Thursday, October 07, 2010

Guest Post: Tammi Sauer on Word Choice in Picture Books

By Tammi Sauer

When writing picture books, I strive to tell as much as possible in as little as possible.

This helps me to leave plenty of room for the illustrator to do half the storytelling through the art.

One of my key jobs is to use great words. Each word must count. Each word should be the best possible choice.

I usually start with the name of my main character.

With my latest book Mostly Monsterly, illustrated by Scott Magoon (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2010), for example, my main character is a monster. I didn’t want to give her just any name. Kate wasn’t right. Neither was Hailey.

But Bernadette? Now, that was a name for a monster.

Once I had my main character’s name, I did some brainstorming. I jotted down words that had a monsterly feel and would help set the tone for my story.

• fangs
• fur
• tail
• monster
• gross
• claws
• toothy
• huff
• ew
• spit
• mumble
• grumble
• yuck
• eyeballs
• toenails
• drool
• growl
• lurch
• creepy
• snot
• teeth
• horns
• stomp
• slobber
• mayhem
• scary
• hairy

Later, as I worked on the text, I drew from this list. Many of these words can be found on the first two-page spread of Mostly Monsterly.

(art credit: Scott Magoon)

Not all of the words from my list, however, made it into the story. If a word didn’t add to the character development or storyline in some way, that word was not included.

Also, since my picture books are humorous, I like to choose words that sound funny. This helps to create a more satisfying read aloud experience. In Mostly Monsterly, for instance, the words “fangs” and “slobber” made their way into the text. “Teeth” and “spit” did not.

Another thing I try to do is use specific words that show the reader something about the characters. My monsters never “walked.” They “lurched.” And when Bernadette was sad, I didn’t simply tell the reader, “Bernadette was sad.” I showed that sadness in this line: “Bernadette’s tail drooped.”

These are just a few of the things I do when it comes to selecting the right words. I want my picture books to sing! Or, in the case of Mostly Monsterly, grumble and growl.

Cynsational Notes

Scroll to read: Psst! Recipe for Bernadette’s Top Secret Cupcakes.

Tammi is also the author of Cowboy Camp, illustrated by Mike Reed (Sterling, 2005), Chicken Dance, illustrated by Dan Santat (Sterling, 2009), Mr. Duck Means Business, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2011), Bawk and Roll, illustrated by Dan Santat (Sterling, 2011), Me Want Pet! illustrated by Bob Shea (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2012), Princess-in-Training (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming), and Oh, Nuts! (Bloomsbury, forthcoming).

Illustrations by Scott Magoon. Author photo by Tori North.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

New Voice: Mindi Scott on Freefall

Mindi Scott is the first-time author of Freefall (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

How do you come back from the point of no return?

Seth McCoy was the last person to see his best friend Isaac alive, and the first to find him dead. It was just another night, just another party, just another time where Isaac drank too much and passed out on the lawn.

Only this time, Isaac didn’t wake up.

Convinced that his own actions led to his friend’s death, Seth is torn between turning his life around . . . or losing himself completely.

Then he meets Rosetta: so beautiful and so different from everything and everyone he’s ever known. But Rosetta has secrets of her own, and Seth will soon realize he isn’t the only one who needs saving....

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Pre-contract revisions were all about what I wanted to change or not change. I used the critiques I received in whatever way I saw fit and moved forward from there.

When I revised for my agent, I was a little panicked at first. This was the first time I was actually going to have to turn my changes in and get them approved! (As it turns out, he was very happy with the revisions, so there was no need for me to worry so much.)

Post-contract revisions were very different than revising for myself or my agent. My editor had a sense of some elements that weren't working in the story, but in some cases, she wasn't sure how best to change it. We brainstormed together, but she left it up to me to make some of the important decisions. She felt like it would be much more organic for me to feel out what needed to be done rather than for her to dictate the specific changes. It was a stressful time for me, but she said, "Trust your feelings, Luke," and I did (even though I'm not Luke). It all did work out in the end, which was a relief for sure.

My advice about the revision process is to dig deep, work hard, and know that even if you don't feel like you're going to survive this stage, you will! I won't go so far as to say that you'll laugh about it later, but you'll be able to look back and see that you accomplished something truly great.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

My character’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, so I felt like it was okay that he didn’t have the latest stuff or even mention what was out there. We never see him use a computer (although a couple of other characters do off-screen). He doesn’t have a mobile phone either, so he has to borrow from another character.

The phone situation started bothering me a little because things changed a lot between when I started writing the book and publication. Four years ago, a teen of his economic class might not have had a phone. But these days, it seems more and more likely that he would. And in another four years, who knows?

In the end, I decided he wouldn’t have a phone and my editor didn’t think it was a problem.

Cynsational Notes

Mindi Scott lives near Seattle, Washington with her drummer husband in a house with a non-sound-proof basement. Photo of Mindi by B. Bollay.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Guest Post: Doris Fisher on Picture Books Versus Children's Magazine Articles

By Doris Fisher

What’s the difference between a picture book and a children’s magazine article?

At first glance the two texts look similar. They are geared to a particular age group and deal with subjects children love.

However, there are plenty of differences for a writer to keep in mind.

A picture book is 1,000 words or fewer. A writer can come up with a wacky idea and run with it.

A magazine article is usually 300 to 500 words. Each magazine has specific guidelines for a writer to follow before submitting work. Otherwise, the article will not be given publishing consideration. Guidelines are offered to explain exactly what a magazine want to publish.

Guidelines mean serious business!

A picture book’s text contains 13 to 15 scenes for illustrations inside its standard 32 pages.

A magazine article for children covers a smaller amount of information and doesn’t use images to convey messages. Photos or art may be used to entice the reader to look at the article or enhance the information presented in the text.

A fiction picture book with a storyline involves a main character who embarks on a hero’s journey with pitfalls along the way and success or a revelation at the end of the book.

A fiction magazine article, with its shorter length, usually concentrates on one detail of a character’s life or idea, instead of a continuing storyline which evolves and grows.

Save that wonderful research and wealth of words for a picture book!

A nonfiction picture book still contains 32 pages, and the hero’s journey is usually absent. This writing focuses on a subject, person, location, or idea, providing the reader with information. It still needs the 13 to 15 scenes for an illustrator.

Creative nonfiction presents the information in a more child-friendly manner, instead of with straight facts, dates and places.

A nonfiction magazine article informs. It provides data and facts that may rarely be known or an amazing detail for children to relish and tell others.

A picture book is text and art.

A magazine article can also be a magazine item. Poetry, puzzles, games, jokes, crafts, plays, “how-to” articles, and cartoons are also included in magazine writing. Search writer guidelines to find where other creative formats than just articles are welcome submissions.

I love to write a-MAZE-ing puzzles and word games! My unique work has appeared more than 75 times in children’s magazines.

Picture book subjects and themes are author created.

Magazine article subjects and themes are often dictated by the intended format of the magazine publishers. Nonfiction subjects, fiction, poetry, other formats, monthly themes, holidays and the intended audience age are all found in various children’s magazines. Guidelines inform writers of each magazine’s needs.

Picture book publishers are usually not children’s magazine publishers.

A list of picture book publishers and magazine publishers can be found in the annual publication, Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, edited by Alice Pope (Writers Digest, 2009).

The Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators also has lists of these markets on its website.

Now it’s time for you to gather ideas, create and write on!

Cynsational Notes

From Sylvan Dell: Doris Fisher (Happy Birthday to Whooo?, illustrated by Lisa Downey (2006); My Half Day (2008), One Odd Day (2007), and My Even Day (2007), co-authored by Dani Sneed, illustrated by Karen Lee) loves writing in verse. She has written a biography, Kelly Clarkson (Gareth Stevens, 2007), and a six book series, Grammar All-Stars: The Parts of Speech (Gareth Stevens).

Her children’s writing includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, word puzzles and mazes. She has been published in various children’s magazines including Babybug, Highlights for Children, and Wee Ones Magazine.

Doris and her husband live in the Houston area. They have two grown children.

Enter Doris's monthly picture-book giveaway drawing. Scroll for details. Note: U.S. residents only.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Writing Across Formats: Nancy Garden

Learn about Nancy Garden.

What first inspired you to write across forms in children's-YA literature?

I'm not sure anything in particular did. I think the ideas came first, and they dictated the form and the age level.

I don't think I ever sat down and said, "Now I'm going to write a mystery," for example, or "Now I'm going to write a nonfiction book--what shall it be about?"

Once an editor asked me write a middle-grade book about a kid with two moms, and I did (that editor didn't publish it, though another one did!). But I'd been thinking about doing that anyway.

As far as my books about LGBTQ characters and issues are concerned, however, I did decide to write a picture book because I felt there was a need, and I've felt that about other areas as well--so perhaps I should say that sometimes a perceived need sometimes leads to a form.

I should also say that the desire to write an occasional adult novel is usually with me, but only once has that materialized in an actual published novel (Nora and Liz (Bella Books, 2002)). Ideas for adult books rarely occur to me, and when they do, they rarely stick with me for enough time to make them feel viable. So the story idea (or subject, since I've written a little nonfiction, too) is more important, and I think that's really always true.

What have you learned from writing in a variety of formats?

That's an intriguing question!

When I wrote my (so far!) only picture book, for example, Molly's Family, illustrated by Sharon Wooding (FSG, 2004), I had to concentrate so much on learning how to do it that I didn't think much at first about what I was learning that would be useful elsewhere.

But I know it helped me become even more conscious of the need for economy in all other forms, for I tend to be, er, longwinded. Short stories help me practice that skill, too. Writing fiction I think helps anyone who writes nonfiction, especially nonfiction for kids. At least it helps one try to make nonfiction vivid.

Here's another thing: I haven't written much in play form, but I did a little when I was just starting out and I did work on revising a script someone else wrote. And I have an extensive theater background, mostly in acting, directing, and lighting design.

My directing experience in particular has I know helped me with scenes in novels or stories that involve several characters at the same time, and my acting experience has helped me develop characters, for, as an actress, I used to write an "autobiography" of each character I played, and I usually do that with main and important other characters in novels as well.

What do you think about the pressure on authors to brand themselves by writing a certain kind of book?

I don't like it much; it's like typecasting in theater. I'm known primarily for writing LGBTQ YAs, and in a way, that's been very helpful to me, and of course in many ways I'm proud of being know for it. But I fear my other books have suffered, because reviewers, especially, and perhaps some publishers as well expect me to write only LGBTQ books.

Don't get me wrong; those books are very important to me! But so are the others that I write!

Cynsational Notes

From Two Lives, "Nancy Garden is the author of around 35 books for children and young adults, a number of which have to do with gay and lesbian kids and families. She and her partner divide their time between Massachusetts and Maine."

In 2007, FSG published the 25th anniversary edition of Nancy's groundbreaking YA novel, Annie on My Mind (1982).

From FSG: "Of the author and the book, the Margaret A. Edwards Award committee said, 'Nancy Garden has the distinction of being the first author for young adults to create a lesbian love story with a positive ending. Using a fluid, readable style, Garden opens a window through which readers can find courage to be true to themselves.'

"The 25th Anniversary Edition features a full-length interview with the author by Kathleen T. Horning, Director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center. Ms. Garden answers such revealing questions as how she knew she was gay, why she wrote the book, censorship, and the book’s impact on readers – then and now."

Nancy's recent releases include The Case of the Vanishing Valuables (Candlestone Inn Mystery #2), illustrated by Danamarie Hosler (Two Lives, 2010)(ages 7-up). From the promotional copy:

A new group of guests has checked into Candlestone Inn, and the Taylor-Michaelson family - Nikki, Travis and their moms - have their hands full with their innkeeper duties.

When valuable objects start disappearing, Nikki and Travis start investigating – is it one of the new guests, the new maid, or could it be – a ghost?

See also The Case of the Stolen Scarab (Candlestone Inn Mystery #1)(Two Lives).

The Writing Across Formats interviews were originally conducted in support of a keynote address by Cynthia Leitich Smith at a fall 2009 SCBWI-Illinois conference.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

New Voice: Matthew J. Kirby on The Clockwork Three

Matthew J. Kirby is the first-time author of The Clockwork Three (Scholastic, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. . .

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom.

Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family -- if she can find it.

And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker's apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers' guild -- if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you?

Of the two, I guess I would be considered a plunger, but a slightly apprehensive one. It’s like traveling to a place I’ve never been, where I don’t know the language or the culture. I really like to travel, and I’m always excited to go someplace new and different, but I’m also a bit nervous.

Maybe I wouldn’t be as nervous if I had a better idea of my destination, but I don’t outline in the formal sense. At most, I might jot down some ideas, some images, or snippets of dialogue that I plan to use. I do usually have some mile markers in mind, which some might think of as a kind of outline, and I guess it is. But it isn’t a map.

To continue the traveling metaphor, if a writer who does follow a strict outline has a GPS, and a map, and a satellite phone, what I have are vague directions I picked up from a stranger I met on the side of the road. And that’s the way I like it.

Of course, now that I’ve said all that, I have to admit I did outline some of The Clockwork Three though much less than people think. The book has three protagonists, each with their own separate but interlocking stories. The majority of the book I wrote without an outline, but when I hit the last three chapters I had to lay it all out and organize it. I created a spreadsheet with columns for the different plotlines so I could see where they overlapped and lined up, departing from my usual on-the-fly way of doing things to make sure I wrapped up all the loose ends how I wanted to (which also meant leaving some threads intentionally hanging in the wind). But I haven’t felt the need to do that for any of my other stories.

When I write, all I really need is a direction to write in. I prefer to just relax and explore, even though it might mean some wrong turns, dead ends, and heavier edits later.

But some of my favorite bits and moments of writing have come from those times where I just let my characters guide me. That’s the key, really. Having characters that can show me around. I find that if my characters live and breathe and are real to me, when I put them in a situation authentic to them and set them going, they’ll lead me out of it.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I’m represented by Stephen Fraser of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Steve and I met at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop in Sandy, Utah, a few years ago. He was on the workshop faculty, and I listened to him speak a few times at different breakout sessions. He impressed me with his demeanor and his philosophy on children’s literature.

After the conference, I sent him my manuscript, and I think his exact response was, “It’s good. But it’s not great.” I took that as a rejection, but Steve encouraged me to set the manuscript aside, work on something new, and send him what I wrote next.

That something new ended up being The Clockwork Three. Steve read it and offered representation, about a year-and-a-half from the time we first met. Following a round of revisions, he sent the book out on submission, and Scholastic made an offer less than a week after receiving it.

The thing you need to remember, and the great thing about Steve, is that during that intervening year-and-a-half in which he wasn’t my agent, he nevertheless encouraged and nurtured me as a writer. His generosity with his time and expertise was one of the things that helped me decide to sign with him.

I considered other factors when making that decision, things I think every writer should ask when looking for an agent. Do they communicate with you in the way you need? Do you get along with each other? (Because the agent-writer relationship is ideally long-term.) Are they an “editorial agent,” and is that something you’re looking for? Do you agree on where you see your career going?

Steve wasn’t the only agent I considered. But he and I lined up on the answers to each of these questions, and most importantly, he is passionate about my work. I’ve always thought that your agent should be as big a fan of your book as your mom.

Cynsational Notes

Matthew's photo by Azure Midzinski (2008).

Saturday, October 02, 2010

New Voice: Jacqueline West on The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows

Jacqueline West is the first-time author of The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One: The Shadows (Dial, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant.

When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there's something odd about the place--not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings.

But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that's strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own, yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets--and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper.

As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It's up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

I was lucky: I grew up in a house full of books, which made it seem like it was full of other things—things like hobbits and magical stuffed animals and big friendly giants and vampire rabbits. My mother was an English teacher, and my brothers and I learned to read when we were very young, thanks to her—and to the set of colorful alphabet magnets that hung on the refrigerator door. (To this day, each letter of the alphabet has a specific color in my mind.)

But even before I could read to myself, I was read to by my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and babysitters. I would beg my parents for stories about when they were little or about when Grandma and Grandpa were little.

My mother would even make up stories for us, usually involving me and my brothers. (I remember a saga involving an imaginary mean girl who moved onto our street and the continuing drama of a leprechaun who fell into my littlest brother’s diaper pail.) By the time I was three years old, I was a story junkie.

The corners of my favorite childhood books are worn soft from so much touching. Some of their pages are rumpled and stiff from falling in the bathtub; others have been smudged with dog drool or splattered with the pink milk from bowls of Lucky Charms.

There are certain books that I loved so much, I would get to the last page, flip to the front, and begin them again immediately. The worlds I found inside of these books were just as real to me, if not more real, than the one that existed around me.

My favorite childhood books and authors—especially those that I read again and again—practically became part of my genetic makeup.

For better or for worse, those books were the foundation for my own formation as a writer. The writers that I think had the deepest impact on me were those I began reading when I was very little; writers like A.A. Milne, Roald Dahl, and Lewis Carroll. I loved books that frightened me and books that made me laugh, and I especially loved books that did both.

A few years after learning to read to myself, I started reading aloud to my younger brothers. We’d pile onto the couch or into the backseat of the car with the latest Calvin and Hobbes collection by Bill Watterson (Andrews and McMeel, 1987-) or an installment of the Bunnicula series by James Howe (Avon, 1979 – 1987).

When I started writing The Books of Elsewhere, my intention was to write something my brothers and I would have liked when we were kids—something we would have read aloud to each other and laughed about and been a bit delightfully scared by. Writing these books has been like revisiting some of the best parts of my childhood.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

My favorite fantasy works are set in the real world. I love it when unlikely things happen in places that could actually exist; it makes the ordinary, everyday world seem full of potential magic. The Hundred Acre Wood could be any little forest. Roald Dahl’s witches convene in an ordinary hotel. Calvin and Hobbes live in a very normal house in a very normal town, but their daily lives are crammed with adventure.

The setting of The Books of Elsewhere is sort of a world within a world. The outer world is an old stone house, which could exist almost anywhere in reality—and I hope that there’s at least one creepy old house that scares away trick-or-treaters and inspires morbid rumors in everyone’s hometown.

I intentionally avoided naming the town or state where the house is located, because I wanted this outer layer of the setting to feel universal. I even tried not to give away too many climate-related clues, but this is tricky to maintain, especially now that I’m writing the third volume…

In any case, this outer setting is based on memory and observation, combining a decrepit Victorian mansion in the town where I grew up with parts of my grandparents’ old house, like their cluttered attic and terrifying basement.

That setting—the old stone house—is where the whole story began. I had that house waiting in the back of my mind, and I knew I wanted to fill it with an eccentric, out-of-place, scientifically minded sort of family, who turned out to be the Dunwoodys. From there, I got to build the house in my imagination, deciding what each room and hallway and dark corner looked like.

While this outer world is concrete and limited, the inner world that exists entirely inside of the old stone house is flexible and almost infinite. The inner world, of course, is Elsewhere: the alternate reality inside of the paintings that hang on the house’s walls.

Like a lot of kids, I used to imagine that objects had a secret life—that stuffed animals sat up and started talking as soon as we left the room or that all the food in the fridge played hide-and-seek once the door was shut and the light clicked off.

I also liked to imagine that the people inside of paintings could move and speak and go on about their days when no one was watching. I think that’s where the idea of Elsewhere came from.

Constructing Elsewhere and figuring out how the paintings worked was more complicated than building the outer world. The paintings are magical, so they don’t behave according to the laws of the real world, but they have their own logic and this logic needs to be consistent.

As the plot developed, it forced me to make decisions about how it feels to climb into a painting, what paintings can do or can’t do, how things from the real world can impact the painted world, and so on.

While Olive discovered the paintings, I got to discover them, too, one by one, and to decide what sort of inner world their painter would have created.

Cynsational Notes

From Indiebound: "A two-time Pushcart nominee for poetry, Jacqueline West lives in Chilton, Wisconsin. This is her first novel."

Friday, October 01, 2010

Guest Post: Jacqueline Jules on What If You Had a Superpower?

By Jacqueline Jules

As a child, I loved warm, windy weather, just before a big rain. You could smell the moisture in the air. The trees would bend and wave their branches as if saying, “Come on!”

With the wind blowing across my face, it felt like just a little bit of speed would lift me into the air.

I had a friend named Ginger who agreed with me. We would pretend we were horses, shaking our hair as if it were a mane, and run into the wind, ready for magical wings to sprout from our backs.

Most kids entertain the fantasy of flying at some time in their childhoods. Many also dream of having superpowers. What if it actually happened? How would it change your life? Could you still be an ordinary kid?

That was my question as I began Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, illustrated by Miguel Benitez (Whitman, 2010). I was working as an elementary school librarian and fielding a frequent request: “Do you have a book with a superhero?”

Many of my students were learning English as a second language. The books they wanted to read often had too much text for them to manage. So I wondered if it was possible to write an easy-to-read chapter book for them.

When it comes to books, an author-librarian is like a mother. If a child wants brownies and there are none in the house, many mothers are motivated to bake. Likewise, when I heard a repeated request from my students, I was motivated to write.

So I imagined one of my good-natured, lovable students with superpowers. How would it enhance or complicate his life?

In Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, Freddie receives a mysterious box with super-powered purple sneakers. They give him the amazing ability to race the metro train and win. The next morning, he goes to school, armed with super speed, and ready to be a hero. But it’s not that easy, as Freddie relates:

“I wanted to save a kid from a burning building or catch a criminal. Saving a cat would have been okay, too. But it’s not that easy to be a hero when you go to elementary school. No one falls out of high windows. We don’t even have a second story at Starwood Elementary. No one seems to need hero stuff. They need left-behind lunches and library books.”

Most of us like the idea of a magical power, but we’re not quite willing to give up our real lives to have it. The conflict between getting the fantasy you wish for and maintaining a normal life intrigues me.

That’s why I knew that Freddie would be a superhero living in an apartment building similar to the homes of my students.

In the first book of the Zapato Power series, Freddie Ramos Takes Off, Freddie receives his special powers.

In the second book, Freddie Ramos Springs into Action, Freddie must learn how to control his powers. How do you play basketball with your friends or participate in gym if you have super speed?

The third book in the series, scheduled for spring 2011, Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue, gives Freddie the opportunity to use his powers for a public rescue.

But in all three books, he must deal with the joy and the frustration of having superpowers in an ordinary world.

How would your life change if you suddenly had the ability to fly?

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Enter to win a copy of The Wish Stealers by Tracy Trivas (Aladdin, 2010)! From the promotional copy:

Griffin Penshine is always making wishes. But when a sinister old woman tricks her into accepting a box of eleven shiny Indian Head pennies from 1897, Griffin soon learns these are no ordinary pennies, but stolen wishes.

This box of labeled pennies comes with a horrible curse: People in possession of the stolen coins are Wish Stealers, who will never have their wishes granted.... In fact, the opposite of what they've wished for will happen. Griffin must find a way to return these stolen wishes and undo the curse if her own wishes are to come true.

But how can Griffin return wishes to strangers who might not even be alive? Her journey leads her to ancient alchemists, Macbeth's witches, and a chance to help people in ways she never imagined, but the temptation of the Wish Stealers' dark and compelling power is growing stronger. Can Griffin reverse the curse in time to save herself and the people she loves?

Tracy Trivas's rich and imaginative début novel introduces a talent as bright and sparkling as Griffin's pennies.

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) with your name and snail/street mail address and type "The Wish Stealers" in the subject line (Facebook, JacketFlap, MySpace, and Twitter readers are welcome to just privately message or comment me with the name in the header/post; I'll write you for contact information, if you win). Deadline: October 31. Sponsored by Simon & Schuster; U.S. entries only.

More News

Congratulations to Julie Gardner Berry and Sally Gardner on the launch of their Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys series (Grosset & Dunlap, 2010)! Number 1 The Rat Brain Fiasco and #2 Curse of the Bizaro Beetle are now available.

Interview with Children's Book Press Director Lorraine Garcia-Nakata by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "Now rounding midway toward its fourth decade, our small but influential press is gaining steam because the message of “culture as asset” is once again important given the mercurial nature of current national commentary and public exchanges on race and identity."

Cynsational Blogger Tip: Ask first before blogging about a private and/or for-a-fee speech, workshop or other related event, online or off. Speakers set their rates with the understanding that they may give the talk again. Err on the side of courtesy and respecting other writers' ownership of their work.

Censorship and the Right to Read from Children's-YA Literature Resources. Note: this is a page on my main author site dedicated to free speech. What youth literature resources should I add? Write me, message me, or leave a comment at Cynsations at LiveJournal or MySpace.

Author-Poet Interview: Charles R. Smith, Jr. from Writing and Ruminating. Peek: "It’s a straight-ahead novel, but my experience in writing poetry helped me focus on individual words and creating clear pictures and snappy dialogue." Note: Charles is referring to Chameleon (Candlewick, 2008, 2010). See also a Q&A with Charles from Candlewick (PDF).

Cynsational Author Tip: be mum on your book's chances of winning a literary award. It's exciting, I know, to have a buzzed book. But stay cool, dignified, and let others toot that particular tune on your book's behalf.

Writers Need Cheerleaders by Laini Taylor from Grow Wings. Peek: "Writers need cheerleaders. Before feedback. Before editing. Before almost anything else but snack-making, we need to be convinced and reminded that we are good. Feedback of the critical sort, however constructive and wise, can be deadly if it comes too soon."

Speak Loudly: "...a group of teachers, librarians, bloggers, and authors who have come together to speak out against the censorship of media materials for teens. We’re a community of people raising their voices together." See also the Speak Loudly blog.

Leah Hultenschmidt is the new senior acquisitions editor for the Fire (YA) imprint at Sourcebooks. Source: Joy Preble from Joy's Novel Idea. Note: Find out what Leah's looking for in terms of YA novels.

Cover Stories: The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan from Melissa Walker. Peek: "I loved the girl's hair, and the water droplets effect, but the blue graphic didn't really convey anything about the story. Only the word 'mermaid' in the title hinted that it might be a fantasy."

Saundra Mitchell on Banned Books from Mundie Moms. Peek: "Reading books that reflected my neighborhood took away my shame, and replaced it with possibility. Other people had seen terrible things, and lived in terrible places, but they got to leave. They learned to fly planes and write books and build buildings and every remarkable, possible thing. I wasn't limited by the place I lived. I was limited only by myself."

Perfect Picture Book Friends: recommended reads from ReaderKidZ.

On Being a Young Author or Does Age Matter? by Kate Coursey, age 17, from Suzette Saxton at QueryTracker Peek: "There are advantages and disadvantages to being a young author, but in the end, it comes down to the writing, the characters, and whether or not you have the dedication to see a novel through to the finish."

Picture Book Queries by Mary Kole from Peek: "When I see picture book queries — and when I write my own picture book pitches, in fact — I keep it very simple." Read a Cynsations interview with Mary.

Magazine Markets for Children's Writers 2011 and Book Markets for Children's Writers 2011 (Institute of Children's Literature, 2010) are now available. From the promotional copy: "The 650+ magazines listed in Magazine Markets...published nearly 35,000 articles and stories last year alone. Of those submissions, nearly 7,500 were by previously unpublished authors and almost 11,000 were by writers new to that magazine. Book Markets...lists over 590 publishers that combined to produce more than 28,000 titles. Of those titles, nearly 2,400 were by previously unpublished authors, and more than 2,800 were by writers new to the publishing house."

Cynsational Author-Blogger Tip: multicultural books live and die by word of mouth. If you care about such books--your own or those by other folks--engage in consistent outreach and help build a more supportive community. Note: just passing on a related link can help!

The Drive-By Signing by April Henry. Peek: "...if you're smart and have the energy, you'll have found out whether the escort planned to give the stores a heads-up about your visit."

Author Interview: Tameka Fryer Brown by Nathalie Mvondo from Multiculturalism Rocks. Peek: "This manuscript...was also the one through which I acquired an agent. Both agent and editor desired it because of the multicultural aspect. I know this is not always the case, but it just goes to show that there are publishers out there who truly mean it when they say they are looking for multiculti lit."

Selecting Children's and Young Adult Literature about American Indians by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Bibliography of recommendations; PDF option.

God Is in the Details by Patrick from Peek: "Given just the right emphasis, a detail enters the reader's mind, delineates the boundaries of the characters' world, and then fades. The reader picks up the tension but never traces it to the puddle of condensation growing around the water pitcher or to the flickering fluorescent light behind the counter."

McMakin Literary Agency
: a new agency, founded by Jordan McMakin, representing young adult and middle grade fiction. Peek: "Before opening McMakin Lit, Jordan worked in editorial at Penguin Group (USA) and Disney*Hyperion Books in New York City." Source: Austin SCBWI.

The Evolution of the Literary Agent by Jane Friedman from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Can publishers’ royalties and sales continue to support the agency business model? Is it allowable for an agent to find other ways to make money from clients, aside from selling books to publishers?" Note: not focused on children's-YA book agents, but some global considerations/trends still apply.

Secrets of Facebook by Darcy Pattison from PR Notes. Peek: "Unfortunately, Facebook is not forgiving. You make an ill-advised decision early–when you know so little about how it works–and you’re stuck. I’m keeping my two separate accounts; but I wish I’d know about the Lists so it was easier." See also Darcy on Villains Don't Always Wear Black.

Adventure Annie Book & Backpack Giveaway for Kindergarten & Preschool Teachers from Toni Buzzeo. Peek: "...ten backpacks stuffed with Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten, illustrated by Amy Wummer (Dial, 2010) as well as her professional book, ABC, Read to Me: Teaching Letter of the Week in the Library and Classroom (Upstart)." Drawing: 10/8/10.

Suggest an African-American Author to be featured as part of the annual 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature. Peek: "We need your help. We’re looking for the best new and unnoticed works by African-American authors. From picture books to novels, books fresh off the presses to those that have lurked in the background unsung for months or years–whatever books you like, we want to know." Note: Nominations accepted from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31. See more information.

Spell Check Will Fail You Every Time: Fun with Homophones from Tracy Marchini. Peek: "Before you send off that query letter or manuscript, I am sure that you are spell checking. However, there are still those dastardly words that will technically be spelled correctly, but the usage will be incorrect." Peek: " a freelance writer and professional manuscript critiquer. Before launching her own editorial service, she worked for Curtis Brown, Ltd. for four years."

Split Blog Tour & Charity Auction

To honor National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, author Swati Avasthi has combined a blog tour--beginning today--for her debut novel, Split (Knopf, 2010), with a charity auction. Over 40 authors, agents and editors have donated manuscript critiques, personalized books, and more to an online auction that anyone –reader, writer, book lover -- can bid on and buy. All proceeds go to the Family Violence Prevention Fund.

In addition to the auction, Avasthi is donating $1/comment on her 26-stop, month-long blog tour, coordinated by Kari at Teen (Book) Scene. If she reaches her goal and cap of $250, she will double the donation.

Button for going to the blog tour schedule (“Follow”):

Blog Tour

Button for going to the charity auction site for the event (“Auction”):


Read a Cynsations interview with Swati.

Cynsational Screening Room

Congratulations to G. Neri for his fifth starred review for Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty, illustrated by Randy duBurke (Lee & Low, 2010). See Inside the Writer's Studio with G. Neri from Bethany Hegedus from Writer Friendly; Bookshelf Approved. Peek: "My theme, I guess, is about finding your way through the urban jungle by stepping through unexpected doors that open and change your life."

Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

Check out the book trailer for Freefall by Mindi Scott (Simon Pulse, 2010). Source: Erika Breathes Books.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford on pitching a manuscript. Recorded on February 21, 2010 at San Miguel Writers Workshop, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

From the Central Rappahanock Regional Library (and various branches) in Virginia, a musical shout out in support of libraries--the feel-good video of the week! "Hey, hey!"

NY-NJ-CT Bound

Attention New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut-based Teachers, Librarians, Booksellers and University Professors of YA Literature or Writing! I'm going to be spending some time in your area in early-to-mid February in conjunction with the launch of Blessed (PDF). If you'd like me to visit your school, library or school, write me at cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com, and I'll refer you to the appropriate contact at Candlewick Press. Thanks!

More Personally

Thank you to ReaderKidz for hosting me this month as an author in residence! Check out Cynthia's Story and Your Friend, Cynthia Leitich Smith (a letter to young readers). Note: author Tameka Fryer Brown is also featured!

Of Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, Nov. 11, 2010), Kirkus cheers: "This original Southwestern tall tale has an easy rhythm, and repeated phrases and playful type make reading aloud a pleasure. The exuberant, smooth-edged illustrations feature exaggerated, open mouths (especially Holler's) and visually emphasize the chaos-inducing effects of his voice.... A rambunctious, can't-lose read-aloud no one will want to hush."

Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow, 2000) was featured in the Reading Is Fundamental Multicultural Books Display at the Macy's Fifth Annual Spelling Bee on Sept. 26 at Macy's Herald Square in New York City.

Tantalize - Cynthia Leitich Smith by Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Peek: "The story was great, with amazing twists in the plot. The surprises kept coming." See also Steven's review of Eternal.

Interview with Ming Doyle: A Miasma of Paint, Pencil and Ink by Rondal Scott III from Fuel Your Illustration. Ming is the illustrator of the upcoming Tantalize: Kieren's Story, a graphic novel (Candlewick, Aug. 2011). Peek: "Kieren, the main character, may be a teenage werewolf, but he’s somewhat reluctant to face his hairy destiny and he’s wary of the dangers associated with the paranormal. He’s almost a detective before anything else..."

Cynsational Events

Check out the schedule for Texas Book Festival on Oct. 16 and Oct. 17 in Austin. Cynthia Leitich Smith will be reading Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010) from 2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in the Children's Read Me a Story Tent. Her signing will follow immediately afterward at the Children's Signing Tent (13th and Colorado). Note: In a limited early release, Holler Loudly will premier at this event.

"Beyond Feathers and Fangs: Crossing Borders in Realistic and Fantasy Fiction, with Cynthia Leitich Smith" at The 33rd Annual Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar - Kalamazoo Public Library. The seminar costs $40 (lower student rates are available) and is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m Nov. 5. Note: Maria Perez-Stable and Beth Amidon will also present a book talk, and additional speakers are Gillian Engberg, Booklist editor, and Debbie Reese, UIUC professor. See more on the speakers.
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