Saturday, February 11, 2012

Event Report: Vicious Valentine YA Panel at BookPeople

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thank you to BookPeople, Candlewick Press, and everyone who supported last night's Vicious Valentine's event -- in person or in spirit! We had a wonderful crowd that asked fun and thoughtful questions! Refreshments were served, and (I hope!) a lovely time was had by all.

The event featured YA authors Jordan Dane, P.J. "Tricia" Hoover, Mari Mancusi, Rosemary Clement-Moore, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and L.A. Weatherly with devilish moderating by Sean Petrie.

Cynthia, Jordan, Tricia, Mari, Lee & Rosemary.
Gorgeous display of the featured authors' books!
Sean during set-up--he did a diabolically brilliant job!
Rosemary and Tricia
Lee & Jordan (that's Greg in the background)
Frances Hill Yanksy, Debbie Gonzales & Lindsey Scheibe
Rosemary, Tricia, Jo Whittemore, Jessica Lee Anderson, Mari & Nikki Loftin
And more featured authors' books!

Cynsational Notes

Support Your Local Indie Bookstore!
Panel photo by Salima Alikan.

You can order signed stock of books by any of the featured YA authors at BookPeople.

Note: As my local Austin independent bookstore, BookPeople always keeps signed copies of my books on hand.

Please support beloved independent bookstores that nurture authors and the community of book lovers!

Giveaway: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of two copies of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. 

But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Fault in Our Stars" in the subject line.

Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20.

Booklist Senior Editor Ilene Cooper speaks to author John Green about his new novel The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012), the difficulties of honestly depicting cancer survivors, and the challenges of signing every single copy of the 150,000 first printing.

Check out the book trailer for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Source: YABC.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Reminder! 28 Days Later: A Black History Month Celebration of Children's Literature from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "To celebrate children’s authors and illustrators of color, during the twenty-eight days of Black History Month, we’ll profile a different artist (each day).'" See Day 4: James (Jim) Haskins, Day 5: Ni-Ni Simone, Day 6: Keith D. Shepherd, Day 7: Nikki Giovanni, Day 8: Tracey Baptiste; Day 9: T.L. Clarke (posts are ongoing). See also Black History Month: a video by Amy Bowllan from Writers Against Racism.

Creating Memorable Characters by Kristina Springer from Author2Author. Peek: "I've been researching how to create memorable characters and finding snippets of information that I think would be useful to share."

Congratulations to Mari Mancusi on the release of the Spanish edition of Stake That

Cynsational Tip: Weigh your sources! Numerous well-written and well-intended posts on the Web, especially related to the business of publishing, reflect a limited or inaccurate understanding of the industry. Make an effort to discern the difference between wishful thinking, educated guesswork, opinion and fact. Consider the author's credentials and experience.

How My Dream Became a Deal by Melanie Crowder from EMU Debuts. Peek: "I heard that pesky statistic—the one that says we’re more likely to be struck by lightning than published. But I kept at it anyway. For years. Because I had something to say. Many somethings; important somethings. But truly, truly, I am so grateful that those early stories stayed in their dusty drawer, that my skills and taste had time to catch up with my dreams."

Notes from the North by Leigh Anne Williams from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "With this issue, we launch a regular column of news from Canadian children's book publishers, written by PW's Canadian correspondent."

2011 OLA Best Bets for Children and Young Adult from The Canadian Children's Book Centre. Peek: "...selects the top Canadian picture books, fiction and non-fiction for children, and fiction for teens. Books are selected on the basis of their literary merit as well as their appeal to the intended audience. Illustrations are also considered in the case of graphic novels." Special cheers to Cynsations Canada reporter, Lena Coakley, whose debut novel Witchlanders (Atheneum) made the list!

What Makes a Book Sell from Jill Corcoran Books. Peek: "Be absolutely mindful of every character you choose to put in the book. Why are they there? How do they move the story forward? What is interesting about them that will make a reader care about following them from page to page to page?"

The Best Training to Write for Publication by Laurel Garver from Laurel's Leaves. Peek: "...accepting and even expecting misery as part of one's work experience is what separates the pro from the amateur. A pro shows up for the job day after day, even when it's boring, back-aching, humiliating and gross." Source: Jennifer R. Hubbard.

Author Interview: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen by Tom Owens from What's Right with Children's Literature? at Children's Literature Network. Peek: "Picture books are developmentally appropriate for young children, exploring issues that are relevant and important to them, whereas early readers explore the needs of older children—in light of that, how could anyone want to lose the picture book experience?"

Gallery: Li Jian from Peek: "Over the next few weeks we will be focusing on the theme of water in multicultural children’s books... Our first feature is an online gallery of talented artist Li Jian's work, including illustrations from his first book to be published in English, The Water Dragon (Better Link Press, 2012)."

Graphic Biographies Too Fictional? from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: "My instinct is that fictionalized dialogue is not enough (in most cases) to invalidate a graphic novel biography. Every biographer makes decisions about what they portray, and how they show their subject’s state of mind, and while they may or may not construct dialog, they do write description and narrative that affects what the readers understand to be true."

Ethiopia Reads: " is the key to improving the lives of the next generation of Ethiopians, a country filled with children, and that books are the key to fostering a genuine love of learning. We invite all who love children and books to join us in the endeavor." See also 20 Ways to Support Ethiopia Reads.

Marketing and Publicity for Authors Part 2 by Janet Fox from Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "A reader mentioned the press room on my website. This is a wonderful idea I borrowed from other writers. It's set up so that someone wanting my head shot, cover jpeg, and/or book information can access these easily, with jpegs at different resolutions for different purposes. Newbies: don't forget your ISBN. My first 1000 bookmarks were missing this vital information."

Writing + Baby = ? by Leila Austin from YA Highway. Peek: " I got a week into my maternity leave and made some progress on the draft. And then? Then she arrived, five weeks early."

Editor Alvina Ling: Personal Journeys Through Publishing from CBC Diversity. See also Editor Nancy Mercado on How I Got Into Publishing. Note: add CBC Diversity to your blog roll.

Reaching Reluctant and Struggling Readers by Paul Greci from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. Peek: "An author friend who is scheduled to speak at a school asked for my input on how to connect with both struggling and reluctant teen readers—the student population I worked with for fifteen years."

Interview with Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency by Melodie Wright from Forever Rewrighting. Peek: "...the middle grade quest is all about placing that character in a unique world and how he/she reacts to that world in all its weirdness. A middle grade reader may think they know what they’re doing (or then again, maybe not), and then it turns upside down again the very next day." 

This Week for Writers: Our Favorite Articles and Blog Posts from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Categories include: Book Reviews and Giveaways; Craft; Inspiration and Smiles; Issues, News, Trends, and Congratulations; Social Media, Promotion, and Self-Publishing; To Market. See also a variety of news from A Fuse #8 Production.

Study Writing for Young Readers at Madeline Island School of the Arts

Madeline Island School of the Arts will offering its first class in Writing for Children and Young Adults, taught by award-winning children’s writer Lisa Bullard, from June 11 to June 15.

Madeline Island is surrounded by the Apostle Islands, known for their sea caves, beaches and lighthouses. Highlights of the setting include the natural beauty of Lake Superior, the Island’s miles of rocky and sandy shoreline, and the quiet serenity to be found anywhere on the Island. Madeline Island School of the Arts is located on a meadow surrounded by a forest and is a little over a mile from the Town of La Pointe, Wisconsin. The school includes three large classrooms, gathering areas, comfortable Mission-style cottages for student housing, and studios (open for students 24 hours a day). 

Instructor Lisa Bullard is the author of many books for children, including picture books, chapter books, and nonfiction titles for a range of ages. Her books have won several honors, including a Children’s Choice Award, a Teacher’s Choice Award, a National Parenting Publications Children's Resources Silver Award, a Science Books and Films Best Books of 2011 listing, and a Storytelling World Awards Honor Title.

Lisa has been a writing teacher for over ten years at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and is co-founder of Mentors for Rent, a service developed to offer coaching, critiquing, and marketing expertise to children’s book writers. Lisa also brings an insider’s view of the book industry from over 16 years of working as a publishing professional. 

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter for a chance to win:

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "One Cool Friend" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20. See also One Cool Friend Before Breakfast from Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Note: in-depth post features early sketches.

Six-book giveaway! Enter to win one of the following autographed books:

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Alex Flinn Giveaway" in the subject line. Deadline: Feb. 20. Author sponsored. U.S. entries only.

Last call! Enter to win a copy of Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012). To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Ellen's Broom" in the subject line. Deadline: Feb. 13. Publisher sponsored. U.S. entries only. See also Kelly Starling Lyons on Ellen's Broom.

Enter to win a copy of Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012) signed by all of the contributing authors! To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Girl Meets Boy" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 14. 
Enter to win ARCs of Partials by Dan Wells (HarperTeen) and Various Positions by Martha Schabas from Tabitha Olson at Writing Musings. Deadline: Feb. 25.

Reminder! Win a Chained Book Club Kit from Lynne Kelly at Making Stuff Up & Writing It Down. Kit includes: 10 hardcover copies of Chained (FSG, 2012), a Chained tote bag, bookmarks and signed bookplates for each member of your class or group, and up to an hour-long Skype visit. Grades 3 to 8. Deadline: May 1. See also YA and Kids Book Giveaways at Young Adult Book Central.

Congratulations to the winners of signed copies of  Bittersweet by Sarah Ocker (Simon Pulse)(excerpt): Sarah in New York; Traci in Oregon; Bri in New Jersey; Ellen in Michigan; Cari in Florida; E. in Virginia; Maggie in California; Jenn in Wyoming; Alison in Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada); and Kara in Pennsylvania.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Great news! Diabolical is now available from Walker Books Australia and New Zealand!

Greg and Blizzard read "Smolder" aloud for the copy edit.
Author Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith on Writing a Series by Samantha Clark from Motivation for Writers. Peek: "...a fascinating experience to write scenes literally set in heaven and hell. It forced me to question my own beliefs, what best served the story/characters, and whether there actually might be the equivalent of an atrium hotel outside the Pearly Gates."

Review: Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls, reviewed by E. Kristin Anderson from The Hate-Mongering Tart. Peek: "Most memorable for me is Joseph Bruchac and Cynthia Leitich Smith’s 'Falling Down to See the Moon' and 'Mooning Over Broken Stars,' respectively, two tales about kids on an Indian reservation: one, a geeky martial arts whiz, and the other a top female athlete, both fairly uncomfortable in their bodies. "

Reminder! Nominations for The Children's Book Council "2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year" are being accepted on until Feb. 15. Readers are being asked to list up to five of their favorite books of 2011; the five titles that receive the most votes will become finalists to be entered in a second round of voting. From there, teens will vote again to determine the ultimate winner --- the 2012 Teen Choice Book of the Year. Note: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick/Walker) is a nominee! If you liked the novel, please consider voting for it--along with your other four picks--to reach the finals. See the full list of nominated books. (Remember, write-in titles are still being accepted.) Vote for your favorite books here! Voting eligibility: international. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 18 can vote. Deadline for voting in the nominating round: Feb. 15.

Personal Links:

From GregLSBlog: 
Cynsational Events

My Vicious Valentine: Spine-tingling YA Author Panel, featuring 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. Join us when six top YA authors dish on the devilish, gab about ghosts, and soar with the angels in this panel celebrating spine-tingling stories, supernatural creatures, and perhaps scariest of all, true love.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at an Alamosa Books Author Event from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. March 7 in Albuquerque.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith on March 10 and March 10 at Tuscon Festival of Books. Panels: from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 10 "Blood and Kisses: Paranormal Romance with Courtney Rene and Aprilynne Pike," followed by signing and from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. March 11 "What's New & Who's Reading Now? with Janni Lee Simner, R.L. Stine & Aprilynne Pike," followed by signing.

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.

Join Greg Leitich Smith at the Chronal Engine Launch Party at 2 p.m. March 24 at BookPeople in Austin. See also the Chronal Engine Activity Guide.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia this summer? Try the 13 Annual Conference of Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers from June 18 to June 22 in Sandy, Utah; the Southampton Children's Literature Conference from July 11 to July 15 in Southampton, New York; or the 17th Annual Postgraduate Writing Conference from Aug. 13 to Aug. 19 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier.
See more of Cynthia's upcoming events.

Note: Due to volume, I can't feature the author/illustrator events of all of my Cynsational readers, but if you're Austin bound for an appearance here, let me know, and I'll try to work in a shout out or two. Thanks!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kelly Milner Halls on Girl Meets Boy

By Kelly Milner Halls
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Relationships are fragile, fickle things. They can start like rose petals softly falling to earth, then end like the blast from a live grenade -- or vice versa. Perception is everything, when it comes to the life and death of that dangerous thing called love.

That explosive quality is what inspired Girl Meets Boy, a collection of short stories by eleven of the best know writers in YA, and me.

Spark for this creative endeavor came when my eldest daughter broke up with her volatile boyfriend for the first (but not the last) time more than seven years ago. She worked at a bookstore and agreed to watch a movie with her friend and fellow employee after work. Unhappy with her choice, my daughter's boyfriend kicked down the door and accused her of being "a whore." She went to watch a video. He came to break up a tryst.

I tried to mediate the misunderstanding, I could not budge either camp. In time, their story ended, as was best, but it got me thinking. How can two people see the very same moment so differently?

I invited eleven other writers to consider that question with me, in short story pairs. The only direction I gave them -- and this was long before we had a publisher -- was to write two different views of the same chain of events, one from a female point of view and the other from the male point of view, and to tell any story they'd always wanted to tell, unbound -- no holds barred.

Cynthia Leitich Smith and Joseph Bruchac, Ellen Wittlinger and James Howe, Terry Trueman and Rita Williams-Garcia, Sara Ryan and Randy Powell, Terry Davis and Rebecca Fjelland Davis joined me and Chris Crutcher to create six powerful scenarios, from he-said, she-said points of view.

Girl Meets Boy was born.

The first draft was finished on spec -- no editor or payment in sight. Twice, we came close -- prominent editors at big league houses were eager to publish the book -- but both times, the contracts were revoked due to a change in publishing leadership. I never lost faith in the project, but I had to take a break to lick the wounds disappointment.

Then I met agent Jill Corcoran when we both spoke at the same SCBWI regional conference. As we sat at the airport, she asked me what I had ready to sell, and I mentioned this anthology. I emailed it to her when my plane landed, and she had it out to a whole list of editors almost immediately.

Chronicle Books fell in love with the project, and finally brought it to life.

Every author in the book crafted original, deeply moving stories of people aching to be seen and loved for exactly who they were. Chronicle recognized the tender thread of truth that tied the stories together. It was the same golden threat that kept me from giving up on the stories, all along. Now that it's hit bookstore shelves, I'm really glad I didn't.


Enter to win a copy of Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls (Chronicle, 2012) signed by all of the contributing authors! To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Girl Meets Boy" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 14. 

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss the Girl Meets Boy discussion guide from Chronicle Books.

See Kelly Milner Halls YA author site and, for information about her highly recommended books for young children, Kelly Milner Halls and the Wonders of Weird.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Author Interview: Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner Susan Goldman Rubin on Music Was IT

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of Music Was IT: Young Leonard Bernstein (Charlesbridge, 2011), the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category. From the promotional copy:

Beginning with Lenny's childhood in Boston and ending with his triumphant conducting debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic when he was just twenty-five, Music Was IT draws readers into the energetic, passionate, challenging music-filled life of young Leonard Bernstein.

Why Leonard Bernstein? What personally connected you to your subject? What about him inspired the passion in you to devote the time, effort and enthusiasm necessary to bring this book to life?

I wanted to interest young readers in listening to Lenny's music: his own compositions as well as music he conducted. For years, I have loved his pieces "Fancy Free," and "Candide," and even "The Age of Anxiety," which I discovered on a recording in the music room of the library at Oberlin College where we could listen to LPs (vinyl).

Original Cast Recording
And I was lucky enough to see the original cast in "West Side Story" when I was home in New York during a break from school.

When Bernstein's series of televised concerts for young people was reissued as a set of DVDs in 2005, I thought the time was right to do this book as a way of introducing a new generation to his music.

Lenny himself inspired me to devote the five years it took to research and write Music Was IT. I loved reading and hearing anecdotes about him, listening to his recordings all over again, and discovering new photos.

My writer friends teased me that I was falling in love with Lenny. He was so charismatic! I almost didn't want the book to be finished.

How did you approach your research? What tools did you use? What tasks? What were the biggest surprises you discovered? How about your biggest coup?

I started the book by going to the Leonard Bernstein Office in New York and asking for their approval and cooperation. To my surprise, they liked the idea. Maybe especially because I wanted to focus on Lenny's early years when he struggled to make a place for himself in the world of music.

I was amazed to find that his father totally objected to his desire to become a professional musician. It was almost funny to learn that Lenny's dad wanted him to go into the business he had established, the Samuel J. Bernstein Hair Company, or second best, to become a rabbi. Their ongoing conflict gave me a dramatic arc for the story.

More Books by Susan
The biggest coup was meeting two of Lenny's adult children, Jamie and Alexander, who referred me to the Music Library at Harvard, where a terrific student project had been researched and exhibited about Lenny's early years from Boston to Broadway.

There, I was amazed to find out that Judaism played an important part in Lenny's musical life starting with services he attended as a boy with his parents. He later said that at synagogue he heard "the first real music."

Thanks to the Leonard Bernstein Office and to Jamie and Alexander, I gained access to the Music Division at the Library of Congress and was able to see and handle family photos as well as Lenny's handwritten letters, school notebooks, and music manuscripts.

What led you to frame the content the way you did? What other big-picture approaches did you consider, and why did you dismiss them? What did you most fret and/or most want to share with your audience?

I decided to frame the story from Lenny's passionate discovery of music as a child to his dramatic debut at Carnegie Hall conducting the New York Philharmonic when he was twenty-five.

I wanted to show how he overcame obstacles, such as his dad's constant objection to his "scary dedication" to music.

I felt that this story would be meaningful to kids who are trying to find out who they are, and encourage them to follow their own dreams.

In terms of the images and design, how did you participate in this process? Could you give us any examples of key decisions? What about the finished book do you love?

More about Susan
I chose all the visuals for the book. Some of the photos I saw in other books. But when I went to the Music Division at the Library of Congress with the permission of the Leonard Bernstein Office, I sifted through boxes and boxes of materials and discovered pictures and letters that had never been reproduced before in a published book that I thought would bring the story to life.

It was thrilling to hold the score for "I Hate Music," a series of songs, hand written by Lenny.

Diane Earley allowed me to see her wonderful ideas for designing the chapter openings and her choice of typeface, and I was grateful to participate.

My editor, Emily Mitchell, urged me to add materials for the back matter such as a timeline and capsule biographies of the people who influenced Lenny's musical life. It meant more work, but I'm so glad I agreed because I think this information is valuable and enriches the book.

One of my favorite parts is the closing line of the narrative. After Lenny's stunning debut at Carnegie Hall, reporters asked his father why he had ever objected to Lenny's desire to be a musician. And Sam Bernstein replied, "How could I know my son was going to grow up to be Leonard Bernstein?"

What advice do you have for fellow writers interested in crafting biographies for young readers?

Find a fresh way to present the life of someone you feel passionate about. Maybe an age group that isn't familiar with the story. And most of all, write from the heart. Follow your dream.

Cynsational Notes

See also An Interview with Susan Goldman Rubin: author of Music Was IT by Maria Kramer from The Hub is the literature blog for YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association. Peek: "Lenny loved all kinds of music. As a young pianist he played everything from blues to show tunes and boogie-woogie and drove his Harvard classmates crazy by playing loudly till all hours of the night."

The Sydney Taylor Book Award honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience. The award memorializes Sydney Taylor, author of the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series. The winners will receive their awards at the Association of Jewish Libraries convention in Pasadena, California this June. See also The Association of Jewish Libraries blog.

The 2012 Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour

Recommended by GregLSBlog
Feb. 5: Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of Naamah and the Ark at Night, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Ima On & Off the Bima; Holly Meade, illustrator of Naamah and the Ark at Night, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Into the Wardrobe; Shelley Sommer, author of Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Baseball Pioneer, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Great Kid Books

Feb. 6: Marcia Vaughan, author of Irena's Jar of Secrets, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Shelf-Employed; Ron Mazellan, illustrator of Irena's Jar of Secrets, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at The Children's War

Feb. 7: Trina Robbins, author of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Bildungsroman; Anne Timmons (and possibly Mo Oh), illustrators of of Lily Renee, Escape Artist: From Holocaust Survivor to Comic Book Pioneer, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner(s) in the Older Readers Category, at Gathering Books; Morris Gleitzman, author of Then, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at The 3 R's

Feb. 8: Michael Rosen, author of Chanukah Lights, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy; Robert Sabuda, illustrator/paper engineer of Chanukah Lights, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Practically Paradise; Susan Goldman Rubin, author of Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Older Readers Category, at Cynsations; Robert Sharenow, author of The Berlin Boxing Club, Sydney Taylor Book Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at Jewish Books for Children
author interview
Feb. 9: Durga Yael Bernhard, author-illustrator of Around the World in One Shabbat, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category, at Frume Sarah's World; Shirley Reva Vernick, author of The Blood Lie, Sydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Teen Readers Category, at The Fourth Musketeer

Feb. 10: Eric Kimmel, author of The Golem's Latkes, Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and winner of the National Jewish Book Award, at Ann Koffsky's Blog; Gloria Spielman, author of Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime, Sydney Taylor Notable Book and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, at Shannon and the Sunshine Band; Richard Michelson, author of Lipman Pike: America's First Home Run King, Sydney Taylor Notable Book and finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, at Blue Thread; Sydney Taylor Award Winners: wrap-up, all winners, all categories, at The Whole Megillah

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Voice: John M. Cusick on Girl Parts

Now in paperback
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

John M. Cusick is the first-time author of Girl Parts (Candlewick, 2010, 2012) and the free e-book "Abandon Changes: A Girl Parts Story" (also Candlewick). From the promotional copy: 

David and Charlie are opposites. David has a million friends, online and off. Charlie is a soulful outsider, off the grid completely. But neither feels close to anybody.

When David’s parents present him with a hot Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat his "dissociative disorder," he can’t get enough of luscious redheaded Rose --and he can’t get it soon. Companions come with strict intimacy protocols, and whenever he tries anything, David gets an electric shock. 

Parted from the boy she was built to love, Rose turns to Charlie, who finds he can open up, knowing Rose isn’t real. With Charlie’s help, the ideal "companion" is about to become her own best friend.

In a stunning and hilarious debut, John Cusick takes rollicking aim at internet culture and our craving for meaningful connection in an uberconnected world.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

Free e-book
The only way I can stay productive is through force of habit. Six days a week, two hours a day, I write. When writing a first draft, I shoot for five pages a day, usually completing three to seven.

My weekly day off usually isn’t planned; I just write until life happens and I have to run an errand or catch up on sleep instead.

I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration to strike. I’ve trained my brain to get inspired around 8:30 every morning, usually after the second or third cup of coffee. And when I’m not inspired, I just start putting words on the page until I find a thread I like, or it’s time to head into the office.

In the long run, a routine keeps me sane. Rather than saying, “I have to write well,” I say, “I have to write today.” This way I can feel good about putting in the hours even when I’ve had an off morning, and for the rest of the day, my writer-brain can rest and refresh.

And of course, the more you write, the better you get, period

In addition to being my passion, writing is also an income stream for me, so I’ve got to treat it like a job. But I was working this schedule long before I got published, and it helped me get there.

Before writing, I have to read for at least half-an-hour to get my brain thinking in complete sentences. I’ve never been a “voracious” reader, and never subscribed to the read widely rule you sometimes hear writers espouse; I’m too picky and I read too slowly.

My tastes do vary, from Ian Fleming to Jeffery Eugenides, but there’s just too much great stuff out there to slog through five-hundred pages of something I’m not excited about, or to read books too different from what I want to write.

I’m sure there’s some phenomenal experimental memoirs in verse out there, but not for me, thanks.

For the larger-picture stuff, like story arcs and theme, I find television and movies are a great tool. It’s hard to trace a character’s development, or the rising action and tension, when reading a book over the course of a week, but absorbing a movie’s story in two hours gives me a more immediate sense of how the writer (screenwriter, in this case) structured their tale.

By far the biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome as an author is something I think a lot of other young writers struggle with: how to tell a story. Pretty language? No problem. I will seduce you with my flowery prose! Social themes? Learned that in college, my motifs run deep, baby.

But story? That’s the trickiest.

How do you keep the reader turning the pages? How do you make your protagonist active instead of a passive observer? Learning to tell stories that move and excite, rather than try to craft “works of art” to be dissected in a classroom, is something I constantly wrestle with and a major reason I write for teens.

Hardcover edition
Teens don’t care if your metaphors are genius, or if your novel is a retelling of Crime and Punishment. They want story. They want characters they feel for, who alter and are altered by the world around them.

While working on my follow-up to Girl Parts I had a major case of English Major-itis. I was more interested in how I was telling my story— i.e. my style— than my what my characters were experiencing.

Eventually I had to go back and start over from word one. It’s been a ton of work, but man what an education! So far I’m happy with the results. I have no idea what my social themes or over-arching metaphors might be, but I know my story.

As a science fiction writer, how did you go about building your world?

I wanted the world of Girl Parts to be recognizably our own, so the characters’ problems would feel immediate and familiar. Yet I was writing about some seriously sci-fi-sophisticated robots.

I decided Sakora, the company that makes Rose and the other Companions, would be light-years ahead of their competitors, but still in the beta-testing stages of their robot-program. That way, the Companions would not be a widespread phenomenon like cell phones or laptops.

Otherwise, I wanted the technology in Girl Parts to be entirely contemporary: David Sun has a cell phone and an iPod, he chats online and spends time in a Second Life-like virtual world.

Electronically, he’s uber-connected, but doesn’t feel an emotional attachment to anyone or anything. This, to me, isn’t sci-fi but a real problem teens face.

The real fun came in figuring out Rose’s physiology. We can assume a few things about the way most human characters think and feel even without knowing their back stories. I had to build Rose from the ground up, keeping in mind who built her and why.

I decided Sakora would give her a finite vocabulary; Rose would learn slang and jargon by listening to the humans around her (like CleverBot, which didn’t exist when I was writing Girl Parts).

Like any expensive piece of hardware, she’d need a satellite link, so her creators could download software updates, and so Rose could effectively “Google” any phrase or situation she wasn’t familiar with. To be a better human-analog, Rose would eat food, which she would “process” in private with a dainty burp. As a high-end consumer product, Rose would come equipped with her own wardrobe, “ablutions”, and instructional DVD.

I wanted Rose’s packaging and accessories to feel flashy, cheap, and banal to underscore the very real, very humane thoughts and feelings going on inside her.

Figuring how Rose would think was another fun task. I have a sketch above my desk labeled “Rose’s Brain,” which I drew while writing a later draft: it’s just an arrow bounded by a circle. I decided that the reductive egg-heads at Sakora would give Rose a very Freudian brain, with an Id (Rose’s innate desire for David) checked by a Super Ego (the rules, guidelines, and morays Sakora enforces on her from without). Today I still use this as a guideline for most of my characters: a strong desire, checked by outside forces. I only drew the picture to help me conceptualize Rose’s mind, but the image found its way into the language of the novel, too, and then, to my surprise, became a running motif. This is how it appears in the book:

Rose’s mind was an arrow. It pointed to David. The rest of reality, whatever didn’t fall along the length of the arrow, was insignificant. An Ethernet link connected Rose to a data bank at Sakura HQ in Japan. As her emerald eyes passed over the lawn, information queued for access. Grass. Flower pot. Stairs. Driveway. Tree. Each node was the center of its own web. Tree connecting to Green, Poplar, Seasons, Paper. This complex veil, pierced by Rose’s unwavering arrow, was a techno-semantic marvel.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss these Girl Parts character destinations:
See also excerpt, sample chapter, audio book sample.

Diabolical Is Now Available from Walker Australia and New Zealand & Giveaway Last Call!

Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 8! Enter here!
 By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Tantalize, Book 4) is now available from Walker Australia and New Zealand. Note: previously released in North America; more releases pending.

Last call! Enter to win the Diabolical Grand Prize Giveaway! Author sponsored. Deadline: Feb. 8. Eligibility: international. Enter here! Check out Greg & Cynthia Leitich Smith on Diabolical.

From the promotional copy:

Prepare for a hell of a ride as Cynthia Leitich Smith calls on characters from her previous novels - and conjures up new ones - for a climatic showdown.

Wereotter finger puppet!
'Slipped' angel Zachary is chasing redemption. If he can save enough neophyte vampires, he’ll be allowed to reunite with his love, Miranda. The ex-vampire princess is passing her time in the Penultimate, a way-station for ascended souls, while trying to avoid the people she murdered.

When Miranda discovers her best friend is in danger at a mysterious New England college, she tasks Zach, his vampiric ward, Quincie, and werewolf pal, Kieren, with performing a covert rescue.

But can these preternaturals save a human from Lucifer himself? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites heroes from the previous three novels in the Tantalize series along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Giveaway Package: New York Times Bestseller One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo & David Small

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter for a chance to win:
To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "One Cool Friend" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: midnight CST Feb. 20.

From the promotional copy of One Cool Friend:

On a momentous visit to the aquarium, Elliot discovers his dream pet: a penguin. It's just proper enough for a straight-laced boy like him. And when he asks his father if he may have one (please and thank you), his father says yes. 

Elliot should have realized that Dad probably thought he meant a stuffed penguin and not a real one...

Clever illustrations and a wild surprise ending make this sly, silly tale of friendship and wish fulfillment a kid-pleaser from start to finish.

Cynsational Notes

Toni was one of my earliest writing partners. At the beginning of our careers, as unpublished writers, we were paired by our mutual mentor, Jane Kurtz, and, for some years, exchange manuscripts online.

Today, Toni is a popular and well published author of numerous picture books and teacher/librarian resource books! It's a thrill to see her latest picture book, One Cool Friend, on the New York Times bestseller list! Congratulations, Toni!

Toni Buzzeo, a former English teacher and elementary school librarian, is a popular author of picture books who divides her time between Sarasota, Florida, and Buxton, Maine. She also is the author of two of the most popular posts in the history of Cynsations -- Author-Librarian Interview: Toni Buzzeo on School Visits (part one and part two).

David Small is a Caldecott Medal winner, National Book Award finalist, and Christopher Award winner, among other honors. The illustrator of more than forty books, he lives in southern Michigan.

Ongoing Cynsations giveaways also include the Diabolical Grand Prize Giveaway (author sponsored, international eligibility, Feb. 8 deadline); Giveaway: Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012)(author sponsored, U.S. eligibility, Feb. 13 deadline); Six-book Giveaway of Bewitching, Beastly Deluxe Edition and Cloaked by Alex Flinn (author sponsored, U.S. eligibility; Feb. 20 deadline).

In the video below, visit Toni's Writing Cottage:

Author Video: David Ezra Stein on Interrupting Chicken

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From Candlewick Press: "Watch author-illustrator David Ezra Stein talk about how he developed the idea and the artwork for his Caldecott Award Honor Winning book Interrupting Chicken. Bwok!"

See also A Conversation with David Erza Stein: Creator of Interrupting Chicken and Interrupting Chicken Candlewick Press Story-Hour Kit (both PDFs).

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Author Video: Take the Jack the Ripper Tour with YA Author Maureen Johnson

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maureen Johnson, author of the YA supernatural thriller The Name of the Star takes us on a trip round the East End of London with bloggers and fans of her book. From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old American girl Rory has just arrived at boarding school in London when a Jack the Ripper copycat-killer begins terrorising the city. All the hallmarks of his infamous murders are frighteningly present, but there are few clues to the killer's identity.

"Rippermania" grabs hold of modern-day London, and the police are stumped with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. In an unknown city with few friends to turn to, Rory makes a chilling discovery...

Could the copycat murderer really be Jack the Ripper back from the grave?

The Name of the Star (Shades of London #1) by Maureen Johnson
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