Friday, January 06, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

FSG, 2012
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations  

My Query Letter by Elizabeth Fama. Peek: "In July of 2010, I somehow managed to snag one of the kindest, most down-to-earth, and fiercely professional agents out there, Sara Crowe. In case my query letter had anything to do with this happy event, I publish it here for aspiring writers."

40 Questions to Test Your Manuscript by Martina from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "Whether you're starting to plot from scratch or starting up a revision, it's a great time to check the soundness of the idea and the different story elements."

Does Word Count Matter Anymore? by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem: From the Manic Minds of Middle Grade Authors. Note: don't miss the continued conversation in the comments.

World Read Aloud Day: Skyping Author Volunteers for March 7, 2012 by Kate Messner from Kate's Book Blog. Peek: "...a number of authors have again volunteered their time to read aloud to classrooms and libraries all over the world."

The 50/50 Challenge: Support Local Booksellers by elementary school librarian Travis Jonker from 100 Scope Notes. Peek: "I’m committing to using at least half of my yearly budget to purchase books at my local independent bookstores (namely Pooh’s Corner and Schuler Books). The question is – are you with me?"

Hazel Mitchell Children's Illustrator/Author: official website. Hazel's illustrated books include Hidden New Jersey (Mackinac Island Press/Charlesbridge, 2012), How to Talk to an Autistic Kid (Free Spirit, 2011), and the All Star Cheerleader series by Anastasia Suen (Kane Miller 2011-2013).

Dori Hillestad Butler–2011 Edgar Winner for Best Juvenile Mystery from Printsasia. Peek: "In 2011, her book The Buddy Files: The Case of a Lost Boy (Albert Whitman, 2010) has won Edgar Award for the best Juvenile Mystery. In her interview with us regarding her award winning book, Dori talks about her concept of the plot, relationship equations, character portrayals, and her forthcoming releases along with her message for readers." See also The Buddy Files Coloring Sheets and Teacher Guide.

Cybils: The 2011 Cybils Finalists.  Note: special congratulations to VCFA alum Marianna Baer on Frost House (Balzar+Bray/HarperCollins) being named a YA category finalist.

Free eBook: How to Choose Children's Books by Aaron Mead from Children's Books and Reviews. Peek: "A comprehensive list of online resources for finding excellent children’s literature, including book lists, sources of professional book reviews, and children’s literature blogs." Note: Thanks to Aaron for including Cynsations among his recommended resources.

When You're Bad at Something by Natalie Whipple from Between Fact and Fiction. Peek: "I do believe with all my heart that anyone can improve in something if they want to. It doesn't matter what it is—you can go after it and do it well. It might take twice as long. You may never be as good as a prodigy. But you as a human being have the potential to succeed. It is part of all of us." Source: Jennifer R. Hubbard.

How Do You Know If Your Agent is Any Good? by Jane Friedman. Peek: "Do you get the feeling that the agent genuinely believes in you and your work? While agents are certainly interested in a sale, they’re also interested in projects that excite them and clients they are proud to represent."

Weighing in on Weight by Rae Carlson at From the Writer's Desk: The Official Blog of Greenwillow Books. Peek: "Thousands, maybe millions of women have their accomplishments waved away or ignored daily, even as their bodies suffer devastating scrutiny—from both men and women. These experiences were very much on my mind when I sat down to write The Girl of Fire and Thorns." Source: Tiffany Trent at Center Neptune.

A Brief Explanation of Film Options by Kody Keplinger from YA Highway. Peek: "When a film is "optioned" there is no guarantee it'll be made. Basically, an 'option' is just that - a studio or producer or director or whatever buys the option to make the film."

A WOW Wednesday Invitation to Writers from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "...if you have any good news at all -- we would love to invite you to do a WOW Wednesday guest post for us and help uplift and inspire other writers while letting us give you a little well-deserved promotion."

Barnes and Noble Puts Sterling Up for Sale by Erin Carlson from The Hollywood Reporter. Peek: "Barnes & Noble has put Sterling Publishing up for sale, almost 10 years after acquiring the company, the Wall Street Journal reported."

Seven Best Practices for Building an Online Presence by Daisy Whitney from Chuck Sambuchino from Writer's Digest. Peek: "Your reputation online is real! It matters. It lives and breathes and you need to figure out what it is. Treat it delicately and carefully like you would a resume for a job and always put your best foot forward."

Writing Comic Sci Fi for Children by Mark Griffiths from Becky at The Bookette. Peek: "Science fiction comedy (and if a cow jumping over the moon doesn’t count as that, I don’t know what does) seems to me a natural form to use when writing for children, allowing, as it does, tremendous scope for the imagination and for the inversion of the normal way of things." Note: learn more about Mark's new release, Space Lizards Stole My Brain!, illustrated by Pete Williamson (Simon & Schuster U.K., 2012).

Rock the Rock: web design service from Little Willow of Bildungsroman fame here in the kidlitosphere. Children's/YA clients include author Christopher Golden, readergirlz, author Liz Gallagher, and agent Sara Crowe.

Interview with Taraneh Matloob on Outsiders Writing Across Cultures with an Insider's Eye by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "In Iran, we are introduced to the Western culture mainly through translation; Iranian authors rarely write about the West from their point of view. However, it is important to have Iranian multicultural authors who write about the West from the outside position because Western audience needs to know how their culture is viewed from the East. Conversely, this is true for the Westerners who write about the East."

Reading for Pleasure by Stephen Krashen from Language Magazine. Peek: "Of the 66 respondents in Mellon’s study who claimed they never read in their spare time, 49 checked several categories of leisure reading when asked what they liked to read." Source: Julie Lake

Author Tim Wynne-Jones has just been named an Officer of the Order of Canada (Arts/Writing). Peek: "...recognizes a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large."

The Year of Impossible Things by Jenny Martin from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Day by day, page by page, you must be the one to dare the impossible, emerging as the hero of your own story. Let this be the year. Your year."

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win a "boxed set" of novels by Beth Fantaskey, including Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, Jessica Rules the Dark Side, and Jekel Loves Hyde (all Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Deadline: noon EST Jan. 10. Eligibility: international.

Canterwood Crest Initiation Giveaway from Jessica Burkhart. Grand prize includes a 20-minute Skype session or phone call with the author. Deadline: 11:59 EST Jan. 20. Eligibility: U.S. only.

Join Kelly Starling Lyons on her blog tour, celebrating the release of Ellen's Broom, illustrated by Daniel Minter (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012), and comment on Kelly's blog, her facebook author page, or any of her blog stops for a chance to win a wedding/anniversary broom courtesy of Stuart’s Creations and a signed poster of the Ellen’s Broom cover. Deadline: the a.m. of Jan. 16. Eligibility: U.S. only. See also Celebrating Us: Children's Books About Weddings by Kelly Starling Lyons from The Brown Bookshelf.

The Way We Fall Trailer Giveaway from Megan Crewe. "Five winners chosen by random draw will receive a signed hardcover of The Way We Fall (Hyperion, 2012), a The Way We Fall journal and pen (so you can record your own life-changing events), a bottle of hand sanitizer (to keep those pesky germs away), a magnet, and a bookmark." Deadline: 11:59 EST Jan. 11. Eligibility: international.

Audio Giveaway of Cinder by Marissa Meyer from Karin's Book Nook. Deadline: Jan. 13. Note: listen to audio excerpt and download the first five chapters for free. See also Interview with Marissa Meyer by Ellen Oh from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "Although I love fairy tales, I don’t think novels can get away with the same stereotyping and oversimplification that the original tales have. In 'Cinderella,' it’s enough for the stepmother to be given the role of 'wicked,' and we all take it at face value, but it’s not so easy in a book. How is she wicked? What made her that way?"

The Cynsational winner of Dreaming Anastasia and Haunted by Joy Preble (both Sourcebooks) is Delilah in Atlanta. Note: Look for a new ten-book giveaway to go live on Monday!

This Week's Cynsations Posts:
Walter Dean Myers
Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey (Dial, 2012). In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews cheers, "A fairy tale for those who have given up on believing in them, but still yearn for happily ever after." See also the Dragonswood Blog Tour.

Check out the book trailer for Dumpling Days by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2012). Note from Grace: "The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story."

Check out the book trailer for Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room, by Carol Gordon Ekster, illustrated by Kimberly Soderberg (Character Publishing, 2011).  Character Publishing is a new company, designed around the concept that parents of picture book and middle grade readers may select specific titles to nurture/role model particular traits such as courage, creativity, or logical/problem solving. See submissions guidelines. Note: Carol's husband created the trailer.

Bison v. Woman Skating Competition, promoting Prairie Storms by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Kathleen Rietz (Sylvan Dell, 2011). Darcy says, "This new video is an example of a YouTube Aesthetic Book Trailer, an informal, humorous video that only addresses the content of the book tangentially, but nevertheless creates interest." See also Book Trailer: Archived Video and Purchased Music from Darcy at Fiction Notes. Note: Darcy will be speaking on the topic of book trailers as part of the pre-con Marketing Intensive at the 13th Annual Winter SCBWI Conference in New York City on Jan. 27.

More Personally

Happy New Year! This week was another one of juggling the Smolder deadline and the Diabolical launch. My goal is to bring the manuscript to a place where Greg can critique it early next week.

What else? Here at Cynsations, I've noticed a significant uptick in traffic. Welcome, new readers, and thanks to long-term visitors for your ongoing enthusiasm and support! 

Thanks to Mary E. Cronin for this self shot, taken at Eason's book shop in Galway, Ireland; of the first three books in the Tantalize series! Note: the books were originally released as single titles, but are now being repackaged and marketed as a series.

Thanks to Kathi Appelt for this shot of my first book, Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000), taken at Autry museum gift store in L.A.!

You can also find me at my facebook author page, twitter (@CynLeitichSmith), LiveJournal, YouTube, and JacketFlap.

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:
Cynsational Events

Jan. 24 U.S. release date, see trailer.
Brian Yansky will be presenting "Getting Organized" at 10 a.m. Jan. 14 on the second floor at BookPeople. "Brian will be sharing his secrets of success regarding how to keep all of the loose ends of crafting a manuscript in control while attempting to balance a busy everyday life." Sponsored by Austin SCBWI.

Vicious Valentine: a YA fantasy celebration, featuring authors Jordan Dane, P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and L.A. Weatherly---moderated by Sean Petrie--will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at BookPeople in Austin. Whether you love love, hate it or fear it, be there for spooky cool refreshments and scary bookish fun!

See Cynthia's upcoming events in Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Mark your calendars for Alex Flinn's Upcoming Tour.  She'll be appearing at Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville on Feb. 14, at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston Feb. 15, and at Barnes & Noble in Round Rock (Texas) Feb. 16.

Check out John Green's National Tour. He'll be in Houston, in conjunction with Blue Willow Bookshop, Jan. 20 and in Austin, in conjunction with BookPeople, Jan. 21. See link for details on these off-site events and others across the U.S. and B.C.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

New Voice: Mônica Carnesi on Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Mônica Carnesi is the first-time author-illustrator of Little Dog Lost: The True Story of a Brave Dog Named Baltic (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy:

On a cold winter day, a curious dog wandered onto a frozen river, and before he knew it he was traveling fast on a sheet of ice. Many people tried to help, but the dog could not be reached. 

Finally, after two nights and seventy-five miles, the little dog was saved by a ship out in the Baltic Sea.

The gallant rescue of the little dog nicknamed Baltic made international news. Mônica Carnesi's simple text and charming watercolor illustrations convey all the drama of Baltic's journey. His story, with its happy ending, will warm readers' hearts. An author's note and map are included.

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

In October 2009, I attended the Rutgers One on One Plus Conference for the first time. I attended as an illustrator -- my application consisted of samples of my artwork, and I was thrilled when I learned it had been accepted.

At every conference and workshop I’ve attended, my main objective has always been to learn as much as I can about the art, craft, and business of children's book publishing, but at the One on One Plus, I had an additional goal: I was hoping to connect with an agent.

Visit Monica's blog.
One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2009 was to promote my artwork and find professional opportunities to showcase my illustrations. With its customized format, in which attendees are paired with mentors (editors, agents, art directors, authors, illustrators), the One on One seemed like the ideal setting to get individualized feedback and advice.

Happily, I did meet my agent that day during one of the activities, the “Five on Five” session. There were five illustrators and five mentors at our table, and at one point they asked us to show our portfolios.

As a result, Teresa Kietlinski, an agent at Prospect Agency who was at the table, saw my portfolio and a month later contacted me to offer representation. That was a major step for me, but my "ah-ha!" moment happened right there at the conference when Teresa and I began talking.

As an illustrator and a visual thinker, I attempt to infuse my illustrations with a sense of narrative, but I’d struggled with the thought of myself as an author. While talking to Teresa about children’s books in general, about my background and my illustrations, she asked if I’d ever considered writing.

My first reaction would have been to say no, but that day I experienced what I can only describe as a feeling of possibility. It's not that I had never thought about or tried my hand at writing before, but something about that conversation made it seem possible.

Throughout the day we'd heard speakers talk about the importance of challenging oneself, of experimenting and pushing limits. I spent the day interacting with other aspiring authors and illustrators and was feeling inspired as a result. That day marked a creative shift for me, one that has been challenging but also immensely rewarding.

My first picture book came about when I heard a news story on NPR in late January of 2010, an amazing and moving story: a little dog stranded on an ice floe in the Baltic Sea had been rescued by a scientific research ship and was now a member of the crew. The dog, nicknamed Baltic by his rescuers, had initially been spotted two days earlier floating on a piece of ice on the Vistula River.

When Illustration Friday, a weekly illustration challenge website, coincidentally proposed the theme "Adrift," I knew what I wanted to paint: a little dog on an ice floe. Teresa, who by this point was representing me, saw the illustration on my blog and encouraged me to write Baltic's story.

And I did -- what might have remained only a visual interpretation of a single moment became a full-fledged story, with images and words combined in one of my favorite literary art forms: the picture book, my very own picture book.

And it all began when I attended that conference, met my agent, and had an "ah-ha!" moment.

As an author-illustrator, you come to children's books with a double barrel of talent. Could you describe your apprenticeship in each area, and how well (or not) your inner writer and artist play together? Likewise, as an librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing? 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?

How Monica checks for consistency and flow.
I am an author-illustrator, with a full-time job as a librarian at The Free Library of Philadelphia.

When I think of ideas for a picture book, I think in terms of images. That's how it starts, but once an idea begins to take form, I move into the realm of words.

As an illustrator it can be easy to fall in love with a drawing or a painting -- too easy, in fact. If an image does not advance the story, it will probably need to be altered or given up altogether, something that can be very difficult to do if you focus too much on the art.

At some point during the beginning stages of story development, I need to bring writing to the foreground. It's a matter of balance. Making sure my inner writer and artist “play nice” together can be challenging, but it makes the moments when they are in synch so much more gratifying.

I’m originally from Brazil and did my undergraduate studies in Rio de Janeiro, where I grew up. I studied visual arts for a year before changing majors to pursue a degree in English-Portuguese translation. I loved art school but didn’t think I had enough talent to get a job after graduation. I also loved words and language, so switching majors to translation seemed to make sense.

After getting married and moving to the United States, I went back to school and got a master’s degree in library science. But art always remained a part of my life, and whenever I could, I would take continuing education classes in drawing or painting. Then, in the spring of 2006, I took a class called “Children’s Book Illustration” and realized what I wanted to do.

Working full time does complicate things a bit – after all, there are only so many hours in the day – but being a librarian has really helped me to grow in my second career. The old advice that to become a writer or illustrator one must read, read, read is absolutely true.

Visit the Free Library.
Working in a library has helped me immerse myself in children’s literature and be aware of what's being published every year. I’m constantly borrowing books, reading reviews, checking publishers’ catalogs.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is, in a way, a natural extension of my day job. Finding the time to do both does require discipline and planning, and it can be very intense, especially when deadlines are looming.

For my first book, I used vacation time to work on the illustrations and stay on schedule. It’s not ideal and it’s not easy, and I’m still figuring it out. So, it’s a work in progress, but it’s been a great ride!

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Ellen's Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons & Daniel Minter

Congratulations to Kelly Starling Lyons on the release of Ellen's Broom, illustrated by Daniel Minter (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2012)!

Join Kelly on her blog tour, and comment on Kelly's blog, her facebook author page, or any of her blog stops for a chance to win a lovely wedding/anniversary broom courtesy of Stuart’s Creations and a signed poster of the Ellen’s Broom cover. Deadline: the morning of Jan. 16. Eligibility: U.S.

Kelly will launch the book in-person at Quail Ridge Books & Music at 3 p.m. Jan. 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina. "Along with the program, craft and signing, a couple of young crooners from the MLK All-Children’s Choir will sing. To top it all off, we’ll have a beautiful wedding cake designed by local baker extraordinaire, Yummy to Your Tummy Desserts by Andrea."

From Quail Ridge: "Can’t make it? To request a signed or personalized copy, call 828-1588 (locally) or 1-800-672-6789 or contact (at least 48 hours in advance for email) to check availability."

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Celebrating Poetry: Kate Hosford on A Place of Wonder

By Kate Hosford
for Cynsations

A couple years ago, my son came home from school and informed me that one of his teachers was “rusted from the inside”.

While another parent might have probed further into this state of affairs, I immediately lunged for my writing book and scribbled down the phrase.

“Rusted from the inside?”

That was too good to pass up.

As poets, we strive to see the world with childlike wonder. In his book, The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska, 2005), 2004 poet laureate Ted Kooser says that poetry can result in a “re-freshening of the world.” He goes on to say, “it is the device through which the ordinary world is seen in a new way, engaging, compelling, even beautiful.”

This is true for all good poetry, whether it is meant for an adult audience or for younger readers.

So what happens to the potential poets on the road to adulthood? Why is it that so many of us struggle to perceive the world in a fresh way? Is it simply a function of getting older and more desensitized? Or is it more complicated than that?

In her book, Poemcrazy (Three Rivers Press, 1996), poet Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge says, “children naturally express things in a fresh way, until we teach them the right way.” She remembers waiting at the bus stop as a child and noticing a beautiful snowflake that fell on her mitten. When she showed it to another girl, that child began to mimic her, “Look at the pretty little snowflake!”

“I learned that day,” she says, “that there didn’t seem to be a place for a person describing a snowflake on a mitten. After that I was quiet about what I saw so I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. I learned to be quiet about beauty.”

As we get older, most of us learn to become quiet about beauty, or ugliness, or anything else that might reveal that we are observing our world carefully. By the time we are willing to go public with our observations, they may not be as fresh or original as once were.

It is the job of the poet to unlearn this quietness and return to a place of wonder.

In the upcoming months, I will be interviewing poets who are able to speak from this place. I will focus on poetry for young readers released in 2011-2012, and will also interview librarians and anthologists who are responsible for making sure that the poet’s words are heard.

I hope you will join me for conversations about craft, connecting with one’s audience, and the role of poetry in children’s publishing.

Cynsational Notes

Celebrating Poetry will be a series of posts by author Kate Hosford throughout 2012 at Cynsations.

From Carolrhoda Books: "Kate Hosford read constantly as a child, even reading through a school fire alarm at one point. She grew up in Waitsfield, Vermont, with lots of animals, including a miniature cow named Mini Moo. Kate attended Amherst College, and also spent a semester studying Buddhism in India.

"Kate has worked as an adoption and foster care worker, a teacher and an illustrator, before turning to writing full time. She has taught in New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong." 

She lives in Brooklyn and is a graduate of the M.F.A. program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Walter Dean Myers Named New National Ambassador for Young People's Literature

Walter Dean Myers is the New National Ambassador for Young People's Literature from the Library of Congress. Peek: "...created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."

Cynsational Notes

SLJ Exclusive Interview: Walter Dean Myers, the New National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by Debra Lau Whelan from School Library Journal. Peek: "I would like to continue my work in juvenile detention centers. If I could, with the help of Jon and Katherine and the legion of other writers out there, convince America that I was very much like the kids in the juvy prisons, and that I was truly saved by reading and by books, I feel I could change the country."

Children's Book Envoy Defines His Mission by Julie Bosman from The New York Times. Peek: "As an African-American man who dropped out of high school but built a successful writing career — largely because of his lifelong devotion to books — Mr. Myers said his message would be etched by his own experiences."

In the video below, Walter Dean Myers reads a selection from We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart, illustrated by Christopher Myers (HarperCollins, 2011).

Father-son team Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers discuss their latest book, We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Video: Holly Cupala on Don't Breathe a Word

Congratulations to Holly Cupala on the release of Don't Breathe a Word (HarperTeen, 2012)! From the promotional copy:

Joy Delamere is suffocating...

From asthma, which has nearly claimed her life. From her parents, who will do anything to keep that from happening. From delectably dangerous Asher, who is smothering her from the inside out.

Joy can take his words—tender words, cruel words—until the night they go too far.

Now, Joy will leave everything behind to find the one who has offered his help, a homeless boy called Creed. She will become someone else. She will learn to survive. She will breathe…if only she can get to Creed before it’s too late.

Set against the gritty backdrop of Seattle’s streets and a cast of characters with secrets of their own, Holly Cupala’s powerful new novel explores the subtleties of abuse, the meaning of love, and how far a girl will go to discover her own strength.

Check out Holly's virtual party--with giveaways, blog tour, graphic adaptation, and more!

New Voice: K.M. Walton on Cracked

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

K. M. Walton is the first-time author of Cracked (Simon Pulse, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Victor hates his life. He's relentlessly bullied at school and his parents ridicule him for not being perfect. He's tired of being weak, so he takes a bottle of his mother's sleeping pills -- only to wake up in the hospital.

Bull is angry, and takes all of his rage out on Victor. He's the opposite of weak. And he's tired of his grandfather's drunken beatings, so he tries to defend himself with a loaded gun.

When Victor and Bull end up as roommates in the same psych ward, things go from bad to worse. Until they discover they just might have something in common: a reason to live.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

Not until I read The Absolutely True Story of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, Brown, 2007) did I realize that young adult fiction could be so real. Or so raw. I was blown away by that book and how authentically the main character was written.

Then I read Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Delacorte Books (2009) and Looking for Alaska by John Green (Dutton Books, 2005) in succession and experienced not only severe writer envy, but also an overwhelming desire to try my hand at contemporary YA. Up to that point I’d only written middle grade suspense manuscripts.

The perfect storm occurred in my hotel room while attending my second SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC:

  1. I had those three amazing books rattling around inside my head throughout the conference.
  2. I heard one of the speakers talk about books written from alternating perspectives.
  3. Libba Bray gave her keynote, in which she repeatedly told the room full of writers to ask themselves “Is it true yet?

KM Walton in 1985
Lighting struck.

A bully and his victim rushed into my head, and I rushed back to my hotel room and got a T-chart going. I brainstormed a list of character details and plot points. Cracked was born.

I wrote Cracked with abandon—the two main characters demanded it. Victor and Bull became living breathing human beings with important stories to tell--painful and sometimes raw stories--but important nonetheless.

I never put a swear word or an edgy scene in for sensationalistic purposes. If it’s in there, it’s because it needs to be.

I wanted it to be true.

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?

Once I have my “big picture” plot points reasoned out in my head, I move onto character development. My characters start out as bullet-pointed lists. Personality traits, quirks, physical descriptions all get brainstormed into a sloppy, handwritten inventory. However, I don’t intimately know my characters until revisions. The questioning, revisiting and fine tuning of revisions are when their human nuances surface. That’s when they come alive for me as their creator.

During revisions I’ll find myself asking, “Would he really say that?”

Libba Bray’s directive to ask yourself “Is it true yet?” always sits on my shoulder as I revise.

I support my answer to Libba’s question by asking myself a few pointed questions:

  1. Based on who this character is and what they’re going through in the novel, would he/she truly have the voice I created?
  2. Am “I” coming through at all in the character’s voice?

I am a huge fan of writers that disappear from their writing and let the characters take front and center. Nothing throws me out of story more than when characters break character.

I believe the best way to create an authentic character’s voice is to have confidence in your characters—let them be themselves. Let them act, think, do and feel exactly how they would if they were standing right in front of you.

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?

Do you have an hour or so? Kidding.

I queried for nearly two-and-a-half years, racked up 148 rejections on three different novels and officially gave up one day. Then a funny thing happened the next day – Ms. Sarah LaPolla from Curtis Brown Ltd. requested the full of Cracked. And the rest, as they say, is history.

KM Walton

But let me back up just a little bit here, to the “querying for 2.4 years part”. I’d like to share what that looked like for me. I lived on and, scouring for information, anything that could help me break through. I put my query letters on a few key places for proper public floggings, and despite the black eyes I sustained, my query letters got better and better and better.

But the most important thing I did while querying was to continue writing. During my query period I wrote four more novels. Cracked was the third, and I knew it was the one that would land me my agent. With each new novel, my craft improved. So keep writing, a lot.

Lastly, to writers doing everything in their power to land their agent: Do Note Give Up!

The power is in your hands to research and query and write and revise and query some more.

It’s always about the work and the writing. Get out there, get your work out there, get feedback, become a better writer, learn about the craft of writing, try new techniques in your own stories, read everything you can in the genre in which you write, build your own buzz, join groups, visit every site you can and make comments. You can do it.

Believe it will happen. Envision it happening. Make it happen.

Cynsational Notes

Read an excerpt of chapter one from Simon & Schuster.

Apocalypsies Button
Your Mindset and Critique by K.M. Walton from The Apocalypsies.

Live Action Book Trailer Contest for Film-making Enthusiasts from K.M. Walton (click flyer on the bulletin board). Prizes include $500 cash and personal film critiques by top industry professionals. Deadline: Jan. 17.

Follow K.M. on her online book tour. See also K.M.'s site for teacher guides (click teacher drawer), excerpts (click pile of books), and writer resources (click trashcan under desk).

Check out Cracked at Goodreads and Cracked at Facebook.

Of the video below, K.M. says: "This bit of fun is dedicated to unpublished writers everywhere refusing to abandon their dream."

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Voice: Sarah Tregay on Love and Leftovers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

Sarah Tregay is the first-time author of Love and Leftovers (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2012). From the promotional copy:

My wish
is to fall
cranium over Converse
in dizzy, daydream-worthy

When her parents split, Marcie is dragged from Idaho to a family summerhouse in New Hampshire. She leaves behind her friends, a group of freaks and geeks called the Leftovers, including her emo-rocker boyfriend, and her father. 

By the time Labor Day rolls around, Marcie suspects this "vacation" has become permanent. She starts at a new school where a cute boy brings her breakfast and a new romance heats up.

But understanding love, especially when you've watched your parents' affections end, is elusive. What does it feel like, really? Can you even know it until you've lost it?

Love and Leftovers is a beautifully written story of one girl’s journey navigating family, friends, and love, and a compelling and sexy read that teens will gobble up whole.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

When I started Love and Leftovers, I set out with the goal of writing about a main character who makes a big mistake. I had just finished reading several books where the main character’s friends had wronged them, and I wanted to reverse that.

Because of this premise, I was concerned with what readers would think and if they’d find such a character likable. So I spent a lot of time thinking about Marcie’s not-so-great behavior and when it would occur—if she jumped in too soon she’d appear insincere, and if it took two hundred poems to happen, well, that’d be a dull read.

But it wasn’t just timing, I felt like I had to set Marcie up in such a way that what she does seems like the next logical step—even if it’s a step in the wrong direction. I took her away from her friends, made her question her relationships, and then gave her a temptation she couldn’t walk away from.

Then, when the moment comes, I used the verse format to my advantage. It’s sparse, sexy and funny, without too many “edgy” details.

I think that my decisions were the right ones for my book. With the right timing and the right set-up, I felt that my main character could slip up and fall hard, as long as there was a little humor in there too. As for how many details to include, I put in what felt right for my story.

If I were to put Love and Leftovers on a novels-in-verse scale of sweet vs. edgy, I’d put it on the Sonya Sones and Lisa Schroeder sweet side, and not on the Ellen Hopkins edgy side—and I love reading Ellen’s books—but what feels right in her novels wouldn’t be right for mine.

As a poet, how did you achieve this level in your craft? What advice do you have for beginner poets interested in writing for young readers?

My approach to poetry is intuitive, rather than something I studied in college. (My MFA is in design, not writing.) That said, I’m happy to share a bit about how I write.

In addition to the interior details of the poem—word choice, metaphor, turns-of-phrase, etc.— I pay close attention to the visual and auditory components.

I am a graphic designer by training, and I organize typography on a daily basis. This ties in amazingly well with the visual aspect of poetry.

Unlike prose, poetry has white space (think paper). Line length, line breaks, indents, and hard returns all play a part in how a poem looks on the page. Careful choices about white space can add structure to the poem, aid reader comprehension, and add meaning.

I feel that poetry literally has a voice—the type with pitch and cadence. I read my writing out loud and make adjustments because of the way it sounds. For example, an angry poem will sound grating, and a contemplative one will sound hesitant.

Occasionally, this technique has gotten me into grammatical trouble, but my editor was kind enough to point these moments out to me.

So my advice to poets is to take a minute to both look at and listen to your poetry. And if you are going to publish your poems or novel in verse, be prepared to make a few tweaks after the designer has typeset your book—the pages are a different size and the poems look very different than they do in Word.
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