Friday, June 29, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

A 2012 NBGS Selection
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Notable Books for a Global Society from the International Reading Association. Peek: "...a committee of the CL/R SIG (Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group) of the International Reading Association selects 25 outstanding trade books for enhancing student understanding of people and cultures throughout the world. The committee reviews books representing all genres intended for students K-12."

How to Tackle Critique Notes by Carleen Brice from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If, like me, you get a little light-headed at all the work you have to do after you’ve received a critique letter and edits, these suggestions might help."

Crafting Multi-Layered Characters by Marissa Graff from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "So what exactly can we observe about memorable characters to demystify why they work? It breaks down to the following five items..."

Graphic Novels for Emerging and Transitional Readers by Dianne White from ReaderKidZ.

First Sale: Expectations vs. Reality by  Kristin Halbrook from YA Highway. Peek: "The successes I have now feel bigger, more earth shattering, I think, than they would have even two years ago. Expecting less means I have more room for joy when great things do happen."

How Long Does a Publisher Have Rights to My Book? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "When you sign a contract, does the publisher get the rights to that book for its whole copyright time?"

From the Scottish CBA Shortlist
2012 Scottish Children's Book Awards Shortlist Announcement from ACHUKA. Peek: "...excellence in Scottish writing and illustration for children across three age categories: Bookbug Readers (3-7 years), Younger Readers (8-11 years) and Older Readers (12-16 years). The total prize fund is £12,000, with the shortlisted authors and illustrators receiving £500 per book, and the three overall winners receiving £3,000 per book."

Shana Burg's New Novel Details Life in Malawi by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "...Burg draws a rich portrait of Clare's new home, from the quotidian details (spotty showers, gas-passing elephants) to the spare conditions at the school she attends. But the real uncharted territory is Clare's psyche, which shakily begins to heal as she settles into life in Malawi."

Author Insight: Social Media by S.F. Robertson at Wastepaper Prose. Insights from various YA authors.

Whatsthatbook.com: an online resource for those seeking a book but missing key details. Peek: "What is the name of that book where...? Are you looking for the title and author of a book?" Source: E. Kristin Anderson.

How and Why I Write Humor by Joanne Levy from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers. Peek: "What makes me laugh most about this scene is Tamsin obviously moving the pointer. And she gets it wrong the first time, so has to adjust and start pulling the pointer the other way, still under the ruse that it’s the spirits moving it."

Author Marketing: Engaging Your Audience by Erin E. Moulton from Literary Rambles. Peek: "How would I engage with my readers? Well, I thought about it and I came up with three simple steps that helped me and I hope they help you, too." Note: also enter to win an ARC of Tracing Stars by Erin Moulton (Philomel, 2012) from Literary Rambles. Deadline: July 14.

Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of three signed ARCs of Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (Delacorte, 2012) were Edi in Indiana, Pat in California and Carl in Arizona.

The winner of It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters (Little, Brown, 2012) was Cherie in Illinois.

See also Luke Reynolds Interviews Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette from Literary Rambles and the 1rst Anniversary Luminous Summer Giveaway from Dawn Metcalf.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Giveaway: your choice of my Gothics!
It's my pleasure to unveil the Walker Books (U.K.) cover for Diabolical, book four in the Tantalize series.

According to online retailers, it should be available as early as Aug. 2. The U.S./Canada release from Candlewick Press is already available. See more information and international giveaway.

Thank you to coordinator Carol Lynch Williams, my assistant Courtney Lowe, members of the WIFRY YA fantasy-paranormal workshop, the staff of The King's English Bookshop and everyone else who made the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in Salt Lake City last week such a success! See Greg's photo report; mine is still forthcoming.

Interview with New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Leitich Smith by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek: "I lived one summer in the North Dallas suburbs—with my great aunt while covering 'high profile' figures and high fashion for The Morning News. That area later became home to the character Miranda..."

Congratulations to fellow Austinite H. Scott Hamilton on the sale of his debut YA novel to Disney-Hyperion! See also Hamilton Beazley's 2011 Agent Conference Experience from the Writers' League of Texas.

Look for "The Last Bicycle" by Betty X Davis in the July/August issue of "Spider."

A peek at the movies I saw last weekend:





Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

In Memory: Deborah Brodie

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: Editor and Writing Instructor Deborah Brodie by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek:

"Throughout her time in the children’s book industry she worked with such acclaimed authors and illustrators as Patricia Reilly Giff, Tony Johnston, Seymour Chwast, Sarah Dessen, Mary Pope Osborne, and Jane Yolen.

"Among her many accomplishments at Viking, Brodie conceived and edited the long-running (and still in-print) Cam Jansen series by David A. Adler, and during her tenure at Roaring Brook she launched the careers of 21 debut authors and illustrators."

See also Writing on a Unicycle: Making Time for What You Love in a Life Out of Balance by Deborah from her official website. Learn more about Deborah.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Diabolical U.K. Cover Reveal & Tantalize Series Giveaway

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations


From Walker Books (U.K. edition)(available fall 2012)(online retailers listing Aug. 2):

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

Candlewick (U.S.) cover
When "slipped " angel Zachary and his werewolf pal Kieren are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lock-down with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked "students".

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

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

Cynsational Notes

“...this captivating story combines action, suspense, and romance with just the right touch of humor to keep it entertaining. A great finish to an original and satisfying series.” —School Library Journal

"It's a considerable challenge for a series not to lose steam by the fourth book, but this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven." —The Horn Book

"A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor." —Kirkus Reviews



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win your choice of books in the Tantalize series, including Tantalize, Eternal, Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren's Story and the U.S./North American edition of Diabolical. Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Interview: Caldecott Illustrator Emily Arnold McCully

By Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Being an outsider can be a terrifying experience, but it’s something we’ve all felt at one time or another. 

In Ballerina Swan (Holiday House, 2012), Sophie the swan has a burning desire to become a ballerina, but is, of course, an outsider in the ballet studio. 

Written by famed ballerina Allegra Kent, Ballerina Swan is a clever twist on the idea that ballerinas desire to emulate swans.

This wonderful story about following your passions is complimented by illustrations filled with movement and emotion by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully.

As illustrators ourselves, we were thrilled to have the chance to ask Ms. Arnold McCully a few questions about the making of the book.

It is very common in children’s book publishing for an author and an illustrator to have no contact while the picture book is being created. We’re wondering in this case where the author has such expertise on the subject, did you interact with Allegra during the illustration phase of the book? Did she proof the sketches for accuracy? What other reference did you use?

I looked at photographs of New York City Ballet children’s classes and others but did not visit a class myself. I wanted to convey enthusiasm, dedication and intermediate skill in the pictures.

I did not consult Allegra, but was anxiously aware as I made sketches that she would have to approve them. She made a couple of suggestions and one adamant request for change (a leg position). To my relief and joy, she was generally very happy.

One fabulous photo I came across showed Pavlova and company dancers posing in a swannery in Britain—swans all around them.

The movement and gesture in your characters is wonderful—and a perfect complement to the subject matter of Ballerina Swan. As illustrators, we know how hard these elements can be to achieve. What methods do you employ to keep your illustrations fresh and lyrical?

Featured with permission.

The look of spontaneity, “freshness,” is the quality I care about most. To achieve it, I make rapid sketches and refine them by tracing. That way I can retain the lines I like without laboring over them. It’s a technique I learned as a nine-year-old from a venerable illustrator named Paul Brown, although he didn’t use tracing paper but rather plain bond.

I love to draw and arrived at my methods by practicing over the years—I have no academic training. 

You have spoken very passionately in interviews about the importance of artistic expression in the world and of dance being possibly the oldest and most instinctive of art forms. You obviously express yourself artistically in a visual way…do you also dance?

Meet Jeff & Shelley!
I read somewhere that passionate dance audiences have the feeling that they themselves are dancing, even if they are untrained. I feel that way, watching dancers and listening to music. I try to transmit the feeling in my drawings. But no, I don’t dance, except socially. I’ve always been an athlete.

There are intriguing illustration decisions throughout the book, and we wonder if there are any back stories to them that you’d like to share. For example, Sophie appears to be a Coscoroba swan, without the typical black mask that we visualize when we think of a swan. Was this a symbolic decision or perhaps done for simplicity’s sake?

Yes, I decided against the black mask because it made Sophie look too sophisticated—even calculating. I was a little nervous about accuracy (as with the dancers) but the editor assured me that this book is fiction and I could do whatever I wanted.

The pianist is quite a character—is she inspired by a real person?

The pianist is a necessary counter to the homogeneity of the children’s costumes and the general blandness of the room. There is no person who inspired her. 

Is the pigeon who watches Sophie from the windowsill a ballerina at heart, too?

The pigeon is a neighborhood busybody, come to see what has gotten Sophie into.

Used with permission.

We look forward to seeing your next project! What are you working on now?

I am working on some early readers for Holiday House—a pig who refuses to eat his mother’s green slop; ducklings washed down a drain and pursued by their mother. Also a picture book about Strongheart, the first movie star dog, who paved the way for Rin Tin Tin.

Soon to appear: two YA books: a biography of the muckraker Ida M. Tarbell and a fictionalized youth of Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Cynsational Notes

Emily & Allegra

Emily Arnold McCully was born in Balesburg, Illinois and raised in Long Island, New York. At a young age she decided to become a naturalist and inspired by her hero, John Muir, kept notebooks of her writings and drawings. Her keen observation of the world around her no doubt helped her to become the award-winning illustrator that she is today.

Of the many prestigious awards she’s received are the Caldecott Medal for Mirette on the High-Wire (Putnam, 1992) and the Christopher Award for Picnic (HarperCollins, 2003).

Emily holds a bachelors degree from Brown University and a masters in art history from Columbia. She currently lives in New York City and Chatham, New York. Emily has two grown sons.

Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson are husband and wife author/illustrators who work both individually and collaboratively.

The couple’s love of dogs inspired them to write and illustrate their first collaborative picture book, Little Lions, Bull Baiters & Hunting Hounds: A History of Dog Breeds, recipient of a non-fiction research grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and winner of ForeWord Magazine’s 2008 Juvenile Nonfiction Book of the Year award.

Jeff’s Wiener Wolf was recently selected for the Texas Library Association’s 2 x 2 Reading List. The couple’s most recent joint project is Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds. Jeff and Shelley live in Austin with their daughter Harper and three dogs.

In the video below, join Allegra inside the Holiday House library with her editors Grace Maccarone and Pam Glauber to discuss Allegra's first picture book, Ballerina Swan.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Voice: Sarvenaz Tash on The Mapmaker and the Ghost

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarvenaz Tash is the first-time author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost (Walker, April 2012). From the promotional copy:

Goldenrod Moram loves nothing better than a good quest. Intrepid, curious, and full of a well-honed sense of adventure, she decides to start her own exploring team fashioned after her idols, the explorers Lewis and Clark, and to map the forest right behind her home. 

This task is complicated, however, by a series of unique events—a chance encounter with a mysterious old lady has her searching for a legendary blue rose. 

Another encounter lands her in the middle of a ragtag gang of brilliant troublemakers. 

And when she stumbles upon none other than the ghost of Meriwether Lewis himself, Goldenrod knows this will be anything but an ordinary summer . . . or an ordinary quest. 

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

I read a lot as a child. I was extremely shy; embarrassed by my weird name; embarrassed by the feta cheese sandwiches my mom gave me for my paper bag lunches (which were delicious, obviously, but what eight-year-old is eating feta sandwiches in the elementary school cafeteria?); like most kids, wanting desperately to fit in but also knowing that I probably never would.

I turned to books. When I was reading, it didn’t matter what I looked like or that I felt too paralyzed by shyness to speak. I was going on a journey; I was meeting some of the most interesting, funniest, bravest people I’d ever met. Matilda and Harriet, Ramona and Beezus, Turtle Wexler, Meg Murry and Mary Ann Spier.

The result is that my head was in a book about 70% of my waking life and I knew I wanted to be a writer by the time I was seven. The other result is that my social skills took a lot longer to cultivate than most kids but, still, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The way books had a profound effect on me as a kid heavily influenced my decision to write children’s books. I’ve loved many, many books I’ve read as an adult, but I think very few things I’ve come across as an older reader has stuck with me the way those Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary and Ellen Raskin books did. Their characters were my first friends and the adventures they had along the way, somehow, became a part of my experience too.

The Mapmaker and the Ghost took a few years from conception to final draft, and a lot of plot points and characters changed in that time. But the core reason I was writing it did not: I wanted to write a book that I would have loved as a child. I wanted to think that someone like Roald Dahl would read this book and laugh. I wanted to create characters that would take readers on an adventure that would become a part of them, too. 

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

The Mapmaker and the Ghost is not a straight-out fantasy. In some ways, it’s a contemporary story dotted with fantastical elements. I think magical realism is probably the best genre it would fit into.

I always knew that I’d want the book to straddle the line between reality and a fairy tale-like essence. It started out having no concrete fantastical elements though, just the suggestions of them. In my head, I wanted it to seem like it could be a real adventure, but with the possibility of magical things lurking just beneath the surface.

Which means that, up until one of the latest drafts, there was no ghost in The Mapmaker and the Ghost at all!

Eventually, though, I realized that the story was really lacking in something and once the ghost’s character popped into my head, I knew that he was it. It meant I had to change my initial idea of the lurking fantasy and bring at least parts of it to the surface.

But the result is that the story is better, richer and funnier. And I do think that my initial concept still resonates. Perhaps just a little less subtly (in other words, it might come across to someone other than me!)

Cynsational Notes

Sarvenaz Tash was born in Tehran, Iran and grew up on Long Island, N.Y. She received her BFA in Film and Television from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. This means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, copywriting, and professional tweeting. Sarvenaz currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. where all the streets are laid out in a delightfully simple grid system.


THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST by Sarvenaz Tash (Official Trailer) from Sarvenaz Tash on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New Voice: Tracy Bilen on What She Left Behind

Discussion questions
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Bilen is the first-time author of What She Left Behind (Simon Pulse, 2012). From the promotional copy:

"Don’t even think of leaving...I will find you," he whispered. "Guaranteed."

Sara and her mom have a plan to finally escape Sara’s abusive father. But when her mom doesn’t show up as expected, Sara’s terrified. Her father says that she’s on a business trip, but Sara knows he’s lying. Her mom is missing—and her dad had something to do with it.

Each day that passes, Sara’s more on edge. Her friends know that something’s wrong, but she won’t endanger anyone else with her secret. And with her dad growing increasingly violent, Sara must figure out what happened to her mom before it’s too late...for them both.

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

My “ah-ha” moment came after I had finished writing my first (unpublished) novel and had a professional critique. The person doing the critique pointed out that my protagonist needed a story goal – something that she was working toward during every chapter.

Oh. Right. That.

Such a simple concept, but one that forever changed my novel writing! 

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

From the outside, it can seem like being offered a publishing contract is a bit like winning the lotto. But the more involved I got in the writing community, the more this seemed attainable.

Taking novel writing courses taught me how to structure a novel. Joining SCBWI and RWA and attending conferences introduced me to manuscript critiques, led me to form a critique group, and taught me a lot about how to find an agent.

Entering contests gave me feedback and led to my winning a year-long mentorship with Michigan writer Shutta Crum.

When I finished my mentorship with Shutta, I knew I was ready to look for an agent, but I also knew that finding an agent wouldn’t necessarily mean that I’d actually sell my novel.

So I was cautiously optimistic when we went out on submission, yet confident that I’d done all I could to make this work. And I knew that if it didn’t work out this time, I would write another book and I’d try it again.

But it did work! The bottom line is that if you really want to publish your book and you’re willing to work hard and listen to criticism, it’s not as unattainable as it seems. That said, I’m still a bit surprised that I’m debuting at all, never mind in 2012!

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

Learn more about Tracy.
I found that making a low but daily word count goal for myself really helped a lot, especially because I kept track of my progress in a notebook. In this way I forced myself to work on my writing even when I was tired from a long day at work because I knew that making my goal wouldn’t take very long. And of course, most days I was able to surpass my goal.

My advice for when it’s time to do publicity for your book is this: every day make yourself do “one” of whatever it is that you need to get done: answer one set of blog questions, contact one media source or bookseller, sign one set of bookmarks.

Otherwise it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and panicked about both your jobs!

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I started by using QueryTracker.net where I researched agents and then kept track of my responses (I love the smiley face sun glass guy icon you use to mark positive responses!).

In the midst of this process I met the person who would become my agent (Kevan Lyon) at a local RWA (Romance Writers of America) meeting. She seemed both easy to talk to and very knowledgeable. I queried her after the meeting which led to her offering me representation.

What stood out about Kevan was that when I talked to her about my manuscript, she had clear and well thought-out ideas for revisions and she also had a good sense of the YA market and where my novel could fit in it. I could feel she was a good match, and I haven’t been disappointed!

When talking to a prospective agent, don’t forget to listen to your gut!

Book Trailer: Oldsoul by Dan Haring

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the trailer for Oldsoul by Dan Haring (Pendrell, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Jason Gouvas doesn’t want to believe he has special abilities or that he's an Oldsoul-- a vessel for the souls of people who have passed away, but the dead girl in his mind can be very persuasive.

Her name is Erin, and through her Jason is able to access the knowledge and skills of the souls within him. And with a group of power-hungry immortals bent on destroying the Oldsouls and overthrowing humanity, he's going to need them all. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Book Trailer: Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally (Sourcebooks, 2011). From the promotional copy:

What girl doesn't want to be surrounded by gorgeous jocks day in and day out? Jordan Woods isn't just surrounded by hot guys, though-she leads them as the captain and quarterback of her high school football team. 

They all see her as one of the guys and that's just fine. As long as she gets her athletic scholarship to a powerhouse university.

But everything she's ever worked for is threatened when Ty Green moves to her school. Not only is he an amazing QB, but he's also amazingly hot. And for the first time, Jordan's feeling vulnerable. 

Can she keep her head in the game while her heart's on the line?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Former Debut: Janet S. Fox from the Class of 2k10 by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Peek: "...we’re not in competition – there will, always and forever, be room for another book."

Summer Reading for Writers by Megan Frazer from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "A case could be made that [Robert] Cormier started the current trend of YA literature. He was one of the first to write specifically for teens and many of us who came of age reading his books are now writers ourselves."

Your Mileage May Vary by Jennifer R. Hubbard from Jennifer M. Eaton. Peek: "Someone may press a map into my hand and urge me to follow the route marked on it. But if the destination is not where I want to go, why on earth would I follow that map?"

Myths About Villains by Angela Ackerman from QueryTracker.net Blog. Peek: "...how do we create a three dimensional, credible villain?"

Le Guin's Hypothesis by Ursula K. Le Guin from Book View Cafe. Peek: "Is literature the serious stuff you have to read in college, and after that you read for pleasure, which is guilty?" Source: Gwenda Bond.

What to Do with a Bad Review? by Stacey Barney from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I had several categories of reactions to the language used to discount not only the book, but also the appearance of a character of color...."

Pride Week: Bigger than Coming Out by Tom Ryan from E. Kristin Anderson from The Hate-Mongering Tart. Peek: "Sexual identity and the politics of coming out are far from the only important thing in a gay teenager’s life." See also Lesléa Newman: Honoring Matthew Shepard, also from E.

Heroes, Role Models, Inspirations and Interesting People by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "Does the current generation of children have heroes? If they do, are they heroes of the sort that we would have recognized a generation or two ago?"

The Kids' (Books) are Alright, Says the AAP's Monthly Stat Shot from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...children’s book sales up 46.6% over the same period in 2011 – an especially impressive figure given the lag in adult sales, down 11.6% at the houses that report numbers to the AAP."

Best Reads from the Philippines at the 3rd Asian Festival of Children’s Content by Tarie Sabido from PaperTigers. See also Watch Out for New Young Adult Literature from the Philippines and Filipino Readers Make It Social, also by Tarie.

Digital Children's Publishing: Embrace Change or Get Left Behind by Todd Tuell from School Library Journal. Peek: "...with active fiction, authors can communicate how they want to use tools that enhance the storytelling capabilities of digital media."

Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a set of three author-signed children's books, written by Jane Kohuth -- Duck Sock Hop, illustrated by Jane Porter (Dial, 2012); Estie the Mensch, illustrated by Roseanne Litzinger (Random House, 2011); and Ducks Go Vroom, illustrated by Viviana Garofoli (Random House, 2011) was Laurisa in California.

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Jenna in Singapore? Check out this table shot of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) on sale at the Asian Festival of Children's Content, courtesy of Tarie.



Congratulations to fellow Austinite Cory Putnam Oakes on signings with Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York, and congratulations to Sarah on signing Cory! I'm so thrilled to have an agency sister in Austin!

Personal Link:
Cynsational Events


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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

New Voice: Hilary Weisman Graham on Reunited

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations  

Hilary Weisman Graham is the first-time author of Reunited (Simon & Schuster, 2012)(blog). From the promotional copy:

1 concert. 2000 miles. 3 ex-best friends.

Alice, Summer, and Tiernan used to be best friends—as well as the self-proclaimed biggest fans of the band Level3. But when the band broke up, so did their friendship. Now, four years later, they’ve just graduated from high school. 

When Level3 announces a one-time reunion show in Texas, Alice impulsively buys tickets and invites her two former friends along for the trip. 

Reluctant at first, both girls agree to go, each with her own ulterior motive. But old resentments and other roadblocks—from unintended detours to lost concert tickets—keep getting in the girls’ way. 

Will their friendship get an encore, or is the show really over?

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

My “ah-ha” moment happened on live television. Well, it wasn’t actually on air, but it did occur while I was a cast member of a reality TV show.

During the summer of 2007, I was selected to be a contestant on the Mark Burnett/Steven Spielberg-produced "On the Lot," which, if you never caught it, was like "American Idol" for filmmakers, and aired on Fox for only one season.

The goal of the show was to find “America’s next great director,” and I’d been handpicked out of a pool of 12,000 applicants.

Up until that point, I’d spent my career as a filmmaker and TV producer, but writing had always been a big part of my job. Even in my free time, I found myself participating in poetry slams, or composing humorous essays to share with my friends. But up until the reality show, I considered myself a “filmmaker who wrote,” as opposed to a Writer.

Visit Hilary's website.
And then I found myself in Los Angeles, competing head-to-head with seventeen other talented filmmakers from around the globe—literally living and breathing filmmaking for two straight months—when it suddenly became very clear to me that it was the writing part that I’d always most enjoyed (and was best at), only I’d never realized it before.

At the time, it felt like an epiphany. Though once I began looking back on my past, it seems almost laughable that it took me until the ripe old age of 37 to figure out that writing was my calling, since the signs had been there all along.

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?

The most important advice I could ever give to aspiring writers is: revise, revise, revise!

The first version hardly ever works. On paper, or in life.

Think about the first version of the adult you. Got a mental picture of it?

Just like you were not a suave seductress, tossing out insightful yet witty bon mots about the latest John Updike novel while simultaneously sweating in your jelly shoes at the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write crappy first drafts. This advice is important, if not inevitable.

But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this process is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to make this thing they created to notice its flaws.

Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?

Waah.

Well, guess what, people? That hard work you did is just the beginning!

Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the bottom line is that it’s going to take several passes to get it just right. And yes, it’s a ton of work, but each time you refine it, you discover new ways to make your story even better, until finally, it’s (almost) exactly as you envisioned it. But never completely.

Revising is dependent on your capacity for detachment, so if you’re having trouble looking at your own work objectively, remember it’s a practice and you need to give it time.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away from what you’re writing for a day or two (or a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh, unbiased eyes.

Because I’m comfortable with the revision process, the revising I did that was based on my editor’s notes versus the revising I did on my own felt about the same.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I write five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. while my son is at school. Sometimes, if I’m on a tight deadline, I’ll write at night and on weekends, too. And I’m fortunate enough to have my very own home office, complete with an elliptical machine for whenever I need to get those endorphins flowing.

Hilary says: "In Reunited, the girls road-trip cross-country in a pea-green 1976 VW camper bus, affectionately known as the Pea-Pod. In reality, my husband and I own this orange 1977 VW van."

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?

One of my agent’s only notes on my latest book proposal was to take out all of the pop culture references (or at least reduce them greatly) so that the book wouldn’t feel dated.

Personally, I feel it’s really important to ground my characters in our present world by acknowledging the people and things that are prevalent in today’s culture. And in all likelihood, Usher, Starbucks, and Facebook will still be around five years from now.

But I also get his point. There’s a fine line between throwing in a pop culture reference in a name-droppy way, or as background, versus using it for what it represents about our present-day society in the larger picture.

As a reader, when I come across references to pop-culture stuff I don’t get (like in The Catcher in the Rye, for example) it’s pretty easy to intuit what these things are meant to signify, even if I’m not personally familiar with them.

Hilary says: "Senior year in high school, my friends and I had an F. Scoot Fitzgerald theme party at my friend Nancy’s house which included wearing 'period garb" as well as some competitive croquet-playing. In case you can't tell, I'm the one on the right."


How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

As a first-time author, perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned from my fellow novelists is that in today’s world, writing is only half the job. Between publishers tightening their budgets and readers who log onto Google searching for “bonus content” the second they finish a book, writers of all genres—and YA in particular—are embracing the internet not just as a promotional tool, but as a way to supplement the reading experience.

So, once I’d turned in my chapters, instead of kicking back and celebrating, I launched into my next job—building Reunited’s online universe.

Visit Level3
After I’d redesigned my website and set up the obligatory Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and blog (sigh) it was time for the fun stuff, like shooting Reunited’s book trailer, or going into the studio to produce two songs for the book’s fictional band, Level3.

And everyone knows you can’t have a rock band without a website. So, a few mouse clicks later, www.Level3theband.com was born, the piece du résistance in Reunited’s meta-world. There, fans can read blog posts written by the band members, watch behind-the-scenes footage and music videos, and even download Level3’s songs for free.

Sometimes, all the additional work it takes to do this “other stuff” feels draining, but most of the time, I really do enjoy this part of it. The actual writing may have ended months ago, but thanks to Reunited’s online presence, the story is still very much alive.

Cynsational Notes

Check out Hilary's blog. Find her at facebook, Goodreads, YouTube and Twitter.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Luke Reynolds on Redefining Success

By Luke Reynolds
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Over a decade ago, I worked as a wilderness guide in the stunning yet massively mosquito-ridden Adirondack Mountains as part of a program called La Vida—literally: The Life.

Two leaders would take groups of twelve high school students into the woods for two weeks—carrying all our food on our backs, foregoing showers, dental floss, deodorant, and hanging a Bear Bag each night to make sure that sharp-clawed friends didn’t sniff their way into our tents.

One of the mottos of the La Vida program—which every one of the ten trips I co-led burrowed into my brain—was this gem: Redefine success.

A group wants to reach the peak of Mt. Marcy, but one member is stung by a bee on his tongue while trying to poop into a hole and is so full of pain and embarrassment that reaching the peak will be impossible that day?

Redefine success. No longer is success reaching the peak. Success—for the group—becomes assuaging the dual pain/embarrassment of one member, and making it only partway up towards the peak.

Any number of fears—both psychological or physical—could come into play on those trips. Any number of injuries, surprises, thunderstorm arrivals, lost water filters, missing Bear Bags could occur. And the only response that allowed a group to keep going was this: Redefine success.

And I think, for us writers, such a motto can be incredibly helpful. So many of us thrive on a single vision of success: Contract. Get the offer from an editor who reads our work and raves so glowingly that the cell phone on which we hear the words vibrates with enthusiasm.

The dream of a contract is a beautiful one—and one worth fighting for with every ounce of strength, tenacity, sweat, and passion we possess. But the problem arises in our work as writers when we reach the foe that says, If you don’t get a contract this time out on submission, what’s the point?

When we start to work with less passion and enthusiasm, and we feel the act of creation pale beside the often difficult odds, something has gone awry.

Redefining success allows us to continue to focus on the work at hand rather than the result. We can begin to look at where we are on the writer’s journey, and craft a vision for success that empowers us into creation rather than grinds us into defeat if we don’t achieve the One version of success.

For example, say you’ve received only form rejections for your work thus far. You could redefine success so this is your new goal: Get a personal rejection note back.

Whoa! Wait a minute, man, that’s nuts. Make rejection my vision of success?!

Yes! Instead of forcing yourself to feel like you’re constantly being bitten on the tongue by a bee while simultaneously trying to poop into a hole—try redefining success. You go from bundles of form rejections to your First Personal Rejection.

That night: wine. (Good wine, too. You deserve it.)

But the next day, you redefine success yet again and it becomes, say, this: More personal rejections than form rejections. The ratio changing is my new success, baby!

Yes Home Slice! Yes! My New Success!

(So you tell yourself. When you tell yourself this, that Good Wine from last night is still hanging around this morning, so you go with it.)

And when you reach that redefinition, you create another. After all, creating is what you do. It’s what you love and what you’re good at and what makes your heart beat fast.

The more we redefine success for ourselves as writers, the more we allow ourselves to celebrate the small joys along this difficult journey of becoming stronger writers.

And all the while, we’re reminding ourselves to go back to the words, to the work, to the chairs in our studies and to the cafes we frequent. We remind ourselves that we’re not always failing; instead, we’re always growing.

After all, our character arcs as writers aren’t too dissimilar from those arcs our fictional protagonists travel: we’re all trying to find the stamina to keep going, day after day, in the face of great odds. Redefining success is one small ally in the fight to persist and become the writers our hearts suggest we are.

Luke's notebooks (and cereal bowl)
Cynsational Notes

Luke Reynolds is the author of A Call to Creativity (Teachers College Press, 2012) and is co-editor of both Burned In (Teacher College Press, 2011, with Audrey Friedman) and Dedicated to the People of Darfur (Rutgers University Press, 2009, with his wife Jennifer Reynolds).

Luke is represented by the remarkably wise and kind Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. He has taught English in public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and has also taught Composition at Northern Arizona University.

He and his wife, Jennifer, have one son, Tyler. They love family dancing to the oldies in their current home in York, England.

Cynsational Giveaway 

Enter below for a chance to win a signed copy of Keep Calm and Query On: Notes on Writing (and Living) with Hope by Luke Reynolds (Divertir, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada and U.K./Europe. Deadline: July 2.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Guest Post: Janni Lee Simner on Love, Perfection & Books

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

"We love the things we love for what they are."

That's from Robert Frost's Hyla Brook.

Variations on the line had been bouncing around in my head for a while before my husband and fellow writer, Larry Hammer, reminded me where it came from.

I'd been thinking about Frost (without knowing it was Frost I was thinking about) because I'd been thinking about how once we reach a certain basic level of craft, writing is no longer about avoiding mistakes or carefully not doing anything wrong.

It's about the things we do right.

No one ever loved a book, after all, simply for not making any mistakes, for all that there are (varied, individual) things that can throw each of us out of a story. But we don't love a story just because we aren't thrown out of it, either.

We love books for what they do, not for what they manage not to do. We love them for the thing or things that hit each of our particular story buttons, that reach out to bridge the gap between story and reader, that pull on us and make us want to or need to read on. A flawed book that does the things it does right, very right is far more powerful than an unflawed book that doesn't.

None of my favorite books--the books I imprinted on as a child and teen, the books that have remained touchstones for me throughout my life--is perfect. I can see that clearly enough when I look at those books as a writer focused on craft--and that has never once stopped me from returning to those books, from treasuring them.

We don't love books for the things they aren't, but for the things they are.

But there's more to it than that. The other day, in a stray moment when I thought I was thinking about my manuscript-in-progress, I found myself thinking instead: And the same thing is true for people.

On one level, I'd always known this. On another I hadn't, or had forgotten, or needed to relearn it on that particular day in that particular way. People no more need to be perfect than stories do.

As writers who spend much of our time looking inward and so can become as critical of ourselves as our stories, this is worth remembering, too. I doubt many people hold their friends and loved ones dear simply because they never make mistakes. Lack of mistakes is not the place love comes from.

We love one another for the same reason we love stories: not for what we aren't, but for what we are.

As I dig deep to put words on the page, I find that a comforting thought.

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Voice: Shelley Coriell on Welcome Caller, This Is Chloe

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shelley Coriell is the first-time author of Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe (Amulet, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Chloe Camden has a big heart and an even bigger collection of vintage shoes. 

Life is good…until her best friend turns the entire school against her and her counselor axes her junior independent study project. 

Forced to take on a meaningful project in order to pass her Junior year, Chloe joins her school’s struggling radio station, where the other students don’t always appreciate her unique style. 

Ostracized by her former BFs and struggling with her beloved Grams’s mental deterioration, lonely Chloe ends up hosting a call-in show that gets the station much-needed publicity and, in the end, trouble. She also befriends radio techie and loner Duncan Moore, a quiet soul with a romantic heart. 

On and off the air, Chloe tackles love, loneliness, and painful life lessons as she gives her big heart to the radio station and the misfits who call it home.

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?

When I received “the call” from my agent in October of 2010 that Amulet Books/Abrams made an offer on my contemporary teen girl manuscript, Welcome Caller, This is Chloe, I was standing naked in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Of course I didn't have my phone on me at the time -- no pockets -- so I didn't get the news until much later that night.



That week I was going to acquisitions at multiple houses, but instead of waiting anxiously on word from my agent, I spent that particular day celebrating my youngest daughter's thirteenth birthday.

Back story: when each of my daughters makes her grand entree into the teen years, I take her on a special mom-and-daughter spa day designed specifically for her.

For my youngest, a nature-loving dancer, we journeyed a few hours south to Tucson where we went to a nature retreat and day spa on the edge of Saguaro National Park West. We spent the morning doing yoga in a pueblo-style casita, walking along desert nature trails, and sunning ourselves on a pueblo rooftop where we talked about dance shoes and boys and books.

After lunch I went for a full-body massage while my daughter headed to the sauna then to a cozy hammock with her book (Alyson Noel's Evermore). When we switched about an hour and half later, my daughter hugged me and said she loved this place, this day, and me.

With my wonderfully content daughter getting her first massage, I lingered in the sauna and took a meandering walk through the meditative labyrinth. Then I headed to the outdoor shower, a wonderfully earthy place with a stone floor and walls made of sun-bleached saguaro skeleton ribs.

As I stood naked in the shower enjoying the fall breeze and gift of motherhood, my phone rang in the nearby casita. I considered dashing through the desert to answer, as I figured it was my agent with deal or no-deal news. Either way, I knew the message would take me out of this very special moment with my daughter.

No brainer. This day was about her, not me. I chose to remain naked and blessedly unaware of my grand entree into the New York publishing world.

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

When I started putting together my marketing plan more than a year before the May 2012 release of my YA debut -- Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe -- two principles guided me.

One: any promotions I do must be a good fit for my unique and limited resources of time, talent, and treasure.

Two: I will enjoy the process.

As a public relations specialist and non-profit executive for the past twenty years, I’ve learned to plan far in advance, be flexible, and ask for help. For example, when I learned the teen-aged cover model for my book and her family were incredibly enthusiastic about Chloe’s story, I invited her to join me at book signings across the country and with podcasts for my U.K. blog tour and Radio Chloe You Tube Channel.

I turned to published author friends for recommendations on everything from bookmark designers to what kind of pens to use to sign books.

On-line resources at SCBWI gave me great tips on how to put together a school visit, and members of my RWA loops talked me through setting up book signings.

I also unabashedly asked my publisher for help. The team at Amulet Books is book-savvy and crazy-creative, and they want to sell CHLOE just as much as me.

They set up the Chloe Hotline, a phone number my readers can call to get advice from “Chloe” (me), and when asked, they provided me with giveaway items for author presentations. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but publishing and promoting is a team effort.

In the simplest terms, a good promotions plan will help you sell books. But in my world, good promotions also elevate an author’s spirit and the industry.

Don’t you love reading tweets from authors who know how to have fun and engage readers on Twitter?

Don’t you come away on fire after hearing an author give a heartfelt talk that inspires and educates?

Promotions fueled by genuine enthusiasm and organic to you and your lifestyle work best.

From a practical standpoint, a good promotions plan will clearly identify your product (you and your book) and provide a detailed action plan with tasks of what you plan to do.

This action plan could also include assignments (who will do what), target dates, status notes, and budget considerations. I keep my promo plan on a simple Word doc. It’s about five pages, updated as needed, and organized into four categories: author information, book information, on-line promotions, and traditional promotions.

Your author information isn’t book specific. On a broad level, it identifies who you are and where you want to go with your career.

For the book info section, think of it as a one-page sales sheet you could hand to a bookseller.

The on-line and traditional promo sections detail specific tasks to grow sales and your career and are limited only by your time, budget, and creativity.

The four-part plan may include:

I. Author Information
  • Mission 
  • Vision 
  • Objectives 
  • Platform 
  • Bio (long and short) 
  • FAQ
II. Book Information
  • Title 
  • Name on Book 
  • Publisher 
  • ISBN 
  • Publishing Date 
  • Format/Specs 
  • One-paragraph synopsis 
  • One-liner 
  • Unique Selling Points 
  • Comps 
  • Target Audience 
  • Sales Channels

III. On-line Promotions
  • Author Website/Blog 
  • Group Websites/Blogs 
  • Social Networking Sites (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, PinInterest) 
  • On-line Reader Forums (General sites such as Goodreads and genre-specific sites such as Young Adult Book Central) 
  • Bookseller Author Pages (your publisher, Amazon, Barnes &Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound, etc.) 
  • Blog Tour 
  • Electronic Collateral (book trailers, animated banners, etc.) 
  • Skype 
  • Out-of-the-Box Promo (This is where I list things like the Chloe hotline) 
  • Joint promotions

IV. Traditional Promotions
  • Media Kit: bio, author photo, book Info 
  • Book Endorsements 
  • Book Reviews 
  • Press Releases (hometown newspaper, alumni magazines, professional journals, local radio and TV stations) 
  • Book Signings 
  • Author Presentations 
  • Book Fairs, Festivals & Trade Shows 
  • Street Teams 
  • Book Clubs 
  • Author Collateral (bookmarks, postcards, signed-by author stickers, SWAG, etc.) 
  • Publisher Collateral 
  • Direct Mail 
  • Out-of-the-Box Promo 
  • Joint Promotions
My final bit of promo advice to authors: don’t get too bogged down with promo that you don’t have time to write the next book or feed your writer’s heart and head with new experiences and people.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Trailer: Cinder (Book One in the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Cinder (Book One in the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & Friends, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.

Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

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