Friday, March 29, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

RITA Nom: The Farm by Emily McKay
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2013 RITA Nominees for Best Young Adult Romance from YA Fresh. Peek: "The Romance Writers of America have announced the finalists in their prestigious RITA contest. Here are the 2013 finalists in the Young Adult Romance category..."

The Art of Using Literary Devices and Techniques by Melissa Donovan from Fiction Notes. Peek: "I’ve found some resources that make a distinction between storytelling techniques, which deal with the structure of a story, and language techniques, which deal with how we choose and use words."

Interview with Book App Designer Roxie Munroe by Digital Content Task Force from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Most important, you must have a good story, idea, or concept. Then the 'assets' - text, art, narration/voice-over, sounds, music – need to be created and have to be of the highest quality."

The Greenhouse Funny Prize from Greenhouse Literary. Peek: "The Greenhouse Funny prize is open to un-agented writers writing funny fiction for children of all ages." Deadline: July 29.

Writing on Schedule by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "Each morning look at your day’s demands, appointments, and activities. In this particular day, where is a time slot you could set aside for fifteen minutes of writing?"

Advice for Writers: Are You a Cable Channel or a Broadcast Network? by Brent Hartinger from Brent's Brain. Peek: "Does the writer’s work have widespread, 'mass' appeal — just like the broadcast networks? Or does it have a quirkier, more challenging sensibility for a 'niche' audience, like the cable channels?"

What Makes a Good YA Coming Out Novel? by Claire Gross from The Horn Book. Peek: "...what makes such a book more than just an issue novel? What gives it that special combination of universality and particularity that allows it to reach a wide audience while at the same time speaking to individual readers on a deeply personal level? What makes a coming-out novel good?"

Physical Attributes Entry: Fingers by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "When a person is nervous or worried, the fingers are great indicators."

You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You: Feminism and YA Romance by Rachel Lieberman from Ingrid's Notes. Peek: "...there are ways to develop a good feminist story without making it preachy or propaganda. I’ll share some methods that I found useful and talked about in my lecture."

Twitter Promotion Tips for Authors by Chris Robley from The BookBaby Blog. Peek: "I’ve compiled some articles on Twitter promotion tips, etiquette, and more."

Thanks, Maurice by Steven Heller from The New York Times. Peek: "Mr. Sendak once told me that King Kong was a great character and had influenced him when he created 'Wild Things.'"

A Character By Any Other Name by Sarah Pinneo from QueryTrackerBlog.net. Peek: "When a verb or adjective is used as a name, the character takes on a gleam of action immediately. Luke Skywalker, for example, is a very memorable and actionable name."

Argentinian illustrator Isol wins Astrid Lindgren Award by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek: "The world's largest award for children's literature has been won by a picture book illustrator whose work 'exposes the absurdities of the adult world'."

Escaping Conflict, Seeking Peace: Picture Books That Relate Refugee Stories and Their Importance by Marjorie Coughlan from PaperTigers.org. Peek: "The refugee experience can be divided into three main areas: the flight, living in a refugee camp or in a detention centre, and adapting to a new home. Stories for children can focus on one, two or all three of these issues: but they all have one thing in common -- they provide a stepping stone towards empathy and expanding global awareness and vision in their readers."

Author Interview with David Lubar by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek: "Straight out of college in 1976, I set out to break into print. I collected 100 or so rejections for everything from light verse to stories to magazine-article pitches before making any sales."

A Matter-of-Fact Approach to Diversity by Brent Hartinger from Brent's Brain. Peek: "I’m not a member of any of those above groups. And when I write about them, I admit to feeling a little nervous. I’m gay, so I know about stereotypes, about how certain characters are almost always portrayed a certain way, how the stories often seem to go the same cliched direction. I know how frustrating that feels." See also On Authenticity from Finding Wonderland.

Chris Eboch on Self-Publishing and Middle Grade Novels: Should You or Shouldn't You? from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Self-publishing can be especially appealing to authors with out-of-print books. Even if sales are low, you have the satisfaction of knowing the books are still available, and you can bring copies to sell at school visits."

Making a Living as a Writer (Part 1 and Part 2) from Rachelle Gardner. Peek: "Writers begin to see a “living wage” when they have a stack of books out there in the marketplace. Each book needs to be bringing in royalties regularly." Source: Gwenda Bond.

Gerald Dawavendewa's The Butterfly Dance: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "I see myself and family in the characters Dawavendewa depicts, in their clothing and their actions."

Amazon Buys Book Recommendation Site Goodreads by Krishnadev Calamur from NPR. Peek: "Amazon, the online retail behemoth that has made a much-publicized foray into publishing, has just bought Goodreads, the social book-recommendation site."

National Poetry Month Kidlitosphere Events by Jama Rattigan from Jama's Alphabet Soup. Peek: "For the fifth consecutive year, Greg Pincus will be hosting 30 Poets/30 Days at GottaBook. Look for an original, previously unpublished poem by a different children’s poet every day of the month."

Terra Incognita by Jennifer R. Hubbard from YA Outside the Lines. Peek: "Often I would rather go deeper into known territory, dig beneath the surface, look for treasures I missed the first time, than move to completely new territory. That plays out in the jolt I get going from an old book to a new one."

Your Story Opening: Shock vs. Seduction by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro from Jane Friedman. Peek: "This is called the hook, and it must be in the first three paragraphs of the text, preferably in the first sentence. The hook also sets up the initial pace of the story, which is maintained through the beginning of the tale."

See also New Releases Plus Huge Giveaway (Books by Kelley Armstrong, Michael Northrop, Robin LaFevers, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Daniel Kraus & more) from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing and Revision Week from DearEditor.com.

Cynsational Spotlight

Check out the free novella Camp Kiss by Cynsations YA reporter Karen Rock and her writing partner Joanne Rock, who publish under the byline J.K. Rock from Spencer Hill. From the promotional copy:
Lauren Carlson, a fourteen-year-old expert on the cosmos, superheroes, and science fiction trivia has a crush on her longtime camp friend, Seth. Last summer she’d dreamed about upgrading their relationship to BF/GF status and this year she has a plan… if only her well-meaning cabin mates wouldn’t interfere before she’s ready. She hasn’t even adjusted to her new braces yet, let alone imagined kissing Seth with them.
When a dare pushes her out of her comfort zone, will she and Seth rocket out of the friendzone at last? There’s only one way to find out....

This Week at Cynsations
Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a signed paperback copy of a signed paperback copy of Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard (Viking, 2013) was Gaby in Georgia.

The winner of My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Viking, 2013) was Carl in Arizona.

Calling All Treadmill Desk Writers

Do you write on a treadmill desk?

My Cynsations YA reporter Karen Rock is doing a post on how you (literally) move along with your stories. If you'd like to be interviewed (or know someone who might), please send her a note.

More Personally

Many blessings of Passover and Easter to those who celebrate them! With a brief break for the holiday, I'll be spending the majority of the weekend at my dining room table revising book two in the Feral series.

The Austin American-Statesman Reviews Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013): "It’s fast-paced and packed full of action. But 'Nights' is no simple supernatural thriller. Smith alternates narration between Yoshi, Clyde and Aimee, giving us layers of insight into each."

Quick hits: Check out the reading guide for Dear Teen Me, which includes a letter by me and Debbi Michiko Florence's VCFA Writing Retreat (part 2) includes a few of my thoughts on worldbuilding.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

The Art of Dr. Seuss from April 5 to April 20 at Art on 5th Gallery, 3005 S. Lamar, in Austin. Source: Austin SCBWI.

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 from 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. See also the Itsy Bitsy Gallery to "take a chance on art at the TLA 2013 raffle" to benefit the Texas Library Disaster Relief Fund. Note: featuring an original illustration by Tom Shefelman from I, Vivali by Janice Shefelman (Eerdman's).

Planning and Revising Your YA Manuscript on April 27 at Write Yourself Free in Westport, Connecticut. Peek: "Learn some tools for handling the complexities of a YA manuscript, including both the planning and revision of it, in this one-day workshop. Submit your current manuscript or one that's stuck or needs new direction. We--Eileen Robinson and Harold Underdown of Kids Book Revisions--will teach you a variety of techniques, help you try them out, provide editorial feedback on your manuscript, discuss 'the market,' and get you ready to use the techniques."

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 1 p.m. May 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.


Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held from June 17 to June 21 in Sandy, Utah. Note: I have taught at this conference in the past and highly recommend it.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "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." Special guests: Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Career Builder & Giveaway: Susin Nielsen, Winner of the Governor General’s Award for Canadian Children’s Literature

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Susin Nielsen got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, "Degrassi Junior High." They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show.

Since then, Nielsen has written for many TV series, including "Arctic Air," "Heartland," "Cedar Cove," "Madison," "Ready or Not," "Edgemont," "What About Mimi" and "Braceface." She also adapted author Susan Juby’s book, Alice, I Think, into a TV series, and co-created and executive produced the critically-acclaimed comedy-drama, "Robson Arms."

Nielsen has also published three children’s books: Hank and Fergus, winner of the Mr. Christie’s Silver Medal Award, Mormor Moves In, and The Magic Beads.

Her first young adult novel, Word Nerd, was published by Tundra in 2008 to critical acclaim, and went on to win many awards, including Ontario’s Red Maple, and the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan Young Readers’ Choice Awards.

Her second novel, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, hit stores in August 2010 to great reviews, and also scooped up a bunch of Young Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, published in August 2012, won The Governor General’s Literary Award, Canada’s most prestigious literary prize.

What memories of your debut author experience stand out?

My perspective is a bit different because I’d actually been writing for years, but in television. So for me, my standout experience was when my first young adult novel, Word Nerd, won Ontario’s Red Maple Award. It’s a Young Readers’ Choice Award, and there are ten nominated authors. We were all present, and all came onto the stage. We were in front of about 1200 screaming fans - for books! How amazing!

When they announced my book as the winner, I could hardly believe it. The reason this memory stands out is that it’s the first time I really understood that my book had readers. It was published in 2008; this awards ceremony happened in 2010. I hadn’t understood what a slow build books can be...I think I just assumed only a few people had read it, and that was that.

It was a profound moment, both wonderful and frightening all at once - I was glad I was deep into my second novel already, because otherwise I think I could have become paralyzed with the realization that I had readers who were actually waiting to read my next book.

Do you have a publishing strategy? If so, how has it worked?

I have had no publishing strategy. I’m so not a strategist, or a marketer. I confess I rely completely on my publisher, which probably isn’t a great thing in this world.

That said, I do remember that when I was done writing Word Nerd, I decided to “start big” in Canadian publisher terms, and approach the bigger companies first.

I also got an agent, very deliberately, to help with the process of getting my book looked at.

I’m still early enough on in my career that for my YA books at least, I’ve only been with one publisher, Tundra, because I remain very happy with them.

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?

I would describe it as a path of hills and valleys. Even in my TV work, there are good years and bad years, and years that are full of disappointments. It took me a long time to gather courage to write an original YA book (I wrote four of the Degrassi books years earlier), and in fact I did write an absolutely terrible original YA book years ago, that a kindly editor told me was crap (she used nicer language than that) and she was right!

 So, if I were offering advice to a new writer I’d say, “You’ll find your own, original voice eventually - it just takes time. For most people, it takes a lot of time!”

How have you grown as a writer?

I think I know when to spot problems with plot/structure/character more readily. Does it mean it’s gotten any easier to address those issues?

Not necessarily.

I think the more you write, the harder you become on yourself. A friend of mine once said, by the time you’re writing your third book, it’s like you have to write three drafts before you’re happy with showing it to anyone else, because you know some of the problems with it ... whereas with your first book, you might think your first draft is pretty darned good!

The drafts never get easier though, and in some ways each book takes longer because of this.

What are areas that still flummox you at times?

Middles. Middles will always flummox me.

How have you handled being a player in the world of youth literature? Fans, reviews, jealousies, acclaim, etc.

Ha-ha, oh I wish I could answer the question above. I wish I could be a “player!”

I have fans, but not legions, I’ve had bad reviews but also lots of good ones, and if anyone’s jealous of me, they’ve kept it quiet.

So far I’ve found that the other YA/children’s authors I’ve met have been a rousingly fun and welcoming group of people. Very generous with their time, their knowledge, and their hilarious insights into the business!

Emily Brontë (the writer) & Erwin Schrödiner (the scientist)

Cynsational Notes

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She became interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director. She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto.

Witchlanders, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

See also New Voice: Lena Coakley on Witchlanders and Author Lena Coakley Interviews Editor Hadley Dyer of HarperCollins Canada, both from Cynsations.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of five copies of The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen (Tundra, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Darker than her previous novels, Susin peoples this novel about the ultimate cost of bullying with a cast of fabulous characters, dark humour, and a lovable, difficult protagonist struggling to come to terms with the horrible crime his brother has committed.

Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.


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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mary Losure on Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron

By Mary Losure
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I happen to think we all (at least a little, deep down inside) long to be wild and free, howl at the moon, run barefoot through the woods and not have to pick up our socks.

I do, anyway. That’s why I’ve always been attracted to the story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron.

I first learned about him when I watched a French film, "The Wild Child," based on his life.

There’s a scene in the movie where the wild boy, captured and living in Paris, runs out dressed only in his nightshirt to frolic in the newly-fallen snow. He tosses handfuls into the air, giving cries of joy.

I remembered that scene when, many years later, I began writing Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron (Candlewick, 2013).

In the beginning, I wrote to satisfy my own curiosity.

What would the inside of a real, wild mind be like?

There were lots of stories about the wild boy, told by people who knew him and later wrote them down.

He was content with little things. He would hold an acorn in his hand and look at it with great happiness. He laughed when the warm wind blew or at the sight of a wild, stormy sky.

In Paris, he loved to go for walks in the park. (His teacher described the walks as “scampers” because the boy never actually walked, but ran like a puppy.) He would snatch up leaves and things that to most people have no smell and sniff them with great interest.

The wild boy’s story spoke to my own longings: to live in the present moment; to be free of the vast amounts of stuff (cars, credit cards, iphones) we seem to need to make it through life; to be alone in the wilderness and yet never lonely.

I wrote to try to understand a human-yet-wild mind, and yet no matter how I tried, I couldn’t seem to get inside the wild boy’s head. One early editor (who later rejected the book, but helped me greatly along the way) wrote that in the draft I had sent her, the wild boy had not emerged as a character. “We care about him in the way we would care about a wild fox,” she wrote.

“Children like wild animals,” I thought resentfully. But she was right–for the book to come alive, the boy himself had to be much more than a wild animal. And it wasn’t until many, many drafts later I realized that my initial reason for writing the book had led me only to a mystery I would never solve.

Slowly, I began to realize what now seems quite obvious: that the real story of the wild boy was not his unknowable wild mind but his struggle to leave it behind—to find a home in the human world, to love and be loved. In the end, it was only as a human being that the wild boy became real to me. I like him. I think of him often. I learned a lot writing his story.

Paris school for the deaf where the wild boy found a new home, a foster mother, and his teacher and friend Dr. Itard.
Which is, after all, what writing is about.

Cynsational Notes & Giveaway

Mary Losure is the author of The Fairy Ring, or Elsie and Frances Fool the World (Candlewick, 2012) named the Booklist Editors’ Choice for Best Youth Nonfiction, 2012. She’s now at work at another true story with a child hero. Its working title is "Isaac the Alchemist." See also Mary on The Fairy Ring from Cynsations.

Enter to win one of three copies of Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron (Candlewick, 2013). From the promotional copy:

One day in 1798, woodsmen in southern France returned from the forest having captured a naked boy. He had been running wild, digging for food, and was covered with scars. In the village square, people gathered around, gaping and jabbering in words the boy didn’t understand. 

And so began the curious public life of the boy known as the Savage of Aveyron, whose journey took him all the way to Paris. Though the wild boy’s world was forever changed, some things stayed the same: sometimes, when the mountain winds blew, "he looked up at the sky, made sounds deep in his throat, and gave great bursts of laughter." 

In a moving work of narrative nonfiction that reads like a novel, Mary Losure invests another compelling story from history with vivid and arresting new life.

Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Giveaway: Period 8 by Chris Crutcher & Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price

What's your caption for this photo?
By Kelly Milner Halls
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Long before Chris Crutcher or Charlie Price were award-winning, YA novelists, they were hippie teachers, wrangling kids at a "last chance" alternative school in Oakland, California.

To celebrate their shady history and their new book releases, Chris and Charlie are asking three bloggers to help them give away a few books -- and inspire a few laughs at their expense. Visit:
Use the comment function to post a caption for one or all of three vintage '70s photos -- on the blogs or on Facebook -- and you'll be entered to win a free signed copy of Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price and a free signed copy of Period 8 by Chris Crutcher.

You can either register your contact information at Rafflecopter below or send it to Kelly. (The Rafflecopter randomizer feature won't be used to pick a winner, as it's a contest. She just needs some way to let you know if you've won and obtain your shipping information.)


Chris and Charlie will hand pick the winners, so let yourself go. Funny is our mission. And with these classic images, how could you go wrong?

Must be 16 or older to enter. Deadline: April 1. Prizes will be distributed by April 15.

Three runner-up entries will win signed advanced reader copies of Period 8, so if you're a collector of signed ARCs, try not to be too funny.

If you have trouble posting your captions, send them to Kelly Milner Halls at kellymilnerh@aol.com and she'll be sure you're safely entered.

May the grooviest entries win!

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy of Period 8 by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow, 2013):

Period 8. An hour a day. You can hang out. You can eat your lunch. You can talk. Or listen. Or neither. Or both. 

Nothing is off-limits. The only rule is that you keep it real; that you tell the truth.

Heller High senior Paul Baum--aka Paulie Bomb--tells the truth. Not the "Wow, that's an ugly sweater" variety of truth, but the other kind. The truth that matters. It might be hard. It often hurts. But Paulie doesn't know how not to tell it. When he tells his girlfriend Hannah the life-altering, messed-up, awful truth, his life falls apart. The truth can get complicated, fast.

But someone in Period 8 is lying. And Paulie, Hannah, and just about everyone else who stops by the safe haven of the P-8 room daily are deceived. And when a classmate goes missing and the mystery of her disappearance seeps beyond P-8 and into every hour of the day, all hell breaks loose.

From the promotional copy of Dead Girl Moon by Charlie Price:

As their hardscrabble lives intertwine in a small, corrupt Montana town, Grace, a scheming runaway, JJ, her drifty fostercare sister, and Mick, the son of a petty thief, discover the body of a young woman. Afraid to come forward, the teens try to hide their knowledge of the crime, because they believe the murderer is one of the corrupt officials and businessmen who rule their town. But after a series of false moves and dumb mistakes, the teens are soon suspects themselves in a murder investigation threatening their freedom—and maybe their lives.

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Author-Illustrator Interview & Giveaway: Demi

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From PaperTigers.org: "Artist and authoress Demi has produced a staggering number of illustrated books....

"In recent years, as well as continuing to publish her retellings of folktales from around the world, she has focused on creating beautiful picture-book biographies of iconic spiritual leaders."

Tell us about your earliest influences.

I was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts into a great American family of artists and architects.

My great-grandfather was the great American painter William Morris Hunt who was a great visionary and inspiration. His paintings are in museums all over the world. He studied in Paris and was one of the first people to appreciate Turner, Corot and Delacroix, and Millet was his best friend. He carried their paintings and the spirit of Impressionism to America.

My great-grand uncle was the great American architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and became the first Dean of American Architects. He founded and was president of the American Institute of Architects.

His most famous buildings are The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Carnegie Hall, the Base of the Statue of liberty, Biltmore House in North Carolina, The Breakers and Marble House in Newport Rhode island, and the Vanderbilt House on 5th Avenue, N.Y.C.

I grew up in an old New England farmhouse that had a big barn.

My mother was a great watercolor painter and had her studio on the 2nd floor of the barn. As soon as I could crawl, I crawled up there and tried out all her best brushes on all her best papers.

Sliding with her father
My father was a theatrical producer, and our house was filled with actors from all over the world, and so it seemed to me with spotlights going on, and curtains going up, that life was pretty magical and that anything was possible.

My mother and father carefully guided my world of art in all mediums; first to The Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico, where I painted enormous fresco murals, painted in watercolor and oil, made silver jewelry, and wove on looms; and next to Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, California where I studied with the incomparable Sister Mary Corita and Sister Magdalen Mary primarily painting and silk screen printing.

From there, I won a Fulbright Scholarship to study art in India, and the exposure to all Eastern Art was the great turning point in my life.

When I met and married my Chinese husband, Tze-si Huang, my world, and my world of art, literature and religion opened into continuing new worlds of wonder in all directions and dimensions.

Demi's studio
What about your own body of work?

All in all, including all the novelty books, I have written and illustrated over 300 books.

The Empty Pot was selected by former First Lady Barbara Bush in 1990 as one of the books to be read on the ABC Radio Network Program, "Mrs. Bush's Story Time," sponsored by the Children's Literacy Initiative.

Also, Maestro Lorin Maazel created an opera from it, narrated by Jeremy Irons at its London premiere with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and other numerous ballets and music scores have been written for it.

The Nightingale and Gandhi have been named The New York Times Best Illustrated Books, and Gandhi also received an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.

My husband, Tze-si Huang, and I represented the United States of America at the First International Children's Book Conference in Beijing, China, in 1992.

This year, a collaboration called, Master of Zen, Extraordinary Teachings From Hui Neng's Altar Sutra (World Wisdom, 2012), won 2012 USA Best Book in Religion/Buddhism.

What is your secret to success?

Demi and Tze-si on a Kauai mountain
My husband's definition of success:

A story: When I heard my husband's, Tze-si Huang's, translation of Master of Zen, Extraordinary Teachings From Hui Neng's Altar Sutra, had just won USA Best Book 2012 in Religion/Buddhism, I went dancing and screeching into his meditation room and told him the news.

An hour later, he slowly emerged saying, "All things come and all things go."

This is how success is.

In a book I did called, Su Dongpo, Chinese Genius (Lee and Low, 2006), Su Dongpo speaks of success after having experienced the greatest heights and depths of life:

"There is not much difference in the actual happiness of living a luxurious life and a simple one. One is wanted for position when one doesn't want it, and wants it when the position doesn't want him. In either case, happiness and sadness are moments that pass like a shadow, a sound, a breeze and a dream. Both are earthly illusions. How can you find happiness countering one illusion with another?" 

I grew up in a family with a tradition of hard work and great achievements that spanned many generations.

mural Demi painted in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato,
Mexico, in her Picasso/Byzantine style
From a very early age, I was encouraged to work hard and achieve success.

Competition was a very important part of my early life.

I excelled in many things, but particularly in art.

I won many awards from my years at Milton Academy, Immaculate Heart College, as a Fulbright Scholar in India, as well as in publishing.

However, since I started practicing Buddhism about 30 years ago, I went through a fundamental transformation in my perspective.

For whatever I now accomplish, I no longer think in terms of success, fame or personal glory. There is no "now," there is no time.

There is only the Divine. I devote my whole heart and effort to produce books which I hope can have a positive impact on society. They are my offering. My great-grandfather, the great American painter William Morris Hunt once said, "Art is divine." "To be able to paint is divine."

I would only add, "To be able to live your life in that sphere is divine, and the rest is gratitude."

Where do you find inspiration?

Things I have written about making books:

Life is magic!
You are magic!
and paper is magic!

I always thought drawing was magic and making things was magic. And I still do!

Learn more about Su Dongpo by Demi
If you really think about it, every moment of the light and the dark is a miracle. Every moment of life is magic!

Painting was regarded in early China as an art of magic. An artist was one who could produce wonderful effects by the mastery of the secret forces in nature.

Everything possessed Ch'i - or the essence of life that pervaded the universe, and the magical painter, through his creative powers could show, distill and celebrate this life, or Ch'i on paper!

Instead of looking at life in a linear way, one could take a cyclic view and look at life's rhythm of natural movement. Circulate the Ch'i, the breath, spirit and vital force of heaven! For brushwork is the direct expression of the mind in action. It's function is to make visible the invisible, and keep everything alive!

The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting by Wang Kai (1679) says some of my favorite things about painting:

"Take ten days to paint a stream and five to paint a rock. Above all, learn to hold your thoughts on the five peaks: the harmony of the universe, the outer and inner harmony of man. Study all things in all seasons. See the different shape of the wind blowing through willow branches in summer and fall. Study ten thousand volumes. Walk ten thousand miles. Study the great: With one stroke of a brush, they can release a kite on a thousand foot string. When they paint, mountains soar, springs flow, water runs clear and forests spread vast and lonely. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim at simplicity, master complexity. If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. For the end of all method is to seem to have no method."
Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three copies of The Great Voyages of Zheng He by Demi (Shen's, 2012). From the promotional copy:

The Great Voyages of Zheng He by Demi
Imagine looking out to sea and watching over three hundred gargantuan ships, their flaming red sails caught in the wind, approaching your shore. What wonders of the world would be found on those ships?

Over 600 hundred years ago, Emperor Zhu Di of China decided to build the greatest naval fleet the world had ever seen to befriend and trade with countries throughout Asia and Africa. The admiral of this diplomatic and treasure-gathering fleet was a brilliant and peace-loving man named Zheng He.

Between 1405 and 1431, Zheng He led seven voyages of the treasure fleets, each bringing a message of friendship and peace between China and the other countries of the world. Through his leadership, these expeditions extended China s influence and brought it great treasures in trade and tribute, making China the first world superpower.

In this account of Zheng He s amazing life, award-winning author and illustrator Demi recreates the grandeur and enthusiasm of these naval voyages with her signature detailed artwork. She introduces us to this larger-than-life figure who dreamed of a world where the best of mankind was peacefully shared and celebrated, a world of intellectual growth and religious tolerance, and a world of everlasting, worldwide peace.

Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

the movie poster
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

How They Turned My Book Into a Movie by Brent Hartinger from E.K. Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "Basically, the choice is: go with your brain or go with your heart."

School Visits: Pros & Cons by Kelly Milner Halls from I.N.K.: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "Hanging out with kids keeps me on track to write true stories they care about."

Stressed-Out Characters: Just the Way We Want Them by Diane Krause from Writing Mystery is Murder. Peek: "The following is a crash course in the four basic personality types, and some common stress behaviors that are likely to pop up in each when all is not right with his or her world."

The Emotional Impact of Symbolism by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "...it's not hard to add symbolism when you consider how many things in our world have been assigned different meanings. For example, we associate red with passion, anger, embarrassment, danger, power."

Forced Diversity? by Alvina Ling from CBC Diversity. Peek: "...as a kid, I never saw this as a bad thing--I wanted it, forced or not--and to many kids (and adults), it isn't unrealistic and it isn't forced. It's an accurate mirror of their own experience."

Accountability: It Works! by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "You treat that commitment to write, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, as sacred." See also Harnessing the Unconscious.

"Speak the Language." -- Children's Book Illustrator E.B. Lewis Shares His Emotional Work and Words by Mark G. Mitchell from How to Be a Children's Book Illustrator. Peek: "'Being able to tell the joke — and everybody in the room gets the joke and laughs — is when you know you’ve mastered the spoken language.'" Note: in-depth post includes video featuring E.B.

Celebrating Women in Picture Books by Dianne de las Casas from Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month. Peek: "Charlotte Zolotow is an editor of more than 100 books and author of more than 90 books for young readers."

Publishing Road Map: Your Guide to Reading, Writing and Publishing Young Adult Literature from YA Highway. Worth the click just for the graphic.

Keeping Up Your Motivation by Jane Lebak from QueryTrackerBlog.net. Peek: "Respond to rejections by sending more queries. Have your next ten queries in mind while you're sending the first batch of ten."

From fAiRy gOdSiStErS iNk

faiRy gOdSiSteErS iNk (Mary Hershey, Lee Wardlaw, Val Hobbs, Thalia Chaltas, Robin LaFevers) announces its 6th annual SCBWI Summer Conference Scholarship. SCBWI Members may apply to receive $1,000.00 toward SCBWI National Conference tuition, manuscript or portfolio critique, and "a bit of mad money" for your trip.

The conference is scheduled for Aug. 2 to Aug. 5 at The Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Note:  "We are five very fortunate authors for children and young adults who have been generously mentored, guided and supported by a host of talented individuals. We can't think of a better way to thank them than by easing the way for others. The National Conference is a game-changer."

To enter, write at least one but no more than three haiku telling us why you should be chosen for this year's conference recipient. (A haiku is a three-line poem, featuring a total of 17 syllables: five in the first line, seven in the second, and five again in the third.) Email your entry to fairygodsistersink@gmail.com by April 15. Winners will be announced May 1.  

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways 
More Personally

Teaching at the VCFA Novel Writing Retreat with Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa & author Lauren Myracle
See also Novel Writing Retreat at VCFA by Debbi Michiko Florence from DEBTastic Reads.

A VCFA informal dinner with M.T. Anderson, April Lurie & Kathi Appelt at La Traviata in Austin.
Debbie Gonzales & Lindsey Lane (celebrating graduation from the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts)
Congratulations to fellow Austin author Lindsey Lane on signing with Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, and congratulations to Erin on signing Lindsey!

Personal Links
Cynsational Events 

The Art of Dr. Seuss from April 5 to April 20 at Art on 5th Gallery, 3005 S. Lamar, in Austin. Source: Austin SCBWI.

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 from 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.

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 1 p.m. May 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.


Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held from June 17 to June 21 in Sandy, Utah. Note: I have taught at this conference in the past and highly recommend it.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "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." Special guests: Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Voice: E.M. Kokie on Bridget Zinn & Poison

Bridget (wearing her blue "party hair" post chemo) & E.M.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Bridget Zinn was the debut author of Poison (Hyperion, 2013). She grew up in Wisconsin.

She went to the county fair where she met the love of her life, Barrett Dowell.

They got married right before she went in for exploratory surgery which revealed she had colon cancer. They christened that summer the "summer of love" and the two celebrated with several more weddings. Bridget continued to read and write until the day she died.

Her last tweet was "Sunshine and a brand new book. Perfect."

Bridget wanted to make people laugh and hoped readers would enjoy spending time with the characters she created. As a librarian/writer she loved books with strong young women with aspirations. She also felt teens needed more humorous reads. She really wanted to write a book with pockets of warmth and happiness and hoped that her readers' copies would show the watermarks of many bath time reads.

E.M. Kokie is an attorney, but has long had a strong interest in literature for teens. Personal Effects (Candlewick, 2012) is her first novel. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Could you begin by telling us a little about Bridget and how the two of you connected as critique partners and friends?

I met Bridget through my partner, who had worked with Bridget while she was a library school student. So, I knew Bridget as someone I chatted with at library events. But when Bridget learned I was just starting to write a young adult novel, she was gracious and generous enough to invite me to join the novel writing group she was in.

Through that group and SCBWI, which Bridget also encouraged me to join, I made wonderful writing friends and began to receive helpful critique while I was writing the first draft of Personal Effects. Bridget and the other members of the novel writing group were an endless source of tough critique and hopeful encouragement, both of which I needed desperately in that first year of serious writing.

I was really very anxious about showing my writing to other writers, but Bridget had a way of melting away the fear and making you believe in yourself. So, Bridget drew me into the writing world, and we became friends through being critique partners, and through talking about books, and writing, and so much more.

More from E.M. on Personal Effects
And then that friendship deepened as both our writing careers seemed on parallel paths. Bridget signed with her agent in the spring, and I signed with mine the following fall. She sold her Poison, and then I sold Personal Effects some months later. We were both revising for our editors and starting to think about the realities of promotion and thinking about our next books. And then we both even bought houses around the same time, so we were exchanging pictures and virtually stalking each other's house hunt targets.

Of course, Bridget was doing much of that while battling cancer, even if so many of our emails and calls had much more to do with revisions and writing and house buying than illness.

Some of my favorite messages from that time are the ones where Bridget is joyfully sharing bits from the next book she was writing, and how it was going off in directions she didn't intend, and her trying to wrangle it back to where she wanted it to go.

Even in the midst of tests and "the next round of yuck" (as I referred to the chemo and treatments and side effects in our messages), she was full of enthusiasm and joy in her writing, and in her life. Bridget wasn't a pollyanna, and she had her moments and certainly her frustrations, but she embraced every opportunity to be happy, to celebrate the good.

Reading back through her messages can make me laugh and smile now. Bridget's friendship, her generosity, enriched my life -- not only through the sheer joy of being her friend, but because she nudged me along my path to becoming an author and invited me into her circle of writer friends.

What were Bridget's challenges and triumphs in crafting Poison, and what about it captured her/your imagination?

When I first read a draft of the first chapter of Poison I remember being so struck by how solid and developed her main character Kyra was, right there, from page one. She was scaling a building, her weapons at the ready, and wishing for pie -- hot, flaky pie -- and I loved this character!

Follow the Poison blog tour!
The world of Poison was an often lighthearted, fantastical world, but Kyra was so serious and confident in her plan to murder the princess. I remember thinking, "Murder the princess? She wants to murder the princess?"

It seemed such a huge and unexpected plot arc, and Kyra was so earnest in her plan, and yet this was not a book that took itself seriously. The world of the book was full of magic and fanciful, shiny bits and creatures, but Kyra's depth and seriousness grounded it.

But the joy was in Bridget's willingness to go to the silly, to the humor, to have something dire and creepy and tense happening, and you turn the page and start laughing out loud. I never knew where it was going to go next. Bridget was so willing to show Kyra's flaws, and her mistakes, and to put her in silly and uncomfortable situations.

Poison had so much of Bridget's humor, her readiness to laugh and to see the absurd as funny. To ask why not a magic search pig? What if I place my serious, earnest, tough character in silly, frilly underwear, and then catch her unawares in a compromising position? What if sometimes her seriously clever plans go a touch ridiculous?

That juxtaposition of the silly and the serious made for an unexpected reading experience.

How did she approach writing per se?

You can read, or even listen to, Bridget's thoughts on writing in her own words. I chuckle as I read her "Naughty" tips to getting writing done. I will add that as light and full of humor as her writing might be, and her thoughts on making time to write, Bridget was serious about her writing. She was dedicated to it, and she respected it. She respected craft and training and revision and critique. She was a laser sharp critiquer herself -- gentle, kind, often funny (there were many sad faces in the margins of my critiques from Bridget as she expressed her displeasure at my "mean" characters), but decisive and sharp in her focus.

I respected that focus, her belief that you didn't so much make time to write as write and make time for the other things you had to do. But, as I think her post shows, she wrote because she loved to write. She delighted in her stories. I loved talking to her about her work in progress drafts because she would laugh as she recounted the unexpected characters or scenes that had surprised her.

Even when she was struggling to write between treatment, she could laugh at the unexpected shenanigans in the story she was writing. I think that joy shines from the pages of Poison.

How did you hear about her selling the novel? What do you remember about that?

She wrote me a short and to the point Facebook message to tell me it had sold, and then we quickly planned a phone call so that she could share and I could hear all of the details by phone. It was an amazing, joyful call, to hear her excitement and happiness, the exuberance in her voice when she told me all about it.

I had signed with my agent about a month before that, and had just turned in revisions, so besides her sale, we had a lot to talk about. We were on the phone for a very long time.

That whole time feels like a roller coaster of emotions, with all these huge things to celebrate and to share, amid her treatments and fighting the cancer. When we emailed or talked by phone, we would talk about her health, of course, but then move on to revisions, writing, submissions, etc.

Have you participated in any events celebrating the book's release?

I participated in a video chat on March 12th, during which some of Bridget's author friends shared memories and bits of Poison. We and a whole host of people from around the country all logged in to shindig, and it turned into a really warm and wonderful celebration of Bridget with a lot of smiles and laughter. And it was wonderful to be able to see the faces of many of the participants (not just the authors tapped to participate) who had webcams because we could see them laughing and nodding along, too. I especially loved watching Barrett, Bridget's husband, react to the stories being shared.

And I've participated in a blog tour, which is ongoing, and there are some other virtual and in person celebrations and events in the planning stages. There was a fabulous launch party in Portland, and I'd love to see one in Madison, too. I have a feeling

I will be talking about Bridget and Poison for a very long time as readers find Poison and seek to know more about Bridget. Her spirit of joy and celebration is certainly living on.

How would Bridget have celebrated the release of Poison?

From Bridget's blog; used with permission.
With cake. Many different kinds of cake. Bridget celebrated many things, and many of those things she celebrated with cake. I can imagine she would have had stops for cake scheduled into all her release day activities, and cakes from all her favorite places at her launch parties (and there would have been multiple parties). And she would have joyously signed books, the line wrapping around the space and moving slow so that Bridget could befriend every single person in line.

If you search Bridget's blog for the word "cake" you will be rewarded with many posts in which cake was mentioned.

About Poison

Can she save the Kingdom with a piglet?
Sixteen-year-old Kyra, a highly-skilled potions master, is the only one who knows her kingdom is on the verge of destruction—which means she's the only one who can save it. Faced with no other choice, Kyra decides to do what she does best: poison the kingdom's future ruler, who also happens to be her former best friend.

But, for the first time ever, her poisoned dart..misses.

Now a fugitive instead of a hero, Kyra is caught in a game of hide-and-seek with the king's army and her potioner ex-boyfriend, Hal. At least she's not alone. She's armed with her vital potions, a too-cute pig, and Fred, the charming adventurer she can't stop thinking about. Kyra is determined to get herself a second chance (at murder), but will she be able to find and defeat the princess before Hal and the army find her?

Kyra is not your typical murderer, and she's certainly no damsel-in-distress—she's the lovable and quick-witted hero of this romantic novel that has all the right ingredients to make teen girls swoon.

Cynsational Notes


Bridget's Path to Publication by Bridget Zinn from Bridget Zinn's Blog. Note: in her own words. See also Barrett on Bridget, El Dia de los Muertos, and Cake.

Promoting a Late Author's Debut Novel: Poison by Bridget Zinn from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...how can a book be successfully launched without an author? In the case of the YA fantasy novel Poison (Hyperion) by debut author Bridget Zinn, who died of colon cancer in May 2011 at the age of 33, the answer is simple: with a lot of help from friends." See also A Remembrance of Bridget by Michael Stearns, her agent, from Upstart Crow.

Attention Austinites! Celebrate Poison and Bridget at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at BookPeople in Austin.

Cyn Notes: (1) Please help spread the word about Bridget and #Poison. (2) Photo of Bridget and E.M. by Georgia Beaverson.
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