Thursday, September 21, 2017

New Voice: Ruth Freeman on One Good Thing About America

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Although Ruth Freeman has authored several picture books, she made her debut as a novelist earlier this year with One Good Thing About America (Holiday House, 2017). From the promotional copy:

Is it ever easy being new?

Anaïs was the best English student in her class in Africa. Now in Crazy America she feels she doesn’t know English at all. Nothing makes sense…chicken
fingers

In letters, she writes to her grandmother back home about Halloween, snow, mac ‘n’ cheese and princess sleepovers. She misses her father and brother and hopes the fighting is over soon. 

In the meantime, she writes about the weird things Crazy Americans do, and wonders if she will ever feel at home in this strange new country.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

When I found that I could read chapter books, it was like falling in love. My seven- or eight-year-old self wouldn’t have known to call it that, but it absolutely was. I couldn’t believe the places I could go and the people I could meet, all between the covers of a book! Words melted away on the page, time stopped, and I would go off with fairies, pioneer girls, knights or rabbits. Being so absorbed and transported at that age was as close to real magic as I will ever get.

I think when you’re young and fall in love with reading, it never leaves you. You’re hooked.

As I got older, the notion of recreating the magic I found in books began to take hold. I wanted to reverse the process. Could I weave words together in such a way that the picture in my head would show up (similar but different) in someone else’s head? How cool would that be?

Of course, it’s one thing to catch the desire to write and another thing to do it, as I found out. But that’s another story (see below).

Students reading at Ruth's school
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Two words: my students. I teach English language learners (ELL) at an elementary school in Maine, so everyday I work with young people, some of whom arrived in this country a week ago, some of whom were born here but speak another language at home.

It takes five to seven years to become fluent in English, both the basic conversational language as well as the academic language.

As ELL teachers, we often work with the same students over several years, which means we get to know them, hear their stories, answer their many questions and meet their families.

I wrote this book for two reasons. The first was so that my students, and students like them, could see themselves in a book. There aren’t enough children’s books about the experiences of newcomers. At least, not yet.

The second reason was so that all readers could get a glimpse of what life might be like for a girl new to this country.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, I write that there’s no way I can truly understand the experience of a refugee or asylum seeker but my hope, and expectation, is that one day my students, and others like them, will write their own stories...and I can’t wait to read them!

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

Because I was writing from the protagonist Anaïs’ point of view, the biggest challenge was to make her writing, her voice, sound authentic.

I limited the words I could use to the ones used by a typical newcomer.

I added a few expressions she might have picked up such as, “for sure,” “for goodness’ sake,” and “crazy” to describe anything that didn’t make sense (which was a lot of things!). She uses “cool” and “bingo” she hears from her teacher. Because her vocabulary is still growing, she repeats words for emphasis, such as “I am not happy. Not not not happy.” Other vocabulary lessons spill over into her writing, too, such as her use of comparative adjectives: “big, bigger, biggest.”

Anaïs’ grammar and spelling was also a challenge. I wanted her writing to look as realistic as possible, so I decided it shouldn’t be perfect. I tried to include enough misspellings to make it authentic but still keep it legible.

As time goes by, her spelling, verb tenses, grammar and vocabulary improve. I worked long and hard to make the progression plausible (though her improvement is probably faster than it would be in real life). It was tricky remembering what words she had learned and what misspellings she had corrected as the story unfolded!

A fourth grade class decorated their door as the cover.
Using an entirely epistolary format must have been particularly challenging, but it works beautifully. Can you tell us what drew you to this format?

I have to admit I had never thought about writing a story in letters before. The idea for a “school” story was rolling around in my head, but that was as far as I’d gotten with it.

One spark came when I was helping some ELL students in a 2nd grade classroom. The class was writing persuasive letters, first having to state an opinion, then writing a letter to persuade someone to their point of view.

However, it wasn’t until later that the letter writing and the “school” story idea came together.

I had these bits and pieces in mind, but in the end, it was my students’ voices that made everything click. I can often hear their distinctive voices and accents in my mind long after we’re together, and it was these voices that I wanted to preserve on paper.

I felt the best way to do this was writing from my character’s point of view through letters she was writing home to her grandmother.

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

If you have a burning desire to write for young people, try it! Even though I had wanted to write for a long time there came a point when I felt time was passing and it was now or never!

But...there’s always a but...be prepared for a long, slow, hard slog. If you want it badly enough, you will stick with it. If it’s not for you, you’ll find that out and discover some other wonderful creative path to follow. It’s a journey, right?

But, if you get more and more determined to write, here are a few tips from one (and only one) writer:

Ruth in her elementary school library.
Read children’s/YA books! Haunt your local library, make friends with the children’s librarian, ask what everyone is reading, but don’t forget to read the classics as well.

Learn about the publishing business. One excellent way is to join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They have a lot of information online, they hold great conferences, and they can hook you up with local chapters and writers groups.

Find what works for you in the way of writing. You can read everyone else’s tried and true methods, but in the end, you have to figure out which way is best for you.

For example, I cannot wake up at 4 a.m. and write! I work full-time at the moment, so I take notes and glean ideas during the week and carve out Sundays for writing. And I work hard on stories in the summer when I’m not teaching. It is not easy. When I had small children, I wrote nonfiction picture books partly because I could do the research whenever I could find the odd moment of free time.

Write about what grabs you and you’re passionate about--not, I repeat not, what you think will sell and make you a million dollars. Your heart won’t be in it. Don’t get hung up on “brands” and “platforms.” Keep it real.

Lastly, when you are ready to plunge into your first draft, learn to banish the critics sitting on your shoulders (they keep coming back, so keep shooing them away), take a deep breath and enjoy making a mess!

You have the freedom to write whatever you want...and it in no way has to be perfect!

Keep an image of a mud puddle in mind.


Later, you can make everything pretty.

In the beginning, it is time for delight, freedom, creativity, humor and the joy of being subversive. Readers come later. In the beginning, you’re writing just for you. Go for it!

Ruth Freeman
(photo by Molly Haley)
Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal called One Good Thing About America "highly recommended for libraries seeking timely stories about the immigrant experience."

An educator's guide is available from the publisher.

Ruth Freeman grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches students who are English Language Learners, including many newly arrived immigrants. She's worked with students from every continent except Australia and Antarctica. She has also authored several nonfiction picture books on subjects ranging from hairstyles to the history of chocolate.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

New Voice: LaTisha Redding on Calling the Water Drum

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

LaTisha Redding is the debut author of Calling the Water Drum, illustrated by Aaron Boyd (Lee & Low, 2016) From the promotional copy:

Henri and his parents leave their homeland, Haiti, after they receive an invitation from an uncle to come to New York City. 

Only able to afford a small, rickety boat, the family sets out in the middle of the night in search of a better life. Out at sea, Henri dreams of what life will be like “across the great waters.”

Then the small boat overturns, and Henri is placed on top of the boat as his parents drift further out at sea. 


Overcome with grief, Henri retreats into himself and is no longer able to speak once he reaches land. Encouraged by his uncle and neighbor, Henri takes a bucket and plays on it like a drum. The drumming becomes a link to his past and a conduit for his emotions. 

Slowly, through his drumming and the kindness of his uncle and friend, Henri learns to navigate this new and foreign world without his parents.

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

more from illustrator Aaron Boyd
I keep a notebook with me almost all of the time. But I didn't write down the idea for this story right away. It stewed in the back of my mind for several months. When I finally stilled myself to write it, I let the story pour out onto the page without editing.

As I wrote, the first challenge was capturing Henri’s voice. Henri narrates the story and it took me a few revision rounds to discover how much dialogue he would have. I'm not a poet or a musician, but Henri's voice had formed a certain cadence when I read the draft out loud.

Then I immediately tucked the story away. After that, I researched details of the Haitian language, which is Kreyol, and the culture; it was important that I presented it properly. I also researched drumming, the origins, and its ceremonial use within the African diaspora.

When I returned to the story months later, I shaped it with those elements, chose more precise words and tightened the structure. Later, when I worked with my editor Jessica, she helped me revise it further by adding the day-to-day details of life in Haiti, which required more research. That added another layer to Henri's story.

For the psychological aspects of the story, I knew from the onset that Henri was dealing with great loss, which was balanced with hope. But I never considered the themes in Calling the Water Drum too heavy for a child to understand.

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

The advice that I have, is what's been given before and it's advice that I followed, and still practice. Read a lot and write a lot. That's the bedrock of being a writer. I have yet to personally meet another writer that didn't begin as a voracious reader. The reading comes easily. The writing can be the hard part. Over the years, I've discovered that just because I'm compelled to write and I enjoy telling stories doesn't mean it's not hard.

LaTisha at a classroom visit
One piece of advice that I always found interesting was the adage to "write what you know." I like to modify that: write what you want to know more about. I write what intrigues me or gets under my skin. And centering a child as the protagonist in a story gives me the chance to explore with wonder. Kids are curious about the world and, as a writer, so am I.

When it comes to actually learning how to write, I view it as a skill, like anything else. You read something, a poem, a short-story, a picture book, a novel and then you apprentice the story--you take it apart to see how the author put it together. Of course the "recipe" of read a lot, write a lot has to be seasoned with patience. Life gets so busy sometimes and it gets difficult to make time for writing.

It helps to set realistic reading and writing goals. I read the classics and read what's on the market. I decide how many stories to write and complete in a month or three-month time frame if a year feels too lengthy. And completing the story is key. It's better to complete two short-stories or one novel than have a hard-drive worth of half-finished stories.

What would you have done differently? 

I've been a storyteller since I was a child. But, I'm not one of those writers who have been writing since I was a kid or wrote for my high school newspaper or took creative writing classes in college. I had graduated from college and worked for several years before I took a writing class.

If I could do it differently, I would've taken creative writing classes in college and started to learn the craft earlier. I also would've sought out other writers and writing organizations sooner.

The community has been invaluable. It's important for me to gather with other writers; but it was critical for me in the beginning stage to be around other writers and experience that camaraderie. I've learned that writing in isolation doesn't benefit me at all.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

More from illustrator Aaron Boyd
Being an author is still very new to me. It's true that having a book published is a delicious feeling. I'm still amazed. But I keep my focus on getting my butt-in-the-chair and writing. I have more stories to tell. And since I want to get more of my stories out into the world then I need to write more.

The pragmatic side of me has approached marketing and promotion with the understanding that it's part of the book publishing process. It's a business, after all. So I setup a website and I'm on Twitter joining the conversations about writing or the writing life, which is fun. I've been steeped in the writing world for years, but publishing is a whole other beast.

In terms of my self-image, it's pretty much the same, again, because I've been a storyteller since I was little. So for me, at the end of the day, it's all about story.

As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story? 

I'm African-American and the story is from the vantage point of a Haitian boy named Henri. But there's another child named Karrine in the story, who is African-American.

Now, I didn't write a Haitian story or the Haitian experience. There are Haitian writers who can express that from a place of vision that I never could. But, I wrote this story entwining two children from different cultures and that was intriguing to me.

Since I grew up in New York City, I'm familiar with being immersed in my culture while living parallel to many other cultures. I definitely wanted to give life to that experience and I did.

Cynsations Notes

Kirkus Reviews gave Calling the Water Drum a starred review, calling it "a powerful story of loss and survival, human connection and hope... Redding’s distinguished text sensitively portrays the tragedies young Henri and Karrine have faced..."

A teacher's guide is available from the publisher.

LaTisha Redding is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop and busy working on a middle grade novel. She lives in Florida and when she's not wilting from the humidity,  she writes!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Author-Illustrator Video: Daniel W. Vandever on Fall In Line, Holden!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out this author-illustrator interview video with Daniel W. Vandever on Fall In Line, Holden! by Tyler Mitchell from Salina Bookshelf. From the promotional copy:

Fall in Line, Holden! follows Holden, a young Navajo boy, through his day at boarding school.

Although Holden is required to conform to a rigid schedule and strict standards of behavior, his internal life is led with imagination and wonder. 

Whether he is in art class, the computer lab, or walking the hall to lunch, Holden’s vivid imagination transforms his commonplace surroundings into a world of discovery and delight.

Explore the world through Holden’s eyes. Join him for the day, and celebrate the strong spirit of a boy who rises above the rules surrounding him.

Monday, September 18, 2017

New Voice: Bonnie Pipkin on Aftercare Instructions

By Gayleen Rabakukk
For Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Bonnie Pipkin is the debut author of Aftercare Instructions (Flatiron Books, 2017). From the promotional copy:

“Troubled.” That’s seventeen-year-old Genesis according to her small New Jersey town. She finds refuge and stability in her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter—until he abandons her at a Planned Parenthood clinic during their appointment to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The betrayal causes Gen to question everything.

As Gen pushes herself forward to find her new identity without Peter, she must also confront her most painful memories. Through the lens of an ongoing four act play within the novel, the fantasy of their undying love unravels line by line, scene by scene. 

Digging deeper into her past while exploring the underground theater world of New York City, she rediscovers a long forgotten dream. But it’s when Gen lets go of her history, the one she thinks she knows, that she’s finally able to embrace the complicated, chaotic true story of her life, and take center stage.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

What came to me first was a vision of the opening scene: A girl named Genesis would have an abortion, walk out into the waiting room, and find her boyfriend gone. From there, I had no idea where the story would go, but I always knew this was where it started.

It went many different directions in the drafting process—the first round even had a traveling ghost theater troupe!—but that scene was the anchor. Beyond that, I knew I wanted to write about abortion but I never wanted the journey to the choice to be part of the story. We were going to enter the world with the choice made.

I also wanted to tackle the subject without shame. These were the bits and pieces. Then I just had to get to know Genesis in order for the rest to come out.

What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?

The worst moment of my publishing journey came while I was revising the novel with my agent. I was full of momentum after finishing my MFA program and signing with an agent right out of the gate, ready to finish the manuscript and put it out into the world.

I read the opening scene for my graduate reading to a tremendous response, and was full of confidence about how edgy and boundary pushing I was going to be. Opening the book with a minute-by-minute abortion scene was going to Blow. People’s. Minds. I told myself this.

Bonnie with her VCFA diploma
Then one day, I received feedback from my agent that she thought we should cut that opening scene and start the story somewhere else. That maybe opening with that scene was a bit too intense for the people sitting around acquisitions tables. That maybe it was a little too much like staring at a car crash. After all, this is one of the most divisive subject matters in this country.

I was shattered by this suggestion. I have a punk rock spirit, and have always thought I should never think about stuff like that when making art. To me, agreeing to cut this scene felt like the first time that I had to make a business decision over an artistic one.

But I see now how I was still in this cloud of overconfidence. I didn’t write for two months after this suggestion. I didn’t know what this book was without that opening scene. My agent assured me that after I made that cut, if the book didn’t feel authentically me, then we could always go back. But I really didn’t know how to do it. I felt like I had come so far and maybe the story wouldn’t actually go anywhere now.

After killing the biggest darling of my life, and basically skinning myself alive, I had to grieve and then I had to heal a bit. But then something amazing happened. Without my dependency on the impact of the opening scene, I had to make the whole damn book live up to that kind of weight. It pushed me to think about the rest of the book and what it needed.

That opening scene was my anchor, but that was also drowning me. I don’t know how my wizard agent, Emily van Beek, saw that, but I’m so grateful she pushed me that way. I revised this manuscript with her for nearly two years before it went on sub (minus the two months I was paralyzed by my own ego. Okay, it might have been three. Or four.).

In an intellectual way, I always knew that I agreed with the notion of killing your darlings. But until I felt this so closely, I didn’t really get it. It’s deep. And it hurts. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say.

Launch party for Aftercare Instructions at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art?

I recently traveled to Ireland, and upon landing had to fill out a card for immigration. When it asked for my occupation, it was the first time that I allowed myself to put “author” instead of all the million other occupations I’ve identified with and as. But when I handed it to the border agent, I felt a momentary panic that maybe he would tell me I wasn’t really an author. That’s the irrational self-doubting part of my brain on overdrive right there. Like I would have to prove to him that I really was an author or I wouldn’t be allowed entry!

But those moments of uncertainty aside, I’m slowly acclimating to the beast of marketing. Marketing and promotion and social media and all kinds of administrative work that I didn’t anticipate can easily fill up my days. At first, my thinking was, I will take care of all that business in the morning, then have the afternoon free and clear for writing. However, free and clear never really comes once you start the other stuff. I realized that if I don’t do my creative work in the morning, then I can never fully focus on it. The other stuff creeps in. I think I’ll probably always have to strategize to maintain this balance, but for now that seems to work. If anything is going to creep into my afternoon, I would much rather have it be the new story I’m working on!

Cynsational Notes

Publishers Weekly described Aftercare Instructions as a "sensitive and big-hearted debut" and Kirkus Reviews wrote: "leads readers on a journey through grief to hope again."

Bonnie Pipkin believes in prose, performances, puppet shows, and public displays of affection. Originally from California, Bonnie now lives in Brooklyn.

She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, teaches literature courses at Kean University, officiates weddings, and looks after a very cute cat.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

In Memory: Geoffrey Hayes

for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Author and illustrator Geoffrey Hayes died in June while Cynsations was on summer hiatus.

Obituary: Geoffrey Hayes by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...Hayes, best known for the comics-style artwork and expressive animal characters in his many titles for emerging readers, died suddenly on June 2, of apparent natural causes, in Asheville, N.C. He was 69."

His first book, Bear by Himself (Harper & Row, 1976) was edited by Edite Kroll. "It was a wonderful 40-plus years of first working as his editor and then his agent—and friend—and to enjoy watching him hone his talent as both artist and writer."

Hayes worked as an author and illustrator and also illustrated books by other authors including When the Wind Blew by Margaret Wise Brown (Harper, 1977). It was selected as the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year.

In 2010, Hayes won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for Benny and Penny in the Big No-No! (TOON, 2009). During his career, he created more than 50 books for young readers.

In his final blog post from April 2017, The Intimacy of Small Things, Hayes has powerful advice. Peek:
"If something in you needs caring for — a vulnerability, a disappointment, an emotion, care for it. And do it all with devotion, love and with everything you’ve got. 
"Be the guardian of your moment. 
"These are such small things, but they open into the big thing, which is boundless."

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Event Report & Videos: Don Tate Launches Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author-illustrator Don Tate hosted a tremendous, successful book launch for Strong as Sandow: How Eugene Sandow Became The Strongest Man on Earth (Charlesbridge, 2017) Sept. 9 at BookPeople in Austin. From the promotional copy:

Friedrich Müller was born sickly and weak, yet he longed to be athletic and strong, like ancient Greek and Roman gladiators. Little Friedrich Müller exercised and exercised but to no avail.

As a young man, Müller found himself under the tutelage of a professional body builder. He learned to work out harder. He lifted heavier weights. Over time, he got bigger and stronger. Then he changed his name to Eugen Sandow.

After defeating the strongest of all strongmen in Europe, Eugen Sandow became a super star. Eventually, he become known as “The Strongest Man on Earth.” Everyone wanted to become “as strong as Sandow.”

Inspired by his own experiences in the sport of body-building, Don Tate tells the story of how Eugen Sandow changed the way people think about exercise and physical fitness.

Backmatter includes more information about Sandow, with suggestions for exercise. An author’s note and extensive bibliography are included.
Fans wore fake mustaches in honor of Sandow's.
 About the Event

Don's wife, Tamera Diggs-Tate, welcomed the crowd, introduced him and explained his personal connection to the book's subject matter--a history of competitive body building. Then Don took the podium, offering the stories behind the stories. From there, the event featured strong-man lifts, a push-ups and popcorn eating competition for kids and a jaw-dropping tie-in cake by Akiko White.

A celebration of conditioning, strength, and grace. 

Book & Cake Videos



Friday, September 15, 2017

Cynsational News

Chandler & Christina launch This Is Not the End (Hyperion) at BookPeople.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith & Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynsations

Congratulations to fellow Austin author Chandler Baker on the release of This Is Not The End (Hyperion, 2017) in August at BookPeople in Austin! Note: Chandler is shown in conversation with author Christina Soontornvat. See also a video interview with Chandler about the book from Mr.Media.com.

OurStory App from We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "OurStory is a tool for kids, parents, educators, and librarians to discover diverse books. An interactive quiz helps you find the perfect book, and membership levels include access to exclusive content from authors and illustrators and materials that educators and librarians can incorporate into their curriculum and programming."

Struggling With & Regaining Your Confidence in Writing by Sara Letourneau from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "I don’t want you to give up, and I’m sure you don’t want to, either. So, together, let’s pick ourselves up, dust each other off, and lean on one another as we find our way back to believing in ourselves." See also Creation and Doubt are Conjoined Twins from Jane Friedman.

What to Do When You Realize Classic Books from Your Childhood are Racist by Grace Lin from PBS News Hour. Peek: "She offers her humble opinion on how you can keep loving your favorite classics while acknowledging the out-of-date or harmful parts." See also There Is No Apolitical Classroom: Resources for Teaching in These Times by NCTE's Standing Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English.

Clete Barrett Smith on Writing Something Messy and Raw by Jocelyn Rish from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "My agent advised that we not follow up a humorous sci-fi adventure for young readers with such a raw, emotional, perhaps edgy book for teens like Mr. 60%. So I wrote four middle grade books...."

Your Book, The Movie: Interview with a Hollywood Producer by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "My studio receives about 25 books per month. To put that in perspective, we also get about 90 to 100 scripts a month, and produce about one movie, one documentary, and one TV series each year."

Ten Tips for Writing Realistic Dialogue by Pamela M. Tuck and Glenda Armand from Lee & Low. Peek: "In trying not to overuse 'said' we sometimes get carried away. One cannot smile or frown words. A way to get around that inconvenient truth is to make a statement about the character just before the line of dialogue...." See also Five Common Mistakes with Dialogue from September C. Fawkes.

Troubleshooting for Writers: 7 Questions to Ask When You Lose Desire to Finish Your Book by Denise Jaden from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Perfectionism equals high standards misdirected. It’s great to try to make your shoes match your purse when you’re going out or to take an extra thirty seconds to buff the hood of your car on a sunny day, but when making art, especially a first draft of art, you don’t want to lose the creative energy that births new ideas."

The Trouble with Action by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...even an Indiana Jones-like tunnel-to-cliff-to-river-rapids 'who’s-got-the-stolen-sacred-relic?' type scene can tempt me to start skimming. And the older I get, the more I skim ‘em."

What Does A Book Editor Do? Macmillan's Rhoda Belleza Has Some Insight On The Covetable Job by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. Peek: "'...I’d say everything I do falls into three major categories,' Belleza says. 'Editing the book and supporting the author; advocating for the book and author; and networking and finding new content.'" See also Interview with Candlewick Press Assistant editor Melanie Cordova by Isabella Corletto from CBC Diversity.

Telling Tales: Strengthen Your Novel Using Oral Storytelling by Christina Soontornvat from Middle Grade Minded. Peek: "I can’t write a book until I tell it out loud to someone else first."

Getting a Reversal of Rights from Elizabeth S. Craig. Peek: "If the contract doesn’t grant you termination rights, and publisher isn’t in breach, your options may well boil down to persuading the publisher to agree to termination—or waiting until the contract allows you to terminate without the publisher’s consent."

How to Keep a Short Story Short by April Bradley from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...the contemporary short story has a word count up to 10,000 words, although I’ve seen mention of much higher, and I’ve read ones with greater heft and complex effect."

All Your Questions about Gender-Neutral Pronouns Answered by Desmond Meagley and Youth Radio from Teen Vogue. Peek: "From grammar to what to do if you mess it up."

Which Childhood Experiences Are Appropriate and Says Who? by Christina Berchini from NCTE. Peek: "For my colleague, teaching a text that is far below grade level by nearly every measure was more appropriate than teaching a book that, while containing troubling content, was more intellectually challenging."

50 Years of Young Adult Literature by Edith Campbell from CrazyQuiltsEdi. Peek: "... these here, these outstanding writers? To paraphrase Javaka Steptoe, they are gold."

Author Interview: Cynthia and Sandy Levinson from The World of Peachtree Publishers. Peek: "Young people feel fervently about unfairness. They want to live in—and take action to create—a society that is just and equitable. Some aspects of our Constitution promote those qualities; other, fundamental ones undermine them."

Navajo Author Daniel Vandever Increasing Native Representation in Children's Books by Alysa Landry from Indian Country Today. Peek: "Holden, who is constantly reminded to 'fall in line,' can’t stop his imagination from transforming his bleak environment into one filled with wonder. As he progresses through the school day, Holden’s carefree spirit begins to influence the other students."

Top Six Things Not to Pack for a Writers' Conference by Vicky L. Lorencen. Peek: "I still cringe when I think about some of my behavior at my very first conference. I was so intent on fitting in and making sure people knew that I knew what they knew, that I know I must have been a pain in the bookend."

What's More Important: Author Websites or Social Media? from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What would happen if you not only built a site that strongly associated your author name with your category, genre, or work’s themes, but you also posted content on those themes?"

Rainbow Weekend Writing Intensive (for those identifying as LGBTQIAP+) from March 22 to March 25 at the Writing Barn in Austin. Peek: "Join popular YA authors and Rainbow Box Creators Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy and Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Vice President and agent Jim MCarthy for the first ever weekend intensive designed and created for LGBTQIAP+ writers of young adult and middle grade, for a weekend of lectures, connection and workshop."

Revising and Re-Imagining Your Novel or Chapter Book: an online class from Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson at Kid's Book Revisions in October-December 2017. Peek: "...beginning Oct. 3. Intended for anyone revising a novel or chapter book, or planning to get started on revising one soon, the class presents a variety of techniques to help writers both find problems and create new material. The class sessions are slide presentations with a video of the presenter, and students can discuss and ask questions via a chat room. We record all sessions and students can watch or rewatch them as needed. In addition to the class sessions, each student has a 'personal teacher,' who will answer questions, give feedback on 'homework' (trying out the techniques), and provide a manuscript consultation."

Congratulations to National Book Award finalists in the Young People's Literature category! Note, all releases 2017: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (Carolrhoda Lab), Far From The Tree by Robin Benway (HarperTeen), All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry (Algonquin Young Readers), You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins (Farrar Straus & Giroux), Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum), I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (Knopf Books for Young Readers), Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (Walden Pond Press), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray), Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad) and American Street by Ibi Zoboi (Balzer + Bray).


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally -- Cynthia

Kudos to Cory Putnam Oakes on Witchtown (HMH Teen, 2017)
The big news is: My Candlewick editor approved my revision, and the novel is off to copyedits! It's Native YA realistic fiction.

The new title is Hearts Unbroken, and we're tentatively looking at a Jan. 2019 publication date on the fall-winter 2018 list.

ARCs should be available in time for the Texas Library Association conference in April in Dallas, and I'll be there!

What else? It's been a week of grading and speechwriting here. I've connected with an anthologist on a poem and another to write a middle-grade short story--more on those projects to come!

Want to work with me? Consider applying for a fall-winter internship!

Congratulations to Mindy McGinnis and the other winners and honorees of the 2017 Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult & Children’s Writing from Hunger Mountain: A VCFA Journal of the Arts. The competition was stiff, and it was an honor to judge the competition.

Please consider supporting the VCFA Young Writers Network and hurricane-impacted SCBWI Houston members.

Reminder: Unfortunately, I have time to read very few books for blurbs. That said, any requests should come through editors or agents, not authors or illustrators.

Cynsational Events

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith and the YA Book Club to discuss Tantalize: Kieren's Story, edited by Ming Doyle (Candlewick) at 11 a.m. Sept. 30 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Register now for The Joke’s On You: The Scoop on Humor, Middle Grade Through Young Adult with faculty Uma Krishnaswami and Cynthia Leitich Smith and special guests: author-comedian Sean Petrie and literary agents Elizabeth Harding and Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown Ltd. from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania. See also Cynthia Leitich Smith and Uma Krishnaswami: A Conversation about Humor from The Highlights Foundation.


Personal Links
AICL Recommended

More Personally -- Gayleen
Chris Barton launches Dazzle Ships.

There's nothing like competition to get people involved! I suspect Chris Barton has perfected his audience-engagement skills through many school visits.

A trivia game at his recent BookPeople release party got us all thinking about history and paint patterns from Dazzle Ships: WWI and the Art of Confusion, illustrated by Victo Ngai (Millbrook Press, 2017).

Personal Links

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guest Post: Tara Dairman on Making Connections in a New State

By Tara Dairman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Moving 1,000 miles was not the way I anticipated kicking off 2017, but hey, not much about the last year has been predictable. So when my husband received a new job offer in January, we found ourselves relocating from Colorado to Austin, Texas, in a few short weeks.

Austin has a well-established kidlit community, and I was lucky to have a few friends here already. But still, it was hard for me to leave Colorado, where I had strong bonds with local authors, indie bookstores, and librarians.

Now—and with a brand new middle-grade novel on the way—I needed to start all over again??

Yep. But a few steps I took made the landing much softer than it could have been.

Here’s how I linked up with the writing, bookselling, and library communities in my new hometown—tips that I think would also apply to debut authors looking to get more connected wherever they live.

An Erin Murphy Agency gathering in Austin with authors Dan Richards and Lindsey Lane, along with Tara's husband and daughter, standing: agent Tricia Lawrence, authors Sean Petrie, Liz Garton Scanlon and Tara.

1. Seek out other local authors.
Kidlit authors are among the friendliest and most supportive colleagues a person could wish for. But how do you find them?

If you’re agented, ask your agent if she has other clients in your area. (I didn’t know a soul when I first moved to Colorado, but quickly made some of my best writer friends through agency connections!)

Take advantage of social media. Someone in your network probably knows someone they can connect you with.

Attend events at your local bookstore. Kidlit authors tend to turn out en masse for each others’ launch parties and panels, making the bookstore a great place to meet folks in person.

Austin authors Samantha Clark, Donna Janell Bowman, Tara & her family
at a BookPeople book launch. (photo by Dave Wilson)

2. Connect with local booksellers. Speaking of bookstores, one of the first things I did upon moving to Austin was reach out to the children’s bookseller at local indie BookPeople.

Along with another author who was also new to town, I set up a coffee meeting at the store--which I’d recommend if you and the bookseller have time, since it’s always nice to get to know each other in person!

In this case, I wanted to make sure that the bookseller knew about both my already-published titles and my upcoming one, and that meeting even led to my partnering with the store for this preorder campaign for The Great Hibernation (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, Sept. 12, 2017).

Sometimes you can even set up a system for signing book orders on demand throughout the year, which is what I did with my local indie where I used to live in Colorado.

But also, remember that it may take some time for a bookstore to warm up to you if you’re new in town or a debut author, and try not to be offended if they’re not suddenly stocking your entire back catalogue the day after you first introduce yourself.

It may not be until after you’ve held a launch event there and brought in a nice crowd that a store will be willing to stock your titles regularly or recommend them.

3. Attend a conference (even if it’s on your own dime). One of the biggest perks of moving to Texas is its statewide network of librarians, who come together each year at the massive Texas Library Association conference.

I sent myself this year so that I could participate in a kidlit “speed-dating” event, where I got to meet lots of librarians—and thanks to that, I’m now on the radar of the organizer for the “What’s New With Texas Authors?” panel, which I hope to participate in at next year’s conference.

And it’s always smart to ask your publisher if they’ll send you; even if they won’t spring for all your travel expenses, they’ll usually at least set you up with a badge so you can attend sessions and wander the exhibit hall for free.

Another conference I made sure to attend soon after moving to Texas was our Austin SCBWI conference. Even though I wasn’t presenting, it was a great way to meet local authors, get my books out in front of members at the bookstore and silent auction, and—most importantly—get inspired by all the amazing craft talks.

If the stress of moving and/or debuting has put you into a writing rut, then attending a local creative conference can be a great way to jumpstart a new project.

Cynsations Notes

School Library Journal said The Great Hibernation "explores some rather important political ideas about individuality and the need for a balance of powers in governance. A strong selection for most middle grade shelves."

Tara Dairman is the author of the All Four Stars middle-grade foodie series (Penguin Random House)—the first of which was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner.

She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College and—thanks to an epic round-the-world honeymoon—has visited more than 90 countries.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Guest Interview: Emma Walton Hamilton on Picture Book Summit

By Cate Berry
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The third annual Picture Book Summit online writing conference will be Oct. 7.

To find out more about this opportunity, which not only allows, but encourages attendance in pajamas, I interviewed one of the founders, Emma Walton Hamilton.

What prompted you to start the Picture Book Summit?

Jon and Laura Backes Bard, Katie Davis, Julie Hedlund and I are longtime friends and colleagues in the children’s lit community. We all regularly contribute to each other’s various programs and endeavors. 

One day we were chatting about the challenges of attending all the conferences we love – the travel, the accommodations, the cost factor, etc. – and it occurred to us that together we could create an online conference specific to picture books that would give people all the value of attending a conference - keynotes, workshops, submission opportunities and so forth - but they could attend from home in their PJs at a fraction of the cost. Thus, Picture Book Summit was born!

The Picture Book Summit seems like such great idea. A whole conference without ever leaving your couch...heaven! Besides the convenience of the online format, what are some specific features that attract a picture book writer?

Tomie dePaola
Picture Book Summit is a world-class conference, jam-packed with value throughout the entire day. There are keynotes from three different Superstar Speakers - this year it’s Tomie dePaola, Carole Boston Weatherford and Adam Rex - who each deliver their own complete session, discussing their craft, giving actionable advice and answering questions.

There are also four separate workshops focusing on a range of craft issues, like nonfiction, writing without preaching, the multiple layers in picture books and pitching and submitting manuscripts to agents.

There are interviews with agents and editors, addressing questions that attendees have asked and submission opportunities to them. 

There are also tons of extra bonuses, like a PJ party the weekend before, handouts and access to recordings after the Summit, networking opportunities via group chats and a Facebook group, free Facebook Live events during the year, and more.

It’s incredible value for the price!

Who is the ideal candidate for your conference?

The Summit is open to anyone who writes, illustrates, or dreams of writing or illustrating picture books. Beginners get a ton of information that helps bring them up to speed quickly, and experienced authors and illustrators get re-energized and inspired.

Is there anyone who is not qualified to attend?

No. There is no question too basic, and no publishing experience or knowledge is required to attend.

If you were attending for the first time, what is a goal you would advise a writer to shoot for during the conference?

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the work of our speakers and presenters beforehand, and to have some questions ready to ask.

Beyond that, just watch, listen and learn! It will be a lot of information, but we provide handouts, slide decks and recordings of all the presentations after the fact… so you can pace yourself and just enjoy the day.

Is there anything I haven't addressed about the Picture Book Summit that you'd like our readers to be aware of?

Picture Book Summit is an all-day live broadcast in webinar format. You log in, sit back and enjoy each session one after the other. But even if you can’t attend on the day, or have to miss part of a presentation, the entire event is recorded and available for playback within a few days. All registrants have access to the recordings.

Also, every year Picture Book Summit donates a generous portion of our proceeds to a different charity. To date, we have donated over $10,000. Charities we’ve partnered with so far include Reading Partners and We Need Diverse Books.

This year, Picture Book Summit is giving to students “coast to coast.” Proceeds from Picture Book Summit 2017 will be donated to two Title 1 schools - Harrison Elementary in Cottage Grove, OR, and Lincoln Elementary, in New Britain, CT. A portion of each Summiteer’s ticket will go directly to each school’s library.

Cynsations Notes
Emma Walton Hamilton is a best-selling children’s book author, editor and writing coach.

With her mother, actress/author Julie Andrews, Emma has co-authored over thirty children’s books, eight of which have been on the New York Times Bestseller list, including The Very Fairy Princess series, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Little Brown, 2010).

She is director of the Children’s Lit Fellows program at Stony Brook University.

Cate Berry is a recent graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Writing for Children and Young Adult MFA program (July/2017) receiving her Picture Book Intensive Certificate in the process.

Cate is an active member of SCBWI and the Austin children's literature community. She teaches numerous picture book classes at the Writing Barn in Austin, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Her debut picture book, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp Don't Do Bedtime! (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins) releases in May, 2018. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guest Post: Yolanda Ridge on Writing Across Gender & Inside Hudson Pickle

Yolanda Ridge and her sons
By Yolanda Ridge 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When my stepdad finished reading my debut novel, Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011), he told me he enjoyed learning about my childhood.

(He also proudly proclaimed to have read it in two straight hours – a compliment that missed the mark since it had taken me over a year to write the book – but that’s a different post.)

The main character is nothing like me, I protested, easily dismissing the idea because he’d met me in my thirties.

But when I started writing my new release, Inside Hudson Pickle (Kids Can Press, Sept. 5, 2017), I realized he was more right than I’d wanted to admit.

Telling a story from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl (who may not be me, exactly, but definitely the person I wanted to be when I was that age) was so much easier than trying to get inside the head of a thirteen-year-old boy.

In the early drafts of Inside Hudson Pickle, I focused on plot, drawing on my previous career as a genetic counselor to portray a family dealing with Alpha-1, a genetic disorder that increases the risk of liver and lung disease. 

I chose basketball as Hudson’s sport (because I’ve actually played it) rather than hockey (because I’ve only watched it). I did research to fill the gaps in my knowledge on asthma and house fires.

But when it came to character development, web searches didn’t cut it. I didn’t grow up with brothers and though I do have two sons, they were too young to provide insight on puberty. 

What was it like for a young athlete to go through a growth spurt? How do boys deal with voice changes?

I turned to my male critique partners for help. He’d be angrier, one suggested. You haven’t captured his growing pains, said another. 

I went back and tried to fold these things into the manuscript. But it was like mixing oil with water.

Giving the manuscript some time to rest, I read middle grade adventure books - a few of my favorites are The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster, 2014), the Rex Zero series by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar Straus Giroux) and Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt (Clarion, 2015).

I watched family sitcoms. I listened to music recommended by my friend’s sons. I eavesdropped on conversations in the library, on the bus, at the skateboard park.

Returning to the manuscript, I peppered it with “boyness.” But in the end I had to admit: Hudson was still a lot like me.

In talking to other writers I now understand that we all incorporate bits of ourselves into our characters. 

I could give Hudson large doses of testosterone and his heart would essentially remain the same. Emotional reactions aren’t dictated by sex or age or skin color. Everyone is more complex than that, including our characters (if we’re doing it right).

I hope what I’ve captured in Inside Hudson Pickle is how one person might cope with the turmoil of health issues, family secrets, changing friendships and the simple desire to make a school basketball team. 

Sure, Hudson’s big feet get in the way at times. But overall, his experience is not male; it’s human.

Cynsational Notes

Inside Hudson Pickle is a Junior Library Guild Selection and School Library Journal said, "fans of novels about sports and family drama, such as Kwame Alexander's The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), will appreciate this realistic tale."

Yolanda Ridge is the author of three middle grade novels. With a master's degree in science and ten years of experience working as a genetic counselor, she's adept at making complex concepts understandable --- a skill she uses when crafting middle-grade novels, teaching and author visits.

She lives in the mountains of British Columbia in a log house brimming with boys, including one husband, two twin sons, one dog and one cat.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...