer Unboxed.

An Author's Journey to Getting Back into Print by Eleanora E. Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!"

Metis characters & gender-expectations theme
Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle by Carole Lindstrom: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig."

Historical Accuracy in Illustration: Shifting Standards or Stubborn Uncertainties? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Can illustration ever really and truly be factual, just shy of simply copying a photograph? Should we hold historical fiction and historical nonfiction to different standards from one another?"

At Age 91, Island Artist Ashley Bryan Still Trying to "Tap That Inner Mystery of Who I Am" by Bill Trotter from The Bangor Daily News. Peek: "Born in the summer of 1923 in Harlem, New York, to a large family that traced its roots to the Caribbean island of Antigua, he could not escape the conflicts of the era."

Boo Hoo from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Was I still grateful that night to be published and well enough regarded to be on the road? Of course. But that didn’t keep the night from being dark." See also The Key to Rejection by Shannon O'Donnell from Project Mayhem.

Celebrate Yourself by Kathryn McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...we can get so focused on what recognition and success look like in the world around us that we forget what success looks like to each of us, on our terms."

National Book Award finalist; learn more.
Get to Know the Finalists for the National Book Award from National Public Radio. Peek: "The National Book Awards shortlists — for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature — were announced Wednesday on Morning Edition...." Note: scroll for Young People's Literature. 

Thoughts from an Author-Editor by Kate Brauning from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But this year, my debut novel is being published (How We Fall (Merit Press,  November 2014))."

How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Need to Be? Five Principles by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What is the memoirist’s responsibility in telling the truth, the whole truth? What is our responsibility to others who share our story?"

A Writing Retreat Re-Defined by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be 'real,' and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care."

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Imani's Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge, 2014).



Via A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal:



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win.

The winner of a signed copy of Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron is Elaine in Missouri.

Enter to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest) from Carmela Martino at Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Great news! The Austin SCBWI chapter has instituted a scholarship for Writers of Diverse Characters. I hope that our example will lead other chapters and writing organizations to take similar action.

My children's books Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) join Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief (Dial, 1998) as companion books to Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, 2012) for Saratoga Reads!

I look forward to traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York to celebrate! See more information.


Do you like my Cynthia Leitich Smith author page at Facebook? I'm somewhat stunned to report that I've passed 5,000 followers (and counting) over there, and the comments section is pretty lively.

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Christina Soontornvat on the sale of her debut picture book to Nancy Paulsen Books!

New logo!
We Need Diverse Books Announces Walter Dean Myers Awards and Grants by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The Walter Dean Myers Award...nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing... In addition...grants will be awarded to up-and-coming, unpublished writers and illustrators who are creating diverse works and require financial support...." Note: I'm an advisory board member of WNDB.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post: Simon Nicholson on An Alternative History & Investigator of Mystery

Excerpt, educator's guide & more information!
By Simon Nicholson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I was reading books about Houdini. It seemed to me one of the most exciting things about him was that, as well as being the world's most famous illusionist, he also devoted much of his life to doing battle against "magic".

Enraged at the thought of ordinary people being exploited, he worked ceaselessly to expose fake séances, false mediums, Spiritualist hoaxes.

With his stunts and de-bunking activities, the great Houdini sought to prove that man was master of his own fate, that no "magic" could be more powerful than what ordinary men or women could achieve with their own skills, muscles and wits.

An extraordinary quest—particularly for his times. I started wondering what could have made Houdini so driven in this way. Something in his childhood perhaps?

An idea for a series of books for middle grade readers took shape; in which a young Harry Houdini, boy investigator, would be faced with supposedly magical mysteries, and would use his emerging escapological skills to unmask the truth.

I started work on an alternative history: a series of events that didn't happen, but which, just possibly, might have done. I knew that the real Houdini's boyhood had been a relatively peaceful one in Appleton, Wisconsin; but I asked myself whether that could have been a "cover-up", a carefully devised tale to conceal a far more thrilling reality?

So I placed my Harry on the Manhattan streets in 1886, shining shoes; I introduced him to two young friends, Billie and Arthur. Together, this trio find themselves getting swept up in a series of frightening mysteries; an elderly magician kidnapped by unknowable forces; the mayor of New Orleans falling victim to a daemonic curse. People are terrified, rumours of magic abound; but young Harry uses his skills to expose the truth…

And to outwit the danger that results. Generally, people create rumours of magic for sinister purposes, and the villains in my books would be no different.

More on Simon Nicholson!
The real Houdini made powerful enemies through his determination to expose falsehood; that would be true of my boy investigator too. His enemies would try to silence him by the most deadly means possible, leading him to develop those unbelievable powers of escape.

Over and over again, he would escape to tell the tale; he and his friends would travel the world to defeat mystery. And at the end, I decided, there would be neat scene in which Harry would decide to invent his "cover story", a convincing tale of how he grew up peacefully in Wisconsin, USA…

So: Young Houdini, investigator of mystery.

Cynsational Notes

Simon Nicholson is the author of The Magician's Fire, the first book in his Young Houdini series. Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in the U.S. and by OUP in the U.K. and rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on The Power of Story & Our Brains

By Kimberley Griffiths Little
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was young I read a book a day.

I always had a book with me, whether it was inside my desk when I was done with the class assignment, or in the car as the family drove somewhere (and especially long trips), the waiting room of the dentist office, or while sitting in church when I didn’t understand the sermon. A book was literally the best friend I carried in my pocket.

I lived inside those stories. I became the main character. I laughed, I wept, and sometimes I sobbed into my pillow.

The writing bug bit me early and I started scribbling very bad stories when I was 9-10 years old—hoping that someday I might create some of the magic of books myself, just as my favorite authors did.

Now, when I go into schools I like to spend a few minutes talking about that book magic. I tell them;

“When we open up a book there are all these little black marks on a white page. Just a bunch of black marks. And yet, as we decipher those funny black marks they become words and sentences. They turn into a story. And that story comes alive in your head, in your imagination.

"Those black marks let us slip inside the skin of the main character and suddenly we are in their mind, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, going places, having adventures, solving mysteries, or getting into trouble. And often those bunches of black marks make our heart pound, our throat ache, and our emotions run the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other. I call that magic!"

Now we’re finding out that scientific researchers are studying people’s brain activity while reading. They are discovering that novels go beyond simulating reality to giving readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Exactly!

A favorite of Kimberley at age 14.
In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex (sense of smell to us common folk) lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark.

The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. But when people read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active.

Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas.

In a study in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.

What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

Visit Kimberley at Spellbinders!
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

I find that simply fascinating!

The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Reading is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.

This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind.

So now I call reading a “Virtual Reality Experience”.

A story about the amazing Richard Peck:

At one of the very first writer’s conferences I attended (about 20 years ago!) in Santa Fe, New Mexico; we were privileged to hear the Newbery-winning writer Richard Peck.

At the time he had not yet won the Newbery, but had published a body of young adult novels that had been on piles of award-winning book lists. He was mesmerizing and full of wisdom, speaking of his childhood and learning how to read at his mother’s knee.

I will never forget something Richard Peck said that day: He said, “Books are better than real life.”

Obviously my fifth grade teacher did not understand this when he wrote a letter home to my parents and told them that he was concerned about me because “Kimberley reads so constantly she’s not playing during recess, and I fear she might be losing touch with reality.”

Not to worry, Mr. Thiessen (a teacher I actually really liked and who read to us every day after lunch). I knew the difference, but I also knew that books were better than real life!

What is also significant is that my parents never breathed a word about that letter way back then. My mother didn’t mention it until many years later when I was married with children of my own.

As I wrote in the dedication of my book, The Last Snake Runner (Knopf, 2004):

This book is for my parents, who never turned out the light on reading: just took me to the library again.

I’m grateful for books and stories and parents who encouraged reading, which helped their extremely shy and awkward daughter with very few friends to create a meaningful life through books as she grew up and grew less shy and less awkward – although it took most of my life!

Now I get letters from adult and kids alike telling me about the power of my stories in their lives and how the stories helped them through family crises and sadness—or kept them up half the night turning the pages while chills ran down their arms.

I hope my brand new Scholastic novel, The Time of the Fireflies, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and gives you a good case of chills at midnight.

Cynsational Notes

Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul by The New York Times.

How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain by Lee Dye from ABC News.

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Post: Margo Sorenson on Working with a University Press

By Margo Sorenson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it's often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I'd step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother's inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Here is Tori's story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.

Lefse on Turner
To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?
If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university's imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you're surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband's Norwegian immigrant family's precious traditions, I believed in Tori's story. I contacted my children's literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn't know if they would publish a children's book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn't I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, "No," but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina's Young Palmetto Books imprint  specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children's book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori's story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover
One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven't you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that's not their mission or reason for existence, so if you're looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there's also that "don't judge a book by its cover," right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori's story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.
New e-book cover!

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would "adopt" our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather's chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother's new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she's working so hard just for Bjorn, since he's not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!

Checklist:
  • Is your story historical or cultural?
  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?
  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?
  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson's twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco's Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, "picking-up-stix" with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.

When his uncle's restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake's last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant? 

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Author & Illustrator Chat & Giveaway: Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen on Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Jon & Mac
By Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Mac: Hi, Jon!

Jon: Oh! Hi Mac!

Mac: And hello, Cynsations readers. We have taken over the blog today.

Jon: Yes.

Mac: We are using our power to just post this gchat we are having into the blog.

Jon: Great responsibility, etc.

Mac: On a lot of days, because writing and illustrating books is lonely, Jon and I have gchat conversations, either in text or with the audio link thing. I don’t really know what to call it, or even how to use it. Jon is the one who always has to call me.

Jon: There’s a country song in there somewhere.

Mac: Anyway, while we were making Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014), we were talking a lot.

Jon: Not so much anymore.

jk jk we still talk a lot.

Mac: Anyway, those conversations had a big impact on the book we were making, especially this spread right here:

See copyright information below.

Jon: Right. So here we have Sam and Dave, and their dog. This part of the book is about them missing these things in the ground that they are digging for, and they’ve just made an unfortunate turn, and are about to make another.

Mac: The joke is funnier in the book.

Jon: A little.

Mac: The Hard Sell.

Mac and John and their new release
Jon: In Stores Now.

Mac: Anyway, when Jon was doing sketches, we would already be on gchat talking about snacks and stuff, and then he would send the art over to me and we would talk about it.

Jon: Yes. This page and the next few pages started out as a visual joke that I liked, but wasn’t in the story that Mac had written.

Mac: Yeah, Jon sent me a picture where Sam and Dave split up and dig a circle around a big gem.

We can’t show you this picture—if you want to see it, you’ll have to stop reading Cynsations right now and head out to your independent bookstore, cash in hand. Hard sell.

Jon: Right. And I wasn’t even completely sold on it. I liked the joke, but I worried that Mac’s guys wouldn’t split up like this. They are good pals on a journey, and it seems like kind of a risky thing for them to choose to do.

Mac's dog, Henry
Mac: And when I saw the image, I laughed. It was beautiful and funny, but I didn’t think Sam and Dave would want to split up.

I think then Jon and I sat and stared at that image for a while. The only sound was the chewing of our snacks.

Jon: and the occasional slurp because i had a drink, also

Mac: And we talked about this question a lot—would Sam and Dave split up? We talked about it for the next couple of days.

Jon: with a few breaks for more snacks

Mac: and talking about snacks

Jon: comparing snacks

Mac: And then finally we realized that, yes, they would split up, but it would be a big deal for them—that our worry about the split was also their worry about the split, and so I wrote some new text to set up that image. And that’s the text you see here.

Dave, who tends to take the lead on this adventure, proposes the idea. Sam expresses trepidation. And Dave tries to reassure him. (But Dave is afraid too.)

Jon: Right. It was neat, because it shows them getting a little more committed to this thing, and willing to do things that make them uncomfortable, so the story kind of moved forward.

Jon's cat, Pigeon
Mac: I think you learn a lot about both boys in this spread. They’re vulnerable, especially Dave.

I love Jon’s art here. He’s so good at facial expressions, of course, but he’s also a master of posing. I love Dave’s hand on Sam's shoulder, that look in his eyes.

The art is telling you a lot about how the text should be read, as it should in a picture book.

Mac: (Cynsations readers might like to know that now Jon is just sitting, not writing anything, because he doesn’t know how to deal with compliments.)

Jon: i just broke out into a rash

Jon: It’s a fortunate end to have, illustrating a story like this, because the text gives all the emotion you could hope to have, and then if you put a guy very simply putting his arm on the other boy’s shoulder, you’re good to go.

I enjoy Mac’s praise, and will never discourage it, but these things are made much easier because the emotions are there and only need a really gentle implication in the picture.

Mac: Ultimately this ended up being one of my favorite spreads in the book—absolutely one of the most important—and it didn’t exist in the original manuscript.

We created the moment to support a drawing Jon just made up, which is on the next page, and which we’re not allowed to show you, so run don’t walk to your favorite bookstore and grab a copy of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole!

How was that for a big finish?

Jon: Thanks everybody! Come see us on tour! Bring snacks!



Cynsational Notes

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. 

Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. 

Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.

With perfect pacing, the multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen dig down for a deadpan tale full of visual humor.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

YA Supernatural Baddies by Cynthia K. Ritter from The Horn Book. Peek: "Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion."

Cynsational Insight

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick, 2014), recommended at the above link by The Horn Book, is my new favorite book of all time! Not because the hero's name is Cyn, but, yes, that is a bonus.

From the promotional copy:

When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high school librarian, Cyn can totally understand why — he's really young and ridiculously hot and apparently thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor.

But almost immediately, Cyn starts to sense that something about Mr. Gabriel isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's (literally) mesmerizing eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him, or the blood and horns and giant bat-like wings that appear when he thinks no one is looking. Before long, Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact ... a demon.

Now, in addition to saving her beloved school musical (Sweeney Todd!) from technical disaster and avoiding making a complete fool out of herself with her own hopeless crush (who happens to be the only other person who knows the truth about Mr. Gabriel), Cyn has to save her best friend from the attractive-yet-very-very-bad clutches of the evil librarian, who has not only bewitched Annie but seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!

The Horn Book says, "Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy."



More News & Giveaways

Everything You Should Think About Before You Apply to a MFA Program by Elizabeth McCracken from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Peek: "Don’t apply to safety schools. Don’t apply to any school you know you don’t want to go to. You shouldn’t settle for something you think is just okay in any aspect of your writing life."

There Is Nothing Wrong with Writing Nonfiction Books for Children by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Peek: "There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)" See also Clearing the Brush by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book.

Thoughts About Bordered and Borderless Girls by Samantha Marby from YA Highway. Peek: "...in my mind, Hispanic kids spoke Spanish. At their homes, there were statues of the Virgin Mary on the mantels. Their mothers made their own salsa and carried it in a porcelain mug when they went out to eat because what the restaurants served wasn’t hot enough. Those kids weren’t like me. But they were like my grandmother."

Is Aging the Problem? Or Ageism? by Lindsey McDivett from A Is for Aging. Peek: "Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers, and recommends that advocacy start early."

Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI's Emerging Voices Award from Lee and Low. Peek: "We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace. It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable."

Print Books Outsold E-Books in First Half of 2014 by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks."

Off the Literary Reservation: Young Adult Fiction Is Giving Native Americans Their Own Voice by Catherine Addington from The American Conservative. Peek: "In the American imagination, the Native population is confined not just to physical reservations but to the historical reservation of the past."

Five Ingredients for Writing Horror by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...we are hardwired to protect ourselves and fear is a big part of self-preservation." Note: includes giveaway.

The 2014 GG Short List from Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: "'This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,' said Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. 'They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.'"

Pre-writing: Discovering Your Character's Secrets by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi was Karin in Oklahoma.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally


Exciting news! I'm honored to be a contributor to the recently announced Violent Ends anthology, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse).


Highlights of the week also included watching fellow Austin children's-YA author Chris Barton on "Mysteries at the Museum" on The Travel Channel! Way to go, Chris!

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out!

Personal Link


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Giveaway: Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

From the promotional copy:

Last year sixteen-year-old Autumn solved her sister’s murder. This year, she is part of a high school forensic dream team that assists the police when teens are kidnapped. 

When it’s discovered the kidnappings are part of a secret online survivor game, the police and team focus on the game maker-the man behind the game. 

The focus of the investigation shifts when Autumn is singled out and becomes the target of the Game Maker’s sick game. 

 Through encrypted messages hidden in steganographs, Autumn must discover who the last kidnapping victim is if she hopes to save him in time.

S.X. writes: "As a Mexican-American writer, I've very proud to continue Autumn's story. She's a smart, driven Hispanic teen that wants to make her own path in life. My hope is that young Latinas will draw inspiration from Autumn."


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