Saturday, March 24, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Agent Interview: Erzsi Deak

By Mio Debnam for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Erzsi Deak is the founder and president of literary salon and agency Hen & ink, which she established in November 2010, bringing with her more than twenty-five years of publishing experience.

Erzsi is eager to find new talent but has a request for all potential clients:
"Please note that unless you meet me at the Showcase or a workshop, are referred by a client or other publishing professional, you'll need to wait until we announce Open Coop Day to submit. We’re still getting back to everyone who has submitted in the last year. Thanks for your understanding. We want to give everyone the professional courtesy they deserve and appreciate your patience.

"Open Coop Days are random days when Hen&ink is open to submissions. We will announce them on the Hen & ink site, the Facebook Hen&ink Literary page (if you aren't already a fan, please click LIKE on the page to receive updates and news), Twitter and anywhere else we can think of."

Congratulations, Erzsi, on a successful first year as a literary agent! What’s been the best, worst and most surprising thing you have encountered in your agenting journey so far?

Outside of lamenting the still-overflowing submissions, I'd say that it's been, far and wide, a positive experience.

When Siobhan Curham told me, in the very beginning, that (a) it was my bad bird jokes that won her over and, later, we (b) signed the first deal for her book...those were pretty good "bests"!

Other bests are the fabulous letters I get back from writers, even those I've declined to represent.

Worst thing? I hate closing submissions. As a writer, I know what it's like to put your baby on the block, as it were, and then hear nothing. Many in business have adopted a laissez-faire attitude wherein no one bothers to let you know your submission arrived and no one bothers to ever let you know, well, anything.

This lack of politesse in communication is very likely due to the excess that the Internet allows -- mass mailing v. targeted submissions, for example -- but it would seem that with technology, sending auto-responses and some notification would also be made easier.

As long as we have submissions at Hen&ink, we aim to respond to everyone with more than a form letter. And that takes time. I say we, but until recently, it was I.

Luckily, Beatriz Caicoya knocked on my door, thanks to Lawrence Schimel's introduction. She will be in Bologna this year and is taking on the Scouting and Submissions side of Hen&ink, which is a huge relief!

The most surprising thing? Maybe how much fun we're having in the coop -- or perhaps it was when we got a very ugly (to the point of beautiful) warty plush toy chicken from Barbara McClintock and her son? No, wait, the ugliest prize goes to the rubber chicken handbag that Hen&ink chick Mima Tipper sent me. I may need to bring that bird to Bologna...

Following the SCBWI South Africa conference in October, Erzsi & her daughter Esmee traveled from Cape Town (thanks to Marjorie and Johann van Heerden) to the Sanbona Wildlife Preserve (54,000 hectares and the only free self-sustaining White Lions in the world). Erzsi & Esmee were lucky to have these giraffes frame their photo and also to see the white mother lion reunited with her cubs after days apart, which was "seriously amazing," Erzsi says. All-in-all it was a spectacular trip. Erzsi & Esmee say, "Thank you, SCBWI SA, for making it possible!"

I know you are accepting manuscripts for everything from picture books to adult nonfiction, but what type of book makes you cluck with excitement?

I love the Ariol French comic book for younger readers. I thought the original Olivia was brilliant and rather perfect as a picture book.

I look for story and not anecdote. I want a beginning, middle, and a satisfying end no matter the genre, and my authors will tell you that they have bony fingers but stronger manuscripts after I've made them go through a number of revisions.

Mostly, it's sharing a good Story (with a capital S) with Characters I Care About. If I don't care about the character, if I can't hear the voice of the characters nor the work overall, I'm "outta there".

So, I guess the message is: Surprise me with a fantastic story that is original about a character I care about and has a voice that sings.

These days YA seems very genre driven. Is there any genre of YA novel you definitely don’t want submitted, however well written?

Not really. Anything original. Nothing derivative, please. If the voice sings, I'll listen.

Obviously a good book has to have a balance of story, character, voice and craft etc, but which one (or more) of these facets does an imperfect manuscript absolutely have to have, before you’ll take the chance on it?

Author-illustrator Paddy Bouma (whom Erzsi met in Greece at the SCBWI conference on Hydra in 2001) kindly escorted Esmee & Erzsi to the Spier Cheetah sanctuary and conservation project in Cape Town. There are over 20 cheetahs at the sanctuary, most of which were born in captivity and all of which could not survive in the wild. The idea is that these cheetahs are 'ambassadors' for wild cheetah. The aim is to educate and raise awareness among the public so that wild cheetahs can be conserved. "We had, I think three minutes, for the photo shoot and lots more time looking at the babies and a few older cheetahs through the fence," Erzsi says. "The man in the photo is keeping the cheetah calm while we goofy tourists had our picture taken. Beautiful animals."

After my comments above, you probably know the answer: voice. The voice of the character, of the work, has to grab me and want me to hang on for the ride.

And action. The worst thing a writer can do is bore the reader.

I'm an impatient reader and get bored easily, so I need emotional and physical action (in plot lines, language, general story); this doesn't mean I'm looking for an endless chase scene; it means showing rather than telling and keeping me hooked.

In addition, as I've said elsewhere, I need light with my dark, so if you are writing a grim war story, I need some irony or sunshine for balance or the story will die a lonely death as I put it aside. I don't mind tears, but I'm not all about grim-getting-grimmer (unless it's tongue-and-cheek).

I'm looking for the perfect combination of pain and humor told in an original way with a voice that makes me want to stay up all night listening. 

I’ve been following the success of your client, Sarah Towle, with her iPhone app ‘Beware Madam la Guillotine’. Was it originally pitched to you as a book? Are you interested in more submissions for non-traditional media projects?

Before Hen&ink I knew Sarah's project as a book project. We are now looking at ink-on-paper version; short story collection; film; and virtual eTours for her project. I'm interested in seeing original submissions, whether words on paper or otherwise.

These days, the words ‘building a platform’ seem to be on everyone’s lips… What advice would you give to a yet-unpublished author on building a platform?

Content is the royal flush. First advice is just to write.

And then, when you have something to write about you can start building a platform. It's definitely good to have a platform, but doesn't help you much if that's all you have.

When I was a journalism major, I realized I'd have a lot more to write about as a history major, so I built some content, if-you-will, as a history major and then put it to work as a journalism minor.

My client, Barbara Younger, came to me with a non-children's project and I suggested that she develop a platform to support it. Thus was born This has been one fun success story -- lots of guest blogging going on!

We're sharing the book proposal at The London Book Fair in April and looking forward to finding a home (in all possible forms) that is supported by the ongoing blog. 

You will be hearing pitches at the Bologna Children's Book Fair this year. In your opinion, what makes a good pitch? Do you have advice for writers struggling to come up with a perfect pitch for their project?

Think of the famous elevator pitch -- you have two minutes to tell me:

Who you are, the title and genre of your book, and if it's complete. You can include the word count if it's on the tip of your tongue. Who the main character is, what s/he wants and why s/he can't have it (tell me what happens). Use active words and breathe.

Breathing is key to a good pitch. Then, let the listener (agent, editor, etc.) ask questions -- don't feel like you have to fill the empty space. Breathe.

"My name is J.J. Jones and my completed middle-grade book, The Princess Diet, is about a dragon named Dragoondo who doesn't want to eat princesses and the princess who changes his mind. It's a live-action drama with a sense of purpose -- and fire-breathing humor."
I'd probably respond,
“Nice to meet you J.J. [Are you breathing?] This sounds fun. I'm, of course, curious to hear about the princess that changes Dragoondo's mind to the point that he does want to eat princesses -- what's that about!? Send me the first chapter embedded to [this] address and if I'm hooked, I'll ask for the rest and a submissions history. Would you also include your author bio? Thanks for thinking of Hen & ink!”
More on the Agency

More on Siobhan
Hen&ink, a Paris-based literary agency, marks its first year with major announcements for Siobhan Curham (U.K.) and Tom Llewellyn (U.S.).

For Siobhan, the agency has just signed a two-book deal with Egmont UK for Shipwrecked, and there’s already strong TV interest reported for the book.

This follows previous deals for Siobhan, whose Dear Dylan is now a lead title for Egmont, and Finding Cherokee Brown, which Hen&ink sold to Egmont, which was then sold to publishers in France and Germany.

Hen&ink is also pleased to announce that Tom Llewellyn’s novel, The Tilting House , in a deal brokered by co-agent Thomas Schlueck agency, has just been acquired by Theinemann, one of Germany’s oldest publishers of books for young children.

Hen&ink founder, Erzsi Deak, is now also adding to her staff with translation specialist, Beatriz Caicoya, who’s been brought in to handle translations, scouting and permissions.

Erzsi started Hen&ink because she saw the need for an internationally-focused agency that could specialize in handling authors, illustrators and creative talent interested in broadening cultural awareness and in crossing transmedia borders.

The agency now represents more than thirty authors, including bestselling author/illustrator Doug Cushman, author and award-winning app developer Sarah Towle, and authors and illustrators Jennifer Dalrymple, and Jeanne de Sainte Marie (France); Mina Witteman and Sandra Guy (Netherlands); Bridget Strevens-Marzo and Jacqui Hazell (U.K.); and Maria Lebedeva (South Africa).

In the U.S., Hen&ink has clients in more than a dozen states: Angela Morrison (AZ), Andrea Zuill and Ann Jacobus (CA), Whitney Stewart (LA), J.M. Lee (MN), Barbara Younger and Candy Dahl (NC), Claudia Classon (NJ), Connie Fleming (NM), Anna Angelidakis and Vicky Shiefman (NY), Cece Hall and Katherine M. Dunn (OR), Janine Burgan (PA), Hannah R. Goodman (RI), Rae Ann Parker (TN), Monica Shaughnessy and Melissa Buron (TX), Caryn Caldwell (UT), and Kathryn Kramer and Mima Tipper (VT).

Award credits for their books already include New York Times Best Illustrated and bestselling titles. Hen&ink represents Red Fox Literary outside of North America and Thomas Jeunesse outside of France.

Erzsi Deak has spent more than twenty-five years on the international stage, connecting individuals and companies with those around the globe who can make things happen. She’s the author of Period Pieces: Stories for Girls (HarperCollins), and since 2009 has worked as a consulting editor with La Martinière Groupe.

Erzsi is also well-known throughout the literary world for her work on behalf of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), where she ran the organization’s international arm for nearly ten years. In that time, she developed and mentored writers, illustrators and publishing programs in twenty-eight countries.

Now with Hen&ink, Deak manages a growing list of prize-winning clients, marketing their books to publishers worldwide, including at the Bologna, London and Frankfurt rights fairs. She’s also established key partnerships for Hen&ink with Sheepscot Creative and Raab Associates, companies that share her international and creative goals.

Cynsational Notes

See an SCBWI Bologna interview with author-app creator Sarah Towle and a guest post by Siobhan Curham on Daring to Dream.

Mio Debnam is currently working as a writer and an editor of children’s books, having ‘retired’ from the world of journalism, where she worked as the Editor in Chief of two daily children’s newspapers for several years.

She has had short stories and articles for both adults and children published, as well as a middle grade fantasy novel, four picture books, and several educational readers.

The first six in her kidsGo! series of travel guides for kids were published in 2011.

Mio started on her present career path early, editing and writing stories for school and university newspapers; getting her hands inky learning how to print the old fashioned way.

After a decade working in the financial markets in London and Hong Kong, she returned to her first love and has been working with words ever since.

Mio Debnam

To get inspiration for her writing, and to keep up with ‘what’s hot’, Mio has become expert at eavesdropping on her children’s conversation, as well as those she encounters at school visits and the creative writing workshops she runs. She is the Regional Advisor of the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators, Hong Kong Chapter.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-Illustrator Interview: Miri Leshem-Pelly

Miri Leshem-Pelly meeting some of her characters.
By Liz Steinglass
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Miri Leshem-Pelly is a published author and illustrator of children books. Her favorite topics are nature and animals. She has created 26 books so far, including several bestsellers in Israel, one book published in the U.S. and two books that won illustration awards.

Her artwork has been shown in several solo exhibitions and many group exhibitions. Miri is invited for many school visits and also guides special tours for children, based on her nature books.

Miri is the regional advisor of the Israeli chapter of SCBWI.

You have published 12 books as an author/illustrator and illustrated 14 books for other writers. How do you find the two experiences compare?

The first big difference is the starting point. Working as an illustrator for other writers I'm given a text—the writer chooses the topic, the mood, the characters, and I respond to his creation.

But when I'm an author/illustrator I can choose my favorite topics, and I'm responsible for the whole creation, and I find that process much more fulfilling.

Luti & Tery the Otter Cubs

On my own books, I also start by writing the text, and illustrating comes second. But the illustrator in me has a lot of influence on the writer, and sometimes she can make the writer choose a certain animal for a character just because she really wants to draw it.

Lon-Lon’s Big Night is your first book published in the U.S. in both Hebrew and English. How was it for you to work in English? Did you find any expressions in Hebrew that were more challenging to translate into English?

Working on the translation to English for "Lon-Lon's Big Night" was an exciting experience. I did it together with a friend – Angelika Rauschning from Germany. We have been internet friends for many years, but we’ve never met. Angelika writes for children in English, and she suggested we do it together. She doesn't know Hebrew, so I did the first translation and added in brackets explanations for words and expressions I didn't know how to translate.

We did this project for a long time over email until both of us were happy with the result. Angelika had some very good ideas, which sometimes made me change the Hebrew text accordingly. The two texts had to be similar because they appear on the same page and could be used for American students learning to read Hebrew. That made the project even more challenging.

To research Lon-Lon’s Big Night you went on a night tour of the desert animals of Hai-Bar Zoo near Eilat, Israel. What did you get from seeing the animals in a naturalistic environment? Do you always do this kind research in preparation for your books?

I love doing that—using my author hat to get permission to enter animals’ cages. This has become a hobby of mine. The night trip to the Hai-Bar Zoo gave me the opportunity to see the night animals at their most active time. During regular visiting hours, you usually get to see them sleeping, but I was invited to come at night when the zoo was closed.

When I got there, the zoo worker asked me if I would like to enter the sand foxes' cage! What can be better than that? I could take really good close-up photos, which helped me when I got to the illustrations. And being so close made me notice and feel things very differently.

Sand fox.

When I'm writing about an animal, I try to "enter" its skin and see the world though its eyes. Getting very close to the animals helps a lot with this task. I was also inside the otters’ cage, the lemurs’ cage, swam with dolphins and caressed tapirs. These are the kind of things that make my day!

Miri with lemurs

You went on a book tour throughout the United States sharing Lon-Lon’s Big Night with audiences around the country. How did American children respond to the book? Did anything surprise you about their responses? What enables American children to connect to a sand fox from Israel?

Before I left Israel, many people told me that it would be difficult for me to communicate with American children because of cultural differences. But I discovered this is not true. Children are children wherever you go!

Miri at a school visit in Los Angeles
I do a lot of school visits in Israel, and I must say the children’s responses were exactly the same. They laughed at the same moments and became very silent at the same parts of the story. They were connected to the story because they cared about the character—the curious, innocent, brave little fox. The fact that the story takes place in the Israeli desert and is full of strange unknown animals made it more exciting and exotic for them. They asked me many questions about nature in Israel.

Isn't that what books are for? To sit on your sofa and let the book take you to exciting new places you've never been before?

Of all of your books, do you have a favorite? And why?

Oh, oh, that question! I always fear it, and I get it all the time on my school visits.

Illustration from the best seller book "Pizponteva - the tiny nature professor"

What can I say? I love them all. They are all my sons.

Well, maybe I do have a soft spot for Lon-Lon. There is something about this little guy. And I'm grateful to him for taking me with him on this trip to the U.S.!

But seriously, I'm always more involved with my next book, the one I'm working on, because the process of creation is the biggest thrill. So I can say my favorite book is always the next one to come!

What media do you prefer to work with?

I have three media I love to use—colored pencils (on colored paper), watercolor and acrylics. I try to match the right media for each story I'm illustrating.

For example, when I illustrated Lon-Lon, I wanted to get the sandy look of the desert, so I chose colored papers with grainy texture and made the drawings with colored pencils.

You say that your preferred subjects are nature and animals. What draws you to these topics? 

It all begins with my childhood. I grew up in a nature-loving family. We went on numerous trips, and nature became a part of who I am. I always loved animals and found this subject fascinating.

Live drawing of birds in the field

In my youth, I discovered Gerald Durrell's books and read them all. I was deeply inspired by his writing and his actions towards saving endangered species.

I create my books with the hope that they will get children a bit closer to nature.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on a new picture book that I'm writing and illustrating. This time I wrote the book in English. This is a story about four families of wild animals from around the world—from Antarctica to Canada, from the Asian jungle to the Sahara desert. The story comes to show how all families around the world are basically very much alike.

I'm coming to the Bologna book fair this year to look for a publisher for this book-in-progress, so wish me luck!

Cynsational Notes

Liz Steinglass lives and writes in Washington, DC. Her poems “Which Water?” and “A Book” have appeared in Babybug and Ladybug Magazines. She regularly posts original poetry on her blog Growing Wild.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Securing Online Reviews by Mary Lindsey from Peek: "I researched and found a great fit with a teen book tour site. I did a 120-stop blog tour that included video interviews, written interviews, previews, live chats, character interviews, this or that lists, essays relevant to the book and, of course reviews. Lots of early reviews."

Character Trait Entry: Cautious from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Cautious people are observant, connected to their environment and are aware of shifting dynamics. When emotions are high, cautious characters can restore balance and apply reasoning techniques to bring people back to a place where they can make decisions with a clear head."

The 10 Best Writing Tips I Ever Received by Rhonda Stapleton from Just Your Average Crazy Writer. Peek: "Your story is not sacred. It's not a baby. After you draft, you have to be willing to make it as strong as it can be. Cut those passages that may be beautiful but unneeded."

IBBY Announces the Winners of the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Award from Raab Associates. Peek: "María Teresa Andruetto from Argentina is the winner of the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Author Award and Peter Sís from the Czech Republic is the winner of the 2012 Hans Christian Andersen Illustrator Award." See also IBBY Announces the Winners of the 2012 IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award.

Writing Steamy in YA by The focus should be on the introspection (something I still need to work on) and not on the choreography."

First Annual Writing & Illustrating for Young Readers Writing Competition & Fellowship Award. Peek: "In conjunction with The Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference (WIFYR) and its goal to educate and assist aspiring authors, one full-day conference attendee will receive $1000, intended to further the recipient’s work in the writing field. The winning recipient will exhibit gifted writing ability, consistent long-term dedication to the craft, and demonstrate financial need. Submissions for the $1000 merit and need-based award will be accepted beginning (and no sooner than) March 20 and no later than midnight, MST April 20." Note: Faculty includes Cynthia Leitich Smith, teaching "Writing the Paranormal or Fantasy Novel," and Greg Leitich Smith, teaching an advanced class.

Day One in Bologna: First-Timers and Vets Weigh In by Diane Roback and John A. Sellers from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "'People are coming in with a positive attitude,' said Candace Finn, subsidiary rights manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 'I’m hearing less gloom and doom. People are saying ‘Show me everything,’ not just ‘Show me your bestsellers.’'" See also Bologna Book Day, Pictures from Day One and Bologna Book Fair: SCBWI Dueling Artists from PaperTigersBlog and Shortlist for the 22nd CBI (Children’s Books Ireland) Book of the Year Awards from Inside Ireland.

On Publishing: Six Aspects of Writing YA That Surprised Me by Carrie Ryan from Magical Words. Peek: "It’s not at all uncommon for YA authors to rewrite large chunks of their books several times during the editing process.  I don’t think this is exclusive to YA, but I’ve definitely talked to a few adult authors who were surprised by this schedule when they moved into writing for teens."

Storytime to Go: Libraries Try to Reach Kids Who Aren't Being Read to at Home by Christian Davenport from The Washington Post. Peek: "Edwards takes her act beyond the hush of the stacks to community centers, Head Start classrooms, and, as on this day, day-care centers."

Your Launch Party is Not Your Wedding by Robin Bridges from The Class of 2012. Peek: "A launch party is something I’d dreamed about for years as an aspiring writer.  I made more plans for an imaginary launch than I ever made for my wedding:  trying to imagine what I would wear, what food to serve, even what entertainment there would be."

Cynsational Author-Blogger Tip: Before you cross-post the interviews you do for someone else's blog to your own, ask permission. It's typically preferable (and more gracious) to point your readers to the blogger kind enough to host you, with your thanks.

What Is an Author's Marketing Responsibility with a Traditional Publisher? An Interview with Avery Monse and Jory John from Jane Friedman. Peek: "We’re always a little surprised when we hear about authors who are passive about the book that they put a ton of work into upfront. We really subscribe to the philosophy that nobody cares as much about your book as you do, and for good reason."

Humor for Writers by Kim Baker from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Kids use humor as an indirect way of coming to terms with issues and situations that are most important to them, and/or too emotionally stressful for them to deal with directly." See also Three Examples of Sharpening Humor for Kids by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes.

Author Danyelle Leafty is heading a fundraiser called "Kindles For Kids." She is taking her royalties from The Fairy Godmother Dilemma: Catspell from March 12 to March 31 and purchasing Kindle Fires for the Utah Valley Hospital’s pediatric unit in an effort to pay it forward.

Talent: Who Needs It? by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: "If you have some talent, you have to turn that into more by struggling through the process of learning to write, learning the basics first and then the intricacies of plotting and character and language. Only through this lengthy struggle can you do more and more of what you want without thinking about it when you’re doing it."

2012 Golden Kite Award Interviews: Melissa Sweet (Picture Book Illustration for Balloons Over Broadway) from Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "I try to limit my options and choose ways of telling the story that are repeated as design elements so the materials feel cohesive. In the end, the book is just a fraction of all the things I made."

Staying in Point of View by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: " careful also about describing your main character’s appearance. For example, 'Her blue eyes widened.' Granted, she knows she has blue eyes, and she may realize when she’s widening them. But would she really be thinking about the color of her eyes? That’s authorial intrusion, where the writer is trying to shove in some character description."

What to Do With Advanced Reader Copies by Sarah Enni from YA Highway. Peek: "...ARCs are, above all, marketing tools used to sell more books. That's why what you do with an ARC when you're done reading it is actually an ethical question."

Cheerios' Spoonfuls of Stories® program is celebrating its 10-Year Anniversary. Cheerios will once again provide six million bilingual children’s books from award-winning authors free inside specially-marked boxes of cereal. In addition, to help mark the 10-year milestone, this year Cheerios will be giving 50,000 children’s books to First Book, an award winning literacy nonprofit that provides children from low-income families the opportunity to own new books.

Cynsational Giveaways

Cat not included.
Enter to win a signed copy of Chronal Engine and a T-rex puppet!

Runner-up prizes: two more signed copies of Chronal Engine. 

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 you can email me directly with "Chronal Engine giveaway" in the subject line. Note: For extra chances to win, blog, tweet (hashtag: #chronalengine), facebook or Google+ this giveaway and list your efforts in your entry!

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Deadline: March 31.

Looking for another chance to win a copy of Chronal Engine? Surf over to DEBtastic Reads!

One more? Try Review - Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith (+ Giveaway) by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books.

Reminder! Enter to win one of two signed copies of Meltdown! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future by Fred Bortz (Twenty-First Century/Lerner, 2012). 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 you can email Cynthia directly with "Meltdown!" in the subject line. Deadline: March 26. Publisher sponsored. U.S. entries only.

Reminder! Enter to win ongoing Cynsations giveaways:

five ARCs of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood for YA literature fans

(eligibility: U.S.; deadline: March 26);

and the Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen by Donna Gephart Prize Package for middle grade book lovers

(eligibility: North America; deadline: March 26).

See also the Hunger Games Giveaway from Susan Kaye Quinn: Conjuring Tales for Young Minds.

This Week's Cynsations Posts

2012 SCBWI Bologna Series

More Personally

Greg at Dinosaur Park in Bastrop, Texas

This week has been all about celebrating the release of Greg's latest novel, Chronal Engine (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). It's about three kids who go back to the  age of the dinosaurs to rescue their sister and solve a family mystery. Central Texans and visitors, don't miss Saturday's launch party at 2 p.m. at BookPeople!

Chronal Engine on the "new releases" shelf at BookPeople.

For those who missed it, check out my author event report from my recent trip to Albuquerque and Tucson. On the plane rides, I also read Gwenda Bond's soon-to-debut novel, Blackwood, and, later, sent her the following blurb: "This haunting, romantic mystery intrigues, chills, and captivates."

Recent local highlights included Cynthia Y. Levinson's launch for We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree, 2012). Here, she's pictured with former child marcher, Washington Booker III, who co-presented the book with her at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center earlier this month. Note: sorry for the light quality.

The one downside of my recent tour? I missed hearing Houston children's author Varsha Bajaj speak at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople.

Here, she is pictured with one of the chapter's inaugural members, Betty X. Davis. Note: Congratulations to Varsha, who is a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Children's Book! Cheers also on TIL honors to local author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan!

And, finally, this video of Don Tate totally made my week! You should watch it, if only to learn how to do "The Happy Dance"! Then check out his debut picture book, It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Learned to Draw (Lee & Low, 2012).

"Focus on the Characters and Let Them Lead the Way: An Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from All About Book Publishing. Peek: "Rough drafts are especially challenging to me, in a hair-and-teeth pulling kind of way. Every word you put down is a decision, and every single one costs you energy. But first drafts also are exhilarating, like skydiving (not that I would ever skydive). I tend to have a few weeks of doubt, wondering if my idea is truly 'novel worthy,' and then I see the threads start to flow together."

Personal Links

About Greg Leitich Smith
  • Author Interview & Giveaway: Greg Leitich Smith on Dinosaurs, Time Travel & Chronal Engine from Cynsations. Peek: "I was and am willing to read books about people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds, and even some about hobbits. Although I did (and do) find the fact that the latter didn’t wear shoes to be somewhat alarming."
  • Process Talk: Chronal Engine (Culture, Humor & Time)(part 2): an interview by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk; see also part one (Setting, Genre, Audience)
  • Greg Leitich Smith: an interview and Chronal Engine giveaway from Debbi Michiko Florence at  DEBTastic Reads. Peek: "...I ended up dusting off my math and physics and doing quite a bit of research on the science of time travel – my background is in electrical engineering so I’ve taken more courses than I care to remember on calculus and differential equations and relativity and quantum mechanics, but I’ll admit I’m a little rusty."
  • Author Profile: Greg Leitich Smith by Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Peek: "I'll make a five-column table, assign one cell per chapter/scene, and write a brief description in each cell of what happens in the corresponding chapter/scene. If I put it down to 8 point type, I can see the entire novel on one page, which helps to see character arc, where things slow down, and if it makes any sense at all."
  • Review: Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith (+ Giveaway) by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Peek: "...a fast paced, middle grade adventure perfect for boys and girls that love history, dinosaurs, and time travel."
  • Chronal Engine: a recommendation by Debbie Gonzales from ReaderKidZ. Peek: "An intriguing time travel adventure, cleverly crafted characters which appeal to both genders, and dinosaurs!"

From Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events

Greg Leitich Smith will launch Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012) at 2 p.m. March 24 at BookPeople in Austin. The program will include an author presentation and dinosaur cookies, cupcakes and other refreshments. 

Cynthia will appear at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference:
  • April 18: 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. "Connecting Teens and Authors: Teen Book Festivals and Awesome Author Visits." 
  • April 20: 8 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. "Introducing the Spirit of Texas Reading Programs." 
  • Signing coordinated by Candlewick Press and TLA. See program for details. 
Note: Greg Leitich Smith also will be signing at the conference.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear at A Festival of Authors, which will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 12 at Reagan High School in Northeast Austin.

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear June 30 at Bastop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas.

Interested in taking a class with Cynthia this summer?

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.

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author Interview: Christopher Cheng

Visit Christopher Cheng
By Resham Premchand
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Walk us through your typical day.

I wake up early in morning. In summer, I go for a walk but in winter not so early. Then after breakfast and kicking my wife off to work (teacher-librarian at primary school), it is down to the business of writing, lots of emails to other creative folks overseas and agents and publishers, etc.

Then at around 9 a.m. the creative work begins and continues right through to lunchtime … with a break in the middle to make a pot of tea, and a walk around the house.

After lunch and a stretch and a read of the newspaper (digital or in print), it is back to the computer, sometimes to review the morning work, sometimes to do more business … websites, blogs, communication with folk … and of course SCBWI things.

In the afternoon, when my wife returns, it is again time for another pot of tea (I really like making tea) and then chitchatting – a bit more writing, maybe some reading of other authors books (important for reviewing) and then time to prepare for dinner and unwind for the evening.

I cook the dinner. … and then it's reading and bed!

With your success in producing picture books and YA novels, have you found similar or different speed bumps and how so?

I guess the big hump is that picture books take so long to come out after I have written and had the manuscript accepted. It takes time for those hugely talented illustrators to add their own part to my words to make it a joint creation!

For novels, and I love writing historical fiction – the problem is knowing when to stop the research and start the writing. So, in both situations, it is a time thing!

Please describe how you think the market for children’s literature has changed in Australia in the past 10 years and how distinct it is from America?

In Australia, we have seen lots of wonderful titles continue to be produced. Definitely the children’s book market has continued to be a strong seller for publishers.

We have had a huge drop in retailers with the collapse of the RED group, and so that has meant that there have been fewer places to sell the books. This of course that has also meant that some of the independents have flourished.

On the publishing front, there has been an increase in the number of smaller boutique publishers, the ones who often take the risk on titles only to find that it thrives while some of the other publishers have been absorbed into the aprons of larger publishers. It’s a cyclical thing!

And then there is the digital explosion. This is wonderful! It is another means for readers to unite with the word. I love it! And SCBWI has become a real cog in the Australian literary scene. It is thrilling to be part of it and see it explode down here, not only as a support network for other creators but also as a network of folks with knowledge about the industry.

With your writing commitments, keeping your blog- up-to-date, continuously being updated yourself and workshop engagements, how you have the time to write or have space for your own creativity? 

I do have to schedule in when I will write. I don’t have a big slot of time (read that as months and months) to write a novel as I am doing a lot of festivals both here in Australia but more so internationally.

It is a privilege, and I take the opportunity when it arises.

I speak on not just my own titles but also the titles of other creators that are being published here.

I also chitchat, too, about the digital side of publishing, I love that!

But back to writing novels, I need to be uninterrupted for quite a while to write the longer work but I continue the research and work on smaller projects - especially picture books which are so rewarding – especially when you see what the illustrator creates from my stimulus!

What are the next challenges or goals for you as a writer?

Grab more time to write.

Get more in-tune with the digital side of publishing. I love where that is leading and how we creators can be part of it. My latest picture book is just ripe for animation, and I want to be part of it!

Continue to support and continue to shout out about the wonderful kids’ books that are produced. I want to see kids’ books being regularly featured in the mainstream media, not as an aside but as of vital importance and “have you read this ripper book”.

Grab some more time to write.

But now I have to go and finish my packing for the Hong Kong Literary Festival and then Bologna.

What was that I mentioned about grabbing some more time to write?

Cynsational Notes

Christopher is blogging the Bologna Book Fair--day by day!

Don't miss his blog, New Kids Books in Oz: The Latest Australian Books to Arrive in Bookstores.

Resham Premchand is a keen life-long student of literature and enjoys playing with words.

She is an active member of Hong Kong and Singapore SCWBI groups and enjoys learning from critique groups. Resham is a primary school teacher and loves working with children!

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations.

To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

SCBWI Bologna 2012 Author-App Creator Interview: Sarah Towle

By Whitney Stewart
for SCBWI Bologna 2012
at Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I met Sarah Towle in Paris in 2007 when she was looking for a publisher for her children’s story/travel-guides to Paris. 

Her early concept was fantastic, so when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to take her new company, Time Traveler Tours, digital and interactive, I pledged a donation. 

Now Sarah’s App, Beware Madame La Guillotine: A Revolutionary Tour of Paris, about a French noblewoman who murders a revolutionary leader, is one of School Library Journal’s top ten apps for 2011. Sarah’s transformation from writer to entrepreneur is as exciting as her digital tales.

Sarah, you’ve morphed very quickly from educator and linguist to a cutting-edge app creator and entrepreneur. Is your head spinning? What has been the best and worst part of your transformation? 

Spinning. Yes, that is indeed the appropriate word. Never in my life did I imagine myself as an entrepreneur, or the recipient of such praise from School Library Journal. Perhaps miracles really can happen!

The absolute best part, as for any author, was seeing the dream come to fruition. From my editor’s final sign off, to the designer’s first ideas, to the testing of the final builds, to the earning of a top 10 distinction, it was a bumpy but thrilling ride.

Although the highlight moment was not willing my shaking, sweaty hands to tear off the postal wrappings without damaging the jacket of the just-received virgin hardcover book; it was not gazing down upon my creation while holding it in my hands for the first time.

Rather, it was witnessing, while on “vacation” in Mexico with my family and our dearest friends, Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris go live in the App Store.

Unfortunately, the absolute worst part came just seconds later when I first grasped that I now had to sell the darn thing!

No sooner had I taken that first sip of terrible Mexican bubbly than I burst into floods of tears. Twin thoughts suddenly occurred to me: What if no one likes it? What if no one finds it?

In the ensuing days, I had to force my peeps to go out exploring the Mexican landscape without me so that I could face the Sisyphean task otherwise known as marketing.

It was like giving birth to a first child and spending the entire pregnancy focusing on the birthing plan without putting any thought at all to how you intend to feed and diaper the tike once it pops out!

Another “best part” was the development process. It was uber-creative and forced me to bring to bear many skills, both old and new. Organizing words and phrases to give life to a living, breathing, feeling character that demands her audience to sit up and take notice was only the beginning.

I then had to build a team of talented editorial, technical, and graphical artists; I had to rewrite the manuscript as a storyboard, mapping out where each image and interactive element would go and how they would flow in and around the narrative. I had to record and master the audio narration in English, then translate the entire text – interactive elements and all – and re-record and re-master the narration in French.

All the while, I had to build an online platform, including website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter handle, LinkedIn account, and learn how to use these tools – not an easy task for one prone to introversion. I had to tackle such legal matters as trade marking and incorporation as well as issues of branding, like logo and slogan creation, and make the acquaintance of all kinds of heretofore unknown creatures, such as search engine optimization.

But it was also exhausting having to face a new learning curve every month non-stop for several years straight. Even when I finally thought I saw the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and made plans for a family vacation to Mexico, I found I still had to keep working.

And during the two years spent developing the first app – another “worst part” – I didn’t get a lot of good, new creative writing accomplished.

I’m exhausted just reading about what you had to accomplish and what you put aside. Do you see yourself ever going back to the print medium? Could your apps become books? 

I dream of the day when I see my stories in print!

Unfortunately, Beware Madame la Guillotine and my other StoryApps now in development, don’t lend themselves to the print medium very comfortably due to the high level of interactivity.

That’s why I decided, two years ago now, with the help of the 48 thirteen-to-fourteen-year-olds who piloted the print mock-up, that the project was never meant to be a book but could make a killer series of apps.

However as iOS apps, my stories can only be discovered and enjoyed, at present, by those who own an Apple mobile device. Yes, these are a lot of people, and the numbers are growing everyday. But it’s still a small percentage of the world’s gazillions of readers.

So my agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen & ink Literary, and I are currently brainstorming ideas for adapting the stories for use in multiple formats. For example, I am working on creative nonfiction treatments of each story to produce as middle grade illustrated histories.

It’s been suggested that Beware Madame la Guillotine would make a great screenplay. And the StoryApps could easily be made into virtual tours for use as desktop apps in home or educational settings, if one had the right technology and budget. Wink.

In fact, I think it’s an imperative of the new paradigm born of the digital revolution that all authors seek to publish on multiple formats. The reason is that audiences can now engage with story in many more ways - print, eReader, film, mobile app - and they are developing preferences.

Therefore, to reach as many people as possible, we have to make our voices heard across platforms. We have to be a part of the trend toward “transmedia story telling.” The opportunities are greater than ever before. Print, far from dead or dying, is now just one possible medium for story publication and dissemination. And I can't wait to play there, too!

Your first digital book-app is about a French murderess. What does your choice of character say about you?

Gosh! I never thought about that before – about how my choice of Charlotte Corday as a character reflects on me as a person. What a fascinating question!

It’s true that I’ve always tended to root for the underdog. Perhaps it was this attitude that informed the initial mission of the Time Traveler Tours project in general: To reveal history through the stories of those who lived it and whose actions contributed to shaping their time.

I wanted to give voice to history’s lesser known or completely unknown players, not the Marie-Antoinettes and Napoleon Bonapartes we’ve already heard from hundreds of times.

As I searched for the perfect character to tell the story of the French Revolution, Charlotte was always there, lurking in the shadows, alluded to but never fully fleshed out. I noticed her, but didn’t really pay her attention.

Then, one day I was on a guided tour of the Palais Royal – yes, taking guided tours is part of my job description! Isn’t that fabulous?! – and our facilitator took us to the address of a once famous cutlery shop. Can you guess what made it so? It was where Charlotte Corday bought the knife she used to kill Marat.

There she was again, this time she’d jumped right out of the past and grabbed me by the collar. She begged me to let her tell her story, finally, as she had never been able to do in life. So I did.

You could also say that this choice of character reveals that, like Charlotte, I can be quite determined, even stubborn, when I set out to accomplish something. Convinced that Jean-Paul Marat was to blame for the Reign of Terror, and that committing a violent crime was justifiable if done at the service of peace, Charlotte determined to murder him, come what may. Similarly, once I got it into my head that I could produce this project myself, there was no turning back. Come what may.

(Note: Charlotte Corday. Original steel engraving drawn by A. Lacauchie, engraved by Roze, 1849. Digital image courtesy of

I can’t wait for your next app release. They’re fun for adults too. Could you give us a sneak preview of your upcoming protagonist?

Sure! Whitney, I’d like you to meet the narrator/tour guide of the Time Traveler Tours StoryApp iTinerary currently in production: Day of the Dead, A Spectral Saunter through Napoleon’s Paris…

Bonjour! The name is Jean-Philippe Toulier.

Before you extend your hand, you might like to know that I was a gravedigger by profession. In truth, I come from a family of gravediggers. My father was a gravedigger, as was my grandfather for a time, and so too my sons. But we weren’t the kind of gravediggers you’ve likely just brought to mind. No. We didn’t dig new graves to put the dead in – not at first.

We dug graves up to pull the dead out.

I’m planning a trip overseas and wish you had a tour app for every major city on this planet. Do you imagine a worldwide explosion for Time Traveler Tours?

Yes. That’s exactly the idea. The sky’s the limit with Time Traveler Tours. Our story-based Paris App Tours are only the starting point, chosen because it’s the city in which I live and whose history I know best. As it happens, lucky me, it’s also the world’s most visited tourist destination.

But in addition to Day of the Dead, I hope to add a London App Tour to the list this year, for release in time for the summer Olympic Games. Then, next year, another Paris and London StoryApp tour each, and…whadda ya say…New Orleans?

New Orleans? Yes! I’m ‘bout it, as they say in this gritty town where we have loads of historical drama. And what’s next for you, Sarah? Will you continue to write your own digital tales, or will you occupy the producer role and employ a team of writers, designers, and techies?

I hope to do both. My favorite part of this process is researching and writing the stories. But working alone, I have no hope of producing new content fast enough to establish the momentum sufficient to build Time Traveler Tours as a business. Also, I don’t really know any other locations as intimately as I know Paris except New York City. So I’d rather offer other writers a vehicle for publication. And I relish the idea of working with others in creative collaboration.

At this point, the only thing standing in my way is lack of financing. I don’t have sufficient funds to pay my collaborators, who thus far have contributed their time and talent for eventual revenue split.

It will be some time, probably years, before Beware Mme la Guillotine begins to show a return on initial investment. I was lucky, and gratified – my thanks again to you for your support! – to have achieved my Kickstarter campaign goal of $5000. In fact we raised $6,000. But it covered only a fraction of the total cost to build and launch the first app.

So if anyone out there wishes to join the fun, to bet on the future success of Time Traveler Tours, as I have, and to invest their writing, design, and/or programming talent for present experience and future gain, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Writers often say that marketing is the toughest part of the business because it takes time away from writing. You had to do this on vacation in Mexico. How do you manage this on a daily basis? What are your techniques?

This is definitely my greatest challenge. Marketing does not come easily or naturally to me. Yet, how to find balance between marketing (left-brain activity in extremis) and writing (right-brain all the way) has certainly become the eternal question for creative people trying to make a living in the twenty-first century. I can’t claim to offer any magical solutions, but here are a few things I try to do, even if I’m still far from perfecting them in practice:

Start each workday with your craft. I am in the enviable position of living several hours ahead of my development partners. This means that, in theory, I can begin my day chatting with my characters without worry of interruption. It never ceases to amaze me how much I can accomplish in relatively little time if I am disciplined and willing to give my total focus to writing first thing every day. Once done, I can turn to the research or production or business tasks at hand in the afternoon, when my right brain is both relaxed and exercised, and with a completely clear conscious.

Set up a social media platform based on your needs and abilities. It is no longer merely important to have an online presence as a creative person. It is now essential. And the invention of social media makes it easier and possible for all of us to be networking from the comfort of our desk chairs. But the plethora of platform choices can be overwhelming, paralyzing even!

Just remember, you don’t need to be on every platform. And you don’t need to start using them all at once. Best to choose your tools based on whether you prefer to communicate in words (blog, Twitter) or images (Facebook, Pinterest, Flicker, Instagram); whether you wish to communicate with a young audience (Facebook) or a professional one (LinkedIn).

I got my feet wet with a blog, eventually waded in with Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and only more recently dove in with Facebook. Next up for me: Google+. Always be linking, liking, commenting, thanking.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, marketing was about promoting products in the hope of achieving sales. Today, of course, we still want sales, we want people to buy our stories, but the means to obtaining that goal has shifted.

Now, according to Guy Kawasaki in his book, Enchantment, it’s about developing relationships with your once and future audience. You do this by revealing yourself as a trustworthy authority in your field or niche. So when you come across an article you feel contributes to your professional discussion, share the link (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+); tell others if you like it (Facebook); post a comment saying why you do, or don’t (blogoshpere); and announce your news (everywhere) so that folks can share it and link back to you.

By virtue of the things you like and information you share, you start to “tell” your story and attract like-minded friends and followers. When they, in turn, link to, like, or comment on your platform, be sure to thank them. Then, when you have news—the coming release of your new book or app—they are ready to receive and, hopefully, act upon it: i.e., share it, shout out about it, buy it!

Rule of thumb: try not to self-promote more than about 20% of the time, less is even better; the rest of the time, promote the contributions and news of others. Social networking is all about karma – what goes around, comes around. Spreading the love is key!

Limit your social networking time. Circling back to my first point above, resist the temptation to start your day with social media marketing. You may never pull yourself out! Strategy is everything. Have Twitter days, Facebook days, blogging days, etc. Finally…

Don’t underestimate the power of good old-fashioned email. ‘Nuf said.

All helpful information, Sarah. What advice do you have for other writers who are thinking of creating book apps? What are the pitfalls?

The main pitfalls are the cost to build vs. the current customer expectation that apps should be cheap to purchase. In present digital culture, the smaller the screen size, the cheaper the price.

Of course this is completely lunatic because it costs much more to build an interactive app than it does to produce an eBook, for example. Yet, despite the fact that you can get much more from a StoryApp, eBooks can fetch a higher price.

The earliest apps – simple games, tools and utilities – set the precedent for free or close to free apps before anyone really understood what mobile could be harnessed to do. App pricing conventions will inevitably change, as they have with eBooks, and apps like Beware Madame la Guillotine will eventually be valued at closer to their actual worth. But this will take some years, and in the meantime, app pricing is determined more by what people are willing to pay rather than the quality of the content and programming costs.

Also, apps need constant updating as the operating systems they live in are being continually improved upon. So be sure to factor maintenance costs and responsibilities into your negotiations with any potential programming partner. You don’t want them disappearing when you need them the most. Believe me, it happens!

Finally, keep in mind that there are a lot of programmers out there, but not a lot of good ones; and even the good ones might not be the right ones for your project. You must take your time, do your research carefully, talk to a lot of people, and choose your partners wisely.

On your website you’re running a writing competition for a three-dimensional children’s story set in London. I assume that you’d like to turn the winning story into an app. Describe your dream submission.

The dream submission will contain all the elements encountered in Beware Madame la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris: it will not be simply an engaging and well-researched story focused on a specific historical era narrated by a compelling central character who lived at that time, but it will also be woven around a London walking tour comprised of sites relevant to the story.

The author will have a sense of the period art and or artists that can be used to illustrate the tale. He or she will have indicated in the manuscript where the story can be expanded to include More Info links and Treasure Hunts, Orientation Games, and Trivia Challenges, all the interactive elements introduced in Beware Madame la Guillotine. I wouldn’t expect for these things to be fully formed upon submission, but they should be suggested.

You must eat, drink, and breathe French history in order to create your apps. Did you have a past life in France or something? Who were you?

Who knows, maybe I did! If so, I was probably someone who rebelled against authority and injustice, like Olympe de Gouges, but I can hardly imagine myself being as brave as her.

Olympe was amazing – a late 18th century writer and political activist who advocated publicly for the abolition of slavery and equal rights for women. In 1791, she self-published the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen in an ironic attempt to expose the Revolution’s failure to achieve gender equality, evidenced by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. She was guillotined in 1793 for her views, in particular for attacking the radical regime of Danton and Robespierre.

Sarah, I love how you flesh out these amazing historical figures. And now for my final question—your interview readers will be insanely jealous of your life in Paris and your success in the digital world. Throw us a bone, please. Anything…

Nearly five years ago, in June 2007, I read aloud in front of a group of writers for the first time. This was during your workshop on writing creative non-fiction for children and teens at The American Library in Paris. Do you remember?

It was a formative moment. My hand shook so much as it held the paper that my eyes – downcast for fear of meeting disapproving glances – could not focus on the words. It didn’t matter, because I had the text memorized. So I forced myself through this simple 250-word reading despite near-total loss of control over my vocal cords. I finished with palms and forehead burning from certain embarrassment, sensations quickly extinguished by your reaction, and by the reaction of all the participants that night.

You, Whitney, were so spontaneously positive that I left the workshop feeling like a writer, for the first time. The confidence you offered that night sustained me for the next three years as I took my little project into the workshop and planed away at the edges.

Three years later, in 2010, I re-emerged, packed my suitcase with hope, a proposal, and three finished manuscripts, and boarded a plane to Bologna, to the SCBWI conference and Children’s Book Fair. I was determined to find a publisher of what by now I had determined would be a series of interactive StoryApps. But at that fantastic fair, five football fields wide, the number of people talking digital could be counted on one hand.

One was Stephen Roxburgh of namelos, who I had to good fortune to meet. He loved Charlotte’s story, too. He said my proposal was the most exciting thing at the Fair. His encouragement gave me the confidence to produce Charlotte’s app myself, rather than wait for the industry to catch up. And here I am, two years later, app in hand and an SLJ Top 10 distinction to boot!

But guess what?

It's time to return to the workshop, and start all over again!

Late at night, Sarah Towle wonders if she had been in Charlotte's shoes, would she have used the knife? She doesn't let this keep her up til dawn, however, as she has other stories to tell and apps to create. Her second title, also with a death theme, Day of the Dead, is due for release this summer. Sarah is represented by Hen&ink Literary Studio.

Cynsational Notes

Whitney Stewart publishes award-winning non-fiction and fiction, from picture book to young adult. Her latest novel manuscript, "River Voice," now on submission, is the story of a troubled boy in post-Katrina New Orleans, and is represented by Hen & ink literary studio. Follow her on Twitter at @whitneystewart2.

The SCBWI Bologna 2012 interview series is brought to you by the SCBWI Bologna Showcase in conjunction with Cynsations. To find out more, visit the SCBWI Bologna Showcase Special thanks to Angela Cerrito for coordinating this series with SCBWI Bologna and Cynsations.

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