Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New Voice: Michele Weber Hurwitz on Calli Be Gold

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the first-time author of Calli Be Gold (Random House/Wendy Lamb Books, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Observant but quiet fifth grader Calli Gold doesn't seem to fit in with her loud, rushing family. 

Calli is the youngest child in a funny, endearing yet somewhat misguided suburban family that places high importance on achievement. Calli's older brother Alex is a basketball star and her sister Becca is on a synchronized skating team, but 11-year old Calli thinks she's a failure because she's flopped at everything she's tried.

In the Gold family, everyone needs to be "golden" and that means winning medals and placing first. But Calli is different. She likes to watch the world around her, and think about things. Plus, she's not so sure she wants to be a star...inside, she feels content with who she is—an average fifth grade kid. But how to get that point across to her dad, who thinks his kids have to "do" something special in order to "be" somebody.

Calli's dad signs her up for an acting class, hoping this will be it for his daughter and she'll find her talent at last. But when Calli meets second grader Noah Zullo through a peer helper program at school, she begins to discover what her true passion might be...and it has nothing to do with acting, or for that matter, kicking a soccer ball or doing pliés or flipping on a balance beam. Noah has some issues, and Calli is drawn toward helping him and understanding what makes him tick. 

As the story unfolds, Calli, in her own quiet way, prompts her family to consider what achievement really means. Calli Be Gold is a heartwarming story about standing up for who you are and finding your own rightful place within a family.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

The truth is, nothing about my journey seemed inevitable. In fact, sometimes, I still can't believe that I really published a book! Getting here took about three and a half years, and there were many bumps along the way when I doubted myself and this story.

Before I wrote Calli Be Gold, I had written two other middle grade manuscripts that never got published (probably because they weren't very good), but now I realize that was part of the journey for me.

When I came up with the idea for Calli's story, I did a lot of thinking about the theme, plot, and characters before I sat down to write. I love to walk (without my phone, music, or a friend -- just by myself) and I learned that this is my best thinking time, something that's essential for my writing process. A way to clear my head and let those ideas materialize.

So after I did all this walking and thinking, the writing of the manuscript took only about four months. When I finished, I sent a query letter to four agents, and all of them asked to see the manuscript. That was one of the first moments I thought I might have something here!

The first two agents didn't take on the book, but the third called before she even finished reading -- and asked to represent me. I thought okay, this is it, woo hoo, I have an agent, I'll be published in no time! But this was when the economy was suffering, and some publishers were consolidating or downsizing, so it ended up taking about a year for my agent to sell the book.

This was a hard period of time. My agent kept reassuring me that she loved the story, and it was a matter of connecting with the right editor who would love it too, but we were so close so many times, only then to get a rejection, I admit it was frustrating. I am thankful that my agent didn't give up and kept sending it out.

So how did I keep the faith? I'm lucky to have one very sane, patient, and even-tempered husband, and three kids who keep me laughing and busy. In the acknowlegements section of Calli Be Gold, I call them my four anchors, and thank them for keeping me afloat. It's entirely true -- without them, I might have sank!

Also, though, I kept hearing Calli's voice in my head. She's the main character in the book. I'm not crazy (well, maybe a little), but I'm definitely one of those authors who dreams about my characters and feels like they're real. I just felt this girl in my heart and knew I couldn't give up on her.

 I do have to add that also, at one point during the submission process, I took a look at all the comments we received from editors and went back to the manuscript and did a revision on my own. I added a couple of chapters and changed a few scenes. I think that helped make the book more marketable.

When the "call" finally did come, it was worth the wait. My agent called as I was driving to the grocery store and told me to "pull over," that she had something big to tell me. The big thing was that Random House -- Wendy Lamb Books -- had made an offer.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

There were a couple of factors that I think helped me find the voice of Calli Gold. First, I had been in mother-daughter book clubs with both of my daughters for several years. That's when I fell in love with the middle grade genre.

I read so many wonderful books, including So B. It by Sarah Weeks (Harper Collins, 2005), and Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles (Sandpiper, 2002). The depth and poignancy of these stories really touched me.

I had always wanted to write a book, but it wasn't until I started reading middle grade books that I became motivated to give it a try.

Being in the book clubs was, for me, more helpful than participating in an adult writers' group, although I did that too. I listened to what the girls liked and didn't like about the books we read, how they reacted to characters and plot, and when they felt unsatisfied with an ending. They taught me a great deal!

The second helpful factor in finding Calli's voice is that when I wrote the book, my youngest daughter was eleven, the same age as Calli. Like many writers, I'm a huge observer and listener. I think my kids call that stalking! But truthfully, having a child the same age as the character I was writing about helped me create a believable, realistic girl. In fact, my daughter was actually the first person to read the manuscript and she was a great reality check for me. She told me if the dialogue didn't ring true or something didn't make sense to her. I had a fifth grade editor right in my house!

Lastly, much of Calli's voice was just inside me. That's probably the magic part. It's hard to describe how it happens. I did draw on some of my own childhood experiences for Calli's story. Calli is the youngest child in an intense, achievement-oriented family and she can't seem to find a talent or measure up to her superstar siblings, nor please her helicopter parents, who only want her to succeed at a sport or an activity. The family motto is to "be Gold!"

Not that my experience was exactly the same, but I grew up with two younger brothers who were very into sports and highly competitive. My dad coached them in baseball summer after summer, and my mom brought the lemonade and snacks to every game. A quiet, shy kid, I really didn't share my family's love of baseball or competition. I definitely felt some of the same frustrations Calli has about not fitting in with her family.

A peek at Michele's writing space.
While I was writing, I didn't do character exercises, but I am a big note scribbler. I carry a pad of paper in my purse, and have one next to my bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen -- pretty much everywhere. I was constantly jotting down thoughts about each character in the book, scenes I envisioned, and dialogue that popped into my head.

The trick then was sitting down and compiling all of my scribbles! I do have a laptop that would make my note process much more efficient, but probably because my background is in journalism, I've just always been more comfortable with a notepad and pencil.

Aside from all my notes, I'm a firm believer in feeling a story, not just writing it. I think it has to come from your soul, from your heart. Sounds cliche, I know. But it's true! When it's there, when you feel it, then the writing just flows.

Cynsational Notes

Michele makes her home in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories Is Now Available

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories, edited by Carrie Jones and Megan Kelley Hall (HarperCollins, 2011) is now available!

From the promotional copy:  

You are not alone. 

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal. 

Look for the essay "Isolation" by Cynthia Leitich Smith, pages 186-187.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Stamp Out Bullying.

Contributing Authors

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

New Voice: Michelle Ray on Falling for Hamlet

Michelle Ray is the first-time author of Falling for Hamlet (Little, Brown/Poppy, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Meet Ophelia, high school senior, daughter of the Danish king’s most trusted adviser, and longtime girlfriend of Prince Hamlet. 

She lives a glamorous life, has a royal social circle, and her beautiful face is splashed across magazines and TV. But it comes with a price -- her life is dominated not only by Hamlet’s fame and his overbearing royal family but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go.

After the sudden and suspicious death of his father, the king, Hamlet spirals dangerously toward madness, and Ophelia finds herself torn between loyalty to her boyfriend, her father, her country, and her true self.

This is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" from Ophelia’s point of view filled with drama, romance, tragedy, and humor. 

And this time, Ophelia doesn’t die.

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

As a kid, I wasn’t like many writers I know: constantly reading and with dreams of becoming a writer. I was smart and always loved books, but I had varied aspirations. I dreamt of being a pediatrician, a teacher, a women’s rights activist, a crossing guard (seemed glamorous to my kindergarten self – all that power).

Eventually, theater became my thing. My novel, a modern retelling of "Hamlet" from Ophelia’s point of view, is probably a bridge between my desire to write and my roots in drama. I always loved fast-paced stories that involved tragedy, and Falling for Hamlet has both.

My love of Shakespeare has lasted for decades. My first Shakespeare memory involves watching "Romeo and Juliet" on TV with my parents when I was little. It was gorgeous and romantic, and it made my entire family cry! The power of the story overwhelmed me. What truly amazed me was that, even though I couldn’t understand all of the words, I still got it.

I try to tell my students not to get caught up in every word, but to get the gist and let the feelings wash over them.

Another memory I have of loving Shakespeare is being taught "Hamlet" in fifth grade. I loved it so much that I named the parakeet I got that year "Polonius" (Ophelia’s dad). Nerdy, but true.

In middle school, I had tremendous English teachers who brought Shakespeare alive. One teacher did things like gather fallen leaves from the balcony outside the classroom and spread them on her desk for Juliet’s funeral bier. Wow!

As a reader and an audience member, I love Shakespeare’s genius in creating believable romance, drama, and revenge, as well as the challenge of the solving his word puzzles to make meaning of the whole thing. Plus, the language is beautiful and dirty and romantic and daring and just plain awesome in the truest sense of the word.

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?

I do not consider myself especially tech-savvy, but technology absolutely had to be a part of my story. First of all, I know that my students and their peers are constantly texting, emailing, and posting to Facebook (actually, when I began Falling for Hamlet, Facebook wasn’t a thing, so it didn’t make its way into the story). But not to include multiple forms of technology in a contemporary story about teen life would be absurd.

Additionally, technology allowed Ophelia to witness many important moments that she was not privy to in the original play, "Hamlet." For instance, in my novel, she watches video surveillance tapes, overhears conversations via cell, and receives texts and email updates on Hamlet’s mental status from their best friend, Horatio. My favorite plot point is when Ophelia’s dad breaks into her email account and downloads love poems from Hamlet.

The danger, of course, is that technology does change so quickly. Consider movies from the 1990s when people pull out their cell phones and they’re as big as bricks. We all laugh and point. But as a writer, it’s terrifying to think of writing in the equivalent of the two-hands-needed mobile phone.

Two big things have changed dramatically in the years since I began writing Falling for Hamlet: the iPod and video chat.

1) I wrote about Horatio nervously fiddling with the iPod wheel, and a copy editor suggested changing it since those were vanishing and she didn’t want the book to seem dated. Carrying music on phones and on other devices wasn’t a possibility when I began, and it shocked me how quickly it happened.

2) I needed Ophelia to see a climactic incident while talking to Horatio, but she couldn’t be there. Originally, they were talking via cell and the event was televised, but that needed to change. I had an idea for video chat on their cell phones, and contacted a friend who works in the tech industry to find out if such technology existed. She said it was coming and sent me to a website that was advertising this new capability.

In a draft, I wrote about it, and got this comment on the manuscript: “Please explain. I don’t understand how this works.”

I added something like, “Ophelia, it’s like Skype, but on your cell phone. You’ll be able see what’s happening here, and I’ll be able to see you.”

Well, by the time we were doing final revisions, the technology was being advertised around the clock and it seemed everyone’s phones could do it. I frantically emailed my editor and we deleted the line. A small fix, but my greatest fear of being out of step could have been realized.

Skype Authors Debuts, Pledging 25% of Virtual School Visit Fees to Charities

Skype Authors connects noted children’s book authors to schools and book clubs while benefiting Camfed in 2011-2012.

Noted authors Suzanne Williams, Martha Brockenbrough, Dia Calhoun, Janet Lee Carey, Mary Casanova, Lorie Ann Grover, Joan Holub, Deb Lund, Claire Rudolf Murphy, Lisa L. Owens, and Trudi Trueit have launched Skype Authors, an author-visit-booking site that will aid schools, book clubs, and educational charities.

Inspired by Skype An Author Network, Skype Authors desires to provide similar services while additionally targeting philanthropic causes.

“We believe children benefit from the chance to talk with authors about books and reading, and we also believe in supporting educational efforts in impoverished countries,” said founder Suzanne Williams.

In these difficult economic times, schools have limited access to funds for traditional author visits, which can cost 10 times as much--if not more. Virtual visits offer a low-cost method for classrooms and authors to connect. Students can directly inquire about book characters, a current work in progress, or a story’s inspiration.

Additionally, a portion of the proceeds from each visit will benefit Camfed, an organization that educates girls in Africa.

The idea was born when Williams’s adult son challenged her to “think global” about her charitable giving and to find a way to magnify her support for a cause she felt passionate about.

“I was convinced that if I felt passionate about supporting education in the developing world, I could find other like-minded authors who felt the same way,” she said.

This is how the group chose Camfed, which educates and empowers girls in rural Africa, helping break the cycle of poverty and disease.

Skype Authors includes the novelist and poet Lorie Ann Grover, founder of readergirlz, a National Book Award-winning organization that promotes teen literary.

“Skype Authors is directly in line with the philanthropic focus of readergirlz. Not only is there a rich author-reader exchange, there’s life changing outreach through the fee donation,” Grover said.

In celebration of the launch of Skype Authors, a Half and Half Contest is open now. The entire fee for two half-priced virtual visits will be donated to the 2011-2012 charity, Camfed.

With the intention to expand, current Skype Authors include:

Martha Brockenbrough is author of the forthcoming picture book, The Dinosaur Tooth Fairy, and the forthcoming novel, Ten Commandments for the Dead (both Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic). She is a teacher who founded National Grammar Day and the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

Dia Calhoun won the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature (Aria of the Sea (FSG, 2003)). and has authored five YA fantasy novels. She will make her debut as a middle grade verse novelist in 2012.

Janet Lee Carey author of seven YA novels including The Dragons of Noor (Egmont, 2010) and Dragon’s Keep (Harcourt, 2007). Her blog, Library Lions, roars for youth library programs.

Mary Casanova has written more than 25 books for children, from picture books to series, from books for American Girl to adventure novels.

Lorie Ann Grover
has authored three young-adult novels (On Pointe (McElderry, 2008)) and three board books (Bedtime Kiss for Little Fish (Cartwheel, 2009)). She co-founded readergirlz and readertotz.

Joan Holub is the author and/or illustrator of over 130 children's books (Goddess Girls series (Aladdin); Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers and Swirly Stars (Grosset & Dunlap, 2001).

Deb Lund wrote Monsters on Machines (Harcourt, 2008), her celebrated dinoseries (Harcourt), and many more children’s books.

Claire Rudolf Murphy has written more than fifteen books for children, from picture books through middle grade books, fiction and nonfiction.

Lisa L. Owens has written more than 75 works for children using the pen name L. L. Owens. She also writes and edits K–12 curriculum materials, and edits books for all ages.

Trudi Trueit is the author of more than 70 fiction and nonfiction children’s books, including the Julep O’Toole series (Penguin) and Secrets of a Lab Rat series (Aladdin).

Suzanne Williams is the author of more than 30 books for children (Goddess Girls series with Joan Holub (Aladdin), Library Lil (Dial, 1997), Ten Naughty Little Monkeys (HarperCollins, 2007), Fairy Blossoms (HarperCollins) and Princess Power series (HaperCollins)).

Yacinta's Story: 'The lengths I went to get an education' from Camfed on Vimeo.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Happy Labor Day

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson for Sept. 5 from Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac. Peek: "As a well-known poster proclaims, 'The Labor Movement. The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend.' But almost nothing exists in books for children to help explain the events of the first part of the twentieth century, when workers fought for fair pay and rights."

Literature Connections to 9/11 from TheTeachingBooks.netBlog. Peek: "As we reflect on the 10 years since the attacks on the United States of America of September 11, 2001, we recognize that many children in school today might not remember much about that day. offers a handful of books and multimedia resources that can expand conversation and insights."

Last call! Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Mark" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Vote for the Teens Top Ten; Blessed is a 2011 Nominee

Looking for this week's round-up of the most useful and inspiring links in the kidlitosphere? It's at Cynsational News & Giveaways--packed with awesome info and the most giveaways ever!


After a summer of reading, teens are now invited to vote for YALSA's Teens Top Ten List!

Vote here, and see the annotated list.

I'm that my novel Blessed (Candlewick, 2011) is among the 25 titles nominated for YALSA's Teens' Top Ten!

From YALSA: "Teens' Top Ten is a 'teen choice' list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year!

"Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Support Teen Literature Day during National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year.

"Readers ages twelve to eighteen will vote online between Aug. 22 and Sept. 16; the winners will be announced during Teen Read Week."

Hear an audio excerpt from Listening Library..

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The Art of the Deal by Karen Sandler from Novelists, Inc. Blog. A revealing insight into how submissions and negotiations take place between children's-YA book editors and agents. Peek: "If the agent says the book is going to be big, the editor gets excited. Note that the agent won’t say this about every book; she would lose her credibility." Source: April Henry.

Author Interview: Julia Durango from Carmen Oliver from Following My Dreams...One Word at a Time. Peek: "I first fell in love with Latin American music when I was a teen travelling in Brazil. Later, during college, I spent time in Colombia, Costa Rica, and other Latin American countries. In each place, I encountered amazing music, from tango to salsa to mambo, which told stories about people transcending adversity and celebrating life."

7 Imps 7 Kicks #234 Featuring Joyce Wan by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "...whose art, she tells me, is inspired by Asian traditional and popular culture. She also comes from an architectural design background and loves creating those books for wee ones that are tactile or contain interactive elements."

Opposing Viewpoints from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy at School Library Journal.  Peek: "I’d much rather talk about books for those who want action, or quick reads, or emotional exploration, etc., than talking 'boy' and 'girl' books."

Getting Naked with the Muse by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "After a certain point, when one has reached a certain mastery of craft, craft is no longer the issue; the uniqueness of the voice is. Not just in the words you use, but the things you have to say. They have to matter. And matter a lot."

KidLit Illustration: News, Tips and Resources from Where Sidewalk Begins: "...home of the SCBWI Illustration Portfolio Mentorship Program Winners." Source: Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Stand Up for Girls: A Virtual Rally to Promote Literacy and Education for Girls, Organized by LitWorld from PaperTigers. Peek: "Two thirds of all the world’s illiterate people are women. On Sept. 22, we will stand up for girls and their right to go to school and to learn to read and write."

Three Things That Come First Before You Tackle Social Media by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "You might very well start by asking yourself, 'What makes me interesting?'"

A Chat with Agent Kathleen Ortiz by Mindy McGinnis from Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire. Note: "She is currently looking for YA (especially cyberpunk, thrillers and anything dark/edgy), older middle grade..." This interview focuses on Kathleen's personality, not her approach to submissions.

Judge Says Books-A-Million Can Take Over 14 Borders Leases by Joseph Checkler from The Wall Street Journal. Peek: "...meaning at least some Borders stores will carry on as the rest of the chain winds down through liquidation." Note: the rest of the article is available by subscription only. Source: The Writer's League of Texas.

Walker/Bloomsbury, March 2012
Created in the Path of Irene from Kate Messner. Peek: "Before Hurricane Irene hit, I posted this invitation for those in Irene’s path to write or draw or otherwise create art during the storm, and to share it online as a communal art-making experience."

The Lambda Literary Foundation Changes Their Lammy Award Guidelines to Include Allied Writers and Highlight GLBTQ Writers by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Note: see comments and Lee's own additional thoughts on the changes to date and (possibly) to come.

How to Raise Your Characters Above the Status Quo by Brian A. Klems from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Novelists have the daunting task of showing this dynamic of shifting submission and dominance through dialogue, posture, pauses, communication patterns, body language, action and inner dialogue."

Q&A with Patsy Aldana on International Children's Publishing, and IBBY in the Middle East and North Africa by Natalie Samson from Quill & Quire. Peek: "During her travels, Aldana will meet with the Children’s Book Council of Iran (CBCI) to speak about Groundwood’s approach to international children’s book publishing; consult with local children’s literacy workers and the Afghan minister of culture about establishing IBBY chapters in Afghanistan and Tajikstan; fundraise for IBBY initiatives in the emirates and North Africa; and deliver the keynote address at the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions conference on intergenerational reading in Tunisia." Source: ACHOCKABLOG.

AmyKossBlogThang from "the author of 14 teen novels and many L.A. Times articles and stuff like that."

Interview: Carla Jablonski by Esther Keller from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: "I wanted to try to understand what it might have been like to live under occupation — ordinary people in not-so-ordinary circumstances."

A Notable Book for a Global Society
Notable Books for a Global Society: an interview by Nancy with Karen Hildebrand, chair of the International Reading Association selection committee from ReaderKidZ. Note: includes bibliography of picture books, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Move Books: a new publishing company, launched by Eileen Robinson, focusing on middle grade titles with boy appeal. See submissions information. Source: Writing and Illustrating.

Picture Books and Easy Readers: an excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books by Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. See also Harold on What a Publisher Does.

Judges are being sought for the the Cybils 2011: Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. See more information on eligibility, changes, and duties.

How Much to Share Online by Rachelle Gardner. Peek: "Always be thoughtful and discerning when deciding what professional information to share publicly." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

White Space by Mary Quattlebaum from Write at Your Own Risk. Peek: "Suspended breath is not the absence of breath."

Photo-palooza: San Diego Comic Con from Get to the Point: A Blog from Macmillan Children's Publishing Booth.

Best Articles This Week for Writers from Adventures in Children's Publishing.

Cynsational Cheers

Cheers to E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally on the sale of Dear Teen Me (inspired by their blog of the same name) to Zest Books! Note: click the link to add your congratulations!

Cheers to Kimberley Griffiths Little on the paperback release of The Healing Spell (Scholastic, 2011)!
Read a Cynsations interview with Kimberley.

Cheers to children's author-illustrator team Janice and Tom Shefelman on Honeymoon Hobos: A Journey Around a World that Once Was, a memoir that's their first book for grown-ups. Peek: "Yearning to see the world, Tom and I sold our possessions, got married, and set out on a journey we could not afford but had to take. In October of 1954 we boarded a Japanese freighter out of Long Beach, bound for Yokohama, planning to take a year to circle the globe."

Cynsational Screening Room

What is Steampunk? - Steam-Reality Sizzle Reel from JonnyPhoenyx. Source: Arthur Slade.

Dinosaur Dig by Penny Dale (Nosy Crow of London). Cover re-worked on iPad using Brushes App.

Cynsational Giveaways

Last call! Celebrate the release of my first graphic novel by entering to win the Tantalize: Kieren's Story Howling Great Giveaway!

The prize includes: author-autographed copy of Tantalize: Kieren's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle; Barbecue Lovers Guide to Austin by Gloria Corral; "Living with Wolves" DVD from the Discovery Channel; adult-size costume bat wings; bat finger puppet; armadillo puppet; wolf finger puppet; bear finger puppet; opossum finger puppet; flashing cat key chain, armadillo egg candies; mini journal; Austin magnet; and audio edition of Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith, read by Kim Mai Guest (Listening Library/Random House).

To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Tantalize: Kieren's Story" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 6.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
Limit 8 entries. This giveaway is for international readers--everyone is eligible!

Enter to win Liar, Liar and Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen (Random House, 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Paulsen" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 16. U.S. readers eligible.

Enter to win an advanced reader copy of The Vision by Jen Nadol (Bloomsbury, September 2011). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Mark" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only. Deadline: midnight CST Sept. 6.

Enter to win one of three Snuggle Mountain apps (IPhone and IPad users only). To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Snuggle Mountain app" in the subject line. Author sponsored. Deadline: Sept. 26.

For extra entries (itemize efforts in your entry comment/email with relevant links):
  • Blog about this giveaway
  • Share the link to this post on facebook
  • Share the link to this post on Twitter
  • Share the link to this post on Google+ 
  • Like Lindsey's Facebook author page

Enter to win a copy of Tantalize and so much more from six prize packs in the Operation Awesome 500 Follower Celebration. Deadline: 11:59 Sept. 7. Note: not sure of time zone.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
More Personally

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by Hurricane Irene or Typhoon Megi.

Speaking of which, the next time you buy a Google ebook online, consider ordering it from Lisa Sullivan at Bartleby's Books in Wilmington, Vermont. Learn more about the "catastrophic" flooding that wrecked her store from Jason Boog at GalleyCat.

And do you have any new books, especially picture books, to donate? See After Irene: A Small-town Adirondack Library Needs Your Help from Kate Messner.

Or do you have $5 to spare? It's not too late to help save a library in Cherryfield, Maine.

Look for quotes from me in "The Well-Paid Writer" by Katherine Swarts, published in the September issue of Children's Writer.

School Library Journal says of Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, 2011): "...both the art and the text come together in some touching moments, particularly between Kieren and his younger sister." Note: This may be the first review to mention little Meghan, who's one of my favorite characters.

Book Review & Author Interview: Tantalize: Kieren's Story by Cynthia Leitich Smith from The Obscured Vixen. I talk about the process behind the new graphic novel, the commercial pressure of happy romantic endings, and my next two prose novels, Diabolical and Smolder. Note: The Obscured Vixen's Review gives the graphic novel four out of five stars!

Thanks to Shelli Cornelison at Shelli's Soliloquy for the shout out!

Even More Personally

Maybe it's the 70-plus days of 100-plus degree temperatures, or just my busy brain needing to cool, but of late I've been watching shows before going to bed.

It took 24 hours for me to gobble up the first season of the BBC's "Sherlock." The show is witty and suspenseful, and I'm fascinated by the developing friendship between Benedict Cumberbatch's "Sherlock Holmes" and Martin Freeman's "Dr. John Watson. The three episodes are each 90 minutes long, so as a U.S.-based fan, it feels more like watching three movies.

Save the Cheerleader, Save the World!

I'd seen the first two and a half seasons of "Heroes," but started over from the beginning and finished watching the remainder of the series this past month. It's well written and one of the most ambitious shows--smart, funny, action-packed--I've ever watched. I especially liked the heavy early use of the comic framework and missed it later on. Beyond that, I appreciated the diverse cast, international settings, intricate writing, and of course the characters.

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:
Cynsational Events

Attention, Houstonians! Please join Cynthia Leitich Smith for a discussion and signing of Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick, 2011) at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.

Note: "This event is free and open to the public. In order to go through the signing line and meet Cynthia Leitich Smith for book personalization, you must purchase Tantalize: Kieren’s Story from Blue Willow Bookshop. A limited number of autographed copies of Cynthia’s books will be available for purchase after the event. If you cannot attend the event, but would like a personalized copy of her book, please call Blue Willow before the event at 281.497.8675."

Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 1 at Palmer Events Center in Austin. The event is free! No need to register, just show up! Students do not need to be accompanied by an adult.

Meet Ming Doyle!
Illustrator Ming Doyle will be signing Tantalize: Kieren's Story at 2 p.m. Oct. 2 at Brookline Booksmith (279 Harvard Street) in Brookline, Massachusetts. Guests are invited to participate in a vampire/werewolf costume contest. See another interior illustration from the graphic novel from her blog.

Write Before You Write: Outlining, Planning Plotting with Jennifer Ziegler from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at St. Edward's University in Austin. Sponsored by The Writers' League of Texas. Peek: "Do you ever start a manuscript and end up lost in your own story? Do you know your plot but still find that your writing is blocked? Or do you have a terrific idea for a book but are unsure where to start? If your answer is yes to any of the above, you might benefit from some 'prewriting' techniques."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

New Voice: Alex Epstein on The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay

Alex Epstein is the first-time author of The Circle Cast: The Lost Years of Morgan le Fay (Tradewind, 2011)(blog). From the promotional copy:

The sorceress Morgan le Fay - seducer of King Arthur and destroyer of Britain - was a girl once. But how did an exiled girl become a king's nemesis?

Britain, 480 AD. Saxon barbarians are invading, pushing the civilized British out of their own island. Morgan is the daughter of the governor of Cornwall. But when her father is murdered and her mother taken as the King's new wife, she has to flee to Ireland to avoid being murdered herself.

But Ireland is no refuge. She's captured in a slave raid and sold to a village witch. As Morgan comes of age, she discovers her own magical powers. She falls in love with a young Irish chieftain, and makes him powerful. But will her drive for revenge destroy her one chance for love and happiness?

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

When I was a kid, my dad used to read the T.H. White books to me -- The Once and Future King (Collins, 1958), The Book of Merlyn (University of Texas, 1977), The Sword in the Stone (Putnam, 1939). That gave me a lifelong fascination with the King Arthur stories.

At first I just loved the magic and the honor and the swordplay. But as I grew up, I got interested in the human relationships. There seemed to be a whole hidden story behind the legend. King Arthur has no children, but no one complains -- why? For a king not to have an heir is alarming. Why does Arthur tolerate Morgan le Fay's efforts to kill Guinevere? Why does he wait so long to confront Lancelot for having an affair with his wife? And of course the big question: how does Morgan go from being sent off to "a nunnery" to being the most powerful witch in legend? They don't usually teach necromancy in nunneries, do they?

The Circle Cast is a try at some answers. It seemed to me that maybe Arthur loved Guinevere, but not as woman, as an ideal. But maybe he loved Morgan as a woman. She was his half-sister, which made that a problem; but only in the new, Christian context. To an early Celt, it wouldn't have been a big deal. Arthur is torn between the old and the new, the ideal and the woman. He doesn't confront Lancelot because he knows he's not doing right by Guinevere. But he can't help himself. You love who you love.

People in my own life did things that resonated with the Arthur story; I won't get into them here; and maybe that's why I stayed interested in the story over the 15 years I wrote and reworked the book through many drafts.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

I think you have to start with the character, and Morgan is a fantastic character. She's so angry, but she has every right to be. She's offered grace, and she's offered love, but if she accepts either, she'll have to stop being angry. And if she gives up her angry, who is she? It's what's defined her, what's made her strong, what allowed her to survive -- and it's what powers the magic.

I did a lot of historical research. I do love to read about history. The Circle Cast is set in 480 AD, almost a century after the Romans abandoned Britain, and a generation after the barbarians sacked Rome. That's not the traditional Arthurian setting, but it's when Arthur probably flourished, if you believe Geoffrey Ashe. Ashe makes a very convincing case that a Roman-style dux bellorum called Riothamus (= "High King") beat the Saxons for about two decades before heading off to help the Romans on the Continent. He disappeared near the town of Avallon.

It's a time when all bets are off. The Saxons are pushing the British out of Britain. Christianity is replacing the Old Religion, which may have involved the worship of a war goddess called Bellona Morigenos. She's the same goddess the Irish worship as the Morrígan, a scary battle queen whose crows take slain heroes to Valhalla by eating them. My first wife did her Ph. D. thesis on the Morrígan, and I edited it, so for a little while there I might have been the person who knew the second most about Her.

I went to Ireland and England, too, and climbed up on South Cadbury Castle, a hillfort that might have been Camelot. I climbed up on Cader Idris in Wales, known as Arthur's Seat. I went to Tintagel. And I went to the lakeshore of the yew trees, now called Emly.

I tried to make the historical details as gritty and real as possible. Chimneys hadn't been invented yet. The Irish didn't have any horses big enough to ride; they had chariot ponies. The Irish worked butter into their hair before battle to make it stand up. All the strange details in the book come out of research.

The magic comes out of contemporary neo-pagan Wicca. I met a lot of witches when I was first writing this book, and participated in some intense rituals. I've rarely felt in touch with the powers of the Earth -- certainly never anything like Morgan. I can make magic happen on the page but I rarely feel it. I'm not sensitive that way.

But I did see a woman draw down the Moon, and I could swear there was someone else in her, someone ageless and powerful. So the magic is as real as I could make it, too.

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 didn't sell this book through an agent! It's funny, because I have no shortage of agents. I have screenwriting agents in Toronto and Montreal, and I have a nonfiction book agent.

I had a terrific, smart, hardworking fiction agent for a while, Ginger Clark (formerly) of Writers House, and we came close, but at the time King Arthur books seemed to be out of style.

A couple years later, I contacted a publisher in Canada about the movie rights for a novel he published, and we got to talking.

Turned out he was interested in my book as a YA novel. It already more or less was one, it just needed to be trimmed down a bit -- and the trims were all for the good, thanks to my terrific editor, Kim Aippersbach.

So I guess my advice would be: persevere. Try different avenues. Keep reworking the book when you get good feedback.

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