Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cynsational Tour: San Antonio, Chicago, Madison

With Greg Leitich Smith at Janet S. Fox's Sirens launch.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Time to dig out my winter coat!

This blog will be on hiatus for the next week while I'm on tour, continuing the launch of Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series) and Eternal: Zachary's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Tantalize series)(both Candlewick).

My schedule includes school and library visits as well as university and bookstore events. Many are private, but the following are open to the public and I hope to see some of you there!

Teens! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Curt's Cafe in Evanston, Illinois.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at The Book Stall (811 Elm Street) in Winnetka, Illinois/Chicagoland.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith and YA debut author E.M. Kokie at "An Evening with Cynthia Leitich Smith" at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Alicia Ashman Library (733 N. Highpoint Road) in Madison, open to the public and sponsored by SCBWI-Wisconsin. Event will include refreshments and giveaways! See more information.

Cynsational Event Report

Last week's highlight was Library Palooza 2013: That Author Thing at Brandeis High School in San Antonio. Thank you to the amazing planners, volunteers, my fellow authors, the teen readers, and Barnes & Noble for making the festival such a success!

Author Jonathan Mayberry
My wonderful assistant for the day, Janette
Me with fellow Austin author Jennifer Ziegler
Author Marie Lu & her assistant for the day, Natalie

Me with author Adam Gidwitz (and author Chris Barton)
On stage with Jonathan, Adam, Marie, Jenny & author-illustrator Fred Perry
We presented to teens in classrooms (hello, choir!).
Lunch in the library
Book signing
We signed more than books!
Fred sketches in addition to signing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cynsational News, Giveaways & Hiatus

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Audio Interview: Benjamin Alire Saenz on Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe from NPR. Peek: "It was important to him to challenge the idea that Mexican-Americans are recent immigrants. 'We have a long history in this country, and we're not all workers with our hands. There are a lot of professional Mexican-Americans, and it's just not presented in literature,' he explains, 'and I wanted very much to do that.'"

Inspired Openings: Special Agent Edition by Jan from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Note: what 16 top YA literary agents are looking for (or not) in the opening to your manuscript. Peek from Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd.: "Beginning with dialogue, to me, asks a lot from your reader. It’s forcing them to hear from a character they don’t know yet."

Fantasy, Ethnic Identity and Monsters That Eat People's Livers by Mike Jung from The Enchanted Inkpot. Peek: "This new novel won't be devoid of fun - that's, um, not what I want - but the emotional truths at its core traffic much more in family history, communication breakdowns between generations, and cultural alienation."

What Next? Fifteen Questions to Help You Decide Your Next Writing Project by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "If it takes you six months to write a novel, what else could you get written in that time period? What project deserves that time commitment?" See also Darcy on Two Dialogue Tips from Studying SitComs.

How I Got My Six-Figure Twitter Following (and Why It Doesn't Matter) from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What was I doing from summer 2010 through fall 2011—the part where the graph is stepping up?"

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award Blog: " and happenings in the field of children’s and young adult literature and put forward news about the award and the award recipients."

Rachel Caine on Making Mistakes from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "One thing I’ve learned about the writing business is that it never stops giving you opportunities to make mistakes. But you know what? That’s a great thing."

Writing as a Worthwhile Struggle by Elizabeth S. Craig from Mystery Writing Is Murder. Peek: "We learn from the rotten first drafts and the plots that didn’t cooperate and the characters that act as if they’ve had a personality-changing stroke."

The Fun of World Building by Marissa Burt from Project Mayhem. Peek: "I'm at the stage now where there are an overload of ideas, and I'm struggling with how to sort everything into some semblance of order."

A Year of Thinking About Diversity by Malinda Lo from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I certainly don't believe that an author should be required to represent their own background in their books, but when they do, I really value it. There aren't enough of those (our) voices out in the world. There just aren't."

Attack of Writer's Decidophobia by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Writing first thing in the day isn’t always possible. It depends on your season of life sometimes. So many things vie for first place in your day!" See also Are You Infected with Optimistic Denial?

Southwest Texas Children's Book Illustrators Blog: "...designed for SCBWI_SWTX (San Antonio) members to share with each other about the world of children's literature." Contact: Akiko White. See also SCBWI Austin Conference 2013.

Bank Street Announces Irma Black (Read-Aloud) Award, Cook (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) Prize Finalists from School Library Journal. Special cheers to Kate Hosford, author of Infinity and Me, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Carolrhoda)!

Editor Wendy Lamb: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Harper was a tough place to work, but I loved being at the house that had published so many of my favorite books, including some by Charlotte Zolotow. I sat right outside her door."

2012 Andrea Norton Award Nominees for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Special congrats to Libba Bray, David Levithan and Guadalupe Garcia McCall! See also Andrea Norton Award...Dreams Do Come True by Guadalupe. Peek: "The antenna had to be bent just right and the channel button took two hands to turn over, but I always managed to find my favorite shows, reruns of 'Star Trek' and 'Lost in Space'."

The Niblings Arrive: A Children’s Literature Supergroup for All Your Children’s Literary Needs by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "The Niblings is a new blog consortium, over at Facbeook and Twitter, representing Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (Jules Danielson), A Fuse #8 Production (this guy), Nine Kinds of Pie (Philip Nel), and 100 Scope Notes (Travis Jonker). Our goal with this group is to share — in one convenient location — links from our blogs, as well as other interesting links related to the field of children’s literature." Find the Niblings at facebook and Twitter.

2013 Finalists for The Audies: "...recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association." See children's up to age 8, children's ages 8-12, and teens.

2013 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation Presented to Howard Curtis for In The Sea there are Crocodiles from PaperTigersBlog. Peek: "...awarded biennially since 1996, was founded to celebrate the best translation of a children’s book from a foreign language into English and published in the U.K. It aims to spotlight the high quality and diversity of translated fiction for young readers and seeks to address a situation in the U.K in which less than 3 percent of work published for children and young people has been from the non-English speaking world."

Little You, by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "This book is sweet as can be."

Be Part of Bridget's Team: Celebrate Poison from Inara Scott. Peek: "Bridget Zinn’s first YA novel, Poison, is being released by Hyperion on March 12. Being published was Bridget’s dream. Now, nearly four years to the day from her diagnosis, her novel is at last reaching readers. On her behalf, her friends and family want to celebrate her accomplishment and help get her book into the hands of readers." Find out how you can help

Culture Control by Jen Taylor Schmidt from Quirk and Quill. Peek: "The influence of those around me changed my very identity. It changed not only my productivity, but the way I thought about myself."

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win:
Now Available!

The winner of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made and a signed doodle by Stephan Pastis (Candlewick, 2013) was Tracy in California.

See also New YA Releases 2/23-3/1, Plus Wicked Kiss Giveaway from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

More Personally

Cynsations will be (mostly) on hiatus next week while I travel and speak.

Check out the events listings below, and if you can (San Antonio, Chicago, Madison!), come see me! I'd love to meet you or reconnect in person.

If you can't make it but would like an author-signed copy of my new releases, Feral Nights and Eternal: Zachary's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Candlewick, 2013), you can stop by or order online/by phone from BookPeople in Austin.

Congrats to Greg Leitich Smith on running last Sunday's Austin Marathon! See his full report!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events--San Antonio, Chicago, Madison, Montpelier

Come see me in San Antonio!
Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jennifer Ziegler and more at Library Palooza 2013: That Author Thing! will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Brandeis High School in San Antonio.

Teens! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Curt's Cafe in Evanston, Illinois.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at The Book Stall (811 Elm Street) in Winnetka, Illinois/Chicagoland.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith and YA debut author E.M. Kokie at "An Evening with Cynthia Leitich Smith" at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Alicia Ashman Library (733 N. Highpoint Road) in Madison, open to the public and sponsored by SCBWI-Wisconsin. Event will include refreshments and giveaways! See more information.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Peek: "This year's retreat will feature faculty Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle, and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa."

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 April 24 to April 27 in Fort Worth from the Texas Library Association. Look for Cynthia Leitich Smith's signing and Spirit of Texas High School author panel.

Save the Date! 5th Annual Austin Teen Book Festival by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Note: Sept. 28, 2013.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Post: Denise Dowling Mortensen on Mining Your Childhood Memories for Inspiration

Denise at age 3
By Denise Dowling Mortensen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was a young, I lived in a little red house on a tree-lined street in a suburb of New York City. Today, anyone passing by that house might not blink as it was about as ordinary as sliced bread.

But to me, that little house will always be a magical place. It was the place where all of my childhood memories began.

Most of those memories were delightful, like riding my tricycle at full speed down the hill in front of our house, or believing that I had heard Santa’s sleigh bells out my bedroom window on Christmas Eve, or that I could dig a hole with a spoon all the way to China.

But other memories were dark and scary, like trying to make a run for my parent’s bed between a loud crack of thunder and the next flash of lightning, or being chased by spider-wielding brothers whose sole mission was to torment me until I cried.

Those defining childhood memories, both delightful and dark, have provided a treasure chest of ideas for the picture books I write, especially my new book, Bug Patrol (Clarion, 2013), which was inspired by that awful memory of being chased by spiders.

In my four-year-old mind, I believed that bugs were an uncivilized bunch of marauders and that I was their constant target. Since this was such a powerful, visceral memory and it was so close to my heart, I assumed that there would be four-year-olds today who would share that same irrational fear.

So I flipped that fear on it’s head (I did not want to re-create that same anxiety in my readers) and used it as the basis for writing Bug Patrol. The book needed to be lighthearted and fun. It would need to depict bugs in a positive way.

Visit Denise Dowling Mortensen
I found my voice in Captain Bob, a friendly bug cop who presides over a world in which bugs are simply miniature versions of our human selves: they have feelings, they make mistakes, they have conflicts, they are fragile, and they live in a chaotic world—but at the end of the day there is always order and unconditional love from family.

To me, that’s pretty sweet stuff for a four-year-old (and us adults, too!).

So if you are looking for inspiration for your next book, or you just can’t fine tune your character’s voice or motivation, dust off your childhood memories and examine just who you were as a child. Listen to your childhood voice even if, over time, it’s become just a whisper.

It’s important to remember: if you write for young children, you must think like a young child. From this vantage point, you just might find the key to unlocking your most authentic, magical writing.

(Even though it was cathartic for me to write this book, I am still just as neurotic about bugs today as I was back then!)

Cynsational Notes

Denise's cat Angie
Denise Dowling Mortensen is the author of five picture books, all published by Clarion: Good Night Engines (2003), Wake Up Engines (2007), a board book/flip book of both Good Night Engines and Wake Up Engines (Clarion), Ohio Thunder (2006) and Bug Patrol (2013).

She is the mother of five children and has been writing since her youngest son (now 15) was a baby. She works as a classroom aide in a local elementary school where she teaches after-school knitting and writing classes.

When she is not working or writing, she enjoys hanging around with her brood of young adult and teen children (whom she relies on for all manner of tech support), watching "Downton Abbey" (always with a box of Kleenex nearby), and imagining that someday she will have time to cook like the Barefoot Contessa every night.

She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three of her five children, and Angie, her adorable cat who thinks she’s a dog (fetch, anyone?).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Voice: Liz Fichera on Hooked

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Liz Fichera is the first-time author of Hooked (HarlequinTEEN, Jan. 29, 2013)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

Get hooked on a girl named Fred...

HE said: Fred Oday is a girl? Why is a girl taking my best friend's spot on the boy's varsity golf team?

SHE said: Can I seriously do this? Can I join the boys' team? Everyone will hate me - especially Ryan Berenger.

HE said: Coach expects me to partner with Fred on the green? That is crazy bad. Fred's got to go - especially now that I can't get her out of my head. So not happening.

SHE said: Ryan can be nice, when he's not being a jerk. Like the time he carried my golf bag. But the girl from the rez and the spoiled rich boy from the suburbs? So not happening.

But there's no denying that things are happening as the girl with the killer swing takes on the boy with the killer smile...

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

The main protagonist in my story, Fred (short for Fredricka), came to me like most of my protagonists often do: when I least expected it. I was driving down a long stretch of mostly desolate desert road not far from my house in Phoenix, Arizona, and this fearless Native American girl popped into my head and started talking to me.

Pecos Road is significant in the novel & where inspiration first struck Liz.
Since my home in Phoenix borders the Gila River Indian Community, I decided that Fred had to be Gila. Before I started crafting a story around Fred, I spent a lot of time getting to know her—her likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, what she wanted out of life, and what she didn’t want.

I talked with several of my Native American girlfriends, just to make sure I was getting Fred. I realized that after spending a lot of time with Fred inside my head, I really liked this girl and I needed to tell her story. The details and other characters grew from there.

Interestingly, it was harder for me to understand the secondary characters, even if they’re backgrounds are more similar to mine. I think I wrote and rewrote Hooked at least six times before I was satisfied.  

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 found my agent the old-fashioned way. I researched agents thoroughly, picked my Top 10, and then dutifully sent out my perfectly worded and agonized-over query. And then I was immediately rejected by all except two.

Meet Liz Fichera
I clicked with Holly Root and she got my book and my writing so I knew almost two minutes into my first conversation with her that she would be “The One.”

As time wore on, I was never more correct about my choice. That’s because the book that I initially queried didn’t sell right away. In fact, Hooked was my third book but it was the first book to find a traditional publisher. Fortunately I found an agent who has stuck with me through thick and thin and didn’t give up when we didn’t get an immediate sale.

It’s so important to find an agent who’s gonna stick with you and not drop you like a hot potato when don’t land a deal right out of the gate. You’ve got to believe in each other. You’ve got to act like a team. If you can find an agent like this, then she will be more likely to find the right editor and the right publisher for your book.

Take your time finding the right fit, if you decide to pursue traditional publishing. Looking back, it was good that my first book didn’t sell because what I have now was totally worth the (very long) wait.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Guest Post: Toni Buzzeo on Her Journey to the Caldecott Honor Book One Cool Friend

pre-pub date 3000-copy first-printing signing by Toni & David
By Toni Buzzeo
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

9:50 AM, Monday, January 28, 2013


Text message from my editor:

Top secret and wonderful news: One Cool Friend is a Caldecott Honor!!!

That quirky proper boy with his pilfered penguin, brought to life through David Small’s brilliant graphic art, had captured the committee’s fancy as he had the hearts of so many kids and adults in 2012.

As the news sank in, I thought back to September of 1995, when I set down the first words of my very first picture book manuscript—and only a few months later met Cynthia Leitich Smith online.

We formed a friendship and a partnership. We two hopefuls walked forth into the world of published children’s books. And we tried to proceed without doubt.

After all, we were both University of Michigan grads with advanced degrees (not that this made a dust bunny’s worth of difference in our pursuit of children’s book contracts).

Cyn beat me to the finish line by a few years when she sold Jingle Dancer, but on September 5, 2000, I screamed past that very same finish line with my own first picture book sale.

In The Sea Chest, I told a deeply felt part of my own life story through a fictional tale set on a rocky Maine lighthouse island in the 1870s.

Since then, I’ve sold 21 picture book manuscripts in all and I have at least that many more manuscripts in various stage of development or drawer-sitting. Perseverance, talent, and a personal share of fairy dust have brought me here—to my amazement and joy.

Now that the flood of congratulatory texts, calls, and e-mails has diminished, now that I’ve gotten back to my desk, found my way through to the end of a new manuscript, and submitted it to my agent, now that the darling penguin-shaped chocolate truffles have been consumed and the stunning bouquet of roses and tulips is drooping a bit, in other words, now that it’s real life I’m waking up to each morning, it’s time to reflect. Post-Caldecott Honor, as it were.

One of my dearest author friends—and a mentor to both Cyn and me in those early days of aspiration—Jane Kurtz told me that I should wake up every single bingle morning now and think, “Caldecott Honor, Baby!” She’s right, of course, but it’s so hard to adopt a new habit.

I’m working on it, though.

What I do find, now, is that I have renewed confidence—the kind of confidence Cyn and I used to feel in those golden pre-pub days when all things seemed possible. All things do seem possible once again.

My friend Kirby Larson, Newbery Honor Award winner, wrote me a note on the day the awards were announced. It said simply: “Your life just changed!” And really, I do feel that way. One night the award fairy sprinkled my book with her dust and now here I am, all sparkly.

When my newest book Just Like My Papa publishes on April 2, I know it will publish with a little spill-over fairy dust, an additional bit of magic for a lovely, heartfelt book about the importance of fathers, and optimism, and dreams.

The book is dedicated to my uncle, John Mackey, who, from the very start, always believed in me, always stood by me, with a love so strong—like Papa’s for his little Kito—that there was never any room for doubt.

So, post Caldecott Honor?

This is my hope. To live my writing life without doubt. And, of course, with a fine sheen of lingering fairy dust.

Cynsational Snapshots

View from Toni's office window in Florida

View from Toni's office window in Florida
Toni's writing cottage
Visit Toni Buzzeo

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Voice: C.J. Flood on Infinite Sky

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

C.J. Flood is the first-time author of Infinite Sky (Simon & Schuster U.K., 2013). From the promotional copy:

Iris Dancy’s free-spirited mum has left for Tunisia, her dad’s rarely sober and her brother’s determined to fight anyone with a pair of fists.

When a family of travelers move into the overgrown paddock overnight, her dad looks set to finally lose it. Gypsies are parasites he says, but Iris is intrigued. As her dad plans to evict the traveling family, Iris makes friends with their teenage son. Trick Deran is a bare-knuckle boxer who says he’s done with fighting, but is he telling the truth?

When tools go missing from the shed, the travelers are the first suspects. Iris’s brother, Sam, warns her to stay away from Trick; he’s dangerous, but Iris can no longer blindly follow her brother’s advice. He’s got secrets of his own, and she’s not sure he can be trusted himself.

Infinite Sky is a family story about betrayal and loyalty, and love.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2013, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

I am very surprised to be debuting in 2013, though it has taken a fair while to get here. I started writing seriously after graduating in Cornwall. I was 21 and it was 2004. A friend encouraged me to submit something to the creative writing pages of a local magazine she edited, and when it was selected to be published, I immediately wanted to repeat the process. I was addicted to seeing my name in print.

 For the next few years, I wrote short stories and poems and submitted them to lots and lots of different places, obsessively checking my emails to see if I had any rejections (always lots) or acceptances (increasingly some). This led to reading at magazine launches, and meeting other writers, and beginning to share work and get feedback.

C.J. is a "little obsessed" with table tennis.
I didn’t exactly keep the faith at this time, but I did keep writing. Partly because it was a compulsion, partly because it was an outlet for my creativity which wasn’t used at all in my work (waitressing/carework), and partly because I was desperate to change my situation. My then-boyfriend took himself seriously as an artist, and some of that rubbed off on me too. Most of my friends were in a similar position, working jobs they didn’t love to earn money to survive until they found their feet in sculpture or photography or illustration. We were all in it together.

This went on for a few years until I was 26. I had been toying for a while with the idea of doing an MA in Creative Writing, but the application process put me off, and I wasn’t sure I was good enough to get in.

Finally, after seeing a good friend of mine successfully place at the University of East Anglia (sort of like the UK’s Iowa Writers' Workshop programme) I decided to apply. I didn’t apply anywhere else for some reason. Luckily, I got in. A few months later, I packed up all my stuff, and moved away from my beloved Cornwall to Norwich.

During this year, I learned so much about writing. At the same time as I had applied to UEA I had applied for the Jerwood/Arvon Mentoring Scheme – a year’s mentoring with a successful writer – and a few months into the course, I found out I had been successful. I had even more support for my writing! For the first time ever, I could prioritise it over everything else. I was surrounded by people who were focused on getting better. Every week there were workshops and chats and readings. Life revolved around writing, and it was wonderful. Not surprisingly, during this time, my writing developed enormously.

Towards the end of the MA, we had meetings with agents and publishers, and an anthology of our work was sent out to industry professionals. We had a showcase of our work in London and Norwich. The combination of these three things led to me signing with my dream agent, Catherine Clarke, and a year after finishing the course, my book sold to Simon & Schuster, U.K. and Arena, Germany, at auction.

I knew that the UEA course could work this way for students, but I didn’t expect to be one of them. Because of the speed at which things happened in the last couple of years, after very little happening at all for the first seven, I still find it surprising.

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?

With Molly.
To some extent, Iris’s voice did seem to come almost by magic, and I think this was due to my surrounding myself with the world of the novel. Because Infinite Sky is set in the house where my dad still lives, I could literally do this. I wandered the fields and ran around the yard and sat by the brook, and it brought back so many memories of my teen years. I realised how much a part of me that landscape is, and how much I love it, and I think that comes through in Iris’s voice.

Another thing that made it seem fairly easy, was the fact that Iris is a sort of idealised version of me at thirteen. I know her very well!

Still, it took a long time to get her voice just right, and I did do some exercises. Mostly, I freewrote. I would try to empty my head, and get into an almost trance-like state in which I was barely critical, and then write whatever struck me about the novel. I would write about what Iris thought of her mum leaving, how she felt about her older brother, what she thought of Silverweed Farm falling into disrepair.

As for listening to young people, I am always trying! They have such excellent conversations! However, because of the classic feel I was aiming for with Infinite Sky, I didn’t use any contemporary slang or youth talk, so all my earwigging was just for fun.

So, yes, a combination of freeing my inner teen, freewriting and visualisation worked really well for me when writing my first novel.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Interview: Author-Illustrator-Designer Emma J. Virján

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome back to Cynsations! You last visited Cynsations to talk about your path to publication, Nacho the Party Puppy (Random House) and your love of children’s literature.

What’s new in your creative life?

My focus lately has been twofold, illustration, both for kid lit and editorial publication, and picture books. I love developing characters and having them tell a story as they evolve on my drawing table.

I both illustrate and write my stories, so it's always fascinating to have each discipline support the other. At the moment, my agent is helping me polish up a manuscript for submission.

I'm also working on a 4" x 6" series of hand-drawn illustrations/postcards. In this ever expanding digital world in which we live, it's so easy to get away from the hands-on experience of drawing with pens, pencils and markers. The small drawings give me the opportunity to hone my illustration skills and offer quite the challenge, in that 4" x 6" is not a huge canvas.

By Emma Virján
 How have you grown and changed as an artist?

I've been spending time with other illustrators and artists, and as a group, we challenge ourselves and hold each other accountable. We also share drawing tips and techniques. With that kind of support, I've become better at my craft and have learned new ways to think, draw and execute illustrations.

What role does community play in supporting your work and dreams?

Emma with fellow Girllustrator Amy Farrier
Community plays a huge, supportive role. I'm fortunate to live in Austin, where there is a fantastic, loving, talented kid lit community. I'm also a member of the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels and The Girllustrators.

Both groups offer encouragement and positive critique, two critical elements in the illustration and writing process.

Drawing and writing are solitary processes so it's always great to have people I trust review what I've done and offer helpful feedback.

Rumor has it that your new website is live! Tell us about that—we can’t wait to take a peek! 

Yes, the new site is live:

Developing a website is a ton of work, and although I'm experienced in assisting clients with their website development, it's difficult for me to create my own.

I reached out to Adam Norwood for his expertise in site design and management. I'm thrilled with what we've produced and now I have a site that not only showcases my illustration work, but one I can manage myself. Being able to update it on my own is important and will allow me to keep the site fresh.

Get to know Nacho!
You are the designer behind my amazing new Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013) bookmarks! Could you tell us a little about the creative/business process behind them?

Congrats on Feral Nights, Cyn, and thanks for asking me to design the bookmark. Designing a bookmark is a lot like designing a poster, billboard, brochure, or any other type of marketing collateral - tell the story quickly, efficiently, and with only the most important information and messaging necessary.

In this instance, that meant highlighting the book with an image and a teaser headline, listing the release date, the publisher, any other work you've done and, of course, legal text. The challenge was to make it intriguing. And make it fit on 2"x 8" of real estate.

The book cover is amazing, so it was easy to let that image do most of the work.

Learn more about new releases from Cynthia Leitich Smith.
What were the challenges?

Other than not having a ton of space to work with, the other challenge was to be sure it kept in line with you’re existing image/brand. Keeping the overall design clean and, again, letting the book cover tell the story, is consistent with the collateral you already have out there for your other books.

What was fun about the project?

I enjoyed the challenge of the 2' x 8" space and getting to meet your publicist.

Do you do a lot of promotional design work? Could you tell us about your efforts in this area? 

I do. Promotional design work, just like illustrating and writing for kids, tells a story. As a graphic designer I have a hand in helping my clients promote their product or service, and developing their stories. I've been in the design business for a long time - Reagan was President when I started in this business. I'll let you do the math.

I've had the opportunity to work with national businesses and organizations - Kraft Foods, Save the Children, United Way, as well as local - Texas Classroom Teachers Association, CyrusOne, Sharp Propane, Austin SCBWI and the Texas Sweethearts & Scoundrels.

Are you interested in working as a designer with children’s-YA, illustrators, and publishers on marketing their books via promotional giveaways? If so, how can interested folks get in touch? 

Yes. The best way for folks to reach me is via email,

What do you do when you’re not writing or illustrating?

I enjoy working in my yard, and with this mild, Texas winter, I've been out there a lot. The last few months I've also been busy rearing my Golden Retriever, Her Royal Highness Queen Isabella, AKA Bella. She's seven months old, weighs 40 lbs and loves socks, deer poop, mulch and eating paper as it feeds out of the printer.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three packages of five Feral Nights bookmarks, signed by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sneak Peek for 2013 by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: " is my stab at my annual 'sneak peek' list of the poetry titles that are scheduled to be published in 2013, thus far. Of course this is subject to change with additional titles likely as the year rolls along."

Thoughts on Agents by Varian Johnson from Quirk and Quill. Peek: "There is no such things as a 'dream' agent."

Balance is Overrated by Tara Lazar from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "I’m writing this blog post unshowered, still in my jammies."

Diversity 101: the Transgender Perspective by Cris Beam from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...there aren’t just two genders—there are many shades of expression and identity and the earlier we can support kids who experience this, the better. And they do experience it early."

Young Adult Author Corina Vacco: new official author site features biography, bibliography blog, links, contest(s). Vacco is the debut author of My Chemical Mountain (Random House, 2013) which won the Delacorte Prize.

Congratulations to Valiska Gregory, winner of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, from SCBWI.

I Want to Write a Novel: Where Do I Start? by Robyn Vavati from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "A strong concept suggests a story. It suggests character, plot and theme."

Cover Design 101: The Cover of The Awakening from Lee & Low Books. Peek: "...a couple looked too modern-day urban or romance genre (didn’t quite set themselves apart as futuristic science fiction); another didn’t get the full message of the book across in a way I felt the other concepts did..."

Green Earth Book Award Winners Announced from The Nature Generation. Peek: "...given to authors and illustrators whose books best inspire young readers to appreciate and care for the environment."

Debunking Literary Love by P.J. Hoover from Roots in Myth. Peek: "Step back away from yourself and your perfect relationship for just a second. What are the odds that this guy is the one?"

Review of Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs & the Shaping of American Children's Literature by Leonard Marcus (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008) from Harold Underdown at The Purple Crayon. Peek: "...the story of children's book publishing in the United States from Colonial times to the mid-1990s. It's the only book available on the subject, and it's excellent."

A Path to Publishing: interactive online video chat workshops with editors, agents and authors from literary agent Jill Corcoran.

Celebrate Black History Month

The Brown Bookshelf: 28 Days Later:

This Week at Cynsations
Note: check back tomorrow for an interview with author-illustrator-designer Emma J. Virjan and giveaway of signed Feral Nights bookmarks.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win book & a signed doodle by the author-illustrator
Now in paperback!

See also New YA in Stores, 2/16-2/22, plus giveaway of The Canticle of Whispers by David Whitley from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

More Personally 

Happy Launch Week!

Don't miss this preview!
Interview with Cyn on FN
We're celebrating the release of my latest books, Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series), Eternal: Zachary's Story (a graphic novel illustrated by Ming Doyle) and the paperback edition of Diabolical (Book 4 in the Tantalize series), all published by Candlewick Press. 

Feral Nights also is available as an e-book. Vendors that sell Candlewick Press e-books include Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and the Sony Reader Store.

Want to see something really amazing? Take a peek at the art inside Eternal: Zachary's Story at Ming's tumblr and Previewsworld.

In additional last weekend, I served as critique faculty for the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference; see my photo report as well as Joy Preble's and Cory Putnam Oakes'.

With Michigan author Shutta Crum & our husbands at Maudie's, Too in Austin

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith
Cynsational Events--San Antonio, Chicago, Madison, Montpelier

Come see me in San Antonio!
Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jennifer Ziegler and more at Library Palooza 2013: That Author Thing! will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Brandeis High School in San Antonio.

Teens! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at Curt's Cafe in Evanston, Illinois.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at The Book Stall (811 Elm Street) in Winnetka, Illinois/Chicagoland.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith and YA debut author E.M. Kokie at "An Evening with Cynthia Leitich Smith" from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28 at Alicia Ashman Library (733 N. Highpoint Road), open to the public and sponsored by SCBWI-Wisconsin. Event will include refreshments and giveaways! See more information.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Peek: "This year's retreat will feature faculty Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle, and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa."