Friday, August 31, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Recommended for fans of Holes
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Canadian Read-Alikes That Appeal to Fans of Louis Sachar's Holes from CanLit for Little Canadians. Peek: "...these novels have the twists, turns and laughs that have made Holes (by Louis Sachar) such a popular book."

2012 Cybils Call for Judges from Anne Levy, Cybils Overlord. Deadline: Aug. 31. Note: hurry!

Writing Realistic Love Relationships by Carolyn Kaufman from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "A problem I see in some fiction is that there is no reason for the characters to fall for each other or be in love—other than the fact that they're both excruciatingly hot, of course."

Traditional Publishing: A Poor Exercise in Vanity from YA Highway. Peek: "My editor and I went through four rounds of edits. I'd call the process grueling, but it wasn't, not exactly. She, too, understood my vision in an intimate and precise way."

The Publishing Process in GIF Form from Nathan Bransford. Note: required reading/viewing.

One Teen Story Launches New Magazine by Ron Charles from The Washington Post. Peek: "Designed for readers 14 and up, One Teen Story will publish nine issues a year, once a month while school is in session ($18/year). Like its older sibling, this new magazine won’t carry photographs or advertising, but each year’s issues will have a cover designed by a single artist." Source: Margo Rabb.

The Naked Truth: Librarians Stood By Maurice Sendak, No Stranger to Controversy by Kathleen T. Horning from School Library Journal. Peek: "Just how often was Mickey diapered in America’s libraries? And who started it? How did others react to the practice?" Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

Seven Questions Over a Late-Night Breakfast with Christian Robinson from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "I give a large amount of credit to San Francisco for contributing to my happiness. I currently live and work in the city. I love it."

Author Insight: Trunk Novels from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "How many trunk novels do you have, and is there one you'd like to revisit?" Note: Insights from Margo Lanagan, Joy Preble, Greg Leitich Smith and more.

Staying Afloat in Tough Times by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I tried different things to see what might work. The following year I wrote a story for an anthology, entered several contests, did some short manuscripts for children’s magazines, wrote some writers’ articles."

When to Stop by Stephanie Pellegrin from Stephanie, A History. Peek: "I can't work on it forever. Eventually I have to let it go. Whether or not I query with this book and whether or not it ever sells is a mute point. I'm done."

Let's Play: Is It Worth It? The Writer's Conference Edition from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "When I received a postcard last week advertising an upcoming conference in my area, these criteria helped me figure out whether I should attend or pass."

Getting Students Reading, Keeping Them Reading by Edith Campbell from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Students consistently asked for mysteries with Black characters and I could produce none."

Tantalize series, honored by TLA/YART
Congratulations YART/TLA Spirit of Texas Middle School Authors Andrea White, Veronica Goldbach, Jennifer Archer, Karen Blumenthal, Chris Barton, and Scott Westerfeld, and congratulations YART/TLA Spirit of Texas High School Authors Gail Giles, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Ashley Perez, C.C. Hunter, and Jennifer Ziegler! Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith (that's me!) also is a SPOT High School Author, holding over from last spring (Thanks, Texas librarians!).

Dusting Ourselves Off After Set-Backs by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writing Mystery is Murder.  Peek: "...when I picked up my daughter at horse camp a few weeks ago and saw that she was completely covered from head to toe in red clay (which is what passes for soil in many parts of the Deep South), I knew she’d been thrown."

How to Get a Job in Publishing, 2012 Edition by Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: " can meet publishing people these days not just through long-established methods like informational interviews and the publishing institutes, but at writer's conferences, if you can find an unpressured time to talk, and in various forums online."

Cynsations Author Tip: If someone writes asking for a signed bookmark or bookplate, first reply asking which of your books (s)he's read. A fan will write back cheerfully. Someone who's just trying to snag your signature for whatever nefarious reason probably won't.

Who's Story Is This Anyway? by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: " do you decide who the main character will be and whose point of view you'll frame the story around?"

Writing Through a Rough Patch of Life by Tracy Hahn-Burkett from Writer Unboxed. Peek: " an unpublished author, I have only myself to satisfy. And I’d become my most negative and impossible-to-please critic."

Writing Resource: Writing Grief in Fiction by Denise Jaden from Angela Ackerman at The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Grief alone is not enough to make a novel. It’s the backdrop, sometimes the obstacle, but books must be flavored with other emotions."

Sitting Around and Talking by Mary Kole from Peek: "You may have heard several writing teachers saying that kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, airplanes, and cars are especially dangerous settings in fiction. Why? Because they limit action to one of very few things."

Interview with Author Shawn Stout & Editor Jill Santopolo of Philomel on the Penelope Crum series from Quirk and Quill. Peek from Jill: "...even though this is a fun, young series, Shawn also injects real depth into the conflicts Penelope has with her family and her friends." Note: enter to win one of four ARCs of Penelope Crum; deadline: 8 p.m. PST Sept. 15.

Diverse Dystopias: A Book List from Lee & Low Books. Peek: "For the purposes of this list, our definition of diversity is: 1.) A book with a main character of color (not just secondary characters), or 2.) A book written by an author of color."

Being Willing to Revise by Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: "The main problem I see with writers who are nearly there and writers who are already there is the people who are willing to make the big changes."

Seven Essential Elements of Scene + Scene Structure Exercise by Martha Alderson from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Just as plot has many different layers, every scene has layers of functions, too."'

Cynsational Giveaways
The winners of sets of Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey and Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix (both Simon & Schuster) were Amanda in North Carolina, Kathy in Ohio, Colleen in New Jersey and Rebecca in California. The winner of Caught by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster) was Ezequiel in Indiana.

The winner of a signed hardback copy of Piper Reed, Forever Friend (2012), a signed paperback copy of Piper Reed, Navy Brat (2011), and a signed paperback copy of Piper Reed, Rodeo Star (2011), all by Kimberly Willis Holt (Henry Holt) was Trisha in Illinois.

The winner of a print copy of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi was Diana in Utah.

Check your email! I'm still seeking shipping information from the winners of Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster), a Let’s Go Rambling Kit, celebrating One Day I Went Rambling by Kelly Bennett (Bright Sky Press, 2012), and a signed paperback edition of Flutter (Puffin, 2012) and a signed ARC of Tracing Stars (Philomel, 2012), both by Erin E. Moulton.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin Scene

This week's highlight was the launch party for debut author Nikki Loftin's Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, 2012) at BookPeople in Austin (review & chance to win from Jen Bigheart at I Read Banned Books). A huge crowd turned out to celebrate!

Greg Leitich Smith and Nikki Loftin
Sinister Sweets
More Sinister Sweets (donuts topped by icing & candy sprinkles anyone?)
Salima Alikhan & Bethany Hegedus
Lindsey Scheibe & Tim Crow
Lynne Kelly & Vanessa Lee
Chris Barton & Jennifer Ziegler
Jo Whittemore & Brian Anderson
Writing Barn reception -- not so sinister, just as sweet!
What a gorgeous buffet!

See also Dear Teen Me from Author Nikki Loftin.

More Personally

Hey, Cynsational readers! Did you catch my post this week on coping strategies for author events? Don't miss the comments with additional tips from various Cynsational readers (who're authors themselves) at LiveJournal. Thanks to all of them for sharing their thoughts!

Please also hold off on blurb requests until I say otherwise--I'm feeling a bit inundated at the moment. And on a semi-related note, I'm taking the holiday weekend off. Cynsations will resume posting on Tuesday of next week. Go out into the world. Rejoice. Dance. Play.

Just for fun, I present a recent celebration dinner at Casa Leitich Smith--chicken-and-lobster in a pot, steamed broccoli and purple faux-tatoes (cauliflower masquerading as mashed potatoes).

P.S. marvel at the awesome-ness of Nikki Loftin's shoes--they're practically candy coated!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Liz Garton Scanlon will launch Think Big (Bloomsbury, 2012) at noon Sept. 1 at BookPeople in Austin. See more information. Note: Liz also is teaching "Poetry License: Using Poetic Devices in Your Poetry, Prose and Everyday Writing" from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 15 via The Writers' League of Texas.

Check out the new "It's Complicated Conversation," focusing on book covers, starting next Monday, Sept. 3, at CBC Diversity. Participants include YA author Coe Booth, Simon & Schuster art director Laurent Linn, senior VP & director of sales at Penguin Felicia Frazier, agent Joseph Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary, and independent bookseller Elizabeth Bluemle, owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be part of the mass reading of "Buried Treasure" at 2 p.m. at the O. Henry 150th Birthday Crawl Sept. 15 at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas.

Join Newbery Honor author Marion Dane Bauer for a free live teleconference at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 19. She will also be offering a free live webinar on "Point of View in Fiction" at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 26. See more information.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Trailer & Giveaway: Just Flirt by Laura Bowers

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Just Flirt by Laura Bowers (FSG, 2012). From the promotional copy:

It's summer, sweet summer!

Self-proclaimed Superflirt Dee Barton can't wait to spend the summer months practicing her Nine Rules of Flirting on all the cute guys who come to stay at her family's campground. 

Why not? Flirting is fun and makes everyone involved feel good—which is pretty much the exact opposite of her relationship with her toxic ex-boyfriend, Blaine.

Sabrina Owens's summer plans include keeping her over-the-top karaoke DJ mother in check, maintaining her own status as the queen of the popular crowd, and being the perfect girlfriend to Blaine.

Each girl sees the other as the enemy. But when a secret blog embroils them in a frivolous lawsuit, they must team up and embark on a risky, flirt-filled plot to set things right again.

Laura Bowers's new novel is a heartfelt and hilarious story of friendship, family...and flirting!

See also an interview with Laura by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Just Flirt (FSG, 2012) or a copy of Beauty Shop for Rent (Harcourt, 2007), both by Laura Bowers. Eligibility: international. Deadline: Sept. 10.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Career Builder: Phyllis Root

Phyllis with her daughter's retired sled dog Cirrus
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Phyllis Root on Phyllis Root:
I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and now live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I’ve been for the last thirty-seven years. I’ve been writing for children for thirty-two years and have published over forty books, including picture books, middle grade novels, and non-fiction.
Big Momma Makes the World, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (Candlewick, 2002) won the Boston Globe Horn Book Award, and Aunt Nancy and Old Man Trouble, illustrated by David Parkins won a Minnesota book award.
Big Belching Bog, illustrated by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota Press, 2010) and Scrawny Cat, illustrated by Allison Friend (Candlewick, 2011) are my most recent books.
I have taught in the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and now teach in the Hamline University MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have two grown daughters and two cats, and when I’m not writing or sailing or canoeing or hiking I love to work in my garden or look for wildflowers.

How do you define success?

Spike and Catalina help Phyllis write.
A successful day is one in which I write.

When I first started writing and sending manuscripts out, I thought if I sold a story I would feel like a successful writer. Then I thought if I sold a book I would feel like a writer. Then I thought, perhaps, if a book won a prize I would feel successful.

All those things have happened over the years, and all have been wonderful, but the real success for me is putting butt in chair and writing the words I want to write, no matter how awful they may be. And if, in writing, I stumble onto a story that just might work well, whether or not it ever sees the publishing light of day, I am ecstatic.

Have you ever made an affirmative decision to alter my creative focus? What inspired this decision? What were the challenges?

One decision I made was to try writing a middle grade novel after many years of writing picture books. I wanted to try something different, which is, I think, a very good idea for writers; otherwise, I think it might be easy to end up plagiarizing myself.

Boyds Mills, 2010
Luckily, I had a story that really wanted to be written, about a young girl who worries about everything, her scientist parents, a very earnest great-uncle she is sent to live with, and a flamboyant pirate lady who moves in next door.

The biggest challenge was to discover the arc of the story and what my main character, Lilly, really wanted as her heart’s desire. I would work on the story, put it away for long stretches of time, and then take it out and work on it again.

I made a visual map by cutting out paper and pasting it on a large poster board, which is how I discovered how deceptive the Shipwreck Islands could be. I wrote endless scenes to discover who my characters really were, which is how I learned that Great-uncle Earnest, town librarian of Mundelaine, really wanted to be a pirate. In other words, I followed my usual messy route from idea to story.

Through it all, the characters themselves kept me going—I loved them so much that I wanted to get their story down on paper.

Did you ever consider giving up?

I still do consider giving up now and again, but I do so less and less, even as the market seems to get tougher and tougher. I’m keenly aware of the practical drawbacks of writing as an occupation—no pension, no insurance, no sick pay, sometimes no pay at all.

But I have a very understanding boss (me), I know terrific fellow writers, and I get to spend time mucking around with words and stories. I feel very very lucky (to misquote Paul Simon) to be still writing after all these years.

What advice do I have for the debut authors of 2012?

First of all, congratulations! You’ve created a book and sent it out into the world. There’s no telling who will read it or how it might change someone’s life, including you own.

You are courageous and persistent and you are, I hope, doing what you love. So my advice is to remember that you are writing because you love writing. Don’t be distracted by the siren call of markets and “what’s hot” and how you could make a lot of money writing something you really might not want to write.

Write the stories only you can tell, the ones that won’t let you be. Write for the love of writing. And when you sell the next book, and the next, and the next, the advice is the same.

You are a writer. Write.

The Writer vs. The World
By Phillis Root

My mechanic tells me cars don’t really go
clinkety clankety bing bang pop,
that chocolate marshmallow fudge delight
will not fix everything.
(My dentist concurs.)

My naturalist friend says
ducks who get stuck in the muck
get eaten, or die, no matter how many
other helpful animals gather round.
Somewhere among them would be a fox,
a feral cat, a snapping turtle
looking for an opportunistic meal.

My doctor warms me of all the diseases
a cow’s kiss might contain,
and my more cautious friends say that
if I hear a knock, knock on the door,
it’s best not to answer,
even if I ask, “Who’s there?”
You can’t trust anyone these days
to be who they say they are.

My mechanic and contractor both agree
that car parts don’t make good building material,
and my veterinarian claims she’s never heard
a dog say meow, and knows she never will.

I am glad for them all. Without them,
my car would not run,
my teeth fall out.
Turtles might starve.
My cats and I might perish
from some common ailment,
my house collapse around me
at the first knock, knock at the door.

Lucky for me I can always build a new one
out of crazy hope and air.

Cynsational Notes

The Career Builders series offers insights from children's-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

Check out the book trailer for Scrawny Cat, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Allison Friend (Candlewick, 2011):

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Love Note (& Battle Strategies) for Author-Speakers

If you're hosting, carefully label your refreshments.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

As a children's-YA author, I'm also a public speaker—a workshop leader, a keynoter, and a frequent panelist.

Despite the fact that I, at age 17, literally ran for the ladies restroom rather than deliver an oral report in AP European History, I’ve become comfortable standing in front of anywhere from one to 800 people and sharing my thoughts. A community college speech class helped me overcome my shyness, and years of experience have helped me hone a style that combines humor with substance, using an uplifting spin.

I prepare. I practice. I come in strong with my tech ready and my comments well timed.

But every few years, for one reason or another, the magic is fumbled.

Here are a few examples, plus my related strategies and advice:

Take a Drink of Water

Fancier than usual, but lemon can help.
I completely blanked while giving a speech at the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.

It was not long after my father had suddenly died, and afterward, I would be continuing to my childhood home for the first time since the funeral.

That realization hit as I was speaking, and my next words literally vanished from my mind. I couldn’t even relocate them on the notes in front of me.

What I did in the moment was pause to pour myself a drink of water, sip, and then resume talking.

A friend in the audience assured me that what seemed like slow, loudly ticking moments transpired in a few seconds and seemed completely natural.

Punt Plan A

Laptop died on this day; bought & booted a new one in time.
At one school visit, it took half of my allocated speaking time to get the students seated and my presentation introduced.

In an effort to stick to my much-rehearsed Power Point presentation, I nearly ran out of time to address my new release at all.

Plus, I was rushing too fast to establish a rapport with my audience.

Would beating myself up over it help?

Not really.

When the second group came in, I started my presentation with a much later slide and got to the question-and-answer part of the presentation with fifteen minutes to spare. The kids asked about what interested them, and being more relaxed, I was able to better connect and provide an overall experience that was more satisfying for everyone.

Make Your Microphone Time Count

Read other authors' books & toss a softball Q to a debut author.
Once in a great while, a co-panelist will monopolize the microphone or say something passive-aggressive to minimize the work of the other featured authors.

It’s the job of the moderator to step in at this point, but that doesn’t always happen, especially if the troublemaker is a big name.

Don’t panic at your lack of participation or allow yourself to get drawn into an unprofessional squabble.

(I’m not saying to avoid lively debate, if it’s appropriate, but there’s a difference between that and lowering your professional standards of behavior.)

Sooner or later, you will get a chance at the microphone, if only for the last roundup of answers before the panel signs off. Be ready. Take some time—in advance of the session—to ask yourself what one or two points you most want to emphasize. Focus on those, be gracious, and cut your losses.

You can always say something to the effect of: “If anyone has additional questions, I’d be happy to answer them at the signing.” (The signing almost always immediately follows, and you might generate more interest that way.)

Pull Up a Chair

Low audience turnout? First, don’t take it personally. There are a ton of factors that go into attendance at an author event. If you’ve made a good faith effort to spread the word, that’s all you can do. It's especially tough in a city where you don't have personal ties and aren't plugged into local media scene. Your biggest fan could live across the street and still have no idea you're right there in the neighborhood.

It's the quality of the audience that matters.
One of the best models I’ve seen for dealing with low turnout was an author who’d recently—as in a week or two before—received a major award and was literally glowing, his career was so hot.

Maybe it was the weather (Austinites panic at rain, or at least our forecasters do). But I was one of only a handful of people who came to his bookstore event.

Rather than bemoan the small crowd, he opened by thanking the independent booksellers and talking about how important they are. Then he pulled up a chair and began visiting the group—still talking about writing and the book—but in an informal way that made us feel like we’d scored the best seats in town. And we had.

I’ve since adopted that strategy on the couple of occasions it’s arisen in my own travels.

At one very new festival, I was scheduled to give several presentations in a day, and while my other talks drew lovely crowds, the first was slotted early in the morning in a remote building on campus.

Only one person showed up.

But she was a jingle dancer, and my first book was Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000). We had such a nice visit. When I look back fondly on that weekend, hers is the face I remember.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

I’ve only been heckled a couple of times, and in both cases, the root of it was the heckler’s assumptions about my intent in writing this or that aspect of one of my novels.

In both cases, they were wildly off-base. When I explained, one immediately realized, laughed at and apologized for her mistake. The other dug in more deeply and took an even more sneering tone.

If you’re asked a leading question, give an honest answer. If you’re stumped as to where to go from there, try “I appreciate your sharing your insights” or “I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree” and then keep moving forward. The rest of the audience will appreciate it.

Play Ball

More about my latest release. U.S. Cover.
Event planners occasionally misstep. They choose a venue that has you staring into direct sunlight or shielding your eyes against blowing dust. The tech goes wonky, or the book order falls through.

So what? Really, in the course of your career, how important is this particular challenge?

And that’s what it is—a challenge. So rise to it.

If it’s logistically plausible, ask to arrange the chairs (or whatever) so your eyes won’t water. But don't hijack the event. You're the guest, not the host, and The Powers That Be may have their own reasons and limitations to contend with.

Safest bets: Bring your own laptop and projector as backup. Or simply do the best you can with what you’re dealt.


Say thank you, no matter what. The vast majority of children’s-YA book event planners are volunteers and among the most formidable champions of your field.

They are sweethearts. They are awesome. They’re doing the best they can with what they have, and—just like you—they’re allowed to have a bad day.

The Big Picture

I could offer more examples and solutions, but I think you get the general idea.

Follow me at Twitter & Facebook.
  • Be prepared.
  • Be gracious.
  • Take a team approach.
  • Follow your host's/moderator's lead.
  • Do your best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up.
  • Forgive easily.
  • Find the fun. 
  • Laugh and smile.
  • Keep moving forward.
  • Say "thank you!" 
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Try to do even better next time.
You’re living the dream. This is part of it.


Cynsational Notes

New from Walker Books in the U.K.
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author of Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Diabolical and Tantalize: Kieren's Story (Candlewick). Her award-winning books for younger children include Jingle Dancer, Indian Shoes, Rain Is Not My Indian Name--for which she was named a Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers--(all HarperCollins) and Holler Loudly (Dutton). She looks forward to the 2013 release of Eternal: Zachary's Story and Feral Nights (Book One in the Feral series)(Candlewick). Cynthia's books also have been published in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, France, Poland, and Turkey.

Her website at was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer's Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her Cynsations blog at was listed as among the top two read by the children's/YA publishing community in the SCBWI "To Market" column. A former member of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA faculty in Writing for Children and Young Adults, Cynthia has lived in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Illinois, and she now calls Austin, Texas home.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Pat Mora

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Pat Mora savors writing, presenting, and also promoting creativity, inclusivity and bookjoy.

Her new picture book, The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe (Random House), will be published December 2012.

Among her award-winning books for young people are Dizzy in Your Eyes: Poems About Love (Knopf); her haiku collection Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico! (Lee & Low) that won the Américas Award and was an ALA Notable; and Doña Flor: A Tall Tale about a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (Random House), an ALA Notable that received a Pura Belpré Author Honor Award and a Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.

A literacy advocate excited about sharing what she calls “bookjoy,” Pat founded the family literacy initiative, El día de los niños / El día de los libros, Children’s Day / Book Day (“Día”), now housed at the American Library Association. The year-long commitment to linking all children to books, languages and cultures culminates in celebrations across the country. April 2013 will be Día’s 17th Anniversary. Pat’s Book Fiesta! (HarperCollins) captures the Día spirit.

Pat received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Texas at El Paso, Honorary Doctorates from North Carolina State University and SUNY Buffalo, Honorary Membership in the American Library Association, and a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship to write in Umbria, Italy in 2003. She was a recipient and judge of a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a recipient and advisor of the Kellogg National Leadership Fellowships.

A former teacher, university administrator, museum director, and consultant, Pat is a popular national speaker at conferences, campuses, libraries and schools. The mother of three adult children, she’s married to anthropology professor Vern Scarborough and lives in Santa Fe.

Have you ever made an affirmative decision to alter your creative focus? What inspired this decision? What were the challenges?

When my three children were little, I fell in love with picture books. I’d always been a reader but don’t have clear memories of picture books until I sat with my sweeties next to me, and we savored books together.

Like many adults, I thought, “Writing these doesn’t seem that hard.” 

When I submitted manuscripts in the '70s, though, the rejections zipped back. I became discouraged and began writing poetry for adults that began to be published.

After Borders (Arte Publico), my second book of adult poetry was published; some friends encouraged me to try children’s books again since I now had the beginning of a publishing record.

I did, and eventually the great day came when I received my first trade book acceptance for Tomás and the Library Lady (Knopf, 1997). Due to illustrator problems, I waited eight years for the book’s publication in 1997. Tomás was my first contract but not my first published book.

I’ve now published over thirty children’s trade books and have others in press.

Moral of the story? Have friends who believe in you and your work and be persistent.

I joke that "Rejection" is my middle name. Rejections always sting, since we love our work and need to, or we’d quit. When we’re lucky enough to love what we do, we dust ourselves off, and trudge—or some days skip—on.

How do you define success?

What a challenging question. I strive to reach my goals and to develop my talents on life’s journey. I tend to write my goals annually and review them during the year.

A balanced life with time devoted to spirit, mind and body has become more and more important to me. A spiritual life and time for family and friends are at the top of my list.

I’m mom before I’m a writer though I feel inordinately blessed to write, be published, and to speak with audiences of all ages. I can’t really control my income or awards, but I can create a life that nourishes me and others—I hope.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your short- and long-term goals? Your strategies for achieving them?

I enjoy writing for children, teens and adults. I hope to continue to write for each of these age groups.

I tell audiences that I have a list in my computer of the books I hope to write. The order changes and occasionally, such as with The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe, due out December 2012, I dive into a manuscript thanks to someone’s suggestion.

Actually, at least four of my books were suggested by librarians. As a writer, I long not to repeat myself, but to steadily raise the bar and set new challenges for myself.

My three advocacy zings remain creativity, inclusivity and sharing bookjoy.

1) Creativity: I strive to encourage others to develop their creative talents, which is why I wrote Zing: Seven Creativity Practices for Educators and Students (Corwin, 2010).

2) Inclusivity: I’ve written and spoken for years about our national cultural and linguistic wealth. I strive to excite my colleagues in publishing at all levels about the talents, the rich plurality, not yet a part of our publishing community. Each culture that’s part of our country has wonderful stories and voices to share. I long to hear and read those voices and want them for our nation’s children and families.

3) Bookjoy: Perhaps because I’m bilingual and of Mexican descent, early in my journey as a children’s book author, I became aware of the literacy challenges we face in this country.

One strategy for fostering bookjoy has been the family literacy initiative, El día de los niños / El día de los libros, Children’s Day / Book Day (“Día”), now housed at the American Library Association.

Working with wonderful librarians and educators, I founded the year-long commitment to link all children to books, languages and cultures that culminates in April celebrations across the country. Día is celebrating its 17th Anniversary in April, 2013.

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

I smile at the question. Born January 19, I’m a Capricorn, though at the end of that astrological sign, an earth sign symbolized by the goat. In the ancient world, it was described as a goat-fish.

Often when my husband Vern and I sit on our back deck and look at the Santa Fe hills ( a view that I describe as a gift from the universe), I look at a small tree in the distance, half-way up the hill. I point and say, “There she goes, climbing the hill,” and indeed, my publishing experience for all its joy does feel like a climb with plenty of obstacles.

On the other hand, I love the fish part of the ancient story and my delight in diving into deep waters in some of my writing. I feel mighty fortunate to have the time and opportunity to journey there.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a set of Pat's books, plus a Día brochure from Random House. Eligibility: U.S.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Suzanne Selfors on the release of The Sweetest Spell (Walker, 2012)! From the promotional copy:
Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all.

But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself.

But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline. Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

More News & Giveaways

Very Pinteresting: The Hot Social Network is Taking Educators by Storm by Kate Messner from The Digital Shift at School Library Journal. Peek: "Pinterest bills itself as a virtual pinboard that helps users 'organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web.' Although still in beta phase, the site has grown astronomically—faster than even Facebook and Twitter—reaching 10 million visitors each month."

Picture Book Titles to Avoid by Mary Kole from Peek: "If I get a sense that your book is going to be didactic from the title, I will be that much less excited to read it, and so will your audience."

Is a Blog Tour Worth the Trouble? from Peek: "Blog tours harness the power of social media, spreading news of your book almost instantly to countless people through the virtual ripple effect of retweets and shares."

Advice to New Writers: Green Triangles Should be Both Triangular and Green from Kristin Cashore. Peek: "People will confuse their expectations with your intentions and with the quality of your work. This will happen. So you need to keep hold of what your own expectations/goals were"

Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Manuscript in Progress by Carol Lynch Williams from Throwing Up Words. Peek: "What would happen if you set the book elsewhere?"

Debbie Dahl Edwardson's Whale Snow: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "By the end of the story, we know why Amiqqaq is named Amiqqaq, we know a little about how his family prepares whale meat, and Amiqqaq's mom has taught him about the 'spirit of the whale.'"

Social Media Suicide by M.J. Rose from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "While a presence on social media outlets can be valuable it can’t–except in unusual cases–take the place of strong publisher support."

Five Reasons Your Opening Scene is Like a Blind Date by Marissa from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "First impressions do matter."

Not Who You Think They Are: A Character-Building Exercise by Emilia Plater from YA Highway. Peek: "... who me is can change, literally from minute to minute."

YA Authors Narrate 'Every Day' by David Levithan: video from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: " told from the point of view of a teen named A who wakes up in a different body every morning. While Every Day has an out-there and fun paranormal twist, it’s every bit as relatable, wise, and believable as the best realistic teen fiction."

Zoraida Cordova on Breaking the Rules from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "In my unprofessional opinion, 'write what you know' should be applied to the internal workings of our characters."

Author Insight: First Time All Over Again by S.F. Robertson from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "What book do you wish you could read again for the first time?" Note: insights from various YA authors.

Tu Books: Why Target an Author's Race in an Award? by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Just wondering why you decided to focus the award on 'writers of color' rather than 'main characters of color'?"

Poem Depot: A Poetry Commotion is primarily devoted to poetry in all its forms and facets: old and new, sense and nonsense, graphic and laughic, courtesy of Douglas Florian.

The Practice of Writing by John Vorhaus from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Writing isn’t easy, but it really isn’t hard. You put a word on the page, then another and another (and another and another) and soon you have some words on the page."

The Truth About a Writing Life by Donna Gephart from Wild About Words. Peek: "...even though I’ve published three novels and been writing professionally for over twenty years, I have no idea how to write this novel."

Literary Agent Spotlight: Kendra Marcus from Literary Rambles. Seeking picture books, middle grade, and YA--fiction and nonfiction. Likes humor, Latino/Hispanic characters, and "unusual nonfiction."

American Indians In Children's Literature is now on Pinterest! Learn more about great books.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of signed copies of Jo Whittemore's books, Front Page Face-Off (2010), Odd Girl In (2011) and D Is for Drama (2012)(all Aladdin) was Deena in New York.

The winner of Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom (Book One of the Heroes in Training series) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2012) was Jayne in Florida.

A free substantive edit of one manuscript from Deadline: midnight Aug. 28.

See also Annette Simon on Robot Zombie Frankenstein & Giveaway from Jama's Alphabet Soup.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Digital Symposium II: The Nuts and Bolts of Success: hosted by Austin SCBWI, this conference is scheduled for Oct. 6 at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Check out the promotional video.

More Personally

Last week's highlight was teaching a YA writing workshop at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers' Conference.

Eternal, Blessed & Diabolical at the VCFA bookstore.
Tim & Leda in front of College Hall.
Magnificent YA writers in workshop.
More magnificent YA writers in workshop.
Former advisee, VCFA grad & rising star Erin at Main Street Grill.
Walker Books (U.K.) cover

A Diabolical Chat: a Q&A interview about my latest release at Undercover Blog. Peek: "The arguably creepiest element, though, is a pop-art reproduction (think: Andy Warhol) of an image from the actual Codex Gigas, originally created by a monk who’d sold his soul to the devil. A framed copy hangs in practically every room of the school and the devilish figure depicted seems almost as if it’s watching…because it is." Note: post includes excerpt from the novel.

Congratulations to Austin's own Nikki Loftin on the release of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill, 2012)!

Cheers also to Liz Garton Scanlon, the Austin Public Library Illumine Honoree in Children's Literature! Speaking of Austinites, check out August news from the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Join Newbery Honor author Marion Dane Bauer for a free live teleconference at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 19. She will also be offering a free live webinar on "Point of View in Fiction" at 7 p.m. EST Sept. 26. See more information.

The Austin Teen Book Festival is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at Palmer Events Center. Keynoters: Neal Shusterman and Libba Bray. Note: Greg Leitich Smith is moderating the "Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads" panel.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

New Voice: Gina Rosati on Auracle

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Gina Rosati is the first-time author of Auracle (Roaring Brook, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Anna Rogan has a secret she’s only shared with her best friend, Rei; she can astrally project out of her body, allowing her spirit to explore the world and the far reaches of the universe.

When there’s a fatal accident and her classmate Taylor takes over Anna’s body, what was an exhilarating distraction from her repressive home life threatens to become a permanent state. 

Faced with a future trapped in another dimension, Anna turns to Rei for help.

Now the two of them must find a way to get Anna back into her body and stop Taylor from accusing an innocent friend of murder. Together Anna and Rei form a plan but it doesn’t take into account the deeper feelings that are beginning to grow between them. 

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

I’ve read dozens of amazing, insightful writing resource books, but the one that stands out and really made a difference to me is Story Engineering by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest, 2011).

I wrote Auracle by the seat of my pants, and when I look back on all the suggestions made by my agent and editor, if I had known the information presented in Story Engineering, my first draft would have been cleaner, I could have saved myself a lot of editing time and the publication process would have gone much faster.

The main idea behind Story Engineering is the need to outline, or at the very least, to know your beginning, your end, and your major plot points. He breaks the process of writing a novel down into six core competencies (concept, character, theme, story structure, scene execution and writing voice), and thoroughly describes them in plain English using short examples to illustrate his points.

It’s a no-nonsense guide to writing from someone who has written and had several novels published within the conventional publishing system. It’s definitely the best $17.99 investment I’ve made in my writing.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Photo courtesy of Marc Nozell.
I’m not a librarian, but I’ve volunteered one day a week in a middle school library for the past six years, and that has had a major impact on my writing life.

Years ago, when I worked for a Burger King regional office, we were required to work in a restaurant for a few days so we could appreciate things like why we shouldn’t call the restaurant during lunch rush, the pain of burning fry oil splashing on our arm and understand what was important (the customer!).

It’s the same thing for me working in a library…

I’ve learned to appreciate that there’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to the teenage reader. I’ve learned to appreciate the role of a librarian, the limited resources they have to work with and the uncomfortable spots they find themselves in when a book is challenged.

I’ve even learned to appreciate the basic nuts and bolts of book layout – that publishers should never use black paper inside the cover because that’s where we stamp the books and they should always leave a blank space for the Date Due slip to be glued.

In return for a few hours a week spent checking books in and out, processing new books, and re-shelving returns, I get to study the elusive middle grade reader in their natural habitat, see which books they get really excited about (and which books are returned with a bookmark stuck at the halfway point) and gain all kinds of insight from my wonderful librarian friends about the world of middle grade and young adult lit.

One of the biggest thrills I get is when my librarian hands me the current VOYA or School Library Journal and asks what books I recommend she buys for the library. Volunteering in a school library brings the reason I write YA full circle for me.

Cynsational Notes

Find Gina at Twitter, Facebook, and Good Reads. She's a member of the Apocalypsies and the Class of 2k12. See also Gina's blog.