Friday, June 21, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Solstice by P.J. Hoover (Tor, 2013)(excerpt)(extras). From the promotional copy:

Piper's world is dying. Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. 

Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.

Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.

Check out P.J.'s 42-book giveaway, blog tour, and in-person tour!



More News

The Heroic Journey Every Writer Has to Face by Martina from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "Something stirs inside us, an elusive wisp of an idea scented with adventure. It begins to rise and pull us with it, beckoning us to come along, to put our own spin on the wheel of inspiration."

Write Your Opening in a Way That Lets Readers Know Their Effort Will Be Rewarded by Charlie Price from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Peek: "Since a story’s opening is usually the deal-maker or deal-breaker, I didn’t want to start with a lengthy description of setting or character. That kind of opening can foretell an overall pacing too leisurely for most current reading preferences."

A Peek at Yuyi Morales' Drawing Table by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "Here is an image of a page in which I kept reworking the text — and also images of some of my early thumbnails. The more I draw, the more I go to very small studies of my characters — tiny sometimes!"

Writing for the Long Haul by Mette Ivie Harrison from Janni Lee Simner at Desert Dispatches. Peek: "I couldn’t control how many faster athletes were there, and therefore I couldn’t control my placement overall. But what I could control was my own race. I could control how well I trained, how well I ate, and how much I rested the week before a race."

When Every Culture is a Foreign Culture: Writing on the Autism Spectrum by Lyn Miller-Lachmann from Rich in Color. Peek: "With Gringolandia already in production, I questioned my ability to write fiction—which requires so much in terms of portraying emotion and social relationships, conveying the meaning of language and gesture, and forging connections with readers. These are all the things I struggle with in daily life."

Out There: The Wrong Goal of Self-Publishing by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Out there. I just want it out there. What does that even mean?"

Hunger Mountain: the VCFA Journal of the Arts is accepting submissions of children's-YA poems, fiction and creative nonfiction as well as related craft essays.

School Visits 101 by Caroline Starr Rose from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Teachers are especially interested in having their students hear from a real, live author that writing is not a one-time event but a slow unfolding that requires multiple drafts, feedback, revision and editing, and lots of hard work."

Interview with Nancy Garden from ALSC Blog. Peek: "LGBTQ characters in books are more acceptable to readers–and therefore to book buyers–than ever before. But that is not to say that this largely financial consideration is the only motive for wider acceptance!"

Discovering Our Writerly DNA by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "As many writers quickly learn, once we become a writer it can be much more difficult to simply read for pleasure. I am too aware of the craft, too attuned to what makes a book ‘work’, too well-acquainted with my own internal editor, to fully lose myself in a book."

Why Hasn't the Number of Multicultural Books Increased in Eighteen Years? from Lee & Low Books. Peek: "Surprisingly, the needle has not moved. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, children’s book publishing has not kept pace. We asked academics, authors, librarians, educators, and reviewers if they could put their fingers on the reason why the number of diverse books has not increased." See also an Interview with Janine MacBeth on multicultural self-publishing from Alison Goldberg, FirstBook.Org's Commitment to Increase Diversity in Children's Books from PaperTigers.org, A Very Good Question by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Partly via Bookshelves of Doom (and because we read many of the same blogs).

Cynsational Author Tip: don't do teaser tweets, wherein the reader has to click a link to find out what you're trying to communicate. Most won't bother. Some will be annoyed. Instead, go ahead and give the pertinent facts, offering the link for supplemental information. You'll effectively communicate what you want to say to more followers.

Ten-Power: A Disorganized Novelist's Approach: A Craft Talk with Uma Krishnaswami from The Writing Barn. Peek: "When I got back to the work after a couple of days away from it, I found I could examine it as if through one of those 10-power lenses that turn flowers into miniature alien universes. I could see the landscape of it as if under magnification, and the characters at work against its field."

So You Want to Be a Teen Author? Published Teenage Authors Tell It Like It Is. By E. Kristin Anderson from Write All the Words! Peek: "...why listen to me? I mean, I’m 30! Totally old! What do I know? So, I got this crazy Idea that I’d take to the streets (or the intertubes) and find out what real teen authors (and former teen authors) had to say about their experiences."

Tips on Writing a Synopsis by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "The synopsis is always written in third person, present tense, even if your book is in first person, past tense. The exception is when you reveal backstory necessary to the synopsis. Then you write it in simple past tense."

Five Things I've Learned About Doing School Visits by Kim Norman from SchoolVisitExperts.com. Peek: "Even if the child posing a question has long, curly locks and a pink hair bow, I never assume gender."

Using a Critique Checklist by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Now, when I’m hearing a piece that’s so good I can’t pick out any problems, I consult my checklist. Many times, I’m able to identify a weak area from among these possibilities..." See also Critique Connection by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com.

Congratulations to Tim Tingle and his fellow Native authors of books in the PathFinders hi/lo series. From the publisher: "All of the titles have a slightly larger print, quickly developed fictional plots and characters that are Native and very engaging."

Writing Traumatized Characters by Sarah Fine from YA Highway. Peek: "Traumatic memories get encoded differently than ordinary memories and 'behave' differently, too."

When an Agent Wants a Second Opinion by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "Representation is a huge commitment, and a second opinion from colleagues who know their personal tastes as well as the state of the market is as important to them as critique partners are to writers."

Where Teens Go Instead of Facebook (and Why You Should, Too) by Becky Worley from Yahoo! News. Peek: "Twitter saw a doubling of teen users last year." Note: Find me @CynLeitichSmith.

2013 Carnegie and Kate Greenway Medals Announced by Katie Bircher from The Horn Book. Peek: "...the U.K.’s Newbery and Caldecott equivalents — were announced yesterday. The awards are presented annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals." Note: congratulations to Sally Gardner and Levi Pinfold.

Auction of Children's Book Illustrations to Save the Library: "The backstory: The Neighborhood School (P.S. 363), a diverse public school in N.Y.C.'s East Village, lost funding for its school library thanks to a perfect storm of budget cuts. Lovely children's book artists, writers and publishers have stepped up to help us save the library and the job of its awesome librarian, Cheryl Wolf." Source: A Fuse #8 Production.

Cynsational Giveaways

Million Visitors Blog Celebration & 22-Books Giveaway by Martina from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. Winners will be announced June 22. Books include Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith and two of Cyn's picks--a YA novel by Annette Curtis Klause and a writing craft book by Marion Dane Bauer. Deadline: 6 p.m. June 21. Eligibility: North America.

See also New YA Lit Releases and Three Giveaways from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing and Cover Reveal & Giveaway: Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy from Mundie Moms. Learn more about North Texas soon-to-debut YA author Julie Murphy!

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

With Greg Leitich Smith at "Man of Steel" at Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.
Also by Ann Angel

Exciting news! From Publishers Weekly:
"Hilary Van Dusen at Candlewick Press has acquired Ann Angel's Things I'll Never Say: Short Stories About Our Secret Selves, a YA anthology about the perils of keeping and breaking secrets. Contributing authors include Varian Johnson, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Chris Lynch, Ellen Wittlinger, and others. The book is scheduled to publish in spring 2015; Tracey Adams at Adams Literary did the deal for world rights." 
Note: contributors also include Louise Hawes, Mary Ann Rodman Downing, Ron Koertge, Jessica Powers, Meg Kearney and U.K. writers Katy Moran and Zoe Marriott.

Interested in writing graphic novels? Take my class at Graphic Novel Workshop 2013 on Oct. 5 at St. Edward's University, sponsored by Austin SCBWI. Note: speakers also include Calista Brill, senior editor at First Second Books, and graphic novelist Dave Roman.

Congratulations to my brother-in-law, Keith A. Leitich, on the release of The History of Myanmar, co-authored by William J. Topich (Greenwood). Note: a nonfiction title for grown-ups.


Personal Links

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guest Post: Karen Rock on Treadmill Desks: Walking, Not Racing, to Your Next Deadline

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

For many writers, the only thing moving as we work are our fingers across a keyboard.

Not so for authors Janet Oberholtzer, Arthur Slade, Samantha Clark, Lisa Dalrymple and our own Cynthia Leitich Smith. They’re the proud owners of treadmill desks, a growing trend that combines work and fitness. Treadmill desks are traditional treadmills outfitted with boards used to support laptops or computers. This ingenious device is the ultimate multitasking tool.

Writing while walking is a great way to meet your deadlines as well as your fitness goals.

Janet on the go!
Janet Oberholltzer is an inspiration to writers and fans alike. After a horrific accident that shattered her legs and pelvis, and nearly her life, Janet refused to give up her passion for running.

She’s the author of an acclaimed memoir, Because I Can (Rhizome Publishing), a highly sought-after motivational speaker and the proud owner of a treadmill desk.

She said, “Our bodies are meant to move, and walking is one of the best ways of moving. But writing requires me to be on a computer which usually meant sitting most of the day…until a treadmill desk came to my rescue. Now I find walking while working a few hours a day is an excellent alternative to sitting all day.”

Janet sees great benefits to owning a treadmill desk. She adds, “I like being productive and this is the ultimate in multi-tasking. Plus, I’m doing something for my overall health and that’s priceless.”

Acclaimed novelist Arthur Slade, refers to himself as a ‘Treadhead Geek’ and talks to friends and strangers for hours about the benefits of ‘Treadheading’.

Arthur writes on the move.
Slade was drawn to the idea of a treadmill desk when he discovered he’d reached middle age.

“Oh, and the weight gain that came with middle age,” he said. “Who invented middle age, anyway?

“I had read an article in Nutrition Action about a doctor at the Mayo Clinic (James Levine) who had designed his own treadmill and suggested that humans were meant to walk all day...not to sit. The idea of exercising and working at the same time was perfect for me--two birds with one treadmill, as they say.”

He didn’t buy the traditional treadmill desks available in fitness stores. Instead, his ingenuity took over and, in 2009, he paid a visit to Canadian Tire. “It's kind of like Target, but with more tires and hockey equipment," Arthur explained. "A very Canadian place to shop. I purchased a…treadmill, took apart the top of it and built a wooden desk on top. The desk has somehow held together for four years.”

As a result, Arthur lost twenty pounds in the first six months and has kept it off since. Additionally, he’s written five novels, a graphic novel series and several articles. His latest work, Island of Doom, concludes his critically acclaimed hit series, The Hunchback Assignments (Random House).

Professional editor, regional advisor for the Austin chapter of SCBWI, and children's-YA novelist Samantha Clark also built her own treadmill desk using wooden planks and her existing treadmill.

Amy Rose Capetta & Samantha Clark (in royal blue)
She’d been inspired by pictures of other authors and wanted to see if it’d work before committing to buying a fitness desk. The transition from writing at a stationary desk to a mobile one was fairly easy for Samantha.

“Well, I must admit, I had lots of practice," she said. "I used to walk an hour to my former day job and would read books along the way -- much to the annoyance of other people, but I didn't bump into anyone.

“So writing on the treadmill wasn't that much different from reading, especially as I started with the Kindle Fire. When I moved to the laptop, it became easier because I didn't have to hold anything. The important thing, however, is choosing the right speed so you can type comfortably. And getting good shoes so your feet don't get tired too quickly.”

For Samantha, the optimal speed to write and walk is about two to two and a half MPH. She enjoys the experience, but cautions that it isn’t for everyone. “One of my friends tried it and hasn't been able to make it work. If it's not your thing, I recommend using treadmill time to read -- which is also so important for writing -- or, if you prefer free hands, listen to audio books.”

Her faithful pet, however, seems fascinated to simply watch her owner’s new work habits. “Although my dog seems very confused as to why I keep talking to myself while I'm on the treadmill,” said Samantha, “I can't tell if she likes my story, but I think she does.” (Learn more about Samantha on her motivating blog for writers.)

Lisa walks along with her characters' journey.
Picture book author Lisa Dalrymple also has witnesses while writing on her self-built treadmill desk.

She said, “Being mobile while working tends to entice me to do a little happy dance when I’m particularly pleased with the way something has turned out.

“I am not someone who can walk – never mind dance – and chew gum at the same time. I hate to think of the number of times I’ve happy-danced myself right off the back of the machine. And, with my desk set up in front of the large bank of windows in our attic, I can only imagine how many passers-by have witnessed my elegant dance-flail-disappear-off-the-back-of-the-treadmill.”

Despite raising a few neighbors’ eyebrows, Lisa lauds the benefits of walking and writing. “It’s such an easy way to get both the blood and the ideas flowing. Also, if nothing else, when you have one of those days where you feel like you got nothing done, you can at least feel that you accomplished something while you were doing nothing.”

Lisa has produced a great deal on her treadmill desk, and her latest picture book, Skink on the Brink (Fitzhenry & Whiteside), is now available.

Cyn's industrial shelving desk (with wheels)
Cynthia Leitich Smith asked for a treadmill desk as a present in December 2012. "New Year's Eve is my birthday," she said. "That adds another layer to the pressure to reflect and renew.

"One challenge of the writers' life is that our call to action is: 'Butt in chair.' That skews seriously sedentary. I'd been inspired by Arthur's experience and decided to give a treadmill desk a try."

Cynthia already had a treadmill, and her desk was made out of industrial shelving with wheels on the legs. That allows her to roll the desk out of the way when she wants to use the treadmill more vigorously.

"I find that it's easier to concentrate on the screen, to lose myself in the story," she said. "But you can't pause to mull over a scene without falling off. That said, I've yet to injure myself, and my health has definitely improved over time."

She adds that her forward motion helps with action scenes in the Feral series (Candlewick/Walker Books). "The werecats are moving. I'm moving. One of the biggest challenges for writers is to get out of our own way, to not over-think or edit out our own voices. The treadmill desk lends itself to writing fast, contemplating later."

Treadmill desks can range in cost from approximately seven hundred dollars to three thousand dollars. They’re available in many sporting goods and retail stores as well as with online vendors.

If you want try out this growing trend, then get moving. It’s as easy as picking up a phone. Best of luck as you walk your way to your next bestseller!

More recently, Cyn's treadmill desk also serves as a perch for some of her fashion and fitness accessories.
Cynsational Notes

The Power of Walking by Susan Orlean from The New Yorker. Peek: "I am writing this while walking on a treadmill. And now you know the biggest problem with working at a treadmill desk: the compulsion to announce constantly that you are working at a treadmill desk."



About Karen

More on Karen Rock
In a quest to provide her eighth grade students with quality reading material, English teacher Karen Rock read everything out there and couldn’t wait to add her voice to the conversation of books.

Now a debut YA series author, Karen is thrilled to pen stories that teens can relate to. When she’s not busy reading and writing, Karen is downloading live versions of favorite songs, watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" marathons, obsessing over reality TV contestants (Adam Lambert you were robbed!), cooking her family’s delizioso Italian recipes, and occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats.

She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though they’ve managed to teach her the trick!

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on twitter @karenrock5. Then learn all about Camp Boyfriend (Spencer Hill).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Interview: Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell on Truck Stop

By Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Melissa Iwai and Anne Rockwell interview each other about their new release, Truck Stop, written by Anne and illustrated by Melissa (Viking, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Early each morning, before the sun is even up, the truck stop opens for breakfast, and the trucks start pulling in. Eighteen wheeler, milk tank, moving van, and flatbed! 

Their drivers order eggs and bacon, pancakes with syrup, and a blueberry muffin. 

For the boy who helps his parents at the counter, there is nothing better than seeing all the trucks roll in.

Melissa: Anne, it was very exciting to read your manuscript for Truck Stop (Viking, 2013) when it was first presented to me. My family and I have long been a big fan of your books, and I was so thrilled to be chosen to illustrate one of your stories! You’ve been so prolific and written so many wonderful stories throughout the years.

You’ve written books for early readers, such as Boats (Puffin, 1993), At the Supermarket (Henry Holt, 2010), First Day of School (HarperCollins, 2011). Also stories relating to history, mythology, and science. . . .

I wonder—what keeps you curious about the world and inspires you to write?

Photo of Anne by Oliver Rockwell, copyright 2013.
Anne: I think that for some reason I remain as curious as I was as a child about how our world works, whether it’s the stories we tell of people and events that live on from our past, or the endless fascination of the patterns to be found in nature, or simply the everyday (which for young children, a new world).

I can’t think of any child who divides the world into “fiction” vs “nonfiction” but adults do, which is sad, because children bring a joy and beauty to everything they learn, and no matter what we think, young children enjoy learning.


Sullivan Wong Rockwell reading his first book not yet knowing that his NaiNai (Mandarin Chinese for "paternal grandmother") wrote and illustrated it many years ago for another little boy who grew up to be Sullivan’s BaBa. Photo by Oliver Rockwell, copyright 2013.

Melissa: Where do you get your voice?

Anne: I’m afraid I don’t get it. It owns me; it gets me, and I’m lucky when it comes my way. I’ve learned ways to summon it.

I find that it seeks me out when I’m in a foreign country. Fortunately I love to travel, and the voice seems to find me more readily when speaking, and sort of functioning in a foreign language.

A few years ago I was alone for an extended sketching visit to the south of France. Café au lait and fresh baked bread goes well with the song of pinball machines, I find, and ancient Roman ruins.

My sketchbook seems to want to turn into a journal—no, I mean a picture book. A picture book comes, and the language is that of my childhood. I wish I could summon that voice, but it has a mind of its own.

Melissa: Do you remember what the seed was for the story of Truck Stop?

Anne: Not specifically but it goes back to the same place, that I love to travel. I’m fascinated by the places we claim as our own when we’re on the road. My son and his family, including my littlest grandson, live in China, so I’ve been there twice for extended stays. Even in a village unchanged from the Ming Dynasty (14th through 17th century) at the base of the Great Wall, travelers may reach out in friendship. I guess I’m just fascinated by food culture around the world.

And Melissa, you’re a foodie, as we can see from your blog, The Hungry Artist, and your picture book Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010). I guess that assured you having the right emotional take on Truck Stop.

Melissa: Thanks, Anne. I do love that in the story, each trucker has his/her own particular truck as well as a particular breakfast dish. It was so fun to create the diner scenes and their breakfasts. I wanted to communicate the camaraderie and sense of community between the characters. They have a connection with the narrator and his family, and breakfast brings them together.

Anne, did you have any people in mind when you created the characters for Truck Stop?

Anne: No, they chose me. I’m sure, however, that they were lurking in my memory.

Melissa: By the way, where do you write?

Anne: On my laptop in my living room, before the sun is up, just like the truckers whose days begin at dawn.

Melissa: These days, at least to me, it seems harder and harder to sell picture book manuscripts. What advice you have for aspiring picture book authors?

Anne: None, really. There’s a lot of chatter regarding budget cuts and picture books are expensive to produce, whether e-books, and warehouses full of unsold celebrity books. It’s discouraging, but I guess all you can ask for is patience, and don’t let discouragement stop you from working on things you love. Change is often painful, and our market is certainly changing!

Melissa, your work manages to be so powerfully designed, bright colored, and your people manage to be both eternal and also newborn. I’d love to know more about how you work.

Melissa: I knew I wanted to use collage for the illustrations of Truck Stop. I like painting, but I feel that collage forces me to keep the shapes simpler and that’s what I wanted. So the artwork is a sort of combination of both. Parts of it are painted (the skies and a lot of the paper used in the collages). But I glued everything together to make a whole, much like a collage.


Then I scanned the finished collage into the computer and made adjustments, added things, and cleaned up the images in Photoshop.

If you look closely, you can see the same textures which I colored in Photoshop and placed in Priscilla and Maisie’s hair:


I also wanted to incorporate white space into my artwork to give it some lightness. The structure of having each truck driver introduced along with their breakfast item lent itself well to that approach.



Anne: Your artwork is so fresh, yet I know there’s a lot of technical know-how there. I was fascinated by your saying the wheels on all the little endsheet trucks were added by your computer. Could you expand on that?

Melissa: Sure. I made all the vehicles individually by gluing pieces of paper together. Except the wheels:


It’s difficult to cut 20 or so wheels the same size neatly. I would paint a swatch of black by hand, scan that in, and then put it into a shape of a wheel that I made in the computer. That way, the wheels are uniform, but the texture is varied. I think it is cleaner and less distracting this way. The final endpaper with text and wheels:


Anne: My own take is completely different as you can see from my workplace on the most recent book I illustrated, At the Supermarket (Henry Holt, 2010). It’s a redo from a title I’d written and my husband illustrated, in three colors! My granddaughter, Julianna Brion, helped me with the coloring in this new edition. She’s amazing!


Not a computer in sight, as you can see! I do all my writing on the computer however, and find word processing a wonderful tool. You can revise and revise some more (as I do) without filling wastebaskets.

Melissa: Yes, you’ve illustrated many of your books. How do you decide which ones you will illustrate and which ones will be illustrated by someone else?

Anne: When it comes to the biographies, I write them knowing they will be illustrated by someone else.

My own style is right for young children, but I feel that something else is needed for books whose story is for older children.

It’s difficult for such picture books to reach their audience, since too many teachers and parents don’t want to see their child absorbed in a book that’s easy to read, which is sad.

For instance, I love the pictures R. Gregory Christie did for Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth (Knopf, 2000).

I find it’s very important when I’m writing a picture book that I’m not illustrating, that I know each passage is visual. So I set up a word document, and number the pages. I don’t make a dummy from there, but I need to know it’s possible.

A picture book is more like a poem, a work in a tight format. That determines its structure. Some illustrators get this, while others don’t. It’s a scary process!

Melissa Iwai
I feel comfortable spiritually when illustrating for the very young, but it has become more and more difficult. I’ve had a number of health problems which I’ve snapped back from well, but taking on a picture book is just more of a commitment than I can make.

That’s why I was so thrilled when I saw what you’d done in Truck Stop and hope we can do more! I hope you’ll take it in the spirit meant when I say the pictures look like what I would have done.

Melissa: Of course! I’m so happy you feel that way. When I illustrate other people’s stories, I always wonder what they think with of end result. Usually I don’t meet them—if at all – until all the work is handed in and the book is printed.

I would love to work with you again, and this time, it would be a process of collaboration from the beginning!

Cynsational Notes

Anne Rockwell began writing and illustrating children's books in the 1950s and is well known and loved by generations of children. Her work has won many awards and accolades. She lives in Connecticut.

Melissa Iwai has illustrated over twenty picture books, and has both written and illustrated Soup Day. A California native, Melissa now lives in Brooklyn, not far from the Brooklyn Bridge, with her husband and son.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Voice: Kristen Kittscher on The Wig in the Window

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kristen Kittscher is the first-time author of The Wig in the Window (HarperChildren's, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game of spying on their neighbors. But on one of their late-night pretend stake-outs, the girls stumble across a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (a.k.a. Dr. Awkward). 

At least they think they do…the truth is that Dr. Agford was just making her famous (and messy) pickled beets!

But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something–and they’re determined to find out what it is. 


Soon the girls are cracking codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. 

As their investigation heats up, the girls start to crack under the pressure. Even if Sophie and Grace uncover the truth about Agford in time, will their friendship survive?

Who has been your most influential writing/art teacher or mentor and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to have more than one mentor, and without them, I’d still be spinning my wheels, dreaming of telling stories instead of actually telling them. It’s hard to say one is more influential than other.

My first mentors were Sean Murphy, who writes literary fiction for adults (The Hope Valley Hubcap King and The Time of New Weather) and his wife, Tania Casselle, a travel writer who also writes fiction. They run a yearly online class called “Write to the Finish.”

I’d first met Sean in a writing conference in Taos in 2005 I had attended to inform my teaching. I had a notion I wanted to write a novel but had no idea what said novel would be about. I’ll never forget him saying, “Well, you better decide by tomorrow.”

And that’s how Sean was; he had taught for years with Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones). His approach was simple: if you want to write, you’re meant to. Prioritize, set goals, and believe in yourself. His and Tania’s mentoring broke a seemingly insurmountable task into easy chunks.

My other mentor – whose voice echoes in my head as I write the sequel to The Wig in the Window – is Kara LaReau. Kara was an editor at Scholastic and Candlewick for over a decade and was best known for plucking Kate DiCamilo’s Because of Winn-Dixie out of the slush pile.

Kara briefly ran an editing consultancy, and I was lucky enough to work with her during the year she was in business. She taught me everything, essentially: how to keep scenes moving, how to stay loyal to characters, how to create a rhythm for scenes.


Of course, I’m still learning all of that – but she gave me a start! I came in with a very strange manuscript that wasn’t at all ready, and she taught me how to give the story an arc. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have worked with her. Working with her also gave me great practice revising and incorporating notes before I went through the process with my editor at Harper.


As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

Follow Kristen on Twitter @KKittscher
Great question. I think funny isn’t so much about decisions as a feeling. It’s not an analytical process for me. If I had to pin it down, I’d say that ingredients for comedic writing are honesty, specificity, timing, surprise and exaggeration.

People laugh at things that feel true — but that they might not say aloud. They also laugh at the unexpected, so it’s all about finding the right moment to make an ironic twist. That’s where the timing comes in.

My approach is to drop down into my main character’s head and observe the world from her point of view — to see all the absurdities through her eyes. Then I exaggerate those observations.

Whether that would work for others or not, I’m not sure!

Monday, June 17, 2013

How Authors Can Connect with Readers Via a Google+ Hangout

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I'm fresh off of my first experience with Google+ Hangouts and sharing lessons learned in hopes they'll help you connect authors to readers!

Google+ offers its own video with instructions for the basics, so I'm going to focus on insights with regard to navigating a G+ Hangout to best effect.

Bookmark this post--what I'm saying will make more sense once you've checked out the system.

Tips to Keep in Mind:
  • Invite participants early -- you'll want to schedule not only the G+ Hangout but at least two practice sessions.
  • Take practices seriously and brace for changes/improvements in the system between each.
  • Write a script in advance, complete with a welcome, speaker introductions, questions, response order and closing remarks. 
  • You don't have to follow the script word-per-word, but it should work for prompts.
  • In our G+ Hangout, each author-speaker had the opportunity to submit the question of her choice.
  • The speaker I.D. bar option--complete with image--is helpful, polished-looking, and a way to feature current cover art.
  • The speaker I.D. bar option could be more user friendly. Once you've created an I.D. bar that you like, try to save it. But don't count on it being saved. You may have to recreate it for the final G+ Hangout. Leave time to do so.
  • Don't get impatient. We're all expected to field a number of social networks, and many of them vary just enough to throw someone off or work in a way that's counter-intuitive. Note: Last minute conflicts and tech snags do happen.
  • Check out these additional tips for looking your best (or at least human) on-screen.
  • Use a real computer (not just anything that will access the Web). 
  • Log on an hour in advance to work out any last minute glitches. Yes, an hour.
  • The screen-share option is great for highlighting a website, but it can be tricky to use. The G+ Hangout screen momentarily shuffles away and you'll have to uncover and click it again. Note: rather than showing your website (or book covers posted online), you could hold up a copy of your book(s) and other show-and-tell items.
  • Use the "mute" option on the microphone while other speakers are talking.
  • Caution: Any talking over one another (or miscellaneous other noise--doorbells, ringing phones, barking dogs) will jumble the audio.
  • Stay as still as possible. Any unnecessary movement can freeze up the screen.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to share the G+ Hangout afterward via video. Not everyone who's interested may be able to make the live chat.
  • Promote the video through your blog, website, other social networks and list servs.
The multi-author panel format is be a first-rate (and budget-friendly) option for schools and public libraries as a way to provide insights and inspiration to teen readers. Our G+ Hangout clocked in at a little over half an hour, which is longer than most online videos, but fits nicely into a YA program.

I also can readily imagine a scenario in which one author is featured at a G+ Hangout with up to four participating school audiences.

Comparing to Skype, the main benefit of G+ Hangouts is that they seem less likely to time out. G+ Hangouts are dependent on your Internet connection (and that of all other participants), but less vulnerable to connection issues coming from the system itself.

Looking for an example?

The video below, "Other Times, Other Worlds in YA Lit, features authors Cynthia Leitich Smith (Feral Nights)(AKA me), P. J. Hoover (Solstice), Janet Fox (Sirens), Joy Preble (The Sweet Dead Life), and Candlewick Press editor and fellow YA author Deborah Noyes (Plague in the Mirror).

It's derived from a Google+ Hangout On Air that took place last Thursday. We engaged in a dynamic discussion, exploring the challenges and joys of world-building, in creating romantic elements, in writing gender roles and the parallel between fantasy and historical writing.

You'll see the video isn't perfect. G+ Hangouts don't (yet) allow for an organic flow of conversation. We struggled a bit with the system, using the microphone and transitions.

But the flow improved over time, the content is excellent and the video offers a realistic look at the opportunities in play. So check it out to learn more about these topics and to view an example of how Google+ Hangouts can connect authors to readers.

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