Monday, November 19, 2018

Book Trailer: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cynsations is on hiatus for the rest of the week. We'll be back on Nov. 27.

Happy feasting to those who do so at this time of year!

Check out the book trailer for We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018).

Friday, November 16, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton
for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q & A With Natasha Ngan by Katrina Nildas Holm from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
 "We can censor what we expose teens to through books, but we can't be protecting them from everything in the real world, so I think it's important that there are books that tackle deeper, darker issues."
Robin Talley, Author of Pulp, on Not Getting Too Far Inside Her Own Head by Robin Talley from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek:
“I like to write out in public as much as possible. A library, a coffee shop — wherever there are people circulating, other noise that I can tune out. If I get too far inside my own head, the creative part of my brain tends to freeze up.”
Interview With Adib Khorram from Rich in Color. Peek:
“I really love how, despite feeling out of place and isolated, Darius doesn’t try to change who he is to fit in better. I wish I’d had his strength of character when I was a teenager!”
Q & A With Sarah Prager: Queer, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:
"I had never heard of her [Roman Empress Elagabalus] before researching for the book but she was incredibly fabulous and everyone should know her name."
Late Bloomer: Author Cynthia Surrisi by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is For Aging. Peek:
“I have not felt pressured by my late start. Don’t get me wrong, I’m acutely aware that a late-blooming career naturally has limitations... But I have a greater ease about it, I think.”
An Interview with Mary Louise Sanchez, Author of The Wind Called My Name by Hanna Ehrlich from Lee & Low. Peek:
“Read, read, read–especially those books by authors that resonate with you and your students. Also, read how-to-write books with your story in mind. Join and attend writing organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and submit your stories for critiques, even when it’s intimidating.”
Illustrator Q & A With Hayelin Choi from Children’s Book Council. Peek:
“...when I thought of science as a girl, I thought of writing complicated science equations on a chalkboard... in Bread Lab! [by Kim Binczewski and Bethany Econopouly (Readers to Eaters, 2018)] I wanted science to be portrayed as fun and playful experimentations. Bold and saturated colors and obvious humor were some of the elements to reveal that part of science.”
Five Questions For Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac by Julie Hakim Azzam and Horn Book Editors from The Horn Book. Peek:
Traci Sorell: "When one of the staff members at the Cherokee Heritage Center saw the book, she said, ‘I love that it shows us just living life in our culture. No one is a superhero.' Exactly! I want to see more stories where Cherokee children, adults, and elders are shown in contemporary settings..”

2019 Print Forecast: Tight Paper Market Will Continue Squeezing Publishers by D. Eadward Tree from Publishing Executive. Peek:
“...magazine publishers will be paying about 25% more for paper than they did just 18 months earlier -- assuming they can find any paper to buy. There are no signs that the scarce supply and rising prices afflicting all U.S. buyers of publication papers will abate in 2019.”
Peachtree Publishers Acquired By Trustbridge by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Peachtree Publishers has announced that Trustbridge Global Media has acquired the Atlanta-based children’s publishing company, as of November 7...Quinlin said what convinced her to move ahead with the deal was that Trustbridge ‘wanted us to continue doing what we do at Peachtree.’”
Shanghai Children’s Book Fair Buoyed By Expanding Chinese Market by Teri Tan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Overall, exhibitors are buoyed by the fact that China’s children’s book segment has expanded 14.2% within the first nine months of this year, and it currently accounts for a quarter of the country’s total retail book market (valued at around $10.2 billion).”

Four Tips For Marketing Any Children’s Book by Martin Cavannagh from Nathan Bransford. Peek:
“New parents are among the most tech-savvy people you’ll find. They’re in their 20s and 30s, and for them, the Internet is one of the first places they’ll turn to when they’re looking for book recommendations.”
Do You Use Instagram As An Author? Some Advice by Lee Wind from SCBWI: The Blog. Peek:
“...some choice examples of how authors are successfully using instagram. From Poems, inspirations, book covers, author signing events, and quotes, there's so much inspiration! How do you use Instagram?”

Need A Little Comic Relief? From Rich in Color. Peek:
“When stress levels rise, humor can be an excellent way to ease the tension. Perhaps you’re ready to reach for some fun reading that could bring a smile to your face. Here are a few books I’ve read this year that have inspired laughter just when I need it.”
Episode 37! Conversation With Edi Campbell by Edi Campbell and Karen Blumenthal from Kidlitwomen*. Peek:
“...When We Need Diverse Books started, somehow the message got out there that we simply wanted more books...and it didn’t matter who wrote it. It didn’t matter the quality. It didn’t matter how well the representation was there. That’s not what most of us wanted.”
At Last! A Writer Incorporates A Critical Take on Little House On The Prairie! The Writer? Emma Donoghue by Debbie Reese from American Indians In Children’s Literature. Peek:
“In 2017, Arthur A. Levine (an imprint of Scholastic) published Emma Donoghue's The Lotterys Plus One... it is one of the rare instances in which a non-Native writer does okay in their depictions of Native content.”
The Review Is Critical by Edith Campbell from School Library Journal. Peek:
“Traditional reviews limit themselves to how the story is presented by discussing characters, themes, plots, and setting. Critical book reviews go beyond this by focusing on how people and events are represented, whose voice is missing from the story, and the ways in which power is enacted.”
Apple, Echo, And The Importance of “More Than One Book” by Jean Mendoza from American Indians In Children’s Literature. Peek:
“... it takes more than one story about a group of people to adequately portray that group’s experience. Still, we know that in classrooms and in library collections across North America, the pickings are usually slim when it comes to books by and about Native people.”
Rainbow Weekend 2019 (For Those Identifying As LGBTQIAP+) from The Writing Barn. Peek:
“Following our inaugural Rainbow Weekend last spring, we’re thrilled to welcome back to the Barn popular YA authors Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, as well as Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Vice President and agent Jim McCarthy for the second annual Rainbow Weekend Intensive!”
Writing Craft

Unifying Your Story Around A Meaningful Theme by Jeanne Cavelos from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“If you didn’t start your writing process with a theme, though, chances are that you’ll discover several different themes warring for dominance."
Five Tips For Writing About Fictional Technology by Julie Hyzy from Writer’s Digest. Peek:
“It’s your tech...Give it a name. One that’s easy to relate to..J.K. Rowling got us to understand what muggles, floo powder, and horcruxes were...Suzanne Collins uses familiar words ...Tracker Jackers (the term conjures up visions of yellowjackets) are genetically modified wasps whose stings are often fatal.”
Context, Text, and Subtext: What They Are And How They Help Storytelling by September C. Fawkes from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:
“If there is no context, there is almost no investment in the story, because if the audience doesn’t have access to any clear meaning, they are unable to care about what happens. ...subtext happens when the story is bigger than what is on the page.”
How To Recognize The Finish Line by Kathryn Craft from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Truth is, we could tinker forever. But all artists—painters, poets, and novelists alike—eventually have to trust that it’s time to let a project go.”
NaNoWriMo Can Be Hard by Amren Ortega from Operation Awesome. Peek:
“...what you’re writing is a very, very rough first draft. NaNoWriMo is about getting words on the page, not writing The Perfect Novel™ on the first pass.”
This Week at Cynsations
More Personally - Cynthia

Editors, agents & art director panel at KSMO SCBWI.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when I thanked everyone for supporting Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018), which had just gone into its second printing?

I'm back to thank y'all again because the novel is now in its third printing, and that's terrific.

Thanks also to Kansas-Missouri SCBWI for a wonderful "Middle of the Map" conference at KU Edwards campus in Overland Park, Kansas!

Fellow faculty included: agents Wendi Gu of Janklow & Nesbit Associates, Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary, and Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary, who also is an author; editors Susan Chang of Tor Books and Annie Nybo of Albert Whitman & Company; art director Jasmin Rubero of Penguin Random House (Kokila Imprint); and authors/illustrators Alastair Heim anad Suzanne Kaufman.

Highlights included the one-on-one critiques and KC-style barbecue. I also especially enjoyed spending time with my rising star author, dear pal, and Cynsations reporter, Traci Sorell.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X (HarperTeen, 2018), winner of the National Book Award in Young People's Literature.

Now in its third printing!
Beyond Sherman Alexie by Meghan Dietsche Goel from Publishers Weekly ShelfTalker. Note: In which I reflect on display strategies for bookstores, which might also be useful to libraries. Peek:
"She offered some really practical suggestions about how we could better build Native content into what we do, and I thought they were great, so I asked if I could share! her main point, she encourages booksellers 'to use recommendation lists, yes, but also get in the habit of asking for every theme: where are the intersections with Native-created titles? So, my suggestions model that approach.'"
12 Native American Authors to Read During Native American Heritage Month by The Bookish Editors from Bookish. Some terrific Native YA books on this list. Please also check out Apple In The Middle by Dawn Quigley (North Dakota State University Press, 2018).

Beyond Thanksgiving: Indigenous Books Anytime by Eliza Werner from Classroom Communities.

More Personally - Robin

I'm doing NaNoWriMo this month (as you might have noticed by all the NaNo links in the news roundup last week). I've tried NaNo two other times but had to stop because of health issues. So of course, my thyroid decided to severely misbehave again just as November started. I'm trying to cope and write anyway. I took a break from Facebook and Instagram because stress makes my thyroid condition even worse.

So far, this approach is mostly working. I've written 13,000 words. That's slightly less than the 50,000 words I need at the end of the month but far more than I would have written if I weren't doing NaNo. I'm determined to catch up and finish with 50,000!

More Personally - Stephani

This past week I had the privilege and honor of leading four classes of eighth graders through a picture book workshop over the course of three days. The students are creating picture books of well-known tales from a villain’s perspective.

We read texts like Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs  (Viking 1989). We brainstormed stories and villains that would be fun to investigate and then we discussed how to weave in backstory. After that, they learned the anatomy of a picture book and started plotting out their stories. The students were inspiring, energizing, and so much fun to be with. I am so excited to see how their stories turn out.

More Personally - Gayleen

For the past two years I've had the honor of being a judge for the Letters About Literature Writing Competition through Texas Center for the Book. The letters from young readers about books that have changed their lives reminds me why I write. Each year I've finished my judging assignment thinking, "I wish I had students to share this with," and now, I do!

The Letters About Literature teaching guide from the Library of Congress has given my tutoring students a break from their usual essay assignments and provided me an easy way to guide them through both correspondence and reader response. Journeys: Young Readers' Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Catherine Gourley (Candlewick, 2017) is a collection of winning letters from the contest (always good to find a model text!)

Although this probably disqualifies me from 2019 judging, I plan to have a front-row seat when the winning students read their letters at the Texas Library Association conference. Check the national Letters About Literature site for more information about the writing contest in your state, the Texas deadline is Dec. 14, 2018.

Personal Links - Robin

Do We Have To Read Children's Classics?

How Do You Move A Bookstore? With A Human Chain, Book By Book

How To Keep People Coming Back To Your Little Free Library

Personal Links - Stephani

NCTE's Honor List of 2017 Prize-Winning YA Books: Building Relationships and Identity

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Guest Post: Susan Kralovansky on Transitioning from Librarian to Children's Book Author

Susan Kralovansky at a school visit. 
By Susan Kralovansky
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love books. I love the smell of new books, the brittle pages of old books, and I love collecting the books of my favorite authors.

As a child, I spent all my free time at the public library. In fact, I spent so much time there that I gave myself the job of Children’s Room Library Assistant, complete with my own desk and cardboard nameplate.

As a school librarian, I told my students that I had the best job ever. I got to discover books and talk to them about books and authors. But it never occurred to me that I could become a real-life author.

My original intention was to become a writer-librarian to help my students.

A page from the book Susan created
for her students.
We were repeating a lesson on the thesaurus for the umpteenth time. My students were attentive, they loved the follow-up game, but when I handed them each a thesaurus, I got blank stares and questions of “You want what?”

I tried finding picture books that taught the thesaurus and found nothing. In my frustration, I decided to write a book about us. My students and I would be the main characters and I’d put in their questions and comments.

After reading our book, I gave each child a thesaurus, and they knew exactly what to do!

So, was this a fluke or was I on to something?

My next experiment was the dictionary and then the atlas.

After writing four construction paper picture books, I decided to submit to Mighty Media, a Book Packager for ABDO Publishing, and Cherry Lake Publishing, a new house at the time. Both (which is not how it usually works) offered me work-for-hire contracts!

I was thrilled to see my name on the cover, but quickly learned that getting published is not all that easy. I have submitted several wonderful ideas that my publisher didn’t think were all that wonderful.

By the way, Evelyn Christensen’s website, Educational Markets for Children's Writers, is a great place to keep up with the Educational Market.

Published by ABDO, 2013
My next series idea came when a little girl asked for a book on fish.

As we were heading toward that section of the library, she said she wanted to do her report on whales. I asked her if a whale was a fish and she said, “Sure. Whales swim in the ocean like fish, and they eat like fish, and they look like fish.”

Then I said, “But a whale is not a fish!”

That conversation gave me the seed idea for my This or That? series (ABDO, 2015).

After reading There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, a group of first graders and I decided to make up our own story about an astronaut. They had him eating everything from his space suit to all the planets in the universe.

As they were leaving, a boy asked what I would do if I wrote a “There’s a Somebody That Eats Something” story. I said my story would be about a cowboy because I love living in Texas.

That night I got the idea for There Was a Tall Texan Who Swallowed a Flea (illustrated by Deborah Ousley Kadair (Pelican, 2013)).

Coincidentally, Deb Kadair, a fifth-grade teacher at my school, who had done ten books with Pelican, said that if I wrote a Texas book, she would be happy to submit it along with sketches to her editor – another great stroke of luck.

This book seemed like a better fit for a traditional publisher, plus that meant I would get royalties from the sales.

My newest book was again inspired by my students who were great kids, but terrible at taking care of their library books. We would talk about book care, I would do book care lessons, they would have good intentions, but their books were a mess.

I decided to write them The Book That Jake Borrowed (Pelican, September 2018), a book about a boy who gets in a jam with his library book. His cat, pet rat, and dog are involved, and then he must go see the librarian.

The basic structure of this book I wrote in one night, but luckily, I had over a year to build the illustrations.

Deciding to become a full-time author was a tough decision. Would I be able to come up with book ideas without my students? So far, so good.

The Book That Jake Borrowed is my sixteenth book. I will have a new contract with Pelican this fall, and I have three more stories in various stages.

My day is now divided between creating new stories, working on sketches, illustrations, or revisions for an existing story, and doing book promotion activities for published stories.

Then, I have my special days when I get to do school visits and talk to kids about books and writing. And I tell kids that I do have the best job in the world!

Cynsational Notes

Kirkus Reviews wrote of The Book That Jake Borrowed, "This is the story the librarian reads to the kids to keep them grinning when they say, 'read it again!'" Download the book's activity guide here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

New Voices: Laura Creedle & Lucia DiStefano, Debut YA Book Award Winners

Laura Creedle and Lucia DiStefano
By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In June, Laura Creedle's debut novel, The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) won the Writers' League of Texas Book Award in the Middle Grade/Young Adult Category.

Lucia DiStefano's debut novel, Borrowed (Elephant Rock Books, 2018), won the Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize.

Both Laura and Lucia tried the traditional route of querying agents, but ultimately entering a contest turned out to be a pivotal event for these Austin authors.

I'm excited to share the unique backstory of these two award-winning titles that are both set in Austin, Texas.

Laura, tell us about your path to publication. How long had you been querying before you entered Pitch Wars?

: I’d queried more than 90 agents before Pitch Wars. I’d pretty much given up!

I almost didn’t make it into Pitch Wars. I wasn’t chosen but my mentor, Marty Mayberry, loved my novel and wanted to help me. She gave me invaluable advice about romance writing, which I didn’t really have experience with.

When another novelist dropped out, I got into the agent round.

I had eight offers from agents and it was such a difficult decision, but I really felt like Jim McCarthy (Dystel, Goderich & Bourrett) really understood my novel. He’s funny and compassionate and his notes were amazing.

What inspired you to write The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily? 

Laura: I’m ADHD and Dyslexic, and a lot of Lily’s experiences are my own.

The novel really started with an unfortunate graduate school experience. I’d always wanted to learn to teach dyslexic students how to read and so I enrolled in a certified academic language therapist program.

I loved the course work, but I couldn’t read the rubric, and ultimately I failed the class. I’m not good with abbreviations, different type faces, colored paper—the kind of stuff teachers don’t always think about.

I knew that a lot of neurodiverse people have this kind of experience in school. Hard enough when you’re an adult, but devastating when you are a kid.

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

Laura: I had never written romance, so I went looking for romantic texts throughout history for inspiration.

I found the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, and they floored me. So passionate and intelligent and nerdy (if you can call someone from the 13th century a nerd).

I loved the letters so much, I decided they would quote each other sections of the letters. Lily are Abelard are not great at talking in real life, so I wanted their relationship to develop through text.

I absolutely love a deep dive into research. I reread the letters over and over until I had whole sections memorized.

As much as I knew about ADHD, I didn’t know as much about autism. I did a lot of research, and I had a lot of sensitivity readers. I changed a lot of what I’d originally written based on what people told me. One of my readers has a son with Austism Spectrum Disorder.

She was excited about the novel, but when she finished she was deeply disappointed that Abelard never had a meltdown in front of Lily. So I added a scene where not only does Abelard have a meltdown, but Lily responds in a way that is very impulsive and destructive. They are both at their neurological worst!

In earlier drafts, I shied away from difficult confrontations, but in the end, I thought it was important to their relationship that they acknowledge their neurological similarities and their differences.

They spend a lot of time discussing how they would go about having a physical relationship.

I wanted to deal openly and respectfully with issues around touch aversion. It doesn’t sound so romantic when I put it this way, but trust me, it is.

What advice do you have for other writers thinking about Pitch Wars?

Laura: I would definitely tell other writers to try Pitch Wars. It’s very competitive, but it can give you a leg up with agents.

I got offers from agents who had already requested my novel, but hadn’t read it yet. One agent told me her assistant had been trying to get her to read my novel for three months! It tells you how busy agents are.

That is the most eye-opening thing I’ve learned through Pitch Wars and publishing.

Agents are busy, and you have to be persistent. You have to love your own novel enough to beat people over the head with it. And revise revise revise….

For Lucia DiStefano, a writing contest also played a critical role in her path to publication. 

Lucia, as an unagented author, how did you identify your editor and connect the manuscript with the publishing house? 

Lucia: I had read Elephant Rock’s first YA novel, Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley, when it came out in 2014 and truly fell in love with it. I hadn’t heard about Elephant Rock Books before then, but let me tell you, that book made me sit up and take notice.

So ERB was on my radar (and they’re based in Connecticut, and I’m from Connecticut, and the publisher teaches at Central Connecticut State University, where I got my undergad degree, so I also felt a kind of cosmic warm glow, if you will).

I caught up with their second YA in 2016 (The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, which is the only YA I’ve ever encountered about rock climbing, and it’s so beautifully done! So much so that I wanted to rock climb after reading it, and that’s in spite of my fear of heights).

I was happy you didn’t have to be agented to submit to their YA contest (the Helen Sheehan YA Book Award; the contest is run every other year).

Helen Sheehan was the great aunt of Elephant Rock’s publisher, Jotham Burrello. She was a teacher and then a school principal nearly a century ago. And she lived in the Northeast, where I was born and raised. Winning the contest and being the third YA author in their stable has been more thrilling than I can say!

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book? 

Lucia: The germ of the story infected me many years ago when I watched a young woman ahead of me in the post office queue write something in pen on the palm of her hand.

Of course I would have loved to know exactly what she wrote. We’ve all jotted “note-to-self” reminders on us when we needed to remember something in the absence of paper or device (I trust I’m not alone in that?), so it wasn’t that it was strange, but rather, seeing it from the outside made it more memorable.

I started thinking about memory and how fickle and deceptive it can be, how we feel it’s important to hold onto certain memories and forget others, so I began a novel about a grieving girl who writes messages on her palms in her sleep and has no memory of putting them there.

I wandered, aimlessly, within that story for a long while, and it wasn’t until I stumbled upon some anecdotal (but powerful) evidence for cellular memory in heart-transplant patients that I landed on the missing element my protagonist needed.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

Lucia: I was a voracious reader as a kid. Not only that; maybe it’s more accurate to say I was a bit of a desperate reader. My mother died when I was a high school sophomore (and she was ill for many years before that), and my father died before I turned 21.

As a teen dealing first with the fear of my mother’s death, and then struggling to cope with life without her, I took great comfort in books, especially those that had captured even a shadowy sense of what I was feeling. In that regard, fiction felt like a much more grounding, authentic part of life than “reality” did.

Since I was so profoundly moved by novels I read as a teen that did a good job of depicting grief and loss (and I’m still moved by those), I think subconsciously I was motivated to join the literary conversation at that place.

 So as a teen, I read not only for the unique and lasting enjoyment that reading can bring, but to reassure myself that emotional pain didn’t mean a diminished life.

After all, I spent time with characters who survived painful situations and ultimately connected with aspects of life — even the smallest — that made it worth living. And most importantly, they didn’t deny or overlook or turn away from their problems, but they explored them—sometimes with trepidation, sometimes with courage.

So perhaps I’ve always subconsciously felt like I “owed” something to the books that buoyed my struggling teen self. And what better way to repay that than add my voice to the conversation?

Lucia's cat, Noodle.
And long before I ever tried my hand at writing for teens, I taught high school English.

I was lucky enough to be a student of the YA lit pioneer Dr. Don Gallo at Central Connecticut State University when I was working toward my teaching degree, and his legendary course on the YA novel deepened my passion and respect for the genre.

(I read over 100 novels that semester, and that’s not hyperbole.)

So when I started teaching and found out I was restricted to teaching whatever was in the book room (the most contemporary being Fahrenheit 451 (by Ray Bradbury (Ballantine, 1953)), and there was lots and lots of Charles Dickens), I decided to prove to teens there was a rich and varied body of literature out there written with them in mind.

I brought in dozens of YA novels from home and lined my classroom with them, encouraging my students to borrow them by jotting their names down on the check-out sheet I’d provided…only if they’d like to.

“Like a library?” one had asked. “Exactly like a library,” I’d said.

He thought about it for a bit and then said, “Will we lose points if we don’t, though?”

 Needless to say, the books weren’t flying off the shelves. (I had one actual borrower, and then a borrower with the alias “Eric Cartman” who filled in “You killed Kenny!” in the title column. Yes, "South Park" was new then.)

But because I was so frustrated with the school board’s insistence that I stick to the “classics” and so frustrated with the result (teens thought reading was boring), I carved out ten minutes at the end of most class periods to read aloud to my students from a bona fide YA novel. They loved it.

They started asking for that time and were disappointed if we didn’t get to it. The book was Up Country by Alden Carter, and it dealt with serious subjects like substance addiction, dysfunctional families, criminal activity and, because it was realistic, it included the occasional curse word.

(My students were shocked at hearing me read a swear word for the first time; they thought I added it to hold their attention, and I had to show them where it appeared on the page.)

You can see where this is going, right? One of the students happened to tell her parents that her English teacher was reading something…um…colorful, and those parents went to the school board, and I was told to knock it off with the “unapproved” reading material or I’d be out of a job.

The superintendent remained staunchly unmoved by my assurance that I was devoting the bulk of my classes to the required curriculum; by anecdotes of recalcitrant readers’ engagement and absorption during those read-aloud segments; by how animatedly my students were talking about the characters and wondering what would happen next. (They had never given one whit about Pip or Oliver Twist.) 

I didn’t consider writing my own YA, though, until years later, when I was in graduate school (before then I had only written literary short stories and poems). One of my assignments for my class on teaching writing was to complete one of the projects I’d assigned my Freshman Composition students. I opted for one of the creative, open-ended assignments, rather than the required research papers. And in my piece, I narrated from the point of view of a high school junior.

Lucia's dog, Waffle.
Unbeknownst to me, my professor gave what I’d written to his teen son, who reportedly liked it so much that he asked his dad for the “rest of the book.” My professor shared this with me (thanks, Dr. Riggio), and a goal was born.

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

Lucia: This is a good question, especially considering I doubt I ever took any of the advice I’d read (except for “never give up”).

But if I could go back to all those many years ago when I turned my attention to seriously writing YA, and if I could make it so that I would take sound advice rather than stubbornly thinking I needed to re-invent the wheel, I’d give myself the advice to come to writing with more of the mindset of play, and less the mindset of “you only succeed if/when someone wants to publish your work.”

That latter mindset has robbed me of so much energy through the years, and so needlessly. Also, I’d say only make goals that you have control over achieving.

“Getting an agent in six months” or “Having my first book deal in one year” can sound motivating, but because, ultimately, that’s beyond your control, not meeting that goal can be massively demoralizing and hard on your creative brain.

Whereas goals like: “Write 500 words a day, Monday through Friday” or “Complete first draft by Labor Day” are within your control, and therefore achievable and rewarding in their own right.

Maya Angelou said that success is
“Liking who you are, what you do, and how you do it.” 
So for anyone pursuing any creative pursuit, I’d say that’s a definition of success to hold onto.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t later figure out the pragmatics and develop a plan for breaking into print, I just mean that creating with a playful, joyful spirit can do wonders for a writing life in general, and it can make the business end (much of which is beyond our control) much more tolerable when we get there.

Lucia in conversation with Cindy House at BookPeople launch party.
Cynsational Notes

Laura Creedle lives in Austin, Texas, in an urban forest with her husband and son, along with a cat who thinks he's a dog, and a tiny dog who acts like a cat. When not writing, she volunteers with a kindergarten pre-literacy program at a local school.

A former high school English teacher, Lucia DiStefano currently works as an editor, ghostwriter, and writing coach. First-generation Sicilian and daughter of an olive farmer, she admits to having recurring pasta dreams. Hailing from central Connecticut, Lucia lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and an old bloodhound named Waffle.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Survivors: Dian Curtis Regan on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children's-YA Author

Learn more about Dian Curtis Regan.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s-YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

I sold my first novel on my 35th birthday. I was in a library, meeting with my writers' group. One member smuggled in a birthday cake. On top of the cake, in icing, she'd written my name and the title of a manuscript I was working on:
Dian: Almost a Star.
My agent and I had been playing telephone tag, which was a thing in those days. I slipped away from the meeting to call and heard the fabulous news. How awesome to learn about one's first book sale while in a library.

I returned to my writers' group, jubilant. My friend picked up the tube of icing, leaned over my birthday cake, and crossed out the word "Almost."

That first sale definitely opened a door. I sold a second YA novel on proposal. The third, fourth, and fifth novels sold as soon as I submitted them.

Wow, I thought. So this is how publishing works. A continuous upward climb! All I have to do is hustle to keep up with deadlines.

I moved from YA to middle grade, then chapter books, picture books, board books, and anthology stories. Although I never proposed writing a series, many of my books turned into one.

Life was good. I loved what I was doing. Then came speaking requests, teaching workshops, and signings. Now I needed to work eight days a week. Seriously.

If the above makes it sound as if there were no "bumps in the road," there were: I changed agents, moved twice to different states, and I got rejections.

Yet my career trajectory kept moving upward. Books came out every year. Often multiple titles. In the span of three years, seventeen books were published.

Unfortunately, "extreme publishing" took a toll on my health. At one point, I asked my agent if she would kindly stop selling my work. I was kidding, of course, but after a dozen years of insane intensity, I needed a break.

Well, the break arrived. Thrust upon me, actually. My husband was transferred to South America. Certainly, this would be a respite from speaking at schools and conferences, just because of logistics. Plus, the thought of a secluded writing retreat overlooking the Caribbean sounded too good to be true.

Yes, the speaking gigs stopped. And yes, I continued to write. However, it was too good to be true. Distractions continued--just different distractions than I anticipated: the electricity went out almost every day, rendering my desktop computer useless. Constant safety alerts sent my adrenal system into overdrive. Plus, it was necessary to think in the metric system, think in foreign currency, and translate Fahrenheit into Celsius.

I needed to learn how to get around, understand what people were saying to me, and try to make myself understood. In other words, the fantasy of a tropical writing retreat was more dream than reality, and my productivity suffered.

Upon returning to the U.S.A., I discovered that the market for young readers had taken a sharp left turn. Harry Potter (by J.K. Rowling (1997)) was all the rage. I ripped up my teaching guidelines for middle-grade word count because Harry proved that loyal readers would follow along way past the standard 100 to 200 pages.

When I submitted a new book, one of my publishers actually said, "Oh, we don't publish those kind of books anymore."

Excuse me? You mean the kind I was writing that were selling a gazillion copies?

Oh, okay. I'll just go a different direction. When the proverbial writing is on the wall, you do go a different direction--if you want to continue publishing.

So, I settled into a new normal in a new state, writing new books, and life was good again.

Then came something more than a bump in the road. More like a brick wall, obliterating life as I knew it in one short phone call from a coroner. My husband of 31 years was gone.

I stopped writing. One has to have the heart for it, and my heart had been devastated.

Now I had only one thing on my mind: What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

I'd like to think—if I had it to do over—I would have bucked up and gotten back to work sooner.

The big lesson: if you step out of the game, the game whooshes on past without you. But my next two years were consumed with clearing out one life and house, moving home, and starting over.

Yet all it took was a new book sale--which turned into a three-book deal--to remind me who I am and what I do. I call these titles my "back-in-the-saddle books." Hey, I'm not done yet.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world of children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

The market I broke in on is definitely not today's market. The need for diverse books has always been a need, and now we're watching the movement grow and change the face of children's literature in a positive way. These are not my books to write, but I can be a cheerleader.

In reference to the evolving business, if you're lucky enough to do multiple books with the same editor, they know what you're capable of and therefore will hang in there with you on a book that may need more work.

But when you don't have history with an editor, they'll be quicker to say, "No" to a manuscript which has potential simply because they don't know what you're capable of.

Also, anyone who's attended ALA or BookExpo in recent years will notice that, beyond the major publishers, are many new publishers of children's books.

In much the same way that Netflix, Amazon, HBO, STARZ, etc. have opened the door for new TV shows and movies, giving writers and actors greater opportunity, new publishers like Creston Books, Black Rabbit Books, Cameron Kids, Two Lions, and others are doing the same for children's book authors and illustrators.

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

The advice I would give my beginner self: Nothing stays the same. Never trust an upward trajectory. There will be bumps along the road, and some will be mountains.

Self-care is important. I learned that working eight days a week has diminishing returns. Taking time off for movie night, or to walk the local nature park with my husband used to feel like an interruption to my work. But it's not. It's about the quality of one's life. And after that person is gone, you'll wish you'd taken more walks together.

Also, it's okay to say "No" every now and then. I've turned down speaking requests and offers to write books for various series.

One more piece of advice to my beginner self: Beware: a new fad is on the horizon, coming soon. It's called "social media." Please use in moderation.

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

I credit my first book sale with the fact that I read stacks of YA novels in preparation for writing one.

This is the advice I'd give today. It's so important to read recently-published books so you can see what's in demand--from publishers and buyers--and figure out where you can fit your own unique voice into the mix.

  1. Join SCBWI
  2. Be relentless. 
  3. Stay aware and informed. 
  4. Trust the process, trust the process, trust the process. 
  5. Find an awesome writers' group, daring enough to smuggle a birthday cake into a library.
Cynsational Notes 

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children's-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton
for Cynsations

Diversity & Inclusion

#readblack: What Would You Include If Someone Asked For A Quick List of Recent Titles Starring Black Kids? By Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse #8 Production. Peek:
“Recently an after-school program in Evanston told me that they had $325 to spend on books and that they really wanted titles for kids with black protagonists. What would I recommend?”
Love Your Neighbor: Book List #1 Standing Up For Each Other from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Peek:
“In response to the tragedy at the synagogue in Pittsburgh and to rising anti-Semitism in the United States, the Association of Jewish Libraries offers this series of book lists for young readers. Books read in youth impact future outlooks…”
An Open Letter To The Middleton School District From Authors In The Latinx Kidlit Community by Karen Jensen from School Library Journal. Peek:
“We are extending an offer to visit your school. We would like to talk to your students and staff about the richness of our culture. To show a positive and realistic representation of the very people this costume depicts as one-dimensional beings and implies should be kept out."
Authors Guadalupe García McCall and David Bowles on the Mexicanx Initiative at Worldcon from Lee and Low. Peek:
John[Picacio] founded the Mexicanx Initiative, at first intending to sponsor just a couple of key creators...before long there was enough support to bring fifty Mexicanx writers, illustrators, megafans, etc.”
Books Exploring Privilege Are Part Of The Diversity Discussion by Jennifer Baker from School Library Journal. Peek:
“What kinds of conversations are we having in general, let alone with younger and older readers, about the need for more marginalized representation, as well as the recognition of power and what it means? How do we navigate those conversations, especially with those close to us?”
Stories For Kids About Heroic Young Refugees by Elizabeth Wein from The New York Times. Peek:
“...’unstoppable’ is the word that best fits the fictional children in three timely, poignant and sometimes tragic new novels describing the current global refugee crisis.”
Diverse Books Fall Fundraiser from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:
“Our Goal: Raise $50,000 for WNDB in the Classroom... From Oct. 29 to Nov. 30, 2018... This program targets the literacy gap that affects marginalized U.S. youth... To address this gap, the authors recommend providing children with literature that ‘a view of their cultural surroundings and insight on themselves.’"
12 Picture books That Showcase Native Voices by Debbie Reese from School Library Journal. Peek:
"Native people do way more than dance and drum. Native people are activists, artists, and astronauts." 
Writing Craft

Your NaNoWriMo 2018 Success Strategies by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:
“The biggest job in front of get your character down on paper. The first chapter... the plot... individual scenes and descriptions will change. But once you’re able to ‘birth’ a character during National Novel Writing Month, this really will be the anchoring element of your manuscript going forward.”
Five Reasons Not To Do NaNaWriMo by Jo Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Now, to be clear, I secretly love NaNo. I’ve done it sporadically over the last couple of decades, and I absolutely love the concept of it. I just think that if you’re doing NaNoWriMo for the wrong reasons, it may do more harm than good.”
16.67 Ways to Juice Your Daily NaNoWriMo Word Count by Greer Macallister from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“The best thing and the worst thing about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is the relentlessness of your daily word count goal...So here are 16.67 ways to juice your creative energies and string together some sentences... to get you closer to your inevitable NaNo win.” 
Confessions of a Slow Writer: Why NaNoWriMo Isn’t For Everybody by Anne R. Allen from her blog. Peek:
“I’m telling you it’s okay to be a slow writer. Especially if you’re a beginner. Write a little each day. Get joy from it. Feel pride when you get a really good scene finished. Because a writing career is not a race or a contest." 
Prioritize Yourself from Nathan Bransford. Peek:
“Chances are, you haven’t admitted to yourself or other people how important this dream is...If you just own it and tell the people you love how important writing is to you, chances are you’ll be surprised at how supportive they’ll be.” 
Author/Illustrator Insights

“Waiting in the Deep”: A Character Development Workshop With Rita Williams-Garcia by Andrea J. Loney from The Horn Book. Peek:
“'Fear is hard to share,' Rita told us after she’d revealed some of her own formidable fears. 'Yet you can’t be an advocate for your character if you don’t understand and respect his or her fear.'”
The Highlights Foundation Magic [Tell It True Workshop] from Jennifer Kay. Peek:
“What surprised me: almost everyone submitted a picture book biography. I thought I was in the beginning stages of researching a middle-grade piece, but my workshop group disagreed. I had also submitted an early draft of a picture book biography. How did they know? Research constraints.” 
'Hey, Kiddo' Aims To Help Kids With Addicted Parents Feel Less Alone from Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Peek:
“My mother was a very talented artist, and when she was incarcerated she would send me letters and she would draw cartoons for me….But she had squandered that talent because of the drugs. And that really was my driving force to want to get published.”
Interview with Lucia DiStefano, Author of Borrowed by Holly Schindler at YA Outside the Lines. Peek:
“My own high school years were incredibly difficult, and maybe part of us stays in the period where we experienced the most struggle.”
Meet National Book Award Finalist Elizabeth Acevedo by Emily Temple from Literary Hub. Peek:
“I often wish I was asked more about the craft of the verse. I spent so many agonizing hours ensuring every line break was precise, every word and repetition chosen with care—because it was important to me to maintain the integrity of the lyric while also advancing the narrative.”
Author Interview with Robin Talley by Robin Talley from CBC Diversity. Peek:
"The mid-1950s marked the tail end of...McCarthy’s reign in U.S. politics, but the sense of paranoia and the persecution...stuck around.... By 2017, we’d just entered a brand-new wave of paranoia and persecution."
Q & A with E.D. Baker by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“I start with an idea, then the character, then the world. I don’t have a process and I don’t plan. When I can’t figure out what happens next, I try to relax, take a walk, and not focus on that next sentence.”
Better Know An Author: Rebecca Barrow by Dahlia Adler from LGBTQ Reads. Peek:
“I didn’t intentionally set out to publish in the I became more knowledgeable about publishing, and as the push for increased diversity has happened—well, as much as the U.S. still has far to go, the U.K. has even farther.”

How To Use Swag To Support Your Book Marketing by Dawn Reno Langley from Jane Friedman. Peek:
“After writing and promoting 30+ books, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the one-on-one advertising works better than anything else—and the best part about book swag is that usually you’re the one handing the swag to your reader.”
Re: Best Twitter Name Strategy? From Dear Editor. Peek:
“Twitter is a discoverability tool in your marketing toolbox...Think of your Twitter handle as an extension of your author brand...go with a close variation of your name so that readers and industry colleagues can find you easily and learn to recognize your name as they scroll their feeds.”
The Slow Blog Manifesto...And Eight Reasons Why Slow Blogging Will Help Your Career, Your Love Life, And Protect You From Angry Elephants from Anne R. Allen. Peek:
“Also, in order to get a readership in this saturated blogosphere, it seems to me we should be stressing quality over quantity. People don’t want more stuff to take up their time.”
Producing a Podcast: the Debcast by Debbie Gonzales from The Mitten. Peek:
“Podcasting is actually an affordable medium. Mics and pop filters are inexpensive. Software is fairly cheap. Truthfully though, I’m still knee-deep in my learning curve. There are a number of moving parts to wrangle. But I’m getting it. Each episode gets easier and easier to produce.”
What To Do Eight Months Before Book Launch by Dan Blank from We Grow Media. Peek:
“A network of professional colleagues and personal friends who create and support creative work. How did they get this? They reached out. They showed up. They were curious. They were generous. They were supportive. None of those things require you to spend even a dime.”

B&N’s Potential Mystery Buyer Revealed to Be W.H. Smith by Rachel Deahl from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“If B&N had been bought by W.H. Smith, one of the U.K.'s largest book retailers, the Journal said the move ‘could have transformed’ the bookstore chain which is undergoing a difficult business turnaround.”
Fall 2018 YA Spotlight: Teen Lit Reflects Wider World by Sue Corbett from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Most agents agree that fantasy will take a backseat to realistic fiction in the immediate future, and that the fantasy that does get published is likely to address the social issues teens are grappling with today: sexism, feminism, racism, and violence.”
How To Grapple With Discouragement In A Writing Career by John Walters from Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Peek:
“One thing to realize upon feeling crushed after a particularly disappointing rejection is that it’s okay to feel down for awhile. This feeling will pass, and it will be replaced with your usual determination.”
This Week at Cynsations
More Personally - Cynthia

Thank you, YALSA Symnposium!
Wow, what a week it's been! Shoutouts to Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, who will be the first Native women in the U.S. Congress. Kudos also to another Native woman, Peggy Flanagan, who will be the new Minnesota Lt. Governor!

Last weekend, I traveled first to Denver for the Colorado Teen Book Con, hosted by Tattered Cover Bookstore. On Friday night, adult fans of YA books gathered at the downtown store location for an evening of delicious food, drink and book talk with authors.

Thank you, Tattered Cover Bookstore!
On Saturday, the audience was teens at Littleton High School. I participated in a thrice-repeated "Young Love" panel with Kasie West, Stephanie Kate Strohm, and Tiffany Schmidt, and Lisa Brown Roberts. It was my first time meeting all of them, and I was blown away by their graciousness, talent and wisdom. Lisa, who doubled as the moderator, did an awesome job guiding the discussion.

Highlights also included fantastic keynotes by Jason Reynolds and Laini Taylor as well as my being driven/escorted around by educator volunteer Stacy Cohen, who is also my cousin!

From there, I continued on to the YALSA Symposium in Salt Lake City just in time to participate in the closing session with Jesse Andrews, Andrew Smith, and Brendan Kiely, followed by a massive giveaway signing. The discussions on the panel and afterward were heartening and inspiring. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow authors better and am infinitely grateful to all the librarians who made the event such a success.

As a side note, this was my third event of the season on the same author lineup with Andrew, and we'll both be at the ALAN Workshop in Houston later this month. But today I'm off to the Kansas/Missouri SCBWI 2018 Middle of the Map  Conference in Overland Park, Kansas.

Thank you, Colorado Teen Book Con, YALSA, and Candlewick Press!

A Book Of My Heart: Joy Interviews Cynthia Leitich Smith from Brazos Bookstore. Peek:
"To be candid, I can’t image having published this book a decade ago. I tried to write it back then, and today the novel is still pushing the envelope.... No, it’s more than that. It’s battering a brick wall. To extend the Oz analogy, it’s battering a yellow brick wall. A long conversation of YA novels that’s almost entirely absent of Indigenous female voices, real and fictional."
SCBWI's BookStop program is ongoing. Surf by to "like" or sign the guest books for Hearts Unbroken and Feral Pride. Then discover more new children's-YA releases!

More Personally - Robin

This weekend I went to my local Barnes & Noble for a panel on middle grade and YA novels featuring J.H. Diehl and her middle grade novel, Tiny Infinities (Chronicle, 2018), Lauren Abbey Greenberg and her middle grade novel, The Battle of Junk Mountain (Running Press, 2018), and Deborah Schaumberg and her YA novel, The Tombs (HarperTeen, 2018).

These are my first new books for my 2019 Halloween book project collection!

More Personally - Gayleen

Thrilled to get my copy of Lily Lo and the Wonton Maker (Inkshares, 2018) by Frances Lee Hall!

Her critique group’s efforts to posthumously publish Frances’s middle-gade novel really touched me (read the Cynsations guest post from Ann Jacobus).

This delightful #ownvoices story includes food, friendship and soccer, and is available now from Inkshares.

More Personally - Stephani

It seems my to-be-read pile keeps intersecting with L.M. Montgomery-related material lately.

Earlier this fall I finished Liz Rosenberg’s biography of the Canadian author, House of Dreams: The Life of L.M. Montgomery (Candlewick, 2018). Then I read Maud (Penguin Random House, 2018), a fictional account of Montgomery’s young adulthood by Cynsations Canada reporter Melanie Fishbane (see her related guest post). 

So, it no doubt that I was super excited that Sarah McCoy’s novel Marilla of Green Gables (HarperCollins, 2018) launched at my local bookstore recently. It feels so good to be back in Avonlea!

Personal Links - Robin
Personal Links - Gayleen