Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

McElderry, 2013
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Holly Black's Pep Talk from Fairy Tales and Monsters. Peek: "I know it seems like writing that pours out of your brain in a passionate flood should be better than writing that comes slowly and miserably, but the only person who will ever know the difference is you. So no excuses—get the word count done."

Creating Book Covers As Both Mirror and Window by Laurent Linn, art director at Simon & Schuster, from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...a complex art/commerce balancing act."

We All Need Encouragement by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "I thought you might enjoy snippets of the pep talks that are emailed to writers to help them keep going."

Using Setting to Add Humor from Anna Staniszewski. Peek: "I’d sort of sketched in the setting, but I hadn’t really developed it or thought about the history behind it. Finally, it occurred to me that I could use the setting to add humor to the story. Here are some tips I came up with..."

Facebook: Best Practices for Author Profiles, Pages, Groups & Posts by Darcy Pattison from Wow! Peek: "Here are some tips from authors who are in the thick of things and using Facebook to find and interact with readers."

Just End It by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "You learn how to write by writing and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t and doing more of the former and less of the later."

Voices of Christmas from Nikki Grimes. Peek: "It’s always a bit weird trying to figure out what kind of language to use when writing about people who lived thousands of years ago, and who spoke a very different language than your own. But then again, that’s part of the challenge, and part of the fun."

Tips on Planning a Writing Retreat by Varian Johnson from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "Make a schedule."

Writing: Hobby vs. Business by Nick James from Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing. Peek: "You’re not just writing for yourself anymore. You’re writing for an audience, as well as a publisher, with all the expectations and deadlines (I repeat, deadlines) that go along with that."

Everyone's a Critic by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "The key is figuring out which critics to listen to and which to ignore. I've separated the types of critics into three separate categories as they pertain in relation to the author (you)."

Why Picture Books are Important from Picture Book Month. A series of posts by such children's literature luminaries as (click for individual posts)...
 Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of ARCs of Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2013) were Tabatha in Texas, Alicia in Alabama and one more person (check your email!).

The winners of Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker (Roaring Brook, 2012) were Kathi in Ohio, Lorna in Washington, and Deena in Rochester.

This Week at Cynsations

Austin Scene

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon, honored for outstanding literary achievement by the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation!

Liz Garton Scanlon with Lyman Grant, Dean of Arts & Humanities at ACC; photo by Sarah Bork Hamilton
Last week's highlight was the Writers' League of Texas panel on book launches at BookPeople.

Jennifer Ziegler, Greg Leitich Smith, Meghan Goel, Cory Putnam Oakes & Bethany Hegedus
More Personally

Cynsational readers will notice that this week's roundup is early and shorter than usual due to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Safe travels and much happiness to those who celebrate it as well as those who simply don't mind a day off and enjoy eating turkey. The blog will resume posting on Monday.

Holiday shopping? You can find/order signed copies of my books at BookPeople in Austin.
Who loves my new Amazonian bracelets? Should I paint stars on them?

Personal Links
From Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will sign from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 1 at The BookSpot in Round Rock. Also featuring Greg Leitich Smith, Liz Garton Scanlon & Shana Burg.

2013 Advanced Writing Workshops -- Simon & Schuster Editor Alexandra Penfolds, Deconstructing Children's Literature Characters Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 at The Writing Barn in Austin. Application deadline: Dec. 1.

Austin SCBWI Regional Conference Early-Bird Registration Deadline: Dec. 19. After that, the price goes up $25.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Study with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa.

Extended Three-Session Intensive Workshop: Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson will be running a three-part revision intensive in Westport, Connecticut, over three Saturdays in January, February, and March. Peek: "Bring your picture book, nonfiction, or novel manuscript and get multiple rounds of feedback as well as revision techniques."


Sneak Peek at New Year's Workshops from the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "'Whole Novel Workshop: Young Adult' with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin. Founded in 2006, the Whole Novel Workshop is specifically designed for writers of young-adult novels. This unique program offers the one-on-one attention found in degree programs, but without additional academic requirements, lengthy time commitments, or prohibitive financial investments. Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Guest Post: Sheila O'Connor on Writing for Resiliency: Young Readers as Survivors

Sheila's family
By Sheila O'Connor
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In 1965, I was living in a two-bedroom basement apartment with my young, newly divorced mother, and two small sisters.

I was seven-years-old; my father had taken work out of the country. I was new to school, and school was new to me.

Every morning I put on the same plaid jumper, the same white blouse, and walked with my older sister to St. John the Baptist Elementary, a quiet school on a quiet small-town street, a place where I first met the Boxcar Children (Albert Whitman) and fell in love with books.

That apartment and the Boxcar Children, and the seven-year-old that read that book were a long, long time ago. I didn’t think about those Boxcar Children much, didn’t even know their names, but then last week I bought a copy, opened up the pages, and met those kids again. And the Aldens—Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny—were every bit as amazing as I remembered.

They gathered dishes from the dump, made beds and brooms from pine needles, earned money for the family, found food, created their own home to replace the one they’d lost. They had integrity and courage, perseverance and imagination—all the qualities I longed for as a child.

Revisiting that story, I realized the deep impression that book had left on my young spirit, how much those resourceful children had informed the life I tried to live then, and later on the books I hoped to write.

For me, kids-on-their-own is more than a literary invention; it’s the life I lived, and the life countless kids still live now. In more ways than we’re able to imagine, kids get themselves to school, find food, feed their families, care for siblings, face challenges and miraculously find ways to solve problems for themselves.

Of course, I wish that it weren’t so; I always wish a parent or a teacher or a grandparent would step in to save the day, and often times they do, but just as often kids have to wait for help. Or ask. I see it in the schools; I see it on the street.

Kid survivors are everywhere. They’re in every neighborhood and school, they’re rich and poor, and too many of them have to keep their secrets to themselves.

When I write, whether I’m writing books for grown-ups or kids, a part of me is always in conversation with those children, survivor kids, kids who want to find their stories in a book.

My novels don’t begin there—they begin with people I imagine, in places I imagine, but one way or the other, they bear witness to the truth about resilient children’s lives. And more than that, they wish to offer hope.

Which leads me to the Stars—Pride and Nightingale and Baby Star—the three strong- willed young siblings who came alive for me in my new novel Keeping Safe the Stars (Putnam, 2012).

In the Stars, I came to love those three bright, lively kids--kids with all the qualities they needed to survive. They were kind, compassionate, and brave, they’d been raised with self-reliance, and above all they’d been loved. So when I watched them set up their souvenir shop, or sell pony rides and popcorn, or make SpaghettiOs for supper, or tell lies to fend off strangers, or venture to a far-off city to find their ailing grandpa, I had no doubt they could do all of that and more.

They didn’t have a boxcar like the Aldens, but they had Eden, their own log cabin in the woods where they’d been schooled in the most important lessons: independence, responsibility, integrity and spunk. But what I loved most about the Stars was their great sense of adventure, their childlike belief that they would triumph.

Young, I believed that I would triumph; I think most resilient children do. And I wonder now if I first formed that fierce belief in the pages of the Boxcar Children book?

Was it Gertrude Chandler Warner that gave that gift to me?

And will Keeping Safe the Stars give that strength to someone else? Will another child find their courage in Pride and Nightingale and Baby?

Will resilient children read this story and have faith that they’ll survive?

 I hope so—I hope for that and so much more.

Cynsational Notes

Sheila O'Connor is the award-winning author of four novels: Keeping Safe the Stars; Sparrow Road winner of the IRA Award for Fiction; Where No Gods Came, winner of the Michigan Literary Prize and Minnesota Book Award; and Tokens of Grace.

Her work has been featured on numerous “best of” lists including: VOYA, Booklist, Bank Street Books and Chicago Public Libraries and recognized with fellowships and honors.

A professor in the MFA program at Hamline University, she also serves as fiction editor for Water~Stone Review. A long-time member of writers-in-the-schools, Sheila has encouraged thousands of young people to tell their stories. Find her on Facebook.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Shelley Tanaka

Shelley & Fiona
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shelley Tanaka is a writer, editor, teacher and translator. She has a B.A. in English and German from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Toronto.

She is the author and translator of more than two dozen books for young readers. Her books have won the Orbis Pictus Award, the Mr. Christie's Book Award, the Silver Birch Award, the Information Book Award, and the Science in Society Children's Book Award, and she has twice been nominated for the Deutsche Jugendliteraturpreis.

She is the fiction editor at Groundwood Books and has edited more than a dozen Governor General's Award-winning titles. She teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the MFA program in writing for children and young adults.

Her recent titles include: Nobody Knows, from the film by Hirokazu Kore-eda (Groundwood, 2012); Climate Change, revised edition (Groundwood, 2012); "Ghost Town," in Hoping for Home: Stories of Arrival (Scholastic Canada, 2011)(A Dear Canada Book); Broken Memory: A Novel of Rwanda by Elisabeth Combres, translated from the French by Shelley Tanaka (Groundwood, 2009); and Amelia Earhart: Legend of the Lost Aviator, illustrated by David Craig (Atheneum, 2008)(winner of the Orbis Pictus Award).

How do you define success?

On my more cynical days I define success as still being able to eke out a living working with books, after more than thirty years in the business. But on good (most) days I just look at my bookshelves, at all the books I've written (two dozen), edited (hundreds) or been associated with, and I feel happy and proud to have such wonderful mementos.

I've worked with Deborah Ellis on thirteen books. Eleven with Tim Wynne-Jones. Six with Sarah Ellis. I've been privileged to work with the very best.

Tim Wynne-Jones, Katherine Paterson & Shelley
Kids often ask me what is the best thing about writing books, and I tell them you get a great souvenir. It's true. To have and hold the beautiful object, the physical book that has been created, designed and produced with love and care -- there's nothing better.

Right now I'm staring at a Groundwood picture book, Guacamole: Un Poema Para Cocinar/A Cooking Poem by Jorge Lujan and Margarita Sada. You simply cannot look at this book and not smile and be happy. It's a tonic.

Inside Guacamole, used with permission from Groundwood (see cover image)
 Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

The hopscotch thing. I think that's a freelancer's life, which means it's a writer's life. You abandon the idea of the straight line, winding or up and down or whatever. You see an opportunity, you hop over and go with it.

My M.O. has always been to say "yes" to practically everything. Any time I've done something hard or different, I've never been sorry.

(Doesn't mean that taking on a new challenge doesn't make me a nervous wreck, of course. I am not by nature a brave person.)

At the same time, I've been very lucky in my longstanding association with Groundwood Books. Patsy Aldana took me on more than thirty years ago. She's a formidable role model and mentor and I've learned more from her than I can say -- about literary taste, about social engagement and taking a stand, about not underestimating the young reader, about seeing writing and publishing in the context of what is going on in the rest of the world, about valuing writers and illustrators and their talent above everything else. I've been lucky to have spent my editing career in a place where that is the mindset, because it is becoming increasingly rare.

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?

Teaching has made me a better writer. I see students being brave, putting themselves out there, working so hard. It's inspiring to me. Makes me want to step out of the Safe zone. And being a writer has made me a better editor. I'm nicer. I understand how vulnerable you are as a writer.

Cory McCarthy, Shelley & Amy Rose Capetta; Cory & Amy Rose are Shelley's former students
Have you ever made an affirmative decision to alter your creative focus? What inspired this decision? What were the challenges?

I spent a long time being afraid of trying to write fiction. I was intimidated by the talent of the novelists I work with, and I still am. But eventually I wrote a short story (for a Scholastic Dear Canada anthology), and a novelization of a film (Nobody Knows).

Now I'm working on a longer piece of middle-grade fiction. But it has taken me a long time to build up enough confidence to do this. Baby steps.

What advice do you have for writers?

That so much of the book business is about luck and timing, and that editorial decisions are subjective. Watch for changes in personnel. If you've written a good book, its time will come.

In the meantime, carpe diem, as it were. That book that you're "waiting" to write? Write it now.

I think there are enormous unexplored opportunities in nonfiction. Everything is narrative, everything is story.

Writers might think beyond biography and history to how they can turn science into story. Science, as I think David Suzuki has said, is ruling our lives. We'd better figure out how to understand it.

I'd also encourage writers to consider many different ways to cobble together a living out of writing -- translating, editing, reviewing, teaching, whatever. And don't forget to make sure you actually have a life. Get out from behind your computer and engage with the world.

Live a long time and stay healthy, because you have no pension. Ally yourself with quality. Quality publishers, quality writers.

Cynsational Notes

Amy Rose Capetta's novel, Entangled, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Fall 2013. Cori McCarthy's novel, The Color of Rain, will be released by Running Press on May 14, 2013.

Cynsational Giveaway


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