Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cat Calls E-Book by Cynthia Leitich Smith Now Available for Free

Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from!

Cat Calls is set in the Tantalize series universe and features entirely new characters. Here's a peek:

Tiffany's grandma sees something wild in her future -- but is Tiffany prepared for the powerful shape it will take?

I’m what people call “a late bloomer.”

This May, not long after my sixteenth birthday, I finally started my period for the first time and shifted from blah to bombshell overnight.

For me, it was a relief.

My mom, on the other hand, had a full-scale panic attack. Before you could say “Xanax,” she packed me up and shipped me off to my grandmother, who at the time was predicting the future in Missouri off I-35.

Cynsational Notes

Tiff is claws-down the sassiest point-of-view character I've ever written, and this story radiates "animal" in a fierce, sexy, mind-bending kind of way. tends to be the first online retailer to roll out new e-releases, but as the book becomes available at other outlets, I'll update you on that information. If you want it now, though, you should order here.

"Cat Calls" was originally published as a short story in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

It also will be featured at the back of the Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011) e-book.

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Laura Resau on the release of The Ruby Notebook (Delacorte, 2010)! From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Zeeta and her flighty English-teaching mom, Layla, have traveled the world together, settling in a different country every year, making a whole new set of friends and adopting new customs.

This year, they've chosen to live in Aix-en-Provence, France, an enchanting city full of fountains, creamy yellow light, and a fascinating group of scarlet-clad street performers.

Zeeta soon begins to receive mysterious notes and gifts from someone she calls her
fantôme, or ghost. But she is expecting her boyfriend, Wendell - the love of her life, as her friends call him - to arrive in Aix for a summer program very soon.

Zeeta brushes off her curiosity about her
fantôme, and her simmering attraction to one of the street performers, Jean-Claude, until Wendell arrives and she begins to fear that her feelings for him have truly changed. Perhaps - like Layla - she's simply not made for long-term romance.

As Zeeta tries to draw away from Wendell, however, circumstances seem to force them together. Zeeta's friendship with a local antiques dealer and his reclusive artist friend leads to a dangerous adventure. When Zeeta and Wendell join forces to find a secret underground spring whose water is rumored to bring immortality, they are forced to reconsider their own desires, and their beliefs about true love.

Yet as soon as Zeeta decides that her mind has cleared, she's confronted with the biggest shock of her life: the incredible true identity of her fantôme.

Vibrant, warmhearted, and evocative, The Ruby Notebook is a remarkable novel about learning to accept love in all of its wondrous and imperfect forms.

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews says, "Weaving bits of magic, city lore and bittersweet romance into each of the many plot lines, Resau has again crafted a complex and satisfying novel that is both a mystery and a tender, wise meditation on love and self-identity."

Read an excerpt and learn about Laura's inspiration for the novel.

More News & Giveaways

Arrested Development? Young-at-heart Austin is home to a booming Young Adult literature scene by Melanie Haupt from The Austin Chronicle. Peek: "In many ways, the wedding of Victorian gothic to Austin's buzzing eclecticism within the context of Young Adult literature – itself a crazy amalgam of genres – is the perfect metaphor for the town itself. And it just so happens that Austin is a literary hotbed for the production and consumption of YA fiction. Austin and YA lit offer something for everyone, from dark, paranormal romances featuring werearmadillos to powerfully realistic portrayals of Southern racism during the Civil Rights movement."

I Got the Call! Um, Now What? by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents. Peek: "Let the other agents who are considering your work know that you have an offer. Give them a few days or a week to read and respond."

2010 Trends and Industry Predictions by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Ally Carter from Jennifer. Peek: "High concept historical fiction might be poised to make a move if, like paranormal, it has a mix of commercial elements. From crime-fighting flappers to Austenian assassins, historical might be a very interesting place to be in 2011 and beyond."

Should You Post Your Writing Online? by Mary Kole from Peek: "Even though most editors and agents don’t like to work with previously published material, whether posted online or self-published, a short sample on your blog may not be enough to put them off your project. (Careful, though, as individual policies here do vary greatly.)"

Listen. Listen. by Jane Lebak from Blog. Peek: "For Christmas or whatever holiday you celebrate, give yourself the gift of believing you have something important to say."

Triaging Rejection Pain by Laurie Halse Anderson from The Debutante Ball. Peek: "Maybe you say prayers, or light candles, or visit shrines like Mark Twain’s house and leave small offerings of cigars and pots of ink. And then you wait."

For Better or Verse: Writing Short Fiction and Poetry by Elizabeth Barrette from John Gibbs at An Englishman in New Jersey. Peek: "First, when I get an idea, I have to decide what format suits it best. If the concept itself packs the most punch, then it usually winds up as poetry. If the development of process and detail carries the weight, then it turns into fiction."

Interview with Robin Wasserman by Debbi Michiko Florence from One Writer's Journey. Peek: " just have to keep reminding yourself that you have no control over how a book is received by the world. The only part of the publishing process that writers actually have control over is the writing. And I've found that focusing on that makes for a much saner Robin."

Dealing with Rejection by Mary Kole from Peek: "...cast off your unsuccessful projects and work on something else. Focus on your craft. Plod along toward mastery."

A Case for Villains by "No villain=no conflict=no plot=no point."

Developing Your Writer's Intuition by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: "Trust your intuition and if you think there's a problem, get some fresh eyes and opinions. You only get one chance to impress, so send out your best."

Bibliography of 2011 Children's-YA Books By/About People of Color from Color Online.

Mini Writing Conference -- 6 1/2 Lists of Advice from Editors, Agents, Authors and a Really Cool Kid from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words.

SCBWI Team Blog Interview with Art Directory Lucy Ruth Cummins by Jaime from CocoaStomp. Peek: "Often if I'm totally 'in the zone' working on a book, I'll have a hard time checking out the moment the whistle blows. Really flowing with a project is such a wonderful feeling, and squandering that flow is something I try never to do."

Writers Links: Promotion: a round-up of ideas, tips, and resources from Children's & YA Lit Resources.

Cynsational Screening Room

In the video below, René Saldaña, Jr. reads A Good Long Way (Arte Publico, 2010).

New Blessed Interview & Giveaway

Chatting with Cynthia Leitich Smith & Blessed ARC Giveaway by Chris Eboch from The Spectacle. The full scoop on my YA Gothic fantasy series, how Stephen King scared me, the challenges of writing speculative fiction, connecting with a publisher, reaching readers, the sci-fi/fantasy world I'd want to live in, my favorite actors, and my feelings about Aquaman.

Comment for a chance to win an ARC of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011)!

See also the Blessed media kit (PDF). See also Chris's blog Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop.

Cat Calls: Free E-book Release

Cat Calls by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2010) is now available for free as an e-book from!

As additional online retailers make the e-book available, I'll update you with that information.

"Cat Calls" was originally published as a short story in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

More Personally

I'm honored to be included among nominees for Writers Against Racism Person of the Year from Bowllan's Blog at School Library Journal.

Link of the Week: One of the Many Reasons I Love My Agent, Ginger Knowlton by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Daily Diversions for Writers. Note: Ginger is my agent too.

I'm spending this holiday in deadline mode, but here's a peek at the tree.

And here's my before-Christmas present from Santa Claus AKA my Candlewick editor, Deborah Wayshak--my first author's copy of Blessed (Candlewick, Jan. 25, 2011).

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win a illustrator-autographed copy of Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2011)! The book will include a customized drawing--the winner can pick the buffalo's pose!

To enter, email me (scroll and click envelope) and type "Buffalo" 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: Dec. 31. Sponsored by the illustrator; world-wide entries.

Cynsational Events

Jessica Lee Anderson will speak on seven things she's learned through her publishing journey...using songs at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at 11 a.m. Jan. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Read an interview with Jessica and P.J. Hoover.

Save the Date! Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Read a guest post by Mari on Kids Don't Read Like They Used To...And That's a Good Thing (on connecting books to technology). Don't miss the Night School blog tour!

A Cacophony of Conference Contests from Austin SCBWI in conjunction with Books, Boots, and Buckskin, the chapter's regional conference on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. Note: includes drawings for saved seats and both author/manuscript and illustrator/portfolio critiques.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Guest Post: Suzanne Slade on Climbing Lincoln's Steps: The African American Journey

By Suzanne Slade

I don’t know how most authors get story ideas, but for me, a story comes in pieces. Then I fit them together like a puzzle. That’s what happened with my picture book, Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Journey, illustrated by Colin Bootman (Albert Whitman, 2010), and it took many months for all the pieces to come together.

In June, 2008 I caught the end of a news story — Barack Obama (presidential candidate at the time) was scheduled to speak where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had given a speech.

The Lincoln Memorial? I wondered. Then I recalled Marian Anderson’s famous concert at the Memorial in 1939 when she wasn’t allowed to sing in Constitution Hall because she was black. Her performance inspired thousands, just as MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the very same steps had reshaped attitudes in 1963.

Picture books often use the “rule of three,” so I pondered these three remarkable individuals, Anderson, King, and Obama, who had all sparked change. My first piece of the puzzle.

Then I considered the Lincoln Memorial — built to honor the man who fought to unite the country he loved — a country divided over slavery. Amid much opposition, Abraham Lincoln boldly signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He knew it wouldn’t instantly solve injustice or racial inequality. It was only the beginning of change. Lincoln was part of this story. The second piece.

But what about the steps? Three brave people who believed in equality for all--Anderson, King, and Obama--had each taken a courageous step of change there. The third piece.

Then September arrived. My kids returned to school. The house was quiet so I could finally dig into the story, which meant more research. I discovered Obama didn’t give a speech at the Memorial, but at another place where MLK had spoken. Still, I was convinced Obama was part of this story about change for African Americans.

I decided to wait and see if he won the election before continuing. But the story wouldn’t wait. It was forming in my mind along with this repeating phrase, “Change. It happens slowly. One small step at a time.” So I typed up part of a story.

In November, Obama was elected as the first African American president. I listened intently to his acceptance speech about change. The next day I added a fictional visit by the Obama’s to the Lincoln Memorial after they moved into the White House. The last piece.

(Interestingly, President-elect Obama and his family made a special visit to the Memorial ten days before taking office, so I later revised the story to reflect that.)

Fortunately, Albert Whitman acquired the book. My brilliant editor, Abby Levine, expanded the story’s vision, and we included more brave people who stepped out for change.

When I first saw Colin Bootman’s stunning watercolor illustrations for Climbing Lincoln’s Steps (described as “striking” and “especially moving” by School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews) I got goosebumps. I’m grateful for everyone who helped put the pieces of this book together, and am especially proud of the important message it shares.

Cynsational Notes

"This attractive, accessible title uses the Lincoln Memorial as a vehicle to outline the history of the Civil Rights Movement from the Emancipation Proclamation to Dr. King's 'I Have a Dream' speech to the 2008 presidential election. Slade explains in clear, descriptive prose ... Bootman's realistic watercolor spreads are striking ..." —School Library Journal

"Each moment is narrated in the present tense, providing sensory details to evoke atmosphere and just enough background to provide meaning to the audience. Bootman's illustrations clearly portray the emotions--fear, determination, joy ... The final two-page spread of the First Family viewing the Memorial is especially moving ..." —Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Kitten: Home at Last

For those of you who celebrate Christmas (or know a child who does), I recommend Christmas Kitten: Home at Last by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Albert Whitman, 2010).

Santa and Mrs. Claus must rush to find a home for a foundling kitten named Cookie. Santa would love to keep the kitten, but he's allergic - and there's a little girl out there with the perfect home. Readers familiar with Pulver's Christmas for a Kitten will delight in Cookie's further Christmas Eve adventures.

School Library Journal cheers, "This is a sweet, fun read-aloud for the cat-loving crowd."

Children's Literature
cheers, "This delightful Christmas story remains true to the Christmas spirit and also shows a human side to Santa. This book brings good tidings to cat lovers and Christmas story fans."

New Voice: Shaun David Hutchinson on The Deathday Letter

Shaun David Hutchinson is the first-time author of The Deathday Letter (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Carpe Mortediem!

Ollie can’t be bothered to care about anything but food, girls, and games until he gets his Deathday Letter and learns he’s going to die in twenty-four hours. Bummer.

Ollie does what he does best: nothing.

Then his best friend convinces him to live a little, and go after Ronnie, the girl who recently trampled his about-to-expire heart. Ollie turns to carloads of pudding and over-the-top declarations, but even playing the death card doesn’t work. All he wants is to set things right with the girl of his dreams.

It’s now or never....

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? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I'll tell you a secret: I suck at plot. Maybe that's not the sort of thing a writer should admit. It's like an accountant admitting that he sucks at math. But it's the truth. Plots are my weak point.

I don't think writers are either plotters or plungers. Instead I think we all fall on a spectrum somewhere. We all begin in the same place, groping about in the dark with naught but a lamp to guide our way. The only real difference is that some people have a much brighter light. Some writers can see a story from beginning to end before they write a single word, whereas some writers' lights are barely bright enough to illuminate their shoes.

My light is pretty dim. Generally, when an idea comes to me, I know two things: the beginning and the end. For instance, with The Deathday Letter, I began with Ollie. I knew his story began in bed on the last day of his life, and I knew that it ended 24 hours later with his death.

The rest of the story had to be uncovered one slow step at a time.

For me, it's like exploring. Like a Chose Your Own Adventure book. Sometimes I take a left when I should have taken a right and I end up having to delete huge chunks of work, but that's the fun of it for me. Not knowing what's coming next is how I stay engaged for so long.

I do have a notebook where I'll write scene ideas, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'll ever use them. I let every scene inform the ones that come after. I find that if I outline first, it traps me, boxes me in and takes away my ability to explore. If something unexpected happens, I like having the freedom to follow that new event to its logical conclusion.

The downside to this is that, if you're like me and suck at plotting, you can end up with a story that doesn't quite work. One that you have to heavily revise. This is where the plotters with their bright flashlights have the advantage. They have the ability to see those inconsistencies prior to writing the first draft. But hey, that's what revising is for.

After my first draft, I become an outlining fiend. I have this crazy spreadsheet a friend gave me, that I use to break down every scene by character and location. It's crazy but allows me to get into the nuts and bolts of the story.

To beginning writers who are maybe struggling with these issues: listen to what works, ignore the rest. You heard me right. There are a thousand voices telling newbie writers how to do this and how to do that. Most of them are wrong...for you.

I've heard the amazing Hannah Moskowitz, author of Break (Simon Pulse, 2009), finishes a first draft in a week, writing mostly in front of the television. Most people will tell you she's nuts, but it works for her and she's pretty genius in my book.

So when it comes to plotting or plunging or going bat-poop crazy on some blank paper, I say flick on your flashlight, see how far you can see, and forge your own path through the dark.

If it works for you, then it's the right way to do it.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

There's a secret to being funny. Want to hear it?

Okay, here it is: don't try to be funny. That's it.

Go forth and make people laugh now.

Okay, seriously, I don't know anything about how to be funny. I don't actually consider myself a funny guy. Ask my brother, he'll tell you how lame I am. But I suppose that's not the answer anyone wants. So here's what I've learned.

First, you can't try to be funny. Every time I've ever written a joke, it's fallen flat. Jokes can't be forced, they have to come organically from a situation. For me, that's the biggest rule. Sure, you can do things to enhance a funny situation, but everyone can tell when you manufacture one.

The other thing you have to do is be prepared to to be humiliated. You can't be self-conscious if you're going to be funny.

What does that mean? It means that you better be able to handle the idea of your mom reading a book filled with crazy euphemisms for boy parts. It means going there. To that place that other writers won't go. It means being open and raw and honest even when it hurts.

One of the best examples of this, in my opinion, is Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner (Random House, 2007). In titular character Shakespeare Shapiro, Wizner created a gut-crushingly honest teen that made me laugh harder than I'd laughed in just about forever. And that's because Wizner doesn't pull any punches.

This goes back to some great advice I learned from reading Stephen King's book, On Writing (Scribner, 2000): Be honest.

What Wizner gives us (and what you must also give, if you're going to write a comedy) is one hundred percent of your soul. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and draw from your most humiliating moments, if you're going to make people laugh.

It's a painful but rewarding process.

The difference between those who write drama and those who write comedy is ugliness. Comedic writers embrace the ugly in everything.

Kissing, for instance. Open up most dramatic books and you'll find the tentative first kiss between two lovers. It's beautiful and sweet and tender. It's magic. And it's also bull.

I don't know about you, but my first kiss was nothing like that.

Mine was in the parking lot of a grocery store. I was hot and my breath smelled like Doritos and she was wearing too much make up. I remember thinking that her tongue tasted like bologna and kind of made my skin crawl. The steam from our breath made my nose wet and it felt like snot. When we were done, I slipped a dollar into her Salvation Army bucket and went back into the grocery store to finish my shift.

Not the stuff dreams are made of. But possibly funny.

As a person who writes the funny, I embrace the ugliness of my first kiss. I milk it for its tragic awkwardness. And I'm not embarrassed to share it with you. If you want to write comedy, these are the things you have to do.

Also, you have to be prepared for people who won't think you're funny.

Humor is highly subjective. People might laugh at the story of my first kiss because they've had similar, cringe-inducing experiences. But maybe there's someone out there whose every kiss has been fairy-tale magic wrapped up in candy-cane bows. Without a similar experience to draw from, that person might read my story and simply think me a sad, sorry individual. But that's the risk you take.

I knew when I sold Deathday that the high proportion of boy-oriented jokes might be a turn-off to some female readers, but it was a risk worth taking, and if you want to be funny you'll have to take similar risks.

Comedy is like love: you can't force it. You just have to be open to it, ready for it, and prepared for total humiliation. I may not know anything about being funny, but I know a heck of a lot about being embarrassed.

Cynsational Notes

Check out The Deathday Letter website, read chapter one (PDF), and learn more about Shaun from Simon & Schuster. Visit him at facebook and his tweet deck.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guest Post: Dori Hillestad Butler on The Buddy Files

By Dori Hillestad Butler

I’ve always loved series books. I grew up on the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the Boxcar Children, Betsy-Tacy, and Nancy Drew.

I began my writing career as a ghostwriter for the Sweet Valley Twins series. I’ve also ghostwritten (literally “ghostwritten,” since the original author is dead) Boxcar Children books.

While I’ve written sequels to two of my previously published middle grade novels, I’ve never had a series of my own. Until The Buddy Files, illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau (Albert Whitman).

My editor at Albert Whitman knew I was interested in writing a series, so we started discussing possible ideas. She picked one and told me to write it up as a formal proposal.

Unfortunately, her timing wasn’t very good. I’d just found out my oldest son was going to be moving halfway across the country. Permanently. As a parent, you expect your children to grow up and move out, but you don’t necessarily expect them to move 2,000 miles away.

Even though this move was absolutely the best thing for my son, I had a hard time getting used to this idea of him leaving. I was sad all the time and couldn’t concentrate on anything. Not even a potential series of my own.

I decided I needed something new to throw myself into. Something like…therapy dog work!

Why therapy dog work? I’m not really sure…other than I’ve always loved dogs. I’d read a little bit about animal-assisted therapy and, well, it just felt like a good idea.

I read everything I could on the subject. I visited area animal shelters and eventually adopted a new dog (a black Golden Retriever mix that we named Mouse) and began training him.

I didn’t exactly quit writing; I’m not sure I could ever quit completely. But I wasn’t very focused on it. I wasn’t taking joy from it. I wasn’t taking joy from much of anything except spending time with my kids and training Mouse.

Still, I’d always wanted my own series. And I’d been offered an opportunity to pitch one. I knew there would come a day when I would be content in my empty-nesthood and would regret letting this opportunity go by. So one night I went to the library determined to write that proposal.

Unfortunately, the words wouldn’t come.

I just sat at my table and daydreamed about my dog. Mouse is a big dog. And he’s got a big personality. In fact, he’s got so much personality I thought he’d make a good character in a book. I could imagine him saying, “Hello. My name is Mouse. I’m a dog. I’m also a detective.”

That made me smile. It also made me think. Hm…a dog detective…how about a series told from the perspective of a therapy dog who is also a detective? It wasn’t the series I’d originally discussed with my editor, but would it work?

I wrote some more. I discovered I liked writing from a dog’s point of view.

No, I loved writing from a dog’s point of view!

I decided maybe "Buddy" would be a better name for this dog than "Mouse." Buddy is another word for friend, and a good therapy dog should be everyone’s friend.

Before long, I had two chapters written. And I’d had more fun writing those chapters than I’d had in a long time.

I sent my new project to my editor, and her boss got back to me very quickly to tell me they were going to go ahead with my series.

I was thrilled! And I was ready to be a writer again.

It’s funny how life and writing come together sometimes. Writing the Buddy Files has helped me understand my own dog better. It’s also made me a better therapy-dog handler. And working with my dog has made me a better writer and given me more to write about.

It’s not the end of the world when your children move out…it can be a new beginning.

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