Friday, November 30, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 2013 (Books Published in 2012) from the National Science Teacher's Association. Peek: "Science is not just one 'way of knowing,' but many."

HarperCollins Aims Imprint at Lucrative Young Adult Market by Leslie Kaufman from The New York Times. Peek: "The imprint, called HarperTeen Impulse, will begin sales on Dec. 4 for short fiction in a variety of genres. Although the imprint is open to both new and established authors, it will lean heavily at first on some reliable names."

Nonfiction Mistakes I've Made - And Ways to Avoid Them by Nina Kidd from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "My second mistake was researching too long."

To My Mom, Who Taught Me Not to Wait by Janet S. Fox from Friend for the Ride. Peek: "Among her papers as I was sorting them – because my father couldn’t – I found a pile of unpublished children’s stories. They were sweet, old-fashioned, lyrical."

Does the Digital Era Flip Our Definition of Censorship by Daniel Nayeri from CBC Diversity. Peek: "There are certainly great works of literature that could (and have been) called pornographic or racist. And conversely, there are many poorly written books that hold high literary standing."

Native American Heritage Month: Children's Books by ICTM Staff from Indian Country Today. Note: recommended titles include Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith (HarperCollins, 2002).

Z Is for Moose by Lolly Robinson from The Horn Book. Peek: "For me, that is the most essential criteria for evaluating picture books: text, art, design, and book making need to play well together without upstaging one another. Everything should be working toward the same goal."

Independent Bookstores Find Their Footing by Lynn Neary from NPR. Peek: "These days, Bercu says the brick-and-mortar bookstores that are still standing have a loyal following."

Scare Readers with Your Mind, Not Your Monsters by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "Try tapping into your own deep-rooted fear, because if something scares you, you’re primed to convey your discomfort in your writing."

Agent Spotlight: Gina Maccoby from Literary Rambles. Peek: "...a veteran of the industry and a passionate author’s advocate. She represents Rick Riordan, Mary Ann Hoberman, Janet Taylor Lisle, and Jean Fritz among other prominent children’s book authors."

Hanukkah Gift Ideas from Kar-Ben Publishing. Peek: "Give the book along with some cheerful, kid-friendly Shabbat candlesticks or crafting supplies to make candlesticks and inspire a life-long awareness of hiddur mitzvah!" See also Hanukkah Read Up! from Jewish Books for Children.

The First-Person Query Letter (and Why You Shouldn't Do It) by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "...the agent is not sure if you're psychotic or whether you're actually threatening her kids or whether you're confessing... What is this?"

Author Chat: Alan Woo on Maggie's Chopsticks from Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "The characters are all based on different people’s personalities that I know and that I grew up with. I remember being young and having adults in my life who were sometimes stern, strict, and grumpy. Then there were those that were helpful and friendly and genuinely caring."

Author Insight: The Non-negotiables from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "Is there one thing in your writing/novels you aren't willing to bend on? Have you had to defend an instance of it in the past? If so, at what cost?"

Differences Between Published and Unpublished Manuscripts (or, rather publishable and unpublishable) by Libby Koponen from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "It is amazing how much happens in a well-constructed novel."

Joseph Bruchac: Teller of Tales by Nancy Bo Flood from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "My stories come from things I’ve read and heard, from people I meet, from my family and friends, and from a place within me that sometimes speaks to me–at times when I’m writing it’s as if I’m taking dictation. "

Industry Q&A with Author Tanita S. Davis from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I try to be inclusive of the sometimes invisible things – the differently abled or those with other challenges, multiracial blends, blended families, various faiths, etc. – because that's real-world stuff, and I really feel there's too much culture-less, colorless fiction being published."

The Real Scoop on the Jane Yolen Mid-list Author Grant from the Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "We write to be read, and sometimes we write to have written, and occasionally we write to be paid. Though not enough. Never enough, we midlisters."

See also Cool Links Friday from Stina Lindenblatt and Publishing Pulse from

The 13th Sign Preorder Contest

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is conducting a Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) fundraiser in conjunction with her 13 Days of The 13th Sign (Feiwel & Friends, 2013) pre-order contest. For every pre-order of her latest release, The 13th Sign, she is donating $1 to the literacy cause. Plus, participants can win prizes each day. For more details, please visit any of the 13 blogs who are a part of the fundraiser:

 Cynsational Giveaways
The winners of The Christmas Tugboat: How the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Came to New York City by by George Matteson and Adele Ursone, illustrated by James Ransome (Clarion, 2012) are Jennifer in Michigan, Alicia in Alabama, Heidi in Utah, and Margie in Michigan.

The winner of the last ARC of Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013) is Carolina in Texas.

Don't miss the Free Picture Book Edit Giveaway from Dear Editor and New YA Lit in Stores, Three-Book Giveaway from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

This Week at Cynsations
A Dino a Day: A Chronal Engine Celebration

Amy's Ice Creams
Greg Leitich Smith is celebrating the season by modeling his 2012 release, Chronal Engine (Clarion) and his wardrobe of dinosaur T-shirts at Austin landmarks.

Got it? Every day a different rockin' dinosaur T-shirt at a different super-fantastic Austin locale.

Please brighten his week (and mine, too) by clicking through, leaving a comment, and/or passing on the link(s). Please also feel free to compliment the photographer (cough) -- ha!

Day 1: BookPeople 
Day 2: The Driskill Hotel
Day 3: Whole Foods 
Day 4: Texas State Capitol Building 
Day 5: Amy's Ice Creams 
Day 6: Austin History Center 
Day 7: Run Tex 
Day 8: Waterloo Records

More Personally

Last week's highlight was the 5-mile Austin Turkey Trot with Greg Leitich Smith (above), Donna Bowman Bratton and her son, Ethan. The weather was wonderful and the course was gorgeous. A well-run, family-friendly event. I hope to participate again in the future.

Thanks to Cory Putnam Oakes for this self-short of my 2012 release Diabolical (Candlewick (U.S.)/Walker (U.K.) at Waterstones in Piccadilly (the biggest bookshop in Europe).

Top 10 Multicultural Picture Books by Cynthia Leitich Smith from PaperTigers.Blog. Note: a bibliography of highly recommended favorites.

Personal Links
Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will sign from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 1 at The BookSpot in Round Rock. Also featuring Greg Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon & Shana Burg. Note: Greg is bringing cookies made with the Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe. Cookies!

2013 Advanced Writing Workshops -- Simon & Schuster Editor Alexandra Penfolds, Deconstructing Children's Literature Characters Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 at The Writing Barn in Austin. Application deadline: Dec. 1.

Austin SCBWI Regional Conference Early-Bird Registration Deadline: Dec. 19. After that, the price goes up $25.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Study with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa.

Extended Three-Session Intensive Workshop: Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson will be running a three-part revision intensive in Westport, Connecticut, over three Saturdays in January, February, and March. Peek: "Bring your picture book, nonfiction, or novel manuscript and get multiple rounds of feedback as well as revision techniques."

Sneak Peek at New Year's Workshops from the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "'Whole Novel Workshop: Young Adult' with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin. Founded in 2006, the Whole Novel Workshop is specifically designed for writers of young-adult novels. This unique program offers the one-on-one attention found in degree programs, but without additional academic requirements, lengthy time commitments, or prohibitive financial investments. Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Cooner on Skinny

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Cooner is the first-time author of Skinny (Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Hopeless. Freak. Elephant. Pitiful. 

These are the words of Skinny, the vicious voice that lives inside fifteen-year-old Ever Davies’s head. Skinny tells Ever all the dark thoughts her classmates have about her. Ever knows she weighs over three hundred pounds, knows she’ll probably never be loved, and Skinny makes sure she never forgets it.

But there is another voice. Ever’s singing voice, which is beautiful but has always been silenced by Skinny. Partly in hopes of trying out for the school musical—and partly to try and save her own life—Ever decides to undergo a risky surgery that may help her lose weight and start over.

With the support of her best friend, Ever begins the uphill battle toward change. But demons, she finds, are not so easy to shake, not even as she sheds pounds. Because Skinny is still around. And Ever will have to confront that voice before she can truly find her own.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

A couple of years ago, I was in a small critique group at a writing conference. We all read pages from our works in progress, and I was immediately impressed by the quality and diversity of the writing around me. One manuscript was a futuristic dystopian. Another a historical set in the time of Henry VIII, and still another a paranormal tale based on Celtic myth.

Later, one of the participants emailed to see if we'd like to stay in touch. We did, and the YAMuses were born.

At that time, we never imagined how our writing lives were about to change or how important that chance meeting would become. Within a year, we launched a blog, signed with agents, and sold eleven books between us.

Those manuscripts we read that day became Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (HarperCollins, 2012), Gilt by Katherine Longshore (Viking, 2012), Silver by Talia Vance (Flux, 2012), and Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). We also adopted future author, Bret Ballou, along the way.

The writing life is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. Having four brilliant writing minds focused on making my manuscript better is an incredible resource.

While the Muses certainly support the writing process, we also support each other in the business aspect of publishing. I'm lucky enough to often get a "behind the scenes" view of different agents, different publicists, and different publishers.

Muses share a wickedly funny sense of humor. When we're together we laugh a lot, sometimes so hard we can't catch our breath. We usually have multiple email streams in play every day. One day we had twenty three emails exchanged that started with the title, “Quick." We share celebrations, frustrations, information, jokes, silliness, and fears.

Below is a small sample of what the conversation looks like:

On Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 7:12 AM, Talia Vance wrote:

Hi guys,

So I am already at the office after being here until 10 last night. The only thing getting me through this week is knowing I will get a break on Saturday to celebrate with you. Thank you so much for everything. Your support and friendship has become so dear to me in the last couple of years, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it.

Why yes, lack of sleep does make me a tad emotional.


On Sep 11, 2012, at 10:57 AM, Bret Ballou wrote:


So sorry that you're slammed at work. We are lucky to have you in our lives. You're so insightful, analytical, and passionate. You are fiercely loyal and generous. You work so so so hard. The amount you've achieved (all y'all have achieved) is mind boggling. I for one, couldn't ask for better friends.

On Sep 22, 2012, at 2:32 PM, Donna Cooner wrote:


I just had this weird, out of body experience where I pulled the car over to the side of the road and had to blink the tears away. You know that moment when you realize, Oh My God, I'm actually living my dream of being an author?

Sometimes all the stress and doubt of this path overwhelm that amazingness, so I just wanted to share it with you.

Love you guys!

On Sep 22, 2012, at 3:02 PM, Veronica Rossi wrote:

Thank you, Donna. For sharing the journey and for this email. I've been trudging through stuff most of the morning, and this is a wonderful reminder that we are so lucky to be where we are, to have something we love to do that has brought us great friends and so many memories.

On Sep 22, 21012 at 3:15 PM, Katherine Longshore wrote:

Now you've got me started. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for reminding me.

Love you, too.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Balancing the time between writing a novel and being in the real world is challenging. Sometimes beyond challenging. I am a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University. It is a full time, twelve month position, and I am responsible for supervising over ninety faculty and staff. Time for writing, and now marketing/publicity, has to be squeezed in around the work schedule.

But, more than the time management needed to get the actual story onto the page, there is the constant pull of living stories out in your head. The "head" world is a tempting one. It's full of word play, adventure, passion and imagination. The other world--the "real" one--is often full of curriculum meetings, graduate students, and budget scenarios.

Finding equilibrium and continuity between the two worlds is never easy. Driving to work, I stop at a traffic light and suddenly realize I've solved the plot problem in chapter three. Or I find myself nodding at inappropriate times at a Dean's council meeting because I'm listening to the dialogue in my head instead of the conversation at the table.

Even though the balance isn't easy, there are some things learned that seem to help. I often start my morning at a local coffee shop before heading in to the office. They keep my tab on an index card in a little box and I pay up monthly. It's a special place I keep sacred for the writing world, and going there triggers my brain to shut down all thoughts of work.

I also set short, daily writing goals to keep the story going in my head even if I'm not actually at a computer writing it down.

Finally, I don't compare my writing routines to a perception of how it "should be." Very few writers I know actually have a writer's cottage in the woods with the perfectly behaved pet curled up on the rug at their feet while they type away at breakneck speeds on novel number nineteen.

And if you want to see just how far away I am from this perception, see photos below.

Roxanne, who's featured in Skinny.
The reason Roxanne is called "the goat dog."
Cynsational Notes

Donna Cooner is an author, blogger, speaker, and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University. Donna is the author of more than twenty picture books and was a founding member of the Brazos Valley Society of Children's Bookwriters and Illustrators. She also wrote children's television shows for PBS and textbooks for future teachers. Skinny (Scholastic, 2012) is her debut novel for young adults.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Career Builder: Bonnie Christensen

With Chester, art from A Single Pebble (Roaring Brook, 2013).
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Bonnie Christensen is the author and illustrator of the Schneider Family Book Award winner Django, World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist (Roaring Brook, 2009) and Woody Guthrie: Poet of the People (Knopf, 2001), a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book and a New York Times Notable Book.

Her illustrations also appear in the London Folio Society’s edition of The Grapes of Wrath and nineteen children’s books.

Her other works include I, Galileo (Knopf, 2012); Plant a Little Seed (Roaring Brook, 2012); Fabulous! A Portrait of Andy Warhol (Henry Holt, 2011); The Daring Nellie Bly (Knopf, 2003);
and Rebus Riot! (Dial/Penguin, 1997).

Bonnie teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She has a grown daughter, a dog named Chester, a cat named Miss Kitty and a visiting possum named “Festus”. She is planning to put a sign over her front door that says “Dodge City.”

If you could go back in time, what would you say to your beginning writer self?

My advice to my younger author self would be: “Think about what you love, both now and when you were a child—people, activities, points in history, music, art, ideas.”

I’ve spent endless hours attempting to wrangle a large shipping container full of awful fictional stories into publishable form.

Didn’t happen. But the ideas based on a story or idea I loved, almost always, saw the light of publishing day.

The majority of my books are nonfiction, and very often sprang from history, ideas, or activities I loved as a child.

How do you define success?

Difficult question. Let’s start with what success is not, for me anyway. Success is not the “rich and famous” of People Magazine or a book signing that resembles a mob scene. Success is not Andy Warhol’s famous 15 minutes of fame.

Great reviews are reaffirming in some ways and good book sales mean books are in the hands of children and young adults, but do good reviews and sales equal success?

What if one book is successful and the next is not?

If the reviews are great, but the book doesn’t sell, is the author in success “limbo”?

I try to keep the notion of success firmly attached to process. Was I successful in constructing that sentence, in conveying a particular thought? Was the solution to a certain character’s problem successful? At the end of the day, I measure success in satisfactory lines written or drawn, and wonder what successes or failures the next day’s work will hold in store.

Chester again.
 Was there ever a time you decided giving up? What happened? How did you keep the faith?

Yes, I considered giving up after my second book was published. I’d spent days and weeks and months on self-promotion, for both writing and illustration, and the payoff was a magazine illustration job here and there.

Then the opportunity to work as a painter on a Hollywood film arose and I jumped at it. Working on the film, shoulder to shoulder with creative, funny people reminded me of my days in NY theatre. Working with people every day! Wow. I missed that, so I began making plans for the next film.

Naturally just as I’d “given up” on publishing I received an enticing book offer. That’s just like life, isn’t it? So I came running back. Over the years I’ve found that every time I consider giving up, something happens to lure me back. Maybe I’ll give up giving up one day. Or not.

Miss Kitty
What are your goals for the future?

My short-term goal is to finish writing and illustrating a picture book biography about Elvis Presley. As I work on that book, I’m trying to find a few hours each day to work on my second middle grade novel.

My long-term goal is to primarily focus on middle grade and YA novels with a picture book here and there. Having worked in the “short form” for so many years, I’m longing to stretch out and have the space to do so, while continuing to mine fascinating historical periods and characters, both real and imagined.

Cynsational Notes

The Career Builders series offers insights from children's-YA authors who written and published books for about 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.

By Bonnie on her first day of first grade in West Virginia.
Bonnie adds her daughter's name, Emily, to all her jacket covers. Do you see it?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Dino a Day: A Chronal Engine Celebration

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Let's talk fun!

My very cute husband, children's author Greg Leitich Smith, is celebrating his 2012 tween novel, Chronal Engine (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by modeling an array of awesome dinosaur T-shirts at various Austin landmarks.

Got it? Every day a different rockin' dinosaur T-shirt at a different super-fantastic Austin locale.

The photos and Greg's insights (with helpful links in case you want to learn more about, say, BookPeople or purchase one of the shirts) are being posted daily at GregLSBlog.

So far, he's been to:

If you like children's books, dinosaurs, Greg, and/or Austin, you'll enjoy the series!

Please brighten his week (and mine, too) by clicking through, leaving a comment, and/or passing on the link(s). Please also feel free to compliment the photographer (cough) -- ha!

Cynsational Notes

In the photo up top, Greg models Chronal Engine while sporting a Katana sword-wielding samurai dinosaurs T-shirt from at The Driskill Hotel in Austin.

Teachers, librarians & homeschoolers! Don't miss the Chronal Engine Activity Kit.

About Chronal Engine
When Max, Emma, and Kyle are sent to live with their reclusive grandfather for the summer, they’re dismayed to learn he thinks there’s a time machine in the basement.

But when Grandpa Pierson predicts the exact time of his own heart attack, and when Emma is kidnapped by what can only be a time traveler, they realize he was telling the truth about the Chronal Engine. And if they want their sister back, they’ll have to save her themselves.

So Max and Kyle, together with their new friend Petra, pack up their grandpa’s VW and follow Emma and the kidnapper back in time, to Late Cretaceous Texas, where the sauropods and tyrannosaurs roam. Can the trio find Emma and survive the hazards of the Age of Dinosaurs, or are they, too, destined to become part of the fossil record?

Chronal Engine is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Chronal Engine Reviews

Interior art by Blake Henry
“Who has time to be indulging in a lot of teen angst when you’re running from a T. rex?…The short length, breathless pace, and graphic-novel-esque, full-page illustrations might make this one appealing to reluctant readers” – School Library Journal

“[T]his is exactly the book young dino fans would write themselves, crammed with sandbox-style action and positively packed with words like Nanotyrannus and Parasaurolophus. Great back matter clarifies fact from speculation, while Henry’s manga-inspired illustrations provide a good sense of the monsters’ scary scale.” – Booklist

“Dinosaurs, time travel, mystery and adventure—this novel for teens has it all…The characters are believable and likable, and the story carries itself quickly along. Black and white illustrations effectively give the reader a nice visual of the happenings as well.”  – Children’s Literature

See also It Started with a Picture Book (ALSC Blog) and Dinosaurs, Heritage, Time Travel & Chronal Engine (Cynsations).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Event Report: Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Annual Gala

Our host for the evening, Garvia Bailey of CBC radio
By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There was much excitement in the Canadian children’s book community Wednesday night as attendees of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s annual gala gathered at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto to hear the announcement of six prestigious children’s book awards, including Canada’s most lucrative, The TD Children’s Literature Award, and the first-ever Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

In one of the evening’s two big surprises, Anna Porter, board member of the Canada Council for the Arts, took the podium to award one of Queen Elizabeth’s prestigious Diamond Jubilee Medals to children’s author Marilyn Baillie “for her commitment to children’s literacy, for her award winning picture books, for her sponsorship of the children’s book award in her name, and for her passionate support of the children’s book community.”

TD Canadian Children's Book Award winner, Trilby Kent with TD Canada Trust President & CEO, Tim Hockey
In another surprise, Tim Hockey, President & CEO of TD Canada Trust revealed during the ceremony that the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award will be increasing its cash award from $25,000 to $30,000, making it the largest cash prize for a children’s literature award in Canada.

The winners were:

TD Canadian Children's Literature Award ($30,000) 

Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent (Tundra Books)

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award ($20,000) 

Without You by Geneviève Côté (Kids Can Press)

Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children's Nonfiction

Loon by Susan Vande Griek, illustrated by Karen Reczuch (Groundwood Books)

Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People ($5,000)

The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley (Annick Press)

John Spray Mystery Award ($5,000) 

Charlie’s Key by Rob Mills (Orca Book Publishers)

 Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy ($5,000) 

What Happened to Serenity? by P.J. Sarah Collins (Red Deer Press)

Also honoured was the book chosen for the TD Grade One Book Giveaway, I’ve Lost My Cat by Philippe Béha. By the end of this month, this book will have been given free to over half a million Canadian children.

Cynsational Notes

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

McElderry, 2013
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Holly Black's Pep Talk from Fairy Tales and Monsters. Peek: "I know it seems like writing that pours out of your brain in a passionate flood should be better than writing that comes slowly and miserably, but the only person who will ever know the difference is you. So no excuses—get the word count done."

Creating Book Covers As Both Mirror and Window by Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster, from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...a complex art/commerce balancing act."

We All Need Encouragement by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I thought you might enjoy snippets of the pep talks that are emailed to writers to help them keep going."

Using Setting to Add Humor from Anna Staniszewski. Peek: "I’d sort of sketched in the setting, but I hadn’t really developed it or thought about the history behind it. Finally, it occurred to me that I could use the setting to add humor to the story. Here are some tips I came up with..."

Facebook: Best Practices for Author Profiles, Pages, Groups & Posts by Darcy Pattison from Wow! Peek: "Here are some tips from authors who are in the thick of things and using Facebook to find and interact with readers."

Just End It by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "You learn how to write by writing and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t and doing more of the former and less of the later."

Voices of Christmas from Nikki Grimes. Peek: "It’s always a bit weird trying to figure out what kind of language to use when writing about people who lived thousands of years ago, and who spoke a very different language than your own. But then again, that’s part of the challenge, and part of the fun."

Tips on Planning a Writing Retreat by Varian Johnson from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Make a schedule."

Writing: Hobby vs. Business by Nick James from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "You’re not just writing for yourself anymore. You’re writing for an audience, as well as a publisher, with all the expectations and deadlines (I repeat, deadlines) that go along with that."

Everyone's a Critic by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "The key is figuring out which critics to listen to and which to ignore. I've separated the types of critics into three separate categories as they pertain in relation to the author (you)."

Why Picture Books are Important from Picture Book Month. A series of posts by such children's literature luminaries as (click for individual posts)...
 Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of ARCs of Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013) were Tabatha in Texas, Alicia in Alabama and one more person (check your email!).

The winners of Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker (Roaring Brook, 2012) were Kathi in Ohio, Lorna in Washington, and Deena in Rochester.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin Scene

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon, honored for outstanding literary achievement by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation!

Liz Garton Scanlon with Lyman Grant, Dean of Arts & Humanities at ACC; photo by Sarah Bork Hamilton
Last week's highlight was the Writers' League of Texas panel on book launches at BookPeople.

Jennifer Ziegler, Greg Leitich Smith, Meghan Goel, Cory Putnam Oakes & Bethany Hegedus
More Personally

Cynsational readers will notice that this week's roundup is early and shorter than usual due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Safe travels and much happiness to those who celebrate it as well as those who simply don't mind a day off and enjoy eating turkey. The blog will resume posting on Monday.

Holiday shopping? You can find/order signed copies of my books at BookPeople in Austin.
Who loves my new Amazonian bracelets? Should I paint stars on them?

Personal Links
From Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will sign from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 1 at The BookSpot in Round Rock. Also featuring Greg Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon & Shana Burg.

2013 Advanced Writing Workshops -- Simon & Schuster Editor Alexandra Penfolds, Deconstructing Children's Literature Characters Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 at The Writing Barn in Austin. Application deadline: Dec. 1.

Austin SCBWI Regional Conference Early-Bird Registration Deadline: Dec. 19. After that, the price goes up $25.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Study with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa.

Extended Three-Session Intensive Workshop: Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson will be running a three-part revision intensive in Westport, Connecticut, over three Saturdays in January, February, and March. Peek: "Bring your picture book, nonfiction, or novel manuscript and get multiple rounds of feedback as well as revision techniques."

Sneak Peek at New Year's Workshops from the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "'Whole Novel Workshop: Young Adult' with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin. Founded in 2006, the Whole Novel Workshop is specifically designed for writers of young-adult novels. This unique program offers the one-on-one attention found in degree programs, but without additional academic requirements, lengthy time commitments, or prohibitive financial investments. Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guest Post: Sheila O'Connor on Writing for Resiliency: Young Readers as Survivors

Sheila's family
By Sheila O'Connor
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 1965, I was living in a two-bedroom basement apartment with my young, newly divorced mother, and two small sisters.

I was seven-years-old; my father had taken work out of the country. I was new to school, and school was new to me.

Every morning I put on the same plaid jumper, the same white blouse, and walked with my older sister to St. John the Baptist Elementary, a quiet school on a quiet small-town street, a place where I first met the Boxcar Children (Albert Whitman) and fell in love with books.

That apartment and the Boxcar Children, and the seven-year-old that read that book were a long, long time ago. I didn’t think about those Boxcar Children much, didn’t even know their names, but then last week I bought a copy, opened up the pages, and met those kids again. And the Aldens—Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny—were every bit as amazing as I remembered.

They gathered dishes from the dump, made beds and brooms from pine needles, earned money for the family, found food, created their own home to replace the one they’d lost. They had integrity and courage, perseverance and imagination—all the qualities I longed for as a child.

Revisiting that story, I realized the deep impression that book had left on my young spirit, how much those resourceful children had informed the life I tried to live then, and later on the books I hoped to write.

For me, kids-on-their-own is more than a literary invention; it’s the life I lived, and the life countless kids still live now. In more ways than we’re able to imagine, kids get themselves to school, find food, feed their families, care for siblings, face challenges and miraculously find ways to solve problems for themselves.

Of course, I wish that it weren’t so; I always wish a parent or a teacher or a grandparent would step in to save the day, and often times they do, but just as often kids have to wait for help. Or ask. I see it in the schools; I see it on the street.

Kid survivors are everywhere. They’re in every neighborhood and school, they’re rich and poor, and too many of them have to keep their secrets to themselves.

When I write, whether I’m writing books for grown-ups or kids, a part of me is always in conversation with those children, survivor kids, kids who want to find their stories in a book.

My novels don’t begin there—they begin with people I imagine, in places I imagine, but one way or the other, they bear witness to the truth about resilient children’s lives. And more than that, they wish to offer hope.

Which leads me to the Stars—Pride and Nightingale and Baby Star—the three strong- willed young siblings who came alive for me in my new novel Keeping Safe the Stars (Putnam, 2012).

In the Stars, I came to love those three bright, lively kids--kids with all the qualities they needed to survive. They were kind, compassionate, and brave, they’d been raised with self-reliance, and above all they’d been loved. So when I watched them set up their souvenir shop, or sell pony rides and popcorn, or make SpaghettiOs for supper, or tell lies to fend off strangers, or venture to a far-off city to find their ailing grandpa, I had no doubt they could do all of that and more.

They didn’t have a boxcar like the Aldens, but they had Eden, their own log cabin in the woods where they’d been schooled in the most important lessons: independence, responsibility, integrity and spunk. But what I loved most about the Stars was their great sense of adventure, their childlike belief that they would triumph.

Young, I believed that I would triumph; I think most resilient children do. And I wonder now if I first formed that fierce belief in the pages of the Boxcar Children book?

Was it Gertrude Chandler Warner that gave that gift to me?

And will Keeping Safe the Stars give that strength to someone else? Will another child find their courage in Pride and Nightingale and Baby?

Will resilient children read this story and have faith that they’ll survive?

 I hope so—I hope for that and so much more.

Cynsational Notes

Sheila O'Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the Stars; Sparrow Road winner of the IRA Award for Fiction; Where No Gods Came, winner of the Michigan Literary Prize and Minnesota Book Award; and Tokens of Grace.

Her work has been featured on numerous “best of” lists including: VOYA, Booklist, Bank Street Books and Chicago Public Libraries and recognized with fellowships and honors.

A professor in the MFA program at Hamline University, she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. A long-time member of writers-in-the-schools, Sheila has encouraged thousands of young people to tell their stories. Find her on Facebook.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Shelley Tanaka

Shelley & Fiona
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shelley Tanaka is a writer, editor, teacher and translator. She has a B.A. in English and German from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto.

She is the author and translator of more than two dozen books for young readers. Her books have won the Orbis Pictus Award, the Mr. Christie's Book Award, the Silver Birch Award, the Information Book Award, and the Science in Society Children's Book Award, and she has twice been nominated for the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis.

She is the fiction editor at Groundwood Books and has edited more than a dozen Governor General's Award-winning titles. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the MFA program in writing for children and young adults.

Her recent titles include: Nobody Knows, from the film by Hirokazu Kore-eda (Groundwood, 2012); Climate Change, revised edition (Groundwood, 2012); "Ghost Town," in Hoping for Home: Stories of Arrival (Scholastic Canada, 2011)(A Dear Canada Book); Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres, translated from the French by Shelley Tanaka (Groundwood, 2009); and Amelia Earhart: Legend of the Lost Aviator, illustrated by David Craig (Atheneum, 2008)(winner of the Orbis Pictus Award).

How do you define success?

On my more cynical days I define success as still being able to eke out a living working with books, after more than thirty years in the business. But on good (most) days I just look at my bookshelves, at all the books I've written (two dozen), edited (hundreds) or been associated with, and I feel happy and proud to have such wonderful mementos.

I've worked with Deborah Ellis on thirteen books. Eleven with Tim Wynne-Jones. Six with Sarah Ellis. I've been privileged to work with the very best.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Katherine Paterson & Shelley
Kids often ask me what is the best thing about writing books, and I tell them you get a great souvenir. It's true. To have and hold the beautiful object, the physical book that has been created, designed and produced with love and care -- there's nothing better.

Right now I'm staring at a Groundwood picture book, Guacamole: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Lujan and Margarita Sada. You simply cannot look at this book and not smile and be happy. It's a tonic.

Inside Guacamole, used with permission from Groundwood (see cover image)
 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?

The hopscotch thing. I think that's a freelancer's life, which means it's a writer's life. You abandon the idea of the straight line, winding or up and down or whatever. You see an opportunity, you hop over and go with it.

My M.O. has always been to say "yes" to practically everything. Any time I've done something hard or different, I've never been sorry.

(Doesn't mean that taking on a new challenge doesn't make me a nervous wreck, of course. I am not by nature a brave person.)

At the same time, I've been very lucky in my longstanding association with Groundwood Books. Patsy Aldana took me on more than thirty years ago. She's a formidable role model and mentor and I've learned more from her than I can say -- about literary taste, about social engagement and taking a stand, about not underestimating the young reader, about seeing writing and publishing in the context of what is going on in the rest of the world, about valuing writers and illustrators and their talent above everything else. I've been lucky to have spent my editing career in a place where that is the mindset, because it is becoming increasingly rare.

How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

Teaching has made me a better writer. I see students being brave, putting themselves out there, working so hard. It's inspiring to me. Makes me want to step out of the Safe zone. And being a writer has made me a better editor. I'm nicer. I understand how vulnerable you are as a writer.

Cory McCarthy, Shelley & Amy Rose Capetta; Cory & Amy Rose are Shelley's former students
Have you ever made an affirmative decision to alter your creative focus? What inspired this decision? What were the challenges?

I spent a long time being afraid of trying to write fiction. I was intimidated by the talent of the novelists I work with, and I still am. But eventually I wrote a short story (for a Scholastic Dear Canada anthology), and a novelization of a film (Nobody Knows).

Now I'm working on a longer piece of middle-grade fiction. But it has taken me a long time to build up enough confidence to do this. Baby steps.

What advice do you have for writers?

That so much of the book business is about luck and timing, and that editorial decisions are subjective. Watch for changes in personnel. If you've written a good book, its time will come.

In the meantime, carpe diem, as it were. That book that you're "waiting" to write? Write it now.

I think there are enormous unexplored opportunities in nonfiction. Everything is narrative, everything is story.

Writers might think beyond biography and history to how they can turn science into story. Science, as I think David Suzuki has said, is ruling our lives. We'd better figure out how to understand it.

I'd also encourage writers to consider many different ways to cobble together a living out of writing -- translating, editing, reviewing, teaching, whatever. And don't forget to make sure you actually have a life. Get out from behind your computer and engage with the world.

Live a long time and stay healthy, because you have no pension. Ally yourself with quality. Quality publishers, quality writers.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta's novel, Entangled, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2013. Cori McCarthy's novel, The Color of Rain, will be released by Running Press on May 14, 2013.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three packages of new and award-winning titles from Groundwood Books:

Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America only, void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway