Saturday, April 07, 2012

Guest Post: Ruth Sanderson on The Princesses are Dancing Again

By Ruth Sanderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ― Albert Einstein

2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the original publication of the first collection of fairy tales by the brothers Grimm. Happily, a new edition of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, a Grimm’s’ fairy tale that I retold and illustrated, coincides with this historic anniversary.

It is amazing that these stories, passed down from oral tradition long before they were collected and printed, continue to be a source of inspiration for all kinds of media, from books, to plays, movies and television shows.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses was the first book for which I did both the retelling and the illustrations. I grew up with a battered copy of Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales, and read and reread the stories over and over.

Since becoming a professional illustrator, I’ve worked on many kinds of books, from the Nancy Drew series to Golden Books and even an edition of The Little Engine That Could.

To retell and illustrate fairy tales has always been my dream, and I was thrilled to find an editor at Little, Brown to work with me, and since 1990, I’ve done nine fairy tales with them.

The most important element in fairy tales, to me, is the moral choice presented to the hero, or heroine. The child learns that choices have consequences, and can choose what kind of person he/she wants to be. Many of the "princess" fairy tales to me symbolize a rite-of-passage from adolescence into adulthood. There are “dark woods” out there, and the fairy tale is a safe way to prepare the child for the real world. I do think that parents must be careful about some of the scarier tales, and use their own judgment as to whether their child is ready to handle them.

2003 Texas Bluebonnet Award Winner
It is my hope that parents will introduce the deeper, classic versions of fairy tales to their children, as well as the many wacky and “fractured” versions, though these are certainly wonderful, too.

And Disney... I grew up with Disney, but always preferred the original tales in the book. It is hard to compete with Disney these days, especially now that there are book versions of the movies. Like in Presidential campaigns, it is nearly impossible to compete with big budgets.

When I retell fairy tales, I always try to read as many of the oldest versions I can find, and weave a story that is both satisfying to me while keeping a classical flavor. I did weave some elements from the French version into the tale, so it is not a totally “faithful” retelling from Grimm. This is the tradition of retelling, to make the story your own.

I love the artists of the English Pre-Raphalite School in the 1800s, Waterhouse and Burne-Jones, who painted many mythic and fairy tale themes. I am trying to paint in a style that is traditional, but with characters that will appeal to the modern child.

Photogravure of a portrait of Edward Burne-Jones by his son Philip Burne-Jones, 1898

I always take photos of models in period costumes as reference material for my illustrations. I painted a brand new cover for this edition, showing the princesses winding their way through the “golden wood,” on their way to dance until their shoes were worn though.

Visit Ruth Sanderson
I re-scanned all the artwork for the original book and spent weeks adjusting the scans in Photoshop, and creating match prints on special Epson proofing paper to send to the printer. Happily, the time spent paid off - I was totally blown away by the print quality on the new edition – the pictures practically glow.

A review from School Library Journal about the original edition states, “Sanderson’s stately composition and sure hand with face and figure...create scenes so real that viewers begin to wonder why they are unable to hear the music and the laughter.” This version is even better.

Crocodile Books will be bringing out new editions of my other fairy tales that have gone out of print, such as Cinderella, Papa Gatto, Rose Red and Snow White, and The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and The Magic Ring, winner of the Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Cynsational Notes

Ruth Sanderson is the chair of a new illustration program at Hollins University in Virginia, a graduate-level certificate program in children’s book illustration, taken over the course of two summers. She lives and works in Easthampton, Massachusetts, and has a studio in town at Cottage Street Studios.

A solo exhibition of all the original oil paintings from The Twelve Dancing Princesses is scheduled in 2013 at The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the artwork will remain in its permanent collection.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Cynsations U.K. reporter Siobhan Curham on the release of Dear Dylan from Egmont U.K.!  See Siobhan Curham on Daring to Dream.

Writers as Weight Lifters: Keeping Characters Off Balance by Karen Henley from Janet Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "Some writers are reluctant to hurt their protagonists, which creates a boring story. Some writers throw every problem in the world at their characters, which makes the story either unbelievable and cartoon-ish or unrelenting and burdensome. So how do we create believable tension?"

Writers and the World of Start-ups by Lindsey Lane from The Meandering Lane. Peek: "...writers and people who do start-ups (start-uppers?) have a lot in common. Both of us invest huge amounts of time, energy and resources in a vision, as yet unformed, with the belief that what’s in our heads is worthy of existing in the world and touching many, many lives."

The Pacific Coast Children's Writers Whole Novel Seminar from Oct. 5 to Oct. 7 near Santa Cruz, California. Peek: "This 10th annual event features in-person, partial or full novel critiques by editor Simon Boughton (senior vice president and publisher of Roaring Brook Press, First Second, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux), agent Emily Sylvan Kim (Prospect Agency), and/or agent Joe Monti (Barry Goldblatt Literary). Collegial, open-clinic format for 16 advanced/published writers. Concurrent Teen Readers and Writers Workshop, and a Novel Writers Retreat, plus a post-workshop Faculty Mentor Program. Priority/Early Bird applications due May 15 (teens: June 25). Full manuscripts due in summer; shared with peers."

Monster List of Picture Book Agents by Heather Aryis Burnell from Frolicking through Cyberspace. Peek: "As a picture book writer, I know it can be difficult to track down which agents represent picture book authors. Not author/illustrators (how I wish I could illustrate!), but authors only."

Character Thesaurus Entry: Optimistic by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "In a world full of naysayers, the optimist brings light and hope and can be a safe haven for your hero in a difficult time."

Dealing with the Doubts from Jodi Meadows: Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. Peek: "So I wondered, Am I broken? Has the pressure broken my writing brain?"

A Select Bibliography of Works About Young Adult Dystopia by Amy H. Sturgis from Redecorating Middle Earth. See also Queer Characters in Dystopian YA by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read.

Cynsational Author Tip: Keep reading. Don't settle for a dated mental framework of the conversation of books from the time you broke into the industry. The only constant is change. Be part of it.

How I Got Into Publishing by Tu Books/Lee & Low editor Stacy Whitman from CBC Diversity. Peek: "At a Chicago SCBWI event, I met Anita Silvey who ended up being one of my publishing teachers in grad school and she suggested that if what I really wanted was a lateral mid-career move into children's books, the children's literature master's program program at Simmons College was the best way to go."

Motivation or Commitment: Only One Is Necessary by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...when motivation starts to fizzle out, you need rock solid commitment to keep you moving ahead on your writing goals."

The Malaysian Booth at the 2012 Bologna Children's Book Fair from Peek: "Malaysia has lots to celebrate in the world of kidlit including the fact that the current President of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), Mr. Ahmad Redza Ahmad Khairuddib, is Malaysian!"

Interview with Robin LaFevers of Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin (Book One) by Ellen Oh from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "...the hardest part was giving myself permission to write it in the first place. Because, as you say, it has religion and romance and politics, it doesn’t exactly scream young adult novel." Note: Grave Mercy has Cynsations' highest recommendation.

Self-Publishing Your Children's-Teen's Work by Maureen Johnson. Peek: "When you take someone who’s learning and you rubber stamp their work as done, you aren’t actually doing them any favors. Really."

Anneographies highlights picture book biographies for children. New posts daily, featuring books on the subjects' birthdays!

We Can Learn About Ways to Stop Bullying from Teens in the Civil Rights Movement by Ann Angel from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "It’s really no surprise that nonfiction stories can serve to teach history through the eyes of young heroes. It should be no surprise that these young heroes can influence today’s students to consider the good and imperfect in own world and that these stories can open them to becoming the voices for a better world."

Congratulations to Carmen Oliver on signing with Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary, and congratulations to Erzi on signing Carmen!

Falling for the Storyteller by Cathy C. Hall from Wow! Peek: "You have to get out from behind your laptop, change out of your PJs, and take your stories to the masses."

Plan to Celebrate

TD Canadian Children’sBook Week will take place from May 5 to May 12, and close to 35,000 children, teens and adults will participate in activities held in every province and territory across the country. There will be 116 free, public readings taking place across Canada, so to find out who is on tour, order bookmarks and posters, or to download this year’s free Book Week theme guide, go to The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s website. Source Cynsations Canada reporter Lena Coakley.

ALA National Library Week will take place from April 8 to April 14. April is School Library Month. April 12 is Support Teen Library Day.

See also El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day) on April 30.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of two Robot Zombie Frankenstein! prize packages.

Each includes: a signed book, plus build-a-bot foam stickers, robot chest panel iron-ons, and other kid-sized story-related bling: a Robot Zombie Frankenstein mini-notebook; a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate hat, eye patch and hook; a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise disguise; Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader glow-in-the-dark stars; and a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chef hat and apron.

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 "Robot Zombie Frankenstein!" in the subject line. Author-illustrator sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: 11:59 CST April 23.

Note: Robot Zombie Frankenstein (Candlewick, 2012) is a spring Indiebound Kids' Next Pick.

Enter to win a signed copy of  A Million Suns by Beth Revis (Razorbill, 2012)!

To enter, comment on this post (click immediately 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 "Million Suns" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only. Deadline: midnight CST April 17.

Last call! Enter to win a signed advanced reader copy of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2012) and some sinister sweet swag.

To enter, comment on this post (click immediately 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 "Sinister Sweetness" in the subject line. (If you're on LiveJournal, I'm also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.) Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight CST April 9.

Enter for a chance to win Angel Burn and Angel Fire, both by L.A. Weatherly (Candlewick, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click immediately 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 "Angel Burn & Angel Fire" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight CST April 16.

The winner of  Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, 2012) and a T-rex puppet was Heidi in Utah. The runners-up were Penny in Florida and Cindy in Vermont.

The fifth and final winner of an ARC of Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood was Selena in Wisconsin.

ARC Giveaway: Blackwood by Gwenda Bond from The Book Smugglers. Eligibility: international. Deadline: 11:59 p.m. April 7.

This Week's Cynsations Posts
More Personally

Quiet but productive week here. I've been critiquing private student manuscripts and have just shifted my focus to preparing for upcoming author events. By the way, Fall 2012 is now closed to student applications. If you are interested in private study in spring 2013, please contact me for more information. Spots are quite limited.

My thoughts are with those in Dallas who lost homes to tornadoes. Also, my best wishes on Good Friday, Passover and Easter to those who observe them.

Cynsations - Blog of the Month from Sunshine Smile Publications. Peek: "The blog is hosted by NYT bestselling and award-winning author Cynthia Leitich Smith, with the assistance of intrepid reporters from around the globe."

Bookieholics gives Diabolical 4.5 out of 5 and says: "This was probably my favorite book out of the whole saga. It had lots of action in it, and was just really entertaining!"

Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls by Sarah Jamila Stevenson from Finding Wonderland. Peek: "One of my favorite pairs of stories was the Bruchac/Smith pairing—the voice was so strong in both, whether it was Cynthia's Native American basketball star longing for something more than just a clumsy pawing by some oafish dude, or Bruchac's short, thoughtful martial artist who's just a little scared to make that leap into the unknown territory of love."

Don't miss this week's interview with actor Jesse Bernstein, who performed the voice of "slipped" angel Zachary for the Eternal audio book.

Even More Personally

As a long-time fan of Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane, I enjoyed "Mirror Mirror" last Sunday.

Personal Links
From Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events

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." 
  • Author signing coordinated by Candlewick Press and TLA. See program for details. 
Note: Greg Leitich Smith also will be signing at the conference. See more information.

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?

El día de los niños/El día de los libros

Pat Mora
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Plan to celebrate El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) on April 30 and every day of the year. Día "is a daily commitment to link all children to books, languages and cultures," founded in 1996 by children's author Pat Mora.

See information on Planning for Día, the Mora Award, Día FAQ and Día Resources.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

New Voice: Gina Damico on Croak

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations  

Gina Damico is the first-time author of Croak (Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby has sucker-punched her last classmate. Fed up with her punkish, wild behavior, her parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape. But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than that of shoveling manure.

He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach her the family business.

Lex quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated entirely by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. Along with her infuriating yet intriguing partner Driggs and a rockstar crew of fellow Grim apprentices, Lex is soon zapping her targets like a natural born killer.

Yet her innate ability morphs into an unchecked desire for justice—or is it vengeance?—whenever she’s forced to kill a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again. So when people start to die—that is, people who aren’t supposed to be dying, people who have committed grievous crimes against the innocent—Lex’s curiosity is piqued. 

Her obsession grows as the bodies pile up, and a troubling question begins to swirl through her mind: if she succeeds in tracking down the murderer, will she stop the carnage—or will she ditch Croak and join in?

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

No cat was harmed during the writing of this book.
I met my agent, Tina Wexler of ICM, at the New York Pitch Conference. She heard my pitch that morning, and by the time I got home that afternoon, she had already emailed me with a request for the manuscript. Right after I finished squeezing the brains out of my cat in joy, I sent it off. (The manuscript, not the cat.)

I was confident that it was the pinnacle of YA literary perfection, despite the fact that up to that point I hadn't gotten a single iota of feedback from anyone else, since I hadn't let a single other person read it yet. But No Matter. Perfection.


Three days later (three days!) she wrote back that she loved the concept and the voice...but that there were a couple areas where she'd like to see changes. And I mean major changes.

Like, "one of the main characters is terrible in every conceivable way - fix him" and "the world-building is all wrong, you idiot" and "you are a terrible author and you've wasted my time and you should probably throw your computer off the highest building you can find to spare anyone else from reading this nonsense again."

Of course, that's what I heard in my head.

In her actual email, Tina was as polite and classy and enthusiastic and encouraging as she always is, as I would come to find out. And the amount of thought and detail she had put into her response obviously showed that she was excited about my story and wanted to make it better.

Plus, she made it very clear that the revisions would be my choice, that I should just give them a try to see if they might work out.

As it turned out, I made the right choice. Because I did make those changes, and it was the best possible thing I could have done for my book. Not only did the world-building become stronger and the characters more believable, but I got a much better feel for what the book could be.

After that, there were even more revisions, but in the end all that work paid off, because Tina sold Croak to Julie Tibbott of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in a two-book deal.

But of course, having an editor meant a new set of eyes, which meant new revisions. I held my breath and prepared for another irrational freakout...

That never came. Julie's notes were smart, made perfect sense in terms of the manuscript, and, just like all of Tina's input, would ultimately make it a better book. Or maybe by that point I'd just come to my senses and realized that listening to other people's feedback is not just an option, but a necessity.

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

Visit Gina's blog.
This is actually a fairly amusing story, the kind that I hope will one day be immortalized in a zany sitcom.

At the time, I was still living in New York City (I live in Boston now), and one of my best friends was coming to visit to celebrate the birthday of yet another best friend - the three of us were very close in college and it had been a while since we'd gotten up to any hijinks together.

So for a surprise birthday present, my friend and I decided to get in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square and get us all some half-price tickets for a Broadway show.

For those of you unfamiliar with the TKTS discount ticket booth line, let me paint you a picture. Hopeful theater-goers start gathering a couple of hours before the booths open. Barricades are set up, and you are to stand between them, single file. Flamboyant people wearing sequined hats and sandwich boards emerge from out of the mist to hand out brochures, answer any questions, and yell. Always with the yelling.

When the booths finally open for business, you are to know exactly what show you will be seeing, how many tickets you want, and how you're paying, and must deliver this information to the clerk with the utmost speed and efficiency, lest they toss you out of line like the Soup Nazi.

Five minutes before the booth opens, my agent calls.

This sets off a madcap scramble for sanity. I try not to scream, and strain to hear what poor Tina is shouting at me - because I'm in the middle of Times Square, for heaven's sake - all while my friend is looking very concerned, since my shocked expression is probably displaying something along the lines of "my entire family has been murdered and the moon just blew up."

Then, of course, the line starts moving, and Oh My God They're Going to Yell at Me and We Won't Get the Tickets and I'm Going to Ruin My Friend's Birthday, But I Got a Book Deal so Maybe She will Forgive Me!  

Somehow I manage to not shout all of that at some hapless sequined employee. I politely and speedily thank Tina and hang up, then tell my friend the good news and we act like idiots, all with enough time to get to the window and secure tickets without getting arrested by the Booth Police.

When we met up that evening my other friend was gracious enough to let her birthday be overshadowed by this excitement, and we all enjoyed a lovely performance of "Avenue Q" - a musical that, appropriately enough, involves a lot of yelling and puppets and shenanigans.

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

Australian tree that inspired the Ghost Gum tree in Croak.
Croak takes place in two worlds, really - our real world and the Grimsphere - but the two overlap, so the tricky part was getting that combination just right.

The town of Croak is located in upstate New York, deep in the heart of the Adirondacks.

At first, I planned for Croak to be entered by means of some magical device - like a secret patch of trees you'd walk through and be instantly transported, like something out of Harry Potter.

But Tina didn't think that quite fit with the story, so we played around with other possibilities until the answer emerged: don't make it a secret at all.

Make it so that anyone who lost a map can stumble right into Croak. That really ramped up the comic possibilities - the idea that these poor, unsuspecting tourists can wander into this really odd town inhabited by really odd people who just so happen to be Grims. Wackiness ensues.

I quickly learned that less is more - the fewer paranormal elements, the cooler they will seem when they do pop up. Uncle Mort's inventions all involve some supernatural element, but they're rooted in real world technology - their Cuffs are like cell phones, the Lifeglass is like an hourglass that measures memories instead of time. And then there's the Afterlife, which I wanted to leave as a mostly blank canvas. It's very stereotypical, white and fluffy and heaven-like, because it seemed to me that that's what dead souls would come to expect, and why stress them out any more than you have to?

Beyond that, I knew I wanted Croak to be a very homey town, since Grims aren't bad people. Their jobs are a little grisly, but almost none of them (...except Lex) have evil streaks that match the stigma of the occupation. It's a close-knit place - its citizens have lived and worked there for years, and by now they're all one big family. They live astoundingly typical lives - they go to work every day, come home, eat dinner, and then go out to the bar at night to socialize. And the place is even a little hokey, as small towns can sometimes be - the store names all have death themes, like "The Morgue," "Corpp's," "Bought the Farm," and "Dead Meat." That's the butcher's shop.

And though Croak is a small town, that doesn't mean there isn't more going on behind the scenes. Most of the action in the novel takes place in Croak, but the Grimsphere is a worldwide society, with many more places to be explored.

But you'll have to wait for the next book, Scorch (Fall 2012) for that.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations 

For children's-YA authors seeking to be published and/or improve your work, Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will offer nine morning workshops featuring author/illustrator/editor manuscript critiques as well as afternoon classes.

The event will take place from June 18 to June 22 in Sandy, Utah.

This year the conference sponsors its first annual Writing Contest and Scholarship. Don't miss your chance at a $1,000 award.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

New Voice: Elissa Janine Hoole on Kiss the Morning Star

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Elissa Janine Hoole is the first-time author of Kiss the Morning Star (Marshall Cavendish, 2012) From the promotional copy:

When Anna sets out on a post-high school road trip towards an unknown destination with best friend Kat, she thinks she’s prepared for everything.

Clipboard in hand, she checks off her lists: Set up tent. Study maps. Avoid bears. Feelings are not on any list. For the past year – ever since her mother’s sudden death – Anna has shut down her emotions and shut out the people who love her most.

Kat is a different story. Clutching a well-worm copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel about Beat generation pilgrims, The Dharma Bums, she radiates enthusiasm. Maybe, she thinks, this road trip will shake Anna back to life.

The girls zigzag across the Northwest encountering fellow travelers of all kinds – cute hippie boys, spiritual gurus, a tattoo artist, and some sticky-fingered local girls.

But throughout their journey one question haunts Anna. It begins like a gentle rain and then becomes a raging storm: What place does Kat have in my life? Are we good friends?Or something more.

Kiss the Morning Star introduces two unforgettable pilgrims on an off-Beat road trip, a high-spirited, affecting exploration of art, faith, loss and love – both carnal and divine. 

What were you like as a young reader, and how did that influence the book that you're debuting this year?

Sometimes I miss the kind of reader I used to be—indiscriminate, voracious, and with the ability to lose myself completely in any book that fell open in my hands. As a child and as a teenager, I read absolutely everything, and those characters, those worlds, and even those sentences became a part of me and shaped the way I think.

Without Anne Shirley, Laura Ingalls, the rats of NIMH, Billy Pilgrim, Thomas Covenant, the Vampire Lestat, Holden Caulfield, Jo March, and even the hapless Arthur Dent, I would never have put my own words on paper.

I read to escape, I read to laugh and to cry. Mostly, though, I read for the characters I could fall in love with, one page at a time—even the ones I simultaneously despised.

I think that this tendency to read for the characters influences me in that my own writing starts most often with a character, a voice. Most of all—and if I can ever achieve this I’ll feel successful—I want to give my readers the experience of caring so deeply about my characters that they forget, even for a moment, that they are made up of words.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

This is a great question, especially because at first, Kiss the Morning Star was primarily a third-person narrative. The journal entries at the beginning of each chapter were always from Anna’s point of view, but the rest of the book was written in close third, all the way up through my first few rounds of queries.

Finally, two separate (and very kind) agents gave me personal feedback to say that yes, this book sounds interesting, but that the voice was wrong. They both suggested changing the point-of-view to first person.

One of my writing friends was actually visiting at my house the weekend I got the agent responses, and she got to listen to me rail against the idea like a crazy person.

 (Aren’t we all a little crazy, at first, when confronted with the idea of completely rewriting our darling manuscripts? I’m going to pretend you are all nodding your heads.)

But of course I tried it—just the first three chapters, at first. I went into it thinking, “Well, okay, I’ll change all the stupid pronouns and that will be that.” But the most amazing thing happened as I went in there and started thinking from Anna’s perspective. I thought I had found her voice—and maybe I had, here and there, in little snippets—but the more I started to tell the whole story in her words, the more I felt like I knew her. At last, she was this whole person, and I could feel what she wanted and hoped for.

Of course, those who were with me during that process (love to my musers!) know that neither of the agents who helped initiate the rewrite ended up offering in the end, but my new manuscript, greatly improved beyond the changing of pronouns, went on to get many more requests, positive feedback, and eventually offers of representation!

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you deal with the pervasiveness of rapidly changing technologies? Did you worry about dating your manuscript? Did you worry about it seeming inauthentic if you didn't address these factors? Why or why not?

Photo by David Hoole Photography
As a reader, I hate it when I’m reading a contemporary book that is a couple of years old, and already there is so much about it that’s out of date.

As a writer, I try to be aware of my technology, and I also try fairly hard to avoid using brand names or specific references that will quickly become out of date. As a result, my characters just “plug in the music” in their car instead of hooking up their ipod or their mp3 player or…I don’t even know…singing along to Adele?

That said, a major plot point in the book is that Anna and her father are exchanging text messages on their phones—the agreement is that she is supposed to send him the things she’s learning in her search for proof of the existence of God, and he is to send her the reasons he is getting out of bed.

The phone also plays another role in an important scene, and at the time I wrote the original scene, my own phone was practically an antique, and I had only sent a handful of text messages.

I revised several times over the two years that I was working on this to make the way she uses the phone more up-to-date and yet still keep it generic—I didn’t want it to be clear that she had to be using a certain kind of phone.

It’s funny because early on, a long time after her first read and before she read again, my editor started the conversation by asking me to remind her if the book was taking place in the contemporary world or in the sixties, and I guess in a lot of ways, I actually like that timelessness about it, the fact that my characters get to escape some of the technology of the world by taking off with only their car and their backpacks and this relic of a book.

They’re not updating their facebook statuses from their phones and posting pictures of their new tattoos on their tumblr, and maybe in some ways that’s not authentic, but in other ways it allows them to concentrate on their journey—and each other—in a way that maybe is getting harder and harder to do in this world.

copy edits

Cynsational Notes

Kiss the Morning Star will be available May 15 from Marshall Cavendish. Available for pre-order now.

Elissa Janine Hoole has a longstanding love of road trips and beat writers, but it was a summer-long ramble out West that inspired this debut novel, when she and her husband set off across the country with a backpack full of Kerouac books.

Now settled in her home in northern Minnesota, Elissa teaches middle school English and writes until midnight, sipping cold coffee and ignoring the laundry. She still suffers from acute wanderlust from time to time, but road trips now involve a mini-van and a chorus of “Are we there yet?” from two small dharma bums-in-training.

In Memory: Marguerite W. Davol

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Friends by Jeannine Atkins from Views from a Window Seat. Peek: "We called her Peg or Peggy, but on her book jackets she was Marguerite W. Davol. I love the language in her picture books such as Batwings and the Curtain of Night, the joy of The Paper Dragon, and Black White, Just Right, a sort of love letter to her grandchildren."

Remembering Our Peg from Jo Knowles. Peek: "I know that if you met Peg or have read any of her beautiful books, you are well aware of that sparkle you see in all of these photos. Of that joy. Of that giving soul who simply loved. Loved life, and everyone and everything in it."

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Author Interview & Giveaway: Beth Revis on the Across the Universe Series

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Beth Revis is the author of the New York Times Bestselling Across the Universe series, published by Razorbill/Penguin in the U.S. and available in 17 countries.

The first book in the trilogy, Across the Universe, is a “cunningly executed thriller,” according to Booklist, and the second book, A Million Suns, was hailed by the LA Times as “a fast-paced, action-packed follow-up.”

The final book of the trilogy, Shades of Earth, will be released in early 2013.

A former teacher, Beth lives in rural North Carolina with her husband and dog. Her goals include traveling around the world in 80 days, exploring the moon, and finding Narnia.

Wow! As a debut YA author, you burst onto the scene like a supernova! Critically acclaimed, a bestseller, an international sensation. What moments stand out most in your memory and why?

I thought when I got published, everything would be different. Shiny and glamorous! But the truth of the matter is, everything's still pretty much the same as it's always been. When I found out I hit the New York Times list for the first time, I was sitting at my kitchen table paying my electric bill!

I suppose the biggest stand out--or at least the moment I will never forget--was finding out about the book deal in the first place. After my agent told me the book sold, I got so excited that I gave myself stress-induced gastroenteritis and spent the night in the hospital, throwing up!  

Yikes! What did it take to get you there? Could you share with us the timeline and highlights of your path to publication?

My journey to publication was so long that Bilbo Baggins could have gone there and back again five times. I wrote my first novel in college...and it was terrible.

I wrote ten more novels, over the course of ten years. A decade. A decade, during which time I gathered up nearly a thousand rejections from agents and publishers.

I was definitely at the point of giving up, but decided to try one last time, with one last story. That story was Across the Universe, and it changed everything.

What did you learn from your debut year that you'd like to pass on to the new voices of 2012?

Don't worry about doing everything. You can't do everything. It all seems so important to answer every interview, do every giveaway, but it'll be okay if you don't. Focus on what you enjoy doing. And make some author friends! They'll talk you down after you read your first negative review...and all the ones after that.

Congratulations on your new release! For many writers, the "dreaded sophomore novel" is the toughest. Was that your experience? Or was it smooth sailing?

Smooth sailing! Ha! I think I'm doomed to an interesting life, as the old Irish proverb would say.

I wrote my first draft of A Million Suns and it was...terrible. Fortunately, my beta readers let me know this, so I rewrote the book before submitting it to my editor.

Long story short: I wrote the book four times before it was good enough!  

What advice do you have for beginning writers with a passion for science fiction?

Explore what you like. I felt grossly under-qualified to write sci fi because my sci fi novel was very short on the science department. I wanted space, but I also wanted romance and mystery and death and tragedy and more. So I wrote the story I wanted, leaving out the parts I didn't, and it worked.

You don't have to write a certain way to fit a certain genre. Instead of being your style for the genre, bend the genre toward your style.  

Preview at Kindle and Nook.

You also write short stories! How does writing in short form nurture you as a novelist?

I sincerely think that it's typically much easier to write a novel than a story. At least, many of my short stories have turned into novels! But the thing about a short story is, you need all the elements of a novel, but a tiny portion of the size. It's a challenge, but it makes you focus on the important bits.  

What do you do outside of writing and the world of books? 

I love to travel! I love my home in rural North Carolina, but I don't feel right if I don't escape the state--or the country--at least a few times a year. There's just so much of the world to see!

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of A Million Suns! 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 "Million Suns" in the subject line. (If you're on LiveJournal, I'm also taking entries via comment at the Cynsations LJ.) Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only. Deadline: midnight CST April 17.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Beth's blog, follow her at Twitter, Facebook (exclusive materials and insider information) and Goodreads. Check out free samples of Across the Universe for Kindle and Nook.

Check out this video: Don't Give Up by Beth Revis. Really, it's required.

Book Trailer: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga  (Little, Brown, 2012). Don't miss the I Hunt Killers blog tour.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Giveaway Package: Robot Zombie Frankenstein!

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Teachers! Librarians! Buddies! And other Superheroes-in-Disguise!

Enter to win one of two Robot Zombie Frankenstein! prize packages.

Visit Annette!
Each includes: a signed book, plus build-a-bot foam stickers, robot chest panel iron-ons, and other kid-sized story-related bling: a Robot Zombie Frankenstein mini-notebook; a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate hat, eye patch and hook; a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise disguise; Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader glow-in-the-dark stars; and a Robot Zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chef hat and apron.

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 "Robot Zombie Frankenstein!" in the subject line. Author-illustrator sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada). Deadline: 11:59 CST April 23.

Cynsational Notes

Don't miss the Robot Zombie Frankenstein! Support an Independent Bookseller Pre-order Special. Peek: "...receive a just-published, signed, personalized copy, plus foam build-a-bot stickers, robot chest panel iron-ons, and that delicious I-supported-an-independent-bookstore feeling."

Robot Zombie Frankenstein (Candlewick, 2012) is a spring Indiebound Kids' Next Pick.

Happy International Children's Book Day (April 2) from Peek: "Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, April 2, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books."

Guest Post: Greg Leitich Smith on How to Plan a Book Launch (Part One)

By Greg Leitich Smith for GregLSBlog &
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

It's perfectly valid to treat the publication of a book as any other day. However, my wife, author Cynthia Leitich Smith, and I have had a policy since we started in children's-YA writing of celebrating each success, however small. As Bradley Sanguini says, "Life merits celebration."

And the hatching of a new book is a big deal.

Also, a book launch is in some ways a marketing tool -- it gets people talking about and buying your book. And hopefully excited about reading it. 

There are several ways this could be accomplished, of course, including a bookstore signing, a signing or event at another facility, or a party at your home.

For Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012), we coordinated a public party and signing at BookPeople and a private reception at our house. We split the event so we could offer an opportunity open to the public but also celebrate with members of the immediate children's-YA literature community per se (I will talk about a launch party/reception in a subsequent post).

So, here are some thoughts, in no particular order, about a bookstore launch. 

The Bookstore Event

Before your book comes out or the manuscript even sells to a publisher

Bookseller and author Madeline Smoot directs traffic
Get to know your local bookstore and the booksellers. Don't be stalker-ish. Just shop regularly at the store. Keep in mind that it needs to make business sense to open the facility and provide supporting staff for your event (for free). Frequenting the store will develop goodwill toward that end. What's more, bookstores are terrific destinations, and, really, you should be reading and keeping up with the market anyway. (If your budget is such that all of your books must come from the library, that's okay. Make a smaller purchase--like a bookmark--and/or help raise awareness of the store's programming.)

Regularly attend other book launches and book-related events at the local bookstore. You will learn, have fun, and enjoy being a part of the scene. Besides, you don't want to be one of those types who doesn't support others but expects their support in return.

Be a part of a community of writers. In addition to its being  uplifting, these are the folks who are most likely to share in the excitement.  And, unlike other friends and family, they will get it get it.

Deinosuchus and Greg.

Planning the launch

Book your facility.  Many venues schedule events months in advance, including bookstores. (Try not to take it personally if, for whatever reason, the store can't accommodate you.)

Decide what you want to do. Do you want a genteel wine-and-cheese party or a more raucous hootinanny? In either case, make sure the bookstore (or whatever facility you work with) is up for it.

Do you want to do an event by yourself or a joint event?  When Cynthia's Holler Loudly (Dutton, 2010) came out, she co-hosted an event with authors Bethany Hegedus and Brian Yansky.

Try picking a theme related to the book for both the decorations and refreshments. 

Obviously, in the case of Chronal Engine, the theme was dinosaurs, so I had dinosaur footprints on the floor, dinosaur-shaped cookies, cupcakes with dinosaur pictures. When Jeff Crosby's Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) came out, he served mini hot dogs from Frank's, invited in the dachshund-owner community, and featured relatives dressed up as Granny and the wolf.

Decide on the refreshments: In addition to the goodies pictured above, I chose kid's party triangle tea sandwiches (peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, etc) and a lot of water and soft drinks in 8 oz. cans. The cookies were prepared by children's author Anne Bustard and the sandwiches and cupcakes came from Central Market.

Anne Bustard's dino-cookies (they went fast)
Dino cupcakes
Triangle finger sandwiches
If you choose an outside facility, make sure your bookseller can actually sell books there.

(Cynthia Levinson held her launch for We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March (Peachtree, 2012) at the Carver Museum, and BookPeople sent staff to handle the sales).

In addition to food and drink, figure out whether you will need to have tablecloths, napkins, cups and plates. For my launch, BookPeople graciously provided all of these.

Varsha Bajaj, Shana Burg, Sean Petrie Margo Rabb
Jennifer Ziegler, Gene Brenek, Bethany Hegedus
Betty X. Davis, Cynthia Levinson

Know the facility. My local bookstore has excellent WiFi in the coffee shop, but seems to have a WiFi "dark spot" with a slow connection in the most optimal location for presentations to large crowds. Consequently, for events there, authors will not necessarily have access to the Internet. This can be a problem if you want to show your trailer via YouTube, if you want to Skype, etc. So, it's key to make other arrangements.

Pack backups. Your bookstore will likely have its own projector, but you will probably need to bring your own laptop or tablet computer. If so, make sure you also bring necessary cords or Bluetooth connectors or wireless remotes, etc. If your presentation is dependent on it, you don't want to find out only minutes before that a vital technological component is not available.

Extra cordage

Be aware, of course, that even the best of plans might not work out. When I launched Chronal Engine, I brought along an extra extension cord for my computer as well as an extra-long VGA cable (I didn't have a wireless/remote mouse for my computer, and I've found that ones for the projector are a bit iffy). I also had masking tape to secure the cords against people tripping on them. That way, I figured, I could stand at the lectern and operate my slides myself.

In addition, I had prepared a Prezi presentation using the laptop (not cloud-based) version, because I knew I wouldn't be able to get Internet access.

The Adapter of Doom
Then when I hooked up my laptop, I discovered that the power cord adapter wasn't working. Fortunately, Cynthia has the same model computer, and I was able to dash back to the house and grab her adapter. But if that hadn't happened, I would've been prepared either to quickly prepare and present a traditional Powerpoint or just have "winged" it.

In this regard, you should also plan on getting to the facility sufficiently early that you discover such glitches while there is still time to fix them.

Know your audience. At the Chronal Engine launch, I knew there would be a lot of people in the children's-YA literature community, including writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians, book bloggers, professors of library science and education, plus friends and avid readers from outside that community as well as a good number of real live, actual children and teens.

The presentation should be such that all parties are engaged. Try an interactive component that will involve young readers in the audience. You don't necessarily want people to just sit passively.
Interior illustration by Blake Henry
Prepare your presentation. Ideally, it should be relatively short, engaging, and visually interesting. With mine, I was able to show pictures of dinosaurs and pictures from the book itself. If you do an overhead presentation, do not simply read your slides.

Practice your presentation. You should know what's going on without having to consult your slides or hem and haw.

Ask for help. There is probably no way you can do it all yourself. For the Chronal Engine launch, friends were gracious enough to lend coolers; take photos; help with carrying refreshments and coolers out to the store; pick up the refreshments from Central Market; and bring stuff back to the house afterwards.  

Get the word out. Publicizing the event can take many forms and when your signing is at a bookstore, the booksellers can help out, too (either on the store website or sending notices to the literary section of the local newspaper, etc.).

If you blog and are adept at social media, use those. Perhaps take out a Facebook ad.

Post on local writer e-lists. Ask folks at your local SCBWI chapter and other writer organizations (e.g., Writers League of Texas) to announce the event. Send out invitations, either by traditional mail or using, say, Paperless Post or Evite.

Emphasize that it's a party. You're asking folks to come celebrate, not asking them to purchase. (Some librarians, for example, may have already put in their order elsewhere.) But having at least a ballpark RSVP count helps when you're trying to figure out how much food and drinks you'll need.


Lindsey Lane, Jerri Romine, and Meredith Davis
At the signing itself, welcome and engage the folks who are coming. Perhaps offer postcards, bookmarks and/or other swag to give away. Decide how you're going to sign (e.g., are you going to have a special catchphrase or stickers, stamps, etc.).

If your books sell out and there aren't enough for everyone, this is a good problem to have. Talk to the bookseller and see if the additional customers can go ahead and order copies. Swing by when those books come in to autograph. Whatever you do, don't complain. Trying to anticipate the number of books needed is, put mildly, challenging.

Say thank you to everyone, especially those who helped out in some way.

And have fun.  Because life merits celebration.

Cynsational Notes

Greg's report on the author presentation at BookPeople and Cynthia's report on the reception that immediately followed. See also Author Interview: Greg Leitich Smith on Dinosaurs, Time Travel, Heritage and Chronal Engine.

In the video below, check out Jeff Crosby's event for Wiener Wolf on July 2, 2011 at BookPeople in Austin.

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