Thursday, March 07, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Tameka Fryer Brown on Heart Matters

By Tameka Fryer Brown
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Human beings can be hard to satisfy, we writers included. Okay, me especially.

When I decided I wanted to be a children’s author, I worked really hard to learn how to write a manuscript that would be publishable. Once I sold a book, I wanted it to be well received throughout the industry, with lots of positive reviews. Then I wanted to sell another book, to prove that I wasn’t just a one-book-wonder.

Now that my second book (My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Viking, 2013)) is officially on the market today, I want it to sell even better...and receive more attention...and win lots of awards...and...and...and....

Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to set goals for attaining higher and greater achievements, but all goals aren’t created equal. Here’s a practical epiphany I’d like to share, in hopes it may save somebody stressful moments and precious creative time.

Some authors are concerned about their work being confined to the categories of “literary” or “commercial”. I, too, have fretted over this. Though my writing voice leans toward literary, I really wanted to write something that would be viewed as the next kidlit sensation. I analyzed several of the picture book bestseller lists and, at the time, there were lots of subjects such as pirates and puppies and pink. My artistic soul whispered something to me softly, but my business-educated mind noisily crowded it out. If this is what’s selling, I surmised, then this is what I need to write. I opened my computer and got to work.

D.E. Photography
I wrote a story about monsters.

I wrote a story about bugs.

I wrote a story about a puppy.

I wrote a story about a princess, too, but I knew it was awful so I abandoned it early.

The others I sent to my agent—my pull-no-punches agent—who told me that none of these stories was working.

Technically they were well written, but something was missing. The thing that makes “a Tameka Fryer Brown story,” she said, was missing.

I argued with her about the monsters. I debated with her about the bugs. By the time we got to the puppy, I knew she was right. Purposely trying to write “commercial” wasn’t working for me, and I finally realized why.

First, books don’t top lists just because of their topic; they top them because they widely capture the imaginations of children. Second, the creative process for every writer is different, and each must find what works for her. My best stories have always been organic, emerging intuitively and unbidden. My first book came to me in that twilight phase between sleep and wakefulness. 

My latest book was inspired by the simple thought, “Boy, am I in a mood.”

In my deliberately crafted, market-driven stories, I’d tried to create tales that had heart, but they didn’t. Because they didn’t come from my heart. For art to be meaningful, that matters.

Tameka and agent Jen Rofe

Does My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood hit that sweet spot between literary and commercial?

I believe so.

Will it sell really well and make lists and earn awards?

I hope so.

But what matters most is that my authentic self is reflected in its thirty-two, beautifully illustrated pages, pages that will now be turned and enjoyed by little hands and minds. And that is beyond satisfying.

Tameka's writing space
Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two copies of My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

What color is your mood?

On a really good day, Jamie feels purple like the first bite of a juicy cold plum.

And with a crayon in his hand, Jamie eases into a green feeling like a dragon dancing through a jungle made of green jello.

But when his brothers push him around and make fun of his drawings, Jamie feels graylike a dark storm brewing.

What will it take to put Jamie back in a bright-feeling mood?

Through Jamie, young readers will learn to describe how they’re feeling in a unique way.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Book Trailer: World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You've Never Heard Of by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Anna Raff (Candlewick, 2013)(interior spread)(author interview). From the promotional copy:

From the Children's Poet Laureate comes a year-round ode to wacky holidays just begging to be celebrated.

Nobody should ever forget Ewe on Ohio Sheep Day (July 14). No mata mata how hard they may try on World Turtle Day (May 23). If you've never heard of Dragon Appreciation Day, International Cephalopod Awareness Day, or Yell "Fudge!" at the Cobras in North America Day, it's not because they don't exist, it's simply that they needed someone to spread the word. 

Luckily, the fantastically zany poems of J. Patrick Lewis and Anna Raff's equally hilarious illustrations have memorialized these holidays forever. 

So get out your calendars — from Happy Mew Year for Cats Day to Chocolate-Covered Anything Day, World Rat Day (April 4) calls for a year-round celebration.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Giveaway: Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Learning to live is more than just choosing not to die, as sixteen-year-old Ryan discovers in the year following his suicide attempt. Despite his mother’s anxious hovering and the rumors at school, he’s trying to forget the darkness from which he has escaped. But it doesn’t help that he’s still hiding guilty secrets, or that he longs for a girl who may not return his feelings. 

Then he befriends Nicki, who is using psychics to seek contact with her dead father. This unlikely friendship thaws Ryan to the point where he can face the worst in himself. 

He and Nicki confide in one another the things they never thought they’d tell anyone—but their confessions are trickier than they seem, and the fallout tests the bound of friendship and forgiveness.

Author sponsored. Eligibility: age 13+, North America. 

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Cynsational Notes

"Defying both sensationalism and cliche ..... the story is also about moving forward."
--Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"... compellingly portrays the quiet anguish of after."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

Monday, March 04, 2013

Guest Post: Jill Corcoran on A Path to Publishing

By Jill Corcoran
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am thrilled to bring writers and illustrators A Path to Publishing.

Powered by an innovative interactive video chat platform, A Path to Publishing allows participants to talk directly to editors, literary agents, film/TV agents, art directors, sales, marketing and publicity directors, and more. (Think Skype on steroids with no lag times in picture or audio!)

No matter where you are in your publishing career, this program can provide you with access to top industry professionals. You'll get immediate insight and answers to all your questions, plus reliable advice you can act on immediately to take your career to the next level.

Plus, all workshops are limited to 20 participants.

With A Path to Publishing, you ask questions of the faculty live...from the comfort of your home. It's an efficient, affordable way to learn, make connections, and progress down the path to publication.

March workshops are set and more are being created.

Here is what we have so far...

Jill with author Varsha Bajaj
Also, I know when I was in a critique group I would have loved to have an agent sit in and give me their perspective.

Via this powerful Online Chat Platform I can now make that a reality for both in-person and online critique groups. All you need is a phone, tablet, ipad or computer with a camera and microphone.

Like the A Path to Publishing workshops, you sign in via your browser-Firefox, Safari, Outlook or Google Chrome (all free to download) or Skype (also free to download). There are no apps that you need to download or purchase. You simply sign in via an email I send you and I will see and hear you, and you me, via the cloud.

Plus all participants will receive a 15% discount off one A Path to Publishing workshop.

Hope to see many of you in the cloud at the workshops or in your critique groups.

New Voice: Cal Armistead on Being Henry David

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cal Armistead is the first-time author Being Henry David (Albert Whitman, 2013). From the promotional copy:

A teenage boy awakes from a deep sleep to find himself at Penn Station in New York City, with no memory of who he is, or where he came from. His only possession is a book at his side: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. 

He decides to take the name Henry David, shortened to “Hank” by Jack, a street kid who befriends him. 

Shortly after they meet, Jack and Hank are involved in a crime with a kid-exploiting criminal called Magpie. 

Afraid to approach the authorities for help, Hank flees to Concord, Massachusetts, hoping that Walden–both the book and the location–will offer clues to his identity. That first night, Hank sleeps outdoors at the site of Thoreau’s cabin, then seeks shelter in the local high school and the public library. A tattooed, motorcycle-riding librarian/Thoreau historian named Thomas takes Hank under his wing, and guides him on the painful path to discovering his true identity. 

When Hank can run no further from the truth, will he confront the tragedy of his life or seek the ultimate escape?

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

The first thing I did to research my book was read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden from cover to cover. Well, (cough), that’s not 100% true. One of the roadblocks for me was that Thoreau’s old-fashioned, flowery language can be challenging to absorb, yet I wanted to familiarize myself with it because my main character, a lost kid with amnesia, finds the book and is deeply affected and inspired by it.

How did I overcome this? I listened to Walden several times as an audio book. As it turns out, that fancy 19th century writing is absolutely beautiful when it’s read aloud. (I highly recommend doing this!)

My greatest research coup was interviewing Richard Smith, a Thoreau interpreter/historian in Concord, Massachusetts, whose job is to lead tours at Walden Pond and visit schools all over the country posing as Thoreau.

In my book, I’d already written the character of Thomas, a Thoreau interpreter who helps my main character (Hank) find his way, but I needed to flesh him out and make sure he sounded legit.

One of the strangest coincidences of all time is that I’d created Thomas as a tattooed rebel/dedicated historian, and Richard Smith is this character, come to life. Richard has a lot of tattoos, including one of Thoreau on his left bicep (a detail I stole for Thomas), and was in a punk band when he was younger, just like Thomas.

Also, when I asked Richard where a present-day Thoreau might go to conduct his experiment of living off the grid in nature, he immediately pinpointed the wilds of Maine, specifically the area around Mount Katahdin. (Which Thoreau had hiked in the 1800s.) That insight from Richard led my character to Mount Katahdin at the end of the book, which felt perfect to me.

Walden Pond - Concord, Massachusetts
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?

Laya & Jolie
I played around with both first and third-person point of view, but it was clear that telling the story in first person and in present tense served the story best. It’s about a teenage boy with amnesia, so everything that happens is immediate, happening to him right now.

I did experiment with third-person for a short while, but it made me feel too disconnected from the character, and the prose lost its spark and immediacy.

First person, present tense seems right so readers can be Hank, to experience his world (and his returning memory) right along with him.

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?

Writing about a kid who has amnesia presents a lot of challenges, but it also has its benefits. When Hank wakes up at Penn Station alone and without any belongings (except for Thoreau’s book, Walden), he has no cell phone or computer, so I don’t have to address much in the way of changing technologies. He does use a library computer to look for himself on the Missing and Exploited Children website, but the rest of the book is about a kid who’s completely unplugged, preferring nature to technology.

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

I’ve approached the task of promoting my debut book by doing everything I can to educate myself on the subject. For example, earlier this year, I attended a conference (Grub Street in Boston, Muse in the Marketplace) that offered several seminars and panels on social media and book promotion. I sat front-and-center for all of them, taking copious notes. It was scary and humbling and completely overwhelming, but I learned a lot.

One of the first things I was told I had to do was establish a website and start writing a blog, so I did. Then I started a Twitter account, a Goodreads author page, and I started talking up my book on Facebook.

At this point, I’m also researching swag (the stuff you give away, like bookmarks), appearances at schools and libraries, and blog tours.

I’m still learning; it’s an ongoing process. Sometimes it’s really fun and sometimes, frankly, it feels a whole lot like work to someone like me who prefers creative pursuits to business ones.

As for support, I have something other authors do not: CMT, a.k.a. Cal’s Marketing Team. CMT is comprised of my husband (a mathematics/business guy), my daughter (an aspiring writer), and me.

I try to avoid the word “obsessed” when discussing my husband’s interest in marketing my book, because he hates that. However, I will share that he calls CMT business meetings on a regular basis, distributes agenda items, makes detailed charts and graphs, and scrawls out action items on a white board. And now that advanced reader copies are out, he uses on-line applications to check every day for any reference to my book that exists in the cyber-world. He tracks everything, and even does a few mysterious mathematical calculations that tell him...uh…something about the amount of attention my book is garnering.

It is at times like these that I tell him thanks, but please don’t try to explain this to my business-adverse, math-challenged brain. Promoting my book has become my husband’s newest, most favorite hobby and I truly love that we can share this experience together. Now we’ll see how this dedication translates to sales after the book is actually released.

If it works well, I’ll suggest to my fellow writers that they establish marketing teams of their own. And if my team is especially successful, maybe I’ll rent them out. For a fee.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Event Report: Feral Nights & Eternal: Zachary's Story Tour in Chicago & Madison

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

What an fun, inspiring, amazing week I just had, talking about reading, writing, Feral Nights (Book 1 in the Feral series) and Eternal: Zachary's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle (Tantalize series)(both Candlewick) with booksellers, writers, teachers, librarians, students and other enthusiasts in the Chicago and Madison metropolitan areas.

Huge thanks and cheers to all (including my publisher, Candlewick Press, especially Erika) who had a hand in making the tour such a success!

Sunny skies above Lake Shore Drive
Dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in the Hancock Building on Michigan Avenue
After my speech at Dominican University with Prof. Janice Del Negro (thank you, Janice!)
From the Signature Room at the 95th
Students writing at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (thank you, Shannon!)
The storm came, and one evening event had to be cancelled due to road conditions.
At Glenbard West High School (thank you, Kathy!)
At Conrad Sulzer Regional Library
Thank you, Sulzer librarian Sharon Gissy!
Acting out Jingle Dancer at White Cedar Room Library
Jingle dancing
T7 Native Sisters drum and sing
Posing with the cast of the Jingle Dancer performance
I'm wowed by these smart, strong, warm, sweet readers-performers! (Thank you, Debra, Josie & T7 Native Sisters!)
Greg Leitich Smith soaking in the local culture in his childhood neighborhood.
The Book Cellar -- a quick stop for a hot cup of tea in Lincoln Square
Breakfast with author Esther Hershenhorn at the Oak Tree Restaurant & Bakery
With author Sarah Aronson over sushi
With author Laura Ruby at The Book Stall
The crowd gathers at The Book Stall (thank you, Sarah, Carolyn & Robert!)
Georgia Beaverson, Judy Bryan, Pam Holz Beres, Jaqueline Houtman & Jamie Swenson at Ashman Library in Madison
Librarians Toni Streckert & Val Edwards, author E.M. Kokie & Greg at Monona Grove High School
E.M., Greg & Librarian Rebecca Fox-Blair at MG 21 Charter School in Monona
With Georgia, Judy & E.M. at Bucky's in Madison -- thank you, ladies, especially Emily, Katie & Chewy
Time to go home to Austin and get to work on that revision!
Cynsational Stock

Look for signed copies of my books at The Book Stall at Chestnut Court and Anderson's Bookshop in suburban Chicago as well as at A Room of One's Own in Madison! Also available at BookPeople in Austin and The Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas!

P.S. Thank you, SCBWI-Wisconsin!

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