Sunday, October 07, 2012

Author Video: Lois Lowry on Son

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out this author video on Son by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Told in three separate story lines, Lois Lowry's Son combines elements from the first three novels in her Giver Quartet—The Giver (1994 Newbery Medal winner), Gathering Blue, and Messenger—into a breathtaking, thought-provoking narrative that wrestles with ideas of human freedom. 

Thrust again into the dark, claustrophobic world of The Giver, readers will meet an intriguing new heroine, fourteen-year-old Claire. Jonas from The Giver is here too, and Kira, the heroine of Gathering Blue. In a final clash between good and evil, a new hero emerges.



Cynsational Notes

Attention Central Texans! Lois will speak about Son and sign at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "Tickets are required for the signing portion of this event and are available only with the purchase of a copy of Son from BookPeople. Books and tickets are now available. You can purchase a book and receive a ticket in-store or online." See more information.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Guest Post: Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas on How to Query an Agent or Editor: Do Your Detective Work

By Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas
(a.k.a. Mentors for Rent)
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

One of the things that will truly make your submission stand out amongst the thousands of other submissions is to show that you’ve done your detective work and established that your manuscript is a good match for that agent or editor in particular.

Some agents say that the first thing they want to see in a query letter is a statement saying something like, “I know that you already represent [these authors], which makes me think you will like my manuscript.”

So you need to follow up on all the clues you can discover about the tastes of your target editors or agents. Part of this is looking up the individual submission guidelines for the publisher or literary agency to whom you are submitting, to see its specific instructions for your submission package.

But we are encouraging you to take your research well beyond that.

You should also be researching each individual editor or agent to see what her book preferences are. How will your title fit alongside other books the editor has worked on? How does it compare to the kinds of books written by authors the agent represents?

Let the agent or editor know you’ve done this background check by mentioning it in your cover letter.

When you do this, there is a small difference between editors and agents.

Editors have a “list” of books that they work on for a publisher; you will want to research until you have a sense of what that list entails. Ask yourself, what kinds of books does this editor edit, for what ages?

Agents have a roster of authors whom they represent; so ask yourself, what kinds of authors does this agent work with?

Your letter for an editor might include something like, “I’m a big fan of [title here], and I think fans of it will also connect with my high-action mystery.”

This accomplishes three things:

  1. it praises the taste of that editor (and who doesn’t love praise?); 
  2. it shows you’ve done your research and are targeting him because he’s a great fit for your work and not just a random choice; and 
  3. it reinforces your target audience.

Or you might say to an agent, “I love the snarky humor found in books by [writer] and [writer], whom you represent, and I’m hoping you will find my work has the same kind of edgy appeal.”

We’re not saying that you should make grandiose claims such as “my book is bound to be the next Harry Potter.” That’s taking this way too far! But you can make yourself stand out by pointing to a book or books an agent or editor has worked on (or authors she has worked with) for which you can offer an honest compliment.

How do you know what books or authors an editor or agent has represented?

One way is to start with the recent books that you’ve loved reading from the category you hope to publish in (and yes, if you want to write young adult novels, you should be reading dozens if not hundreds of recent young adult novels!).

Many writers (particularly in longer works where there is more space) include an acknowledgments page where they thank their editor and agent. Or maybe they talk about their editor and agent on their webpage and blog.

Keep a record of these names when you run across them connected to books you’ve enjoyed, and when it’s time for you to start submitting your work, you’ve already got a starter list of possible targets.

It never hurts to try a Google search as well. For instance, type in, “[target editor name] interview”. A variety of hits could come up: interviews, mentions in blogs, conference notes (editors often announce their current wish lists and recent books they’ve edited when they speak at a conference). Several editors and agents also have blogs. You can use the information you find there to say something like, “I’m submitting to you because your wish list on your blog mentions middle grade mysteries.”

You put your research skills to good practice when you wrote your book. Now use them again for another critical purpose: to find the agents or editors who are the best matches for your work!

Cynsational Notes

Laura
Lisa
This post was a slightly revised version of “Chapter 5: Show You’re a Pro,” from the new e-book How to Query an Editor or Agent: A Children's Writer Insider Guide from Mentors for Rent.

One reviewer calls it “a must have for any children's book writer. The authors have compiled a user friendly, step-by-step guide which helps take the mystery and worry out of both cover and query letters.”

See more information.


Friday, October 05, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
and Canada Reporter Lena Coakley
for Cynsations

The nominees for Canada’s highest literary award, the Governor General’s Award (fondly called “the GGs”), were announced on Tuesday. Each GG winner receives $25,000 and a specially-bound copy of their book. Winners will be announced Nov. 13 and will be presented their awards on Nov. 28 by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa.

The full list (including the French language children’s literature text and illustration nominees) can be found on the Canada Council website.

Children’s Literature - Text

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Doubleday Canada)

Under the Moon by Deborah Kerbel (Dancing Cat)

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen (Tundra)

The Umbrella by Judd Palmer (Bayeux Arts)

The Grave Robber’s Apprentice by Allan Stratton (HarperCollins)

Children’s Literature - Illustration

Virginia Wolf, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (text by Kyo Maclear)(Kids Can)

Big City Bees, illustrated by Renné Benoit (text by Maggie de Vries)(Greystone )

House Held Up by Trees, illustrated by Jon Klassen (text by Ted Kooser)(Candlewick)

In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps it Up, illustrated by David Parkins (text by Monica Kulling)(Tundra)

Picture a Tree, illustrated by Barbara Reid (text by Barbara Reid)(North Winds)

Source: Cynsations Canada Reporter Lena Coakley

More News & Giveaways

So You've Got an Agent. Now What? A Short Checklist by Candy Gourlay from Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: "Be discreet. It's not just you against the world now." Note: better to be discreet all along.

The Do's and Don'ts of Launching a Book by Dianne K. Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "...connections you make talking to people (readers, store owners, other authors) are often more important than the signed books that walk out the door."

To Change or Not to Change: That Is the Question by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "What I found most interesting were the writers’ responses to the news that their manuscripts had flaws that needed work."

Exploring the World of Children's Writing: an eight-week online class, taught by Debby Dahl Edwardson from writers.com. Peek: "For those who have always dreamed of writing and publishing books for young people but have never tried, as well as for those who have already gotten a start and are ready to take the next step." Start date: Oct. 8.

28 Days Later Campaign Call For Submissions from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Help us identify under-the-radar and vanguard African-American children’s book authors and illustrators we should consider profiling. Let us know who we should check out so we can give them the praise they’ve earned."

10 Things Not to Do to Get a Book Deal and Beyond from Kim Curran. Peek: "Don't waste time waiting. Get writing!" Source: Gwenda Bond.

Zest Books Launches Line of Memoirs for Teens by Wendy Werris from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The origins of Dear Teen Me, whose 70 entries are all by middle-grade and YA authors and include letters written by Ellen Hopkins, Tom Angleberger, and Lauren Oliver, lie – rather unexpectedly – in the two editors’ mutual love of late ’90s pop sensation Hanson."

What's Your Story, Joan Bauer? by Debbie Gonzales from ReaderKidZ. Peek: "The hardest part about writing a book, I think, is pushing through the first draft (especially the middle) and not giving up until it’s done. I have a sign in my office: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give up."

The Physical Attribute Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "...will look at the bodies of our characters, part by part, and provide micro details that will help writers brainstorm ways to create memorable imagery for the reader to connect with."

Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a signed copy of Lupe Ruiz-Flores' bilingual picture book, Alicia’s Fruity Drinks/Las aguas frescas de Alicia; a small “Hope” note pad; a Charlotte Bronte journal; and a business card holder was Julie in Texas, and the additional winners of the winners of Come August, Come Freedom by Gigi Amateau were David in Tennessee and Katharine in Virginia.

Check out new releases at eight YA novel giveaways at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Last week, Greg Leitich Smith moderated a panel at the Austin Teen Book Festival, and so I was invited to the after party at Serrano's

Keynoter Libba Bray with agent Barry Goldblatt.
Authors Guadalupe Garcia McCall & E.M. Kokie
Big-picture view of the party, which featured a Mexican food buffet.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Little Miss Train Wreck. Chatting childhood aspirations, writing humor, the Tantalize series, and future books. Peek: "If I could say one thing to writers, it would be: put down your phone and plug into your surroundings." See also Author Cynthia Leitich Smith's Favorite Halloween Film.

Personal Links

Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Digital Symposium II: The Nuts and Bolts of Success will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 6 at St. Edward's University, sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Peek: "...a hands-on technology workshop for illustrators and authors of all techie levels."

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 3 p.m. Oct. 6 at Freeport Library, a branch of the Brazoria County Library System.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak about author PR on a panel at the monthly meeting of the Writers' League of Texas at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will be a featured author at Tweens Read Oct. 20 at Bobby Shaw Middle School, 1201 Houston Avenue, Pasadena, Texas and at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 at the state capitol building in Austin. See also Texas Book Festival 2012 Youth Literature Programming.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

New Voice: Laura Ellen on Blind Spot

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Laura Ellen is the first-time author of Blind Spot (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 23, 2012)(reading guide). From the promotional copy:

Winter stops hiding Tricia Farni on Good Friday.

When a truck plunges through the thinning ice of Alaska’s Birch River, Tricia’s body floats to the surface–dead since the night she disappeared six months earlier.

The night Roswell Hart fought with her.

The night Roz can’t remember.

Missing things is nothing new to sixteen-year-old Roz. She has macular degeneration, an eye disease that robs her central vision. She’s constantly piecing together what she sees–or thinks she sees–but this time her memory needs piecing together. How can Roz be sure of the truth if her own memory has betrayed her? Can she clear her name of a murder that she believes she didn’t commit?

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view-first, second, third (or some alternating combination) 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 such a good question. I actually had to rewrite Blind Spot twice, switching point of view to get it right. I used a lot of my own experiences developing my main character Roz.

Growing up with macular degeneration was hard and very emotional for me and I wanted to put that into my novel. But after I finished my novel in first person, a very insightful editor during a critique told me that Roz was too whiny and that her story was stifling the thriller part of the plot.

Laura's writing space
I knew he was right. I'd spent so much time dumping my own emotions into the story, and, though very therapeutic, I'd lost sight of what I was writing. A thriller.

So, I rewrote the entire novel in third person.

It was freeing for me to do this. Suddenly I saw Roz as a character rather than an extension of me. I was able to take 'me' out of it and stick Roz into situations I'd never thought about putting her into. It helped push my plot further and make the thriller part of the plot tighter. but...

In switching to third person, I'd totally lost the raw emotion that made Roz real, made her appealing, and made her, well, 'Roz'..,

So, yep, I rewrote it again going back to first person. This time both storiesRoz's struggle with her visual impairment and the murder mysterywere balanced. Though doing so was time-consuming, I learned sometimes you have to tell the story from many different angles before you get it right.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

When I was taking my first creative writing workshop in college, there was a girl in my class who would accuse me of writing 'children stories' every time a piece I'd written would be work-shopped.

I would get so angry and defensive. I was not writing for children; there were no fluffy bunnies or talking animals in what I was writing! Yes, my characters were teens, so what? Stephen King had written many stories with teen characters and no one accused him of writing for children!

It took me years to understand what she not-so-eloquently was trying to say.

My voice is teen.

That's just what it is.

Once I embraced that, I realized that the reason my voice was 'teen' was because my teen years are still vivid and fresh to me. I can remember things like they were yesterday. My teen years were full of emotional ups and downs and it is that place where my author inkwell exists.

Even if their own teen memories are not so vivid, I think authors can tap into their teen voices by finding triggers that can transport them back. Music, videos, TV shows, Herbal Essence shampoo, Love's Baby Soft perfume, Brut, Lip Smackers lip gloss, A-Smile painter pantsanything and everything that was part of your routine in high school can be a trigger. Once you find these things let them transport you back and then ask yourself:

How did you interact with your friends, your enemies, your parents?

How did you reason with yourself when you knew it was a bad idea to climb out the window to attend that party at 2 a.m.?

How did you got up the next morning after you'd had your heart broken the night before? Ask yourself, and your teen voice will answer.

Laura's son James Handy, age 14, and the legendary Muruga Booker. James and Muruga are jammed a bit before James recorded the music for the Blind Spot trailer at Muruga's Sage Court Studios.

Cynsational Notes
 
In Blind Spot, Roz is obsessed with proving she is 'normal' despite her visual impairment. As a result, she loses sight of everything elseincluding clues to a classmate's death. What's your blind spot? Beating your arch rival at the state swim meet? Being valedictorian? Losing weight?

Share your story with Laura Ellen and you could win a signed copy and the chance to have it posted along with stories of authors you love! Find details on Laura Ellen's website. Hurry! Contest ends Oct. 16 at midnight.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Barbara O'Connor

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Barbara O’Connor grew up in Greenville, South Carolina. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a degree in English, she headed to Southern California. An interest in writing for children led her to take classes at UCLA to learn the basics.

Since publication of her first children’s biography in 1993, Barbara has gone on to publish fifteen more books, including middle grade novels.

Drawing on her South Carolina roots, Barbara’s novels are known for their strong Southern settings and quirky characters. In addition to five Parents Choice Awards, Barbara’s distinctions include School Library Journal Best Books, Kirkus Best Books, Bank Street College Best Books, and ALA Notables. Her books have been nominated for children’s choice awards in thirty-five states.

Barbara is a popular visiting author at schools and a frequent speaker at conferences around the country.

How do you define success?

I've been writing for publication for 22 years. Those years have showed me two areas of success for a children's writer: critical success (e.g., awards, recognitions by organizations, peer recognition, etc.) and child-pleasing success (i.e, children love your work).

For some authors, these are intertwined. But often, authors find themselves enjoying one and not necessarily the other. We've all heard discussions about Newbery winners that children don't like and vice versa, the beloved and popular books that children clamor for that are not recognized by awards and such.

Barbara in the Smoky Mountains -- setting that often appears in her books.
I'd be lying if I said that writing books that children love is enough for me. I am honored to have received quite a few awards and recognitions from well-respected children's book organizations (e.g., Parents Choice, ALA, etc.).

But since I'm in schools a lot, I will say that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing children reading and enjoying my books. And when the mail carrier brings me a letter from a gushing fan, well, that feels like success.

Barbara connects with young readers.
How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

With each book, I'm reminded that less is more. I try to say a lot with as few words as possible. That's my style. I work hard on showing and not telling and that's improved over time. I've learned, also, to listen to my writing voice and to follow my instincts when I hear it getting off track. That's a skill that is vital but, I think, comes with experience.

To reach new levels, I see that my later work has become more upbeat and humorous than earlier works. I enjoy writing humor and try to keep my storylines lighter than they used to be. 

What still flummoxes me at times?

Plot, plot, plot. I hate plot. I love character and setting. But, alas, a book needs a plot. So I plow through.

My plots are usually quite simple, but they work.

How have you built an audience over time?

The best way to build an audience is to keep writing. I've been fortunate to have published one book that is particularly popular (How to Steal a Dog (FSG, 2007)), which has kept children on the lookout for more. Also, I maintain a specific style and voice that readers have come to expect and look for (e.g., small Southern town settings).

How have your marketing strategies changed over the years? Could you tell us about one strategy that worked and why you think it was a boon to you?

By Barbara at age 12
The internet has been my marketing salvation. I'm an introvert. Book tours and travel for marketing and even some conferences are sometimes outside my comfort zone. So being able to sit home in my jammies and market my book has been a godsend.

My blog was the first internet marketing I did, and it really helped me get the word out about book news. Students and teachers use it as preparation or followup to visits. I'm able to link to items on my website, post news and pictures about conferences I attend, etc.

I've also been trying to be more active on Twitter (@barbaraoconnor). That's a great venue to get news out quickly to a lot of people.

Cynsational Notes

Barbara's books include: Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia (2003); How to Steal a Dog (2007); Greetings from Nowhere (2008); The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (2009); The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester (2010); and On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (2012), all published by FSG.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Barbara's latest release, On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (FSG, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Summer days drift by slowly in Meadville, South Carolina--that is, until Sherman the one-legged pigeon flies into town and causes a ruckus.

First Stella, who's been begging for a dog, spots him on top of a garage roof and decides she wants him for a pet. Then there's Ethel and Amos, an old couple who sees the pigeon in their barn keeping company with a little brown dog that barks all night. The pigeon lands smack in the middle of Mutt Raynard's head, but he's the town liar, so no one believes him. And when Stella's brother Levi and his scabby-kneed, germ-infested friends notice the pigeon, they join the chase, too.

Meanwhile, across town, Mr. Mineo has one less homing pigeon than he used to...

Barbara O'Connor has delivered another ingeniously crafted story full of southern charm, kid-sized adventures, and quirky, unforgettable characters.
Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

New Voice: Janci Patterson on Chasing the Skip

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Janci Patterson is the first-time author of Chasing the Skip (Henry Holt, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Ricki’s dad has never been there for her. He’s a bounty hunter who spends his time chasing parole evaders—also known as “skips”—all over the country. Ever since Ricki’s mom ran off, Ricki finds herself an unwilling passenger in a front-row seat to her father’s dangerous lifestyle. 

Ricki’s feelings get even more confused when her dad starts tracking seventeen-year-old Ian Burnham. She finds herself unavoidably attracted to the dark-eyed felon who seems eager to get acquainted. Ricki thinks she’s ever in control—the perfect accomplice, the Bonnie to his Clyde. 

Little does she know that Ian isn’t playing the game by her rules.

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

I write on my laptop, which travels with me whenever I go somewhere I might write.

I wrote Chasing the Skip mostly in the seating areas of the Humanities building where I earned my master's degree. I wrote it as a for-fun project between finishing my thesis and graduation, so the writing had to fit in the spaces between final papers, thesis revisions, thesis defense, and my last classes.

These days, I write mostly at home, so the laptop travels with a smaller radius. I do a lot of work at the kitchen table--my husband runs his painting business from his work table there, so I have good company. Other times I stretch out on my bed, or lounge on the couch with the computer on my lap.

Desperate times find me other places though; I had a deadline last Thanksgiving, so I wrote in my in-laws' basement. I've written in the car on road trips, and at parks, and at the library. I've found that where there's a will to fit in some writing, a space can be discovered in which to do it.

I tend to work better in small snatches than in marathons, so I do my best to wrap a little writing into every day.

I do try to write during the day, though, because after eight o'clock my brain gets a little too fuzzy for intense work. I know writers who get up super-early to write, and I can't do that either. My writer brain doesn't turn on until about 10 a.m. But since both my husband and I are self-employed, I have the luxury of lots of hours stretched across the middle of the day that are perfect for writing. It's just a matter of sitting down (wherever I am!) and doing it.

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?

My main character Ricki loves to read the news, which brought up some technology issues right away. Ricki gets her news online, which means I had to bring in internet terms. I steered away from anything brand-specific--who knows which companies will be in control of our web-browsing in five years. Anyone else remember when AOL was popular--and to describe mostly by function. The internet is sure to change, but likely we'll still be clicking to open and typing for text input for the foreseeable future.

As for the news Ricki reads, I had her encounter news about war in the Middle East--I can't think of anything I'd rather have date my book than a prolonged period of peace in that area, but alas, it seems doubtful.

Even though all the action of my book takes place on a road trip, technology still follows my characters everywhere. Ricki's Dad loves to listen to audio books. While the method of audio consumption is likely to change (and has, from record to tape to MP3), the act of listening to a previously recorded reading of a book is probably not going out any time soon. So I tried my best to be vague about the delivery system, and focus on the act of listening instead. Dad has a "player" I believe, which could be anything from a tape deck to an iPod to whatever will come next (I hope!) which will hopefully help keep the book from dating quickly.

Cell phones are always tricky--much of the time, I needed Ricki to feel isolated. She's on a road trip away from her mom and her friends and her boyfriend--if she can just call or text them all on a whim, I lose some of the pressure of an isolated road trip with her dead-beat dad. So I decided that Ricki's mom hadn't paid the phone bill, and Dad doesn't want her using his cell phone--it's for work. The word cell phone is pretty entrenched--odds are we'll have them for the foreseeable future, so I wasn't too worried about dating the book over that.

If the book does become dated, it will probably be over some issue that I didn't think of--some little detail of our lives that will change drastically over the next few years.

You can't plan for everything, especially in a rapidly changing area like technology. The best you can do is tell a compelling story, and trust that the heart of that story will carry readers past the details.

Monday, October 01, 2012

New Voice & Giveaway: Gwenda Bond on Blackwood

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Gwenda Bond is the first-time author of Blackwood (Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry, 2012)(excerpt). From the promotional copy:

On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. 

But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.

Blackwood is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America's oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.

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?

Honestly, I think I’d just gotten to the place where I’d accepted that it wasn’t inevitable I would publish a novel when we got the offer on the book. I had more or less made peace—after a couple of books didn’t sell—that things might not go according to plan. I would keep writing, choosing whatever stories felt right, hoping, still and always hoping, and working as hard as I could, but knowing that it might not happen and definitely not on any predictable timetable.

I had a visual prompt for this, actually, but a digression first.

In college, I had an excellent writing teacher who happened to teach a class in screenwriting. I’ve always loved movies and always wanted to tell big stories. I was seduced by that form, so I spent several years post-college writing scripts, many of them surrounded by amazingly talented writers from whom I learned too much to say in a private online workshop called The Left Door run by Max Adams. Eventually, I realized books were my first love, and that YA books were what my natural voice was most inclined toward. YA was what I should be writing.

So, I wrote a now-trunked novel that my dear friend Kelly Link and a newish (but now super-successful) agent both kindly gave me extensive notes on which I used to revise it, before I finally put it away.

After that, I started the novel that would become Blackwood, but stalled out. I started another novel, and decided to go to grad school, because I felt like I needed that kind of hothouse environment to really learn how to write a novel (which is, in fact, way different than writing a script).

I’m lucky to have many genius writer friends, but they were mostly a bit further along in their careers than me, and I really wanted to try to find a community where I felt more comfortable being at the level I was.

Vermont’s Writing for Children and YAs program was the only one I was interested in. And it was extraordinary for meeting that need, and for providing peers and mentors in general.

While I was doing the Vermont program, the city where we live—Lexington, Kentucky—was preparing to host the 2010 World Equestrian Games. This is where the visual comes in.

They hung a digital countdown clock up downtown that would count down 1,000 days until the games. At the time, it seemed like a huge expanse of time. Surely, I’d manage to sell and/or publish a novel by the time the clock ran out. I vowed that I would. And I’d see this visual reminder of that vow every day.

I still remember driving past it on the last day before the games, when the clock read OOOO, and, of course, I hadn’t sold a book.

But the thing was, I actually didn’t feel like a failure. Mostly I felt bemused, because I’d been working toward that goal the whole time, and I did feel closer to it. But I also felt like I’d learned that working against some artificial clock wasn’t smart or productive or logical.

There is no clock. There is only you, your own development as a writer, and the support of the people you’re lucky enough to have in your corner. I am very lucky to have a family and a husband who always believed, and also luckier than I could ever express that my agent, the fabulous Jennifer Laughran, never lost faith (or she hid it extremely well, because I never picked up on it).

And I think the fact I kept working was part of that, too. If it wasn’t this novel, maybe it’d be the next one. So as far as keeping the faith, it was more about staying in the game. Learning, putting everything I had into making each book the best I could, whether that ended up being good enough or not. I don’t regret any manuscript or draft or story mistake I’ve made. I’m glad things have worked out the way they have. This was my journey. I wouldn’t want to pretend it never happened.

For those of you out there feeling like you’ll never sell, hang in there. Keep working.

Don’t get married to one story, but also know that it’s okay to have a night every now and then when you rail and cry and feel sorry for yourself…so long as you keep working (if this is really what you want; giving up actually is a perfectly viable option—except for those of us who can’t).

As long as you’re working, you haven’t failed at the important part. You’re a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Also, it’s worth noting that the imprint I ended up selling to didn’t even exist when I started the book, but has been a fabulous home for this novel. Luck and timing are huge factors, and mostly out of our control. Focusing on what we can control is always the best strategy—and that’s the writing, and maybe a very few other things. But, mainly, the writing.

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

Gwenda's desk (pre-revision)
I have a particular love of bringing the old and smashing it up against the new to see what kind of story happens.

Blackwood is a Lost Colony of Roanoke story, and it’s set on modern day Roanoke Island, so these were issues I was dealing with from the very beginning.

I thought long and hard about how much to fictionalize, what it was okay to take a leap from, and what I wanted the story to be based on the facts I had to work with.

There’s a long tradition of riffing on the story of the Lost Colony, so I ended up feeling on safe ground to create and change what I needed to. Most of the leaps I made did come directly from my historical research—even the influence of alchemy on the early excursions to the New World isn’t a complete stretch, it turns out.

I also drew on my own experience coming from a small town in the south in creating my Roanoke Island—which incorporates many actual local landmarks and, while fictionalized, is definitely based on and inspired by the real island. Where I grew up, my parents were both principals, and I was a girl with some authority issues as a result. Everyone knew everyone else. There were things I loved about growing up there, and things that felt extremely limiting at the time.

I feel those things went into the book on a subconscious level, at least in early drafts, but got teased out more clearly as the book progressed. One of the main themes in the book is how much we’re defined by our family histories and how much we make our own destiny, and I think that’s a question all teens face at some point.

Gwenda and the actors at Duck's Cottage Downtown Books
I was always nervous about how people who live on the island would feel about the book. But I had the most amazing experience there recently.

The co-owner of the local bookstore in Manteo on Roanoke Island—Duck’s Cottage Downtown Books, visit them if you’re ever in the Outer Banks—kindly read an early copy, started circulating advance copies around town, and invited me to come for a pre-release signing.

In the novel, Miranda Blackwood is an intern at the theater where The Lost Colony show is produced. The theater is a major setting for many of the story’s key events.

In reality, this past year was the theater’s 75th anniversary season. It’s a local institution. The bookstore co-owner contacted the show and they actually sent the actors who play Eleanor Dare (mother of Virginia, the first English child born in the Americas, and a character in Blackwood) and John Borden (a fictionalized character based on a real colonist) in full, gorgeous costume to the event.

Several other people from the theater and the town came by, too, all extremely gracious and wonderful. So, that was a particularly surreal experience, a fictional dream come true.

I hope some readers will want to delve deeper into the fascinating history of the Lost Colony.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the Pinterest board for Blackwood and Gwenda's pics of Roanoke Island.

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win a signed copy of Blackwood by Gwenda Bond (Angry Robot/Strange Chemistry, 2012), an ultra-limited edition Blackwood T-shirt, a handmade duct tape rose pen and bonus bookmarks. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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