Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Cynsations Has Moved

The Cynsations blog has moved and is no longer being updated at Blogger.

If you are not automatically redirected, please go to for news and insights on the world of children's and young adult literature.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Cynsational Winter Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy Holidays, Cynsational Readers!

Thank you for your ongoing support and enthusiasm. I wish you the very best throughout this celebratory season and look forward to reconnecting in 2019.

Thanks to the many voices who contributed their insights to the blog over the past year. We were honored to feature you and your work.

And finally, thanks to my brilliant Cynterns, Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton, as well as Cynsational reporters Carol Coven Grannick, Traci Sorell, Kate Pentecost, Christopher Cheng, Melanie J. Fishbane, and Angela Cerrito.

Much joy and many blessings to all!

Friday, December 07, 2018

Cynsational News

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

Celebrating Books for Readers

Congratulations to SCBWI on another successful year of the Books For Readers project! See the video from the Indigenous People's Celebration in Fargo, North Dakota and the book donation to the Indian Education Program of Fargo and West Fargo public schools.

And, the celebration for The Literacy Alliance in Oviedo, Florida. Books for Readers is an annual literacy initiative from SCBWI to collect, curate and donate new books created by SCBWI members to increase access to books for children in need.

Author/Illustrator Insights

Honoring Her Passion by Julie Kendrick from Minnesota Good Age. Peek:
“'Honor your own passion and honor what feels important to you,' [Marion Dane] Bauer said. 'Don’t ask what practical use it is and don’t ask what anyone else thinks about it. Just reach for what feeds your own soul. ..Step back and write something that feeds you.'”
Success Story Spotlight with Rebekah Manley by Rebekah Manley from The Writing Barn. Peek:
“The writing world, especially now that it is so big online, can feel like being stuck in the nosebleeds at Super Bowl, but desperately hoping to make touchdown. The Writing Barn with it’s flowing coffee, twinkly lights brings an approachable atmosphere makes space for you on the field.”
Q & A with Tricia Tusa by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“I’m really picky about who I bounce ideas off of because it’s this precious little egg that I have not sat on yet. I’m so careful.”
Misogyny Poisons All Waters by Alison Ng from YA Interrobang. Peek from Elana K. Arnold:
“I think one thing Damsel (HarperCollins, 2018) explores is how misogyny poisons all the waters. This means that women’s relationships to one another can be damaged just as surely as relationships between men and women, and relationships between men are damaged, too.”
Success Story: An Interview with Amy Nielander from The Mitten. Peek:
“I shared that draft at a [SCBWI] Round Table Critique, but it just wasn’t working...It wasn’t until I shared my portfolio with my Rutgers mentor when I returned to it. She encouraged me to prioritize the story and develop it further.” 
2018-15 from Courtney Summers. Peek:
“In ten years, I've learned a lot. I've learned: how to work hard. Write hard. Write well. To push myself to write better. To stop downplaying a talent I know I possess. (All writers should learn that, and take less time than I did to do it.) To promote without apology.”
Unpresidented by Martha Brockenbrough from VCFA Wild Things. Peek:
Unpresidented (Feiwel & Friends, 2018) and The Game of Love and Death (Scholastic, 2015) have more in common than you might imagine. Both were books I had to write.. And I feel like I should say that neither book immediately found a home in publishing.” 
The Porchlight: Episode 35 with Lucia DiStefano by Bethany Hegedus from The Writing Barn. Peek:
“Bethany...and Lucia delve into what Norman Mailer calls 'the spooky art' of writing and the magic and mystery of the creative process. They discuss how the seeds of ideas are first planted in a writer’s mind as well as the many iterations ideas can go through as they evolve into a book.”
Exclusive cover reveal: ‘Midsummer’s Mayhem’ by Hilli Levin from BookPage. Peek:
Rajani LaRocca - “I hope this novel shows young readers that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be stuffy, boring or confusing and that his work has endured for centuries because it depicts emotions and situations that still resonate today.”
In Memory

Remembering Barbara Brooks Wallace from Uma Krishnaswami. Peek:
“Barbara Brooks Wallace, author of children’s books and two-time Edgar Award winner, passed away November 27, 2018, of natural causes. It’s a term she would have liked–Natural Causes. I imagine I can hear her saying, ‘That could be a title.’”
Obituary: Kate Dopirak by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
(Andrea Welch, executive editor) "All of us here at Beach Lane and S&S will miss her dearly, but it’s heartening to know that her wonderful picture books will live on, bringing the same kind of joy to young children that she brought to everyone."  


‘How I Landed in Children’s Books’ compiled by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Industry veterans tell us about the surprising twists that led them to publishing, from a failed CIA test to chance advice at a midnight bowling party.”
Interview with Kristin Daly Rens, Executive Editor at Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins by Jonathan Rosen at From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:
“Don’t worry about what is trendy—write what interests you... the truth of the matter is that the best way to make someone—whether that someone is an agent, editor, or reader—care about your book is if the author is writing something they believe in and care about themselves.”
Lerner Acquires Zest Books by John Maher with additional reporting by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Zest will operate as an imprint of Lerner, and launch at least 10 new titles in the YA entertainment, history, science, health, fashion, and lifestyle advice categories in 2019… ‘YA nonfiction has become one of the fastest growing genres in publishing,' Hallie Warshaw, publisher and creative director of Zest Books, said in a statement.”

Hugely Underrated Diverse YA Fantasy Books by Namera Tanjeem from Book Riot. Peek:
 “But there are still a bunch of novels out there which deserve a lot more recognition for the diversity of their casts and settings....All of the following have significantly less than 1000 ratings on Goodreads, which definitely makes them under-appreciated gems.”
New and Upcoming YA Books That Make Perfect Chanukah Gifts by Dahlia Adler from BNTeen Blog. Peek:
“Thankfully, it’s a great time in YA for Jewish fiction that makes the perfect gift... we’ve taken care of your shopping list with one title for each day of the holiday!” 
Episode 42! The Choices We Make, by Linda Sue Park from Kidlitwomen* Podcast. Peek:
“We’re not just trying to change children’s books. We’re trying to change the world —which is incredibly hard work. But it always begins the same way: By looking at our own stuff, and changing the choices we make every day.”
Multicultural Board Books for Babies and Toddlers by Pragmatic Mom from her blog. Peek:
“I’ve always loved board books; they are full body entertainment for babies who might explore them with their teeth and virtually indestructible for toddlers! But it was surprisingly hard to find board books with diversity and inclusive themes to help develop empathy skills. I hope you like my first list!”
28 Days Later Call for Nominations by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek:
"We will accept nominations for our 12th annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month celebration of Black children’s book literature, today through Dec. 15. Nominate your favorites in the comments section. Anyone can nominate.”
The YA Trans Own Voices Masterlist from Ray Stoeve. Peek:
“This database contains young adult fiction titles with trans protagonists by trans authors, as well as young adult nonfiction about trans experiences and trans issues by trans authors. I define trans broadly... basically, anyone who identifies as some type of not-cis person.”
Writing Craft

How to Raise the Stakes in a Novel from Nathan Bransford. Peek:
“...your reader is going to be inclined to want what your protagonist wants and will root for them to get that. If your protagonist doesn’t really want anything in particular, why should your reader care?”  
Picture Book Format and How to Format Your Manuscript by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:
“Picture book manuscript format flummoxes a lot of aspiring children’s book writers because there is so much potential variety... I’ve developed a picture book manuscript template handout that I’ve used over the years to really streamline and clarify the process for writers.”
Lessons Learned From a First Attempt at NaNoWriMo by Jess Zafarris from The Writer’s Dig. Peek:
“Really, the most valuable thing I got out of my mostly-pantsed NaNo project was a firm, plotted scene list that I truly believe makes up a good story arc with rich, interesting characters and only a few small pieces that need to be worked out.”
Editing After #NaNoWriMo- Make Your #Writing Shine by Chris Eboch from Fiction University. Peek:
“I suggest making a chapter by chapter outline of your manuscript so you can see what you have without the distraction of details. For each scene or chapter, note the primary action, important subplots, and the mood or emotions.”
Writing, the Gift of Time and O’Henry by Jael McHenry from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“ I considered a potential list of gifts that writers might want to give themselves for the holidays, everything on the list came down to a single item: time. Except... sometimes, the gift you need is time spent writing; sometimes, the gift is time spent not writing.”
The 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters by K.M. Weiland from Helping Writers Become Authors. Peek:
“It’s not enough for minor characters to simply be present in the story, nominally either for or against the protagonist’s goals. These characters should have distinct, concrete goals of their own. These goals should have a specific relationship to the protagonist’s goals and, in turn, to every other pertinent characters’ goals.”
Practical Mindfulness Exercises to Hone Your Craft by Heather Demetrios from Wild Things. Peek:
“To me, poetry is what happens when mindfulness and words make love. You would do well to read more poetry, to look at the attention to detail that the writers bring to the text, and to use poets’ advice on how to go deeper.”
This Week on Cynsations

Author Becky Cattie with muse, Weird Al Yankovich.
More Personally - Cynthia 

It's wonderful to be home in Austin for a while. I've spent the past few days reading essays and manuscripts for my Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA advisees.

This week's highlight was the launch of The Camelot Code: The Once and Future Geek by fellow Austinite Mari Mancusi (Hyperion, 2019) at BookPeople. It's a must-buy for the holidays!

I'm honored to report that my YA novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019) will be included in #ReadYourWorld Book Jam 2019 on Jan. 25 (the last January Friday in 2019). The event is sponsored by Multicultural Children's Book Day and the Children's Book Council. See more information from Pragmatic Mom.

The Must-Reads of 2018 from We Need Diverse Books. Contemporary YA recommendations include my novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

Best Books of 2018 from American Indians in Children's Literature. YA recommendations include Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

#BookADay from Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Don't miss her oh-so creative rec of my YA novel Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2019).

Holiday Gift Guide: All The World's A Stage from Rec-It Rachel. Recommendations of books that revolve around the theater. See also New Kids Books Titles to Wrap Up This Holiday Season by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman.

Native Authors Meet to Discuss Future of Children's Literature by Stacy Wells from Biskinik Newspaper of Choctaw Nation. Note: Scroll to read.

Personal Links - Cynthia

More Personally - Robin

I did it! I completed NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of scenes, side writing, and plot outlines for my YA novel. It's been a hard year with a lot of health problems but NaNo gave me the social pressure I needed to sit down and commit to my novel anyway.

I now feel more motivated than ever to finish this project.

More Personally - Gayleen

I attended volunteer orientation at Bookspring, an Austin nonprofit that distributed more than 180,000 books to young readers in central Texas last year. Their goal for next year is 225,000.

This dynamic organization builds early literacy through three distribution avenues: healthcare, education and community outreach.

Orientation class was the first step in providing opportunities for Austin SCBWI members to volunteer with Bookspring in 2019.

I'm very excited that our chapter will be working with an organization focused on getting more of the right books to the right children. Books are curated for literary value, topical relevance, reading level, target language in the home and likelihood to engage, inspire and motivate young readers. Bookspring's mission is similar to SCBWI International Books for Readers project.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Guest Post: Suzanne Crowley on Finding Inspiration Close to Home

Young Suzanne with her Grandfather Tio
in Uvalde, Texas
By Suzanne Crowley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we are frequently asked where we draw inspiration from. I think it’s true that everything we write is somewhat autobiographical.

I know I scatter a bit of myself in everything I write – that’s what gives it a soul and makes my stories “sing,” if you will.

In Finding Esme (Greenwillow, 2018) twelve-year-old Esme McCauley is reeling from the death of her grandfather, Paps, who she feels is the only one who loved and understood her. I lost both my grandfathers early – age six and nine.

I was hit particularly hard with the second one who we called Tio. Life was completely altered and I think I’ve left the footprints of that grief across Esme’s heart. It becomes the centering point for the novel for which everything radiates from.

But there are other bits of my childhood there too in smaller ways.

 I descend from a long line of storytellers, particularly my father and his mother Edith, who told me wild and mysterious tales of Texas that were imbued with the mythical, the magical, and of course the taller the tale, the more “true” it was. There was always a moral or silver lining to their stories.

I listened. I took it all in. I inherited their curiosity and wonder of everything. There were ghosts stories, scary and benign, and people that could find water with a “witching stick.” There were home cures for nose bleeds and stomach aches.

They are all there in Finding Esme.

I added the tale of my grandmother, three months old, who lay untouched and sleeping in her bassinet as a tornado ripped over their house and how her mother injured her head trying to make it to her in time. It was “divine intervention” that my grandmother was unscathed. Her mother though, some said, was never the same.

I researched the story and found that indeed, in April of 1908, when my grandmother was three months old, a series of tornadoes struck across the Southern states over a three-day period.

The Dixie Tornado outbreak resulted in 324 deaths.

In Finding Esme, the force of nature, or divine intervention, is used to explain why all the females in the family develop a magical gift – in Esme’s case, it’s the gift of finding lost things.

Esme’s grandmother is named Bee after the family’s business of keeping bees. My great-grandfather Oscar Saunders was a beekeeper in North Texas around the turn of the century then later in west, Texas. So was a great-uncle.

Suzanne's Great Uncle Will Bostick with his bees in Uvalde County at the turn of the century
In 1900, there were over 150,000 bee colonies and many Texas farmers kept aviaries. When I visited my grandparents in west, Texas there was always a honey jar on the table to sweeten everything. It was particularly good dripped over hot buttery biscuits.

I remember playing with prehistoric-looking “horned toads” (they are actually lizards) all during my childhood in Texas, catching them and quickly releasing them to see them scurry away into the low brush. They are very rare now, and the Fort Worth Zoo, along with ecologists and other experts, are working hard on a breeding and release program.

Young Suzanne in Uvalde, Texas
The horned toad in Finding Esme, Bump, joins her every night as she secretly digs up dinosaur bones she finds on the spot where her grandfather died – the silver lining.

And then there’s the fireflies that lead Esme up the hill in the first place to her great “find.”

 As children, we caught fireflies in mason jars on hot summer nights in an old, ancient cemetery across the street from my cousin’s house where an old gunslinger, John King Fisher, was buried.

Sounds creepy, but I thought the fireflies were magical the way they flickered on and off like ghosts. We let them go too, after a while. Then we scampered through the graves back home.

I keep files and files on unusual names and old sayings. My mother’s nickname (to this day, and she’s 81) was Pie, short for Sugar Pie. The McCauley’s horse is named Sugar Pie (sorry mom).

My sister overheard someone’s grandmother was named Sweetmaw at a beauty parlor. She became Bee’s sister Sweetmaw McCauley in Finding Esme, the antithesis to “mean as a hornet” Bee.

We can’t help but write about who we are. Use it, but hone it. Write what you know, write what you are curious about, and make some of it up (what are we without our imagination?).

Read as much as you can – that’s where you learn to put it together pretty.

And listen. Listen carefully.

Cynsational Notes

Suzanne Crowley,
photo by Melissa Mahoney
Suzanne Crowley is also the author of  The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous (Greenwillow, 2007) and The Stolen One (Greenwillow, 2009).

The author, who is also a miniaturist and dollhouse collector whose work has graced the covers of magazines worldwide, was born in a small town in Texas and now lives in Southlake, Texas.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books gave Finding Esme a starred review.  "Esme is a brave, appealing heroine with the odds stacked against her...Bad blood and layered family secrets drive this story to its ultimately optimistic and satisfying conclusion."

Find Suzanne on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Guest Post: Yona Zeldis McDonough on Staying True to Yourself

Yona Zeldis McDonough
by Yona Zeldis McDonough
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I hate weapons, especially firearms. Always have, and always will. Even the sight of a legally sanctioned gun—police office, hunter—makes me recoil and I literally take a step back.

Along with hating weapons, I hate war and though I concede that some wars have been necessary, I fail to see warfare as heroic or noble.

So when Scholastic tapped me to write a book about the evacuation at Dunkirk [of World War II.], I had to think long and hard about whether I could do it.

First, I had to read more about what happened, since I had only the vaguest notion of the history. 

What I learned was somehow reassuring. Dunkirk was not a battle in which men and boys were hurt and killed. It was an evacuation—a retreat whose aim was simply to get out alive.

And it was carried out not by soldiers or sailors, but by ordinary citizens who heeded the urgent call.

Brave civilians rolled up their sleeves and took boats intended for fishing, rowing, pleasure across the English channel to the French beach where the boys were stranded. They either brought the boys back home, or ferried them to larger ships that did the job.

Soldiers boarding a sailboat at Dunkirk
This massive endeavor was called Operation Dynamo and it was responsible for saving 338,326 English and French soldiers.

Now here was a story I could get behind, and bring to life.

I said yes to Scholastic and settled down to work.

Courageous (Scholastic, 2018)
But even though the overall story was not one of battle or carnage, my editor at Scholastic let me know that I was expected to include scenes of battle, as well as action and drama.

How was that going to align with my anti-war sentiments?

First, I decided that neither of my two main characters—Aidan and his older brother George—were not going to handle weapons or kill anyone intentionally.

This was not too hard with Aidan—he was only twelve. But George was a soldier, and soldiers are trained to kill their enemies.

Yet I made a point of keeping guns out of George’s hands.

When he is face to face with a German soldier on a barge, the two scuffle and the German is thrown overboard by accident.  It’s indicated that he might drown, but not explicitly stated.

More significant, I felt, was the scene in which a German solider is shot, though not by George, who instead pushes another soldier to the ground, thus saving his life. The other soldiers in the unit swarm the body, eager to strip the dead man of his gun, his boots and his jacket.

George remains apart, and is therefore able to notice the wallet of the dead boy, which has been thrown to the ground.

He picks it up and when he’s alone, examines its contents. He finds an ID card, with the boy’s name, Gerhardt, and age—18, a year younger than he is. He also sees photographs, presumably of Gerhardt’s parents and girlfriend.

Yona's workspace
Looking at these things, George realizes that the young German soldier who was killed was not some nameless, faceless enemy.

He was a person whose death will rip a hole in the lives of all those who loved him—parents, sweetheart, relatives, friends, teachers, neighbors.

George keeps the wallet and later in the book, he makes an important decision about what its future will be.

I let George’s realization about the true price of war speak for me, and it is my hope that readers of this book will take this understanding away with them when they close its covers.

Cynsational Notes

Yona Zeldis McDonough's The Bicycle Spy (Scholastic, 2016) was named a Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries. See a previous Cynsations post from Yona.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Guest Post: Shutta Crum on A New Life for an Out-of-Print Book

Learn more about Shutta Crum
By Shutta Crum
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

So you’re zipping along—doing your thing—and below the radar one, or more, of your books goes silently out of print.

When a book goes out of print, it always hurts—it’s a death in the family. You’ve spent a significant portion of your life living with it, writing it, and cheering it on. Now, it’s no longer available. For most books, that’s simply the end of the line.

I did not want that to happen to my first novel, Spitting Image (Clarion, 2003). It is a book close to my heart.

It got glowing reviews, including a starred review in School Library Journal, made several state short lists, was recorded by Recorded Books, and sold reasonably well for a hardcover debut novel. Yet, somehow, it never made it to paperback—a format more affordable by its intended audience, young teens.

I wanted it to have a longer life. However, I didn’t have an editor willing to jump on the paper-only bandwagon, so I decided I’d take matters into my own hands. First, I had to get my rights back. That took a bit of time. Then I had it reprinted at a reputable printer with a new cover design by a newly created publisher (me, as Rascal Road Publishing).

Below are a few things I learned along the way.

1. Check your contract: Find out your publisher’s definition of "out of print." If it's not included, call and talk to them about how they define it. It’s usually that the book has to hit a designated number of sales for it to be considered in print.

Below that, and you can ask for it to be reprinted. If they decline, you can ask for the rights back. Of course, make sure this is spelled out in all future contracts.

And do check your electronic rights. I could not get Spitting Image back until we hit a reporting period with less than 50 copies of the eBook sold.

2. Be persistent: It will take a long time to get rights back with some sort of written communication saying the same from the publisher. The thing is, in many contracts it is stated that after a certain number of months from the date of an author’s request for rights the rights simply revert.

Now, while the author may legally have those rights, getting that in writing is the hard part. A publisher may tell you that you have them. But I think it’s best to actually have a letter stating that as many printers will want to see proof that you have the rights before printing the book for you.

So watch your deadlines, and keep communicating until you get it in writing. If you have an agent they may be able to help you with this.

3. Set a goal: You need a goal for the book. Mine was to simply get it into the hands of more kids when I do school visits or speak at festivals.

So I had it reprinted in paperback with a sales price of $7.99. (More on this later.)

4. Create a company: You’ll need to put in new CIP info. So I created my own publishing company, Rascal Road Publishing. I did my research and made sure there was not another company with this name.

Then I bought the domain names for the most common forms of URLs for it.

That is, I bought, .net, and .org. I did the same for Rascalroadpress and Rascalroadbooks.

This costs me about $12.00 a year per domain. But it’s worth it to keep anyone else from buying your domains and perhaps using them in a manner you would not want. I also designed my own logo.

I did not incorporate, but that is a possibility. Talk to your tax preparer first.

5. Create a website: I designed a simple website myself for Rascal Road using WordPress and incorporating PayPal so folks could also purchase the book online. This meant that I had to get a sales tax license for my state.

6. Work with the printer: The printer had an in-house editor and a cover designer who worked with me to design a new cover, new CIP, new title page, a praise page with quotes from good reviews, etc. This had to be done to remove the logos of the original publisher.

Also, if I’d wanted to use the original cover I would have had to purchase the rights to the art. I did adore the original cover. But it would have cost me $1,800 for 5,000 copies over five years—the lowest price they could give me. (Getty Images)

As I only wanted to print 500 copies and keep the price low for teens, I opted for a new photo on the cover. This we found on iStock for $35.00. Now, I adore the new cover design!

Designing the cover, these extra pages and placing a bar code cost me about $750. I also bought a small packet of ISBN numbers off the Bowker site.

Shutta's book covers as of 2018
7. Know how selling works: I wanted to keep the price low so that kids could afford the book.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration is that retailers like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon, even bookstores, take anywhere from 35 to 45 percent of the list price to sell for you.

So that means if I place my title with these companies those copies will not make back the cost of the printing. (I obviously hadn’t done all my homework!)

In the long run, I am fine with that as my purpose was not necessarily to make any money on the venture. However, I do think I could have upped the price by about a dollar or two so that I might get closer to breaking even. I will say that the bookstores love the low price. It is easier for them to sell it.

8. You have to market it: Most of my copies I simply plan to make available at my school visits and to take with me to festivals and conferences. I have donated several copies to local libraries, and my local bookstores are carrying them for me on commission.

This is a new venture for me, and I have, as yet, to place it with Ingram, Amazon, or some other wholesaler. I may do so with the knowledge that those placements will come at a cost. The good thing will be the exposure to buyers.

9. The take away: I might do this for another novel, and my publishing company is all set up. I doubt that I would do this for one of my picture books.

Printing full color picture books on quality paper is still an expensive undertaking. The price on the book would be high, and I don’t feel that buyers (parents/schools/etc.) feel that investing $16 to $20 for a thin paperback picture book is a good investment.

All in all, it was an interesting endeavor. I’ve learned a few things, and discovered some of the joys of doing it.

Having been traditionally published for almost eighteen years I never thought I’d turn to a self-publishing activity. But I’m proud of the way the book turned out, and the fact that teens can afford to buy it at the price listed.

I won’t make back the cost of printing it, but that is fine by me on this occasion.

I’ll have to wait and see what my final analysis may be.

Still, I think if you have a book that has been vetted by an editor and one that made some waves in its first foray out into the world, do consider bringing it back into print.

It makes me happy just to see it sitting on my bookshelf.

Cynsational Notes

Shutta Crum is the author of Spitting Image as well as other middle-grade novels and many picture books, poems and magazine articles. Thunder-Boomer! illustrated by Carol Thompson (Clarion, 2009) was an ALA and a Smithsonian “Notable Book.” MINE! illustrated by Patrice Barton (Knopf, 2011) was reviewed by the N.Y. Times Book Review as “a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” Her books have made Bank Street College lists as well as state award lists. Mouseling's Words, illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke (Clarion, 2017) is her latest. Find Shutta on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, December 03, 2018

New Voice: Tara Luebbe on Crafting a Double Debut & Writing With the Stars

Author Tara Luebbe, photo by Carl Kerridge
By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Tara Luebbe is on a roll!

She has been doing double duty promoting two debut picture books published earlier this year.

Luckily, her sister Becky Cattie co-authors the books with her, so they can share this journey together.

But today I’m featuring Tara because she got them started on their children’s publishing path.

Tell me about your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable? 

When I decided I wanted to be an author, I really knew nothing about writing. What I did know, being the former owner of a toy and bookstore, was the retail side of picture books.

Tara's critique partners Becky Shillington and Derick Wilder
When I decided to write my own, the first thing I did was read The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown (Alpha Books, 3rd ed., 2008) to get a basic understanding of how publishing works.

Then I went down the internet rabbit hole and researched the topic, soaking up as much information as I could.

I began with websites like Kidlit 411 and Sub it Club, along with Harold Underdown’s and Tara Lazar’s blogs.

If I found a concept or word or website I didn’t understand or know about, I dug until I did. I also started building a database of agents and publishing houses and joined SCBWI.

Through SCBWI, I met local critique partners, who have been the biggest catalyst in my journey.

I learned the basic craft rules of picture books and then wrote my first draft, which I sent to my sister, Becky Cattie.

She returned it half-changed for the better, so I asked her to join me (and we’ve written as a team ever since).

Tara's sister and co-author Becky Cattie with their muse, Weird Al Yankovich.
I then entered my local SCBWI chapter’s manuscript contest, even though I had only been writing for five months. I won second place and that solidified in my mind that I was supposed to be doing this.

Becky and I then attended NESCBWI, our first conference together in 2015. I attended a few more conferences during those first two years,and also paid for some professional critiques.

I joined Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12. I formed an amazing online critique group that I can’t live without.

And then I won a six-month mentorship with author Stacy McAnulty, which was sort of the final piece of my kidlit puzzle.

Stacy McAnulty and Tara signing books together at Park Road Books in Charlotte.
During this entire time, I religiously read new picture books each week—reading in your genre is really the best education you can give yourself.

In terms of publishing, how did you navigate the process of finding an agent and, with his or her representation, connecting your manuscript to a publisher? 

Looking back, I made the typical rookie mistake of querying too early, before our manuscripts were ready. But after a while, we finally started to get requests for more work.

Around the same time, Becky attended the SCBWI IL Prairie Writers Conference and our first two books both came from the after-conference submissions to editors.

Wendy McClure from Albert Whitman contacted us about I Am Famous, and about two weeks later, Sonali Fry from little bee books reached out about Shark Nate-O.

We went back through our outstanding queries to agents, and also added a new agent who had just opened up, Tracy Marchini from Bookends Literary, based on her #MSWL tweet.

We talked to a couple different agents and decided Tracy was the best fit for us. (See a Cynsations post from Tracy on Page Turns in Picture Books.)

What was your initial inspiration for writing these two debut books? 

The inspiration for Shark-Nate-O (co-authored by Becky Cattie, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (little bee books, 2018))  was a combination of a few things.

I remembered a kid in my second-grade class who was obsessed with sharks and who pretended to be a shark all the time. At recess, he even used to try to eat me.

I thought he would make a great picture book character, but I did not have enough of a story.

My own son, Nate, who was four at the time, went through a shark phase and we were reading every single shark book ever published. At the same time, he began swimming lessons.

My brother happened to call him “Shark Nate-O” and that was when I realized that this story needed to be about a shark-obsessed boy having a hard time learning to swim.

I Am Famous (co-authored by Becky Cattie, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff (Albert Whitman, 2018) came to me while listening to a Weird Al song, TMZ.

It is a parody of Taylor Swift’s "You Belong to Me" and makes fun of the paparazzi stalking celebrities.

I laughed, because it reminded me of today’s parents and their social media habits with their kids.

Plus, Becky was a little drama queen who was always performing as a kid, so the story became clear to us at once.

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

It is hard to pick one “best” moment, but a few include getting that first email that a publisher wanted to publish my book, seeing the illustrations for the first time, seeing the book on a shelf in a real store, having people tell me that their kids loved the book, and signing books at ALA.

The worst part of my journey was when an agent made fun of my query letter on Twitter.

I got an email rejection from her, and then she immediately quoted and mocked part of my query letter on Twitter. She did not use my name, but I saw it and knew it was mine. I was so angry, sad, and embarrassed all at once. That was probably my worst moment thus far.

In 2016, you launched Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers and illustrators. You did this as a way to pay forward the mentoring you received from award-winning children's book author, Stacy McAnulty

Tell us what mentors provide to their mentees through this program and if you know of any success stories yet to share. 

The mentors for Writing with the Stars (WWTS) are each asked to share their knowledge and time with an unpublished writer of their choosing.

I do not set any criteria or rules for the mentorships, leaving that up to the mentors themselves. Some pick writers who they feel are very close to obtaining representation, while others choose writers they believe they can help the most.

We were very fortunate that 16 talented authors volunteered their time to mentor in 2017 and 2018. The biggest perk for the mentees is having the opportunity to work with a published author one-on-one, thus receiving feedback on their manuscripts as well as invaluable industry insights and even career advice. And it was important to me that the program be totally free for all the mentees.

Success is a bit hard to define with WWTS, as I purposely set it up with no agent round or way to “win.” Of course we want mentees to go on to acquire agents and be published, and like to think we were one small part of the process. But the primary goal of WWTS is to simply help writers on what we know is a difficult journey. That being said, I’m very excited that several mentees from the inaugural class of 2017 have acquired agents.

Available April 2019 from Albert Whitman & Co.
Lauren Soloy was mentored by Lori Richmond and signed with Jackie Kaiser of Westwood Creative Artists; AJ Irving was mentored by Laura Gehl and signed with Jordan Hamessley from New Leaf Literary; Melanie Ellsworth was mentored by Beth Ferry and signed with Christa Heschke from McIntosh and Otis; Derick Wilder was mentored by Pam Calvert and signed with Jenna Pocius from Red Fox; Colleen Paeff was mentored by Katy Duffield and signed with Clelia Gore from Martin Literary Management; Suzy Levinson was mentored by D.J. Steinberg and signed with Mary Cummings; Cassandra Federman was mentored by Melissa Iwai and Denis Markell and signed with Jenna Pocius of Red Fox.

In addition, several of these mentees have signed book contracts so look for their work in your local bookstore in in the near future.

Writing With The Stars 2019 mentors were recently announced and applications will be accepted in January.

Cynsational Notes

Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She and her co-author sister Becky Cattie are the founders of Writing with the Stars, a picture book mentoring program.

In addition to I Am Famous and Shark Nate-O, Tara and Becky's forthcoming books include: I Used To Be Famous, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vriethoff, (Albert Whitman, April 2019); Operation Photobomb (Albert Whitman, Fall 2019): and Conan The Librarian (Roaring Brook, 2020). You can find Tara on Twitter @t_luebbe and Becky at @b_cattie.

Activity kits for I Am Famous and Shark Nate-O are available for download.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children's-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge, 2018) is her first nonfiction picture book, an Orbis Pictus Honor Book and a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection. The story, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila. Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

See the book trailer for I Am Famous.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Cynsational News

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

Cover Reveal: The Hero Next Door, edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (Random House, 2019)(Ages 8-up). Peek:

Not all heroes wear capes. Some heroes teach martial arts. Others talk to ghosts. A few are inventors or soccer players. They’re also sisters, neighbors, and friends. 

Because heroes come in many shapes and sizes. But they all have one thing in common: they make the world a better place.

Published in partnership with We Need Diverse Books, this vibrant anthology features thirteen acclaimed authors whose powerful and diverse voices show how small acts of kindness can save the day. 

So pay attention, because a hero could be right beside you. Or maybe the hero is you.

Authors include: William Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Hena Khan, Juana Medina, Ellen Oh, R. J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ronald L. Smith, Rita Williams-Garcia, and short-story contest winner Suma Subramaniam.


A Pretty Much Fool-Proof Silver Bullet Query Opening by John Cusick from YouTube. Peek:
“Let's just admit it: query letters are hard to write. Where do you even begin? In this short video, we explain how to open your query in a way that conveys a ton of information while hooking an agent's interest.” 
Paper For Books Is Getting Harder To Come By: Why The Backbone of Publishing May Make Book Prices Rise by Kelly Jensen and Tirzah Price from Book Riot. Peek:
“As it stands now, finding the big, buzzy books at your local bookstore shouldn’t be challenging and the titles you wish to gift should be readily available. In the instances this isn’t the case, it’s likely due to paper and not tariffs.”

Painless Self-Promotion: Creating Content by Debbie Gonzales from The Mitten. Peek:
“... it is imperative to have a website...Think of it as your mailbox on the World Wide Web...It’s not necessary to sink a whole lot of money into the project and websites don’t have to be super-fancy, either.”
One Important Way You Can Help Your Book Publicist by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“...send the reporter, editor or interviewer an easy-to-digest chapter-by-chapter summary of your book. A summary makes it much easier for our media contacts to move forward with coverage, and to do so sooner rather than later. This gives your book a huge advantage over all the others in journalists’ ‘to-read’ piles.”

Ten Deliciously Diverse Kids Books Perfect For Holiday Gifts by Lori Tharps from My American Melting Pot. Peek:
“I wanted to provide you, dear readers, with a list of really good, diverse kids books with multicultural characters you might want to buy for holiday presents. Most of these titles are new or newer and I’ve included options for little kids up to teens.”
Five YA Stories Featuring Native Voices To Read This November by Hilli from Book Page. Peek:
“...Thanksgiving...presents the perfect opportunity to think about the importance of the many Native communities and voices that are still so often overlooked in literature. Here are five excellent reads featuring a wide range of Native teen characters that are worth adding to your TBR list.” 
Transgender Awareness Week 2018 from The Horn Book. Peek:
“We join our trans, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary family members, friends, and neighbors near and far in celebrating the lives of trans people...Here’s an updated roundup of resources to help spread understanding and inspire action from The Horn Book’s archives and beyond.”
Native American #Kidlit Recommended Reading at From The Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:
“If you’re looking to explore the rich world of Native American literature with your family, the following wonderful middle grade titles are a great place to start. (Thank you to the First Nations Development Institute who graciously let us share their list ... and to Debbie Reese, Ph.D., who chose these books.)”
2019 YA Books Starring Queer Girls by Tirzah Price from Book Riot. Peek:
“I remember the days when you could count on hand the number of YA books about queer girls that released in any given year. Well, friends, I am thrilled to say that I ran out of fingers when tallying up the number of 2019 YA books about queer girls.” 
Proud Fierce Papa Bear Part II by Bill Konigsberg from his blog. Peek:
“But a new kind of masculinity is emerging. One that is balanced...One that understands that there’s power in vulnerability, and that there are things to learn about how and when to put up our shield and brandish our sword, and when to take it down.” (Part I of the speech is here.)
The CCBC’s Diversity Statistics: Spotlight On LGBTQ+ Stories by Madeline Tyner from The Horn Book. Peek:
“We received very little LGBTQ+ fiction for middle-grade readers (two being Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee (Aladdin, 2017) and The Pants Project by Cat Clarke (Sourcebooks, 2017)). The lack of this literature is unfortunate, as children in upper elementary and middle school are often beginning to question their sexual orientations or gender identities…”
“Kids In Your Schools Are Native 365 Days Of The Year:" Publisher Pushes For Better Representation In Books by Zoe Tennant from CBC Radio. Peek:
“Each year when November approaches, Reese gets inundated with phone calls and emails from schools and libraries asking her for book recommendations. November, in the U.S., is Native Heritage month. Reese appreciates that people are reaching out to her, but said it's not enough.”
Writing Craft

Backstory Tips And Tools by Dean Gloster from Through The Tollbooth. Peek:
“Ignorant characters...are great for providing an excuse to work in backstory. That’s one reason the two staples of storytelling—a stranger comes to town and a character goes on a journey—work so well: Someone who is ignorant learns about the story world along with the reader.”
Maximizing Writing Productivity While Working Full-Time by Audrey Wick from Writer’s Digest. Peek:
“During a lunch break, for instance, consider setting 30 minutes of time aside for a writing sprint, where the focus is on fast, unedited writing on a certain scene. Doing so allows the words to get on the page, and they can be edited at a later time…”
Ten Rules For Middle Grade Novelists by Tom Mulroy from Middle Grade Minded. Peek:
“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all you need to do is insert dragons or graphic-novelly illustrations or robots or narwhals or fart jokes into your work to guarantee it will have wide middle-grade appeal. Be genuine.”
The Pitfalls of Self-Editing by Jim Dempsey from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“The simple answer is: self-editing isn’t enough. And here are three—among many other—reasons why:”
Author/Illustrator Insights

Feature Author & Illustrator Interview With Creators Of Lights, Camera, Carmen! By Anika Denise and Lorena Alvarez Gómez from CBC Diversity. Peek from Lorena Alvarez Gómez:
“When I’m working with an author, I still have a place as a narrator but I’m working with someone else’s universe and I have to respect its rules while giving an interesting interpretation of it.”
STEM Tuesday- Peeking Into The Mind Of A Scientist/ Engineer- Interview With Author Heather L. Montgomery by Mary Kay Carson at From The Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:
“For years at school visits or educator conferences, I talked about dissecting that road-killed rattlesnake. Those audiences showed me the power of story. They taught me to play a game, balancing information and story.”
Interview With Award-Winning YA Author Guadalupe García McCall from Lee & Low. Peek:
“I never intended to write about politics. In fact, I never even considered writing historical fiction either. It all just happened organically. The calling to write about our historical footprint in these ‘United States’ came from the discovery of hidden histories in America.”
Inspiration, World-Building And Fantasy Tropes: Melanie Crowder Talks With Linda Washington by Catherine Linka and Linda Washington from Through The Tollbooth. Peek:
“ could I ever write anything new? But like any genre, you have to trust that the story you have to tell is uniquely yours. And unlike other genres, fantasy writers have to accept that to a certain extent, it’s impossible to avoid every single trope.” 
Q & A With Traci Chee by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“My desire to write a more egalitarian world was a huge part of the worldbuilding, too. I wanted the world to be more ethnically diverse and more inclusive of women, transgender, and nonbinary people.”  
Jim Hill Talks With Robin Kirk About The Bond by Jim Hill and Robin Kirk from Through The Tollbooth. Peek:
“I love science fiction. It pushes us a little beyond where we are but with human behaviors that are familiar and even predictable. For instance, when Margaret Atwood was writing The Handmaid’s Tale (McClelland and Stewart, 1985), she was careful to include only elements with a historical precedent.”
Q & A With Arwen Elys Dayton by Sara Grochowski from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“...when I’m writing science fiction, I fill myself up with research until I’m saturated, then it’s in the background. The research isn’t really the point, it’s the context for the personal, intimate stories.” 
Libraries & Bookstores

Small Bookstores Are Booming After Nearly Being Wiped Out by Jill Schlesinger from CBS News. Peek:
“A growing number of shoppers will be supporting their independent neighborhood bookstores on Small Business Saturday. After nearly being wiped out a decade ago, small bookstores are booming.”
Awards & NPR Great Reads List

WNDB Announces The 5 Recipients of the 2018 Walter Grants from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:
“We Need Diverse Books™ is thrilled to announce the winners of the 2018 Walter Dean Myers Grants. The following 4 unpublished writers and 1 writer-illustrator have been selected for the grants: Adriana Hernández-BergstromSonia ChopraYasmine MahdaviNicholas SolisTrisha Tobias...The 2019 Walter Grant cycle will open to applications next year in the late spring.” 
NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2018’s Great Reads produced by Rose Friedman, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey and Meghan Sullivan; executive Producer: Ellen Silva; designed by Alice Goldfarb from National Public Radio. Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith was honored to serve as a 2018 concierge, recommending books by Traci Sorell and Eric Gansworth.

Congratulations to writer Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrator Bryan Collier for winning the 2019 NCTE Children’s Book Award with Between the Lines (Simon & Schuster, 2018)!

Congratulations to all the honor book winners, including Orbis Pictus Honor Book winners writer Traci Sorell and illustrator Frané Lessac for We Are Grateful (Charlesbridge, 2018)!

This Week At Cynsations
More Personally - Cynthia

Thank you to ALAN Workshop for featuring me as their Monday morning keynote speaker. It was a pleasure to share stories and reflect on Native literary sensibilities with such a highly engaged group of teachers. Thanks also to Candlewick Press for sponsorship and support.

With editor pal Andrew Karre of Dutton.
My own editors, Hilary Van Dusen of Candlewick
and Rosemary Brosnan of Harper, were also at ALAN!
Power, Agency, and Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek:
"...articulates questions about representation and voice and the human tendency to pronounce judgment with limited information. Questions about history and privilege, about who has power and why. Questions that push back against the daily indignities, large and small, so often inflicted upon minorities in America, and push back as well on commonly held historical myths and emblems of public nostalgia."
Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018) was chosen as this week's Book of the Week from the Cooperative Children's Book Center. Peek:
"...lively, illuminating novel. ...explores difficult truths and hard decisions even as it entertains."
Review: Hearts Unbroken from The Salty Librarian. Peek:
"The casual ignorance that people in the United States seem to possess was already mind-boggling to me as a white person, but reading about that same ignorance (not to mention flat-out racism) from a Native American perspective was eye-opening, to say the very least. I truly hope this book goes on to a ton of success..."
Book Page says of Hearts Unbroken: “Through Lou’s funny and honest narration, readers will gain some valuable insight….. Although this read deals with plenty of heavy cultural issues, Smith balances the main plot with a poignant romance….”

Indigenous Education Month from Another Story Bookshop in Toronto. Highlighting various recommended and available titles, including Hearts Unbroken. See also Native American #Kidlit Recommended Reading from From The Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, recommending Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) and Book Picks By Indigenous Authors by Debbie Reese from CBC Radio.

Native Heritage Month display at the Library of Congress; photo by Stephani Eaton.
More Personally - Robin

I’m still doing NaNoWriMo. As of Wednesday night (November 28th) I have 15,000 words left to write to complete my 50,000 words but I think I can make it.

I’m really glad I decided to do NaNo this year. About half of my word count has been actual scenes and the other half has been side writing and brainstorming. Still, that’s more scenes, side writing or brainstorming than I would have done without the social pressure. The more I write the more excited I get about my novel, too.

Now I need to figure out how to add social pressure to December!

More Personally - Stephani

This week I got my nonfiction fix by taking my thirteen-year-old to a presentation by Liza Mundy, author of Code Girls:The Untold True Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Hachette, 2017).

Mundy gave a fascinating talk about how she came to learn about the women who were breaking codes in World War II and their little-known story.

Since, we’ve found out that my husband’s great-aunt was one of these code breakers! I love that there’s both an adult and young reader’s edition of this book.

Personal Links - Robin

What One Person Can Do To Get People Reading

Ways To Bookishly Donate This Holiday Season

Personal Links - Stephani

Must-Read Historical Picture Books