Friday, November 14, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The cat on the cover was modeled after Anne's cat!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The 10,000th Try: Rejecting Rejection with Anne Bustard from The Writing Barn. Peek: "That I had a story was the good news. That it was deeply flawed, the bad. And that I must start completely-from-the-very-beginning-over, the scariest." Note: check out Anne's newly redesigned official author website.

Reviews: Positive, Negative, and the Big Picture from April Henry. Peek: "...what I think is even more painful is to be told that your book is going to be reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, one with tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and then the 'critic' decides he or she had better live up to the title."

How to Survive Writing Through the Holiday Season by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "...as I edit my manuscript and think about the other project I want drafted by the end of the year, I’m slammed by a daunting thought: how the heck am I going to survive?"

It's Not Just You by Dahlia Adler from The Daily Dahlia. Peek: "It is not just you who feels like you have no idea what’s going on, what you’re supposed to be doing, how best to promote your book, how to write a perfect query, how to form relationships…any of it. It is not even just you who randomly cries about things for no reason."

Battling Excuses by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Excuse 2: 'I keep getting rejected.' Fabulous. You are now one of us."

Five Questions for Children's Author Sharon Flake by Kathleen T. Horning from The Horn Book. Peek: "My parents often recalled the fifties with both fondness and frustration. From what people wore, to the jobs African Americans could and couldn’t get, they remembered it all and shared eagerly. My mom has since passed, and the time I spent talking to her, my sister, and my dad about this era means even more to me."

Prequel e-novella to Killer of Enemies
Native American Heritage Month: 10 Books By Native Authors from Lee and Low. Peek: "For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices."

Reminder! The SCBWI Emerging Voices Award deadline is Nov. 15. Peek: "The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books." See also Diversity in Nonfiction by Hannah Ehrlich from Multicultural Children's Book Day.

Creating Authentic Characters by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez from Esther Hershenhorn at Teaching Authors. Peek: "The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is. To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise."

So How's the Book Doing? by Laurie Ann Thompson from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "Is how the book is doing a week or a month after its publication date necessarily all the relevant to how it will be doing a year or two from now?"

Author Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia by Elizabeth Pandolfi from Charleston City Paper. Peek: "We are living the effects of history every single day. By the same token, we all play a part in living history by simply being, acting, witnessing, and telling. Each and every one of us makes up those pixels that create some part of that picture of a historical era or event."

Christine E. Elden Memorial Fellowship for Unpublished Middle Grade Writers. Note: The Eldin Fellowship has two purposes "1. Honor the memory of Chris Eldin. 2. Provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction author whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career." The first year's award will be $1,000 and a trophy. The judge is author Louise Hawes. Deadline: Dec. 31. There is a $10 entry fee.

Cynsational Screening Room

Great news! The We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign has met our $100,000 fundraising goal! At the time of this posting, we have raised $102,744! Hooray!

The campaign is still ongoing--with 27 days left, and the future donations will allow us to do even more to support diversity in children's-YA lit!

Thank you to everyone who donated and/or signal boosted! Please keep supporting the campaign!



Authors on Diverse Books from Undercurrent on Vimeo. See also #WeNeedDiverseBooks Chat at 8 PM CST, 9 PM EST via Debbie Reese at American Indian Literature for Youth. #SupportWNDB.



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win!
The winner of the Feral trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Erin in Michigan.

Enter to win one of five ARCs of Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2015) at Goodreads.

See also Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, Plus a Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Giveaway from Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the founding of Cynsations! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! It's been an honor, hosting this blog over the past decade, and I have learned so much in the process.

On a related note, thank you to Project Mayhem for recommending Cynsations in its round-up of blogs! I'm a huge fan of what y'all do, too!

With fellow Austin author Jennifer Ziegler at the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Illumine Benefit

With fellow Austin author Ruth Pennebaker at the Illumine Benefit

Carmen Oliver, holding coffee, with Austin SCBWI ARA Shelley Ann Jackson at BookPeople
Congratulations to Cynsations reporter Karen Rock (half of the J.K. Rock writing team) on hitting the Amazon Top 100 Teen Romance List with Camp Forget Me Not! Readers are invited to download the book, and Karen and her co-author will give you two Camp novellas for free!

Congratulations to fellow Austinites P.J. Hoover, author of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Tor), and Varian Johnson, author of The Great Greene Heist, for being named to the Texas Library Association 2015 Lone Star Reading List!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events


Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin. See more information from I Read Banned Books.

Now Available!
Coming Soon!
The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will serve as the master class faculty for the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency from June 19 to 21.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association from June 25-30 in San Francisco.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Voice: Tracy Holczer on The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Teacher's Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Holczer is the first-time author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. She thinks she's found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter Lacey, so when her mother says it's time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels. 

She'll always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

Now faced with making a home with a grandmother she's never met, and according to her mother, didn't want her in the first place, Grace is desperate to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey. 

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, may must be the key. It all begins with a crane. And Grace is sure it's her mother showing her the way home.  

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Back in 2003, when I’d been writing for about a year, I applied for a scholarship to Chautauqua, a workshop given by the Highlights Foundation.

I tried not to giggle too hysterically as I filled out the paperwork, thinking, “Who the heck do you think you are? You can’t go anywhere for a week! Besides, scholarships are for writers. Not wannabes with three young children to care for.”

“Pfft,” said the Rational Voice, and I sent it in.

When Kent Brown called to let me know I’d have a tuition scholarship, I immediately burst into tears and accepted with no idea how I’d cover room and board. We’d just started a new business and moved into a house and every penny was allocated to something much more important than my writing hobby.

My husband was the first person to suggest that maybe it wasn’t a hobby. When my family stepped in to cover the rest of the cost, expressing the same sentiment, I burst into tears all over again.

So, in the summer of 2004, I left behind a ten, seven and two-year-old to study craft and meet the rock stars of the kid lit world. For heaven’s sake, I sat right next to Jerry Spinelli for dinner one night. And talked to him as though he were a normal person. I’m sure I didn’t drool too terribly.

But what changed everything (aside from Sharon Creech just stopping by because she was in the neighborhood) was having Patti Gauch as my manuscript advisor. I started to get the idea that I’d lucked out when I began noticing people following her around in little clumps.

When you meet her, you really want to do this, too, because all that comes out of her mouth are these snippets of brilliance you immediately want to wear on a T-shirt.

Then, it was just Patti and me for our meeting. She told me to dig deep. To take the images as far as they would go. She told me to make sure there was a surprise on every page. A unique turn a phrase, a special image, a new way of looking at something. She told me to ignore my “homogenized self” and to embrace the part of me that was different.

She made me feel as though all my weirdness, everything I’d ever tried to hide from everyone, was the very thing I needed to cherish and put down on paper.

Then she talked about character being the heart of the story. After failing miserably at any sort of plotting, this was a new and breath-taking perspective. Maybe I could write a story by following the character, rather that expecting the character to follow a story. It changed everything.

It still took me six long years to write The Secret Hum of a Daisy, but Patti Gauch, and the Highlights Foundation, helped put me on the right path.

Lisa blogs at Smack Dab in the Mid^dle: A Middle Grade Authors' Blog.
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Grace came by magic. During that sleep/waking time when everything is half-real, half-imagined. She stood on the front porch of an old farmhouse wearing Mary Janes.

“They’re the only decent ones I’ve got,” she’d said, and rocked back and forth from heel to toe.

Photo of Tracy by Lisa Williams Photography
I knew her mom had just died. I knew she had to live with a grandmother she’d never met, one she was afraid of. I didn’t know what else was in store for Grace, but I knew it would be a magical experience for me. And it was.

Samantha, however, the twelve-year-old in my new book, is not coming magically. She is a tough nut to crack.

What I’m doing to coax her out is more writing exercises with her running the show. She’s writing Haiku and journal entries (even though she would never do either).

I’m asking her to tell me secrets and what she yearns for. Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of her best friend, Milo, and have him ask her questions that she might actually answer.

What I’m learning, this time around, is that I have to listen even harder to my instincts. And that some characters express themselves in different ways. Just like real people.

Interestingly, in this case, it wasn’t until I did a character biography on her dad that I saw Sam more deeply. She hasn’t been as easy as Grace, but we have come to an understanding. She'll be in bookstores in summer, 2016.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Giveaway: 10th Anniversary of Cynsations

Speaking at KidlitCon 2013
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Today marks the 10th Anniversary of Cynsations!

The blog launched on Nov. 12, 2004; and featured children's author Chris Barton, talking about consolidation and marketing.

There was no introductory post and no images--until Blogger introduced that option.

Thanks so much to each of you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

This is a condensed excerpt from a keynote I delivered at the 2013 KidLitCon in Austin:

I embraced the earliest days of the kidlitosphere for two reasons:

First—with all the optimism of a 20-something but not a word on the page—I quit my law job in downtown Chicago to write children’s-YA books full time.

A favorite book from childhood.
For me, children’s-YA literature had been a great blessing, and I committed my life to it.
I take my own writing to heart (and sometimes to play), but my plan was bigger than that.

It included the community. It included you.

It included everyone who plays a role in the connection of books to kids.

I got busy, writing and reaching out—by mentoring, teaching, advocating in person and online.

I began in part by, in 1998, establishing a substantive children’s literature resource site and launching a monthly e-newsletter that went out to a little over a thousand people and featured two author interviews along with a handful of recommended links.
My blog, Cynsations, launched in 2004. It likewise casts a broad net, emphasizing the craft of writing, the business of publishing and the writer’s life.

Wanting to offer something positive to children's-YA lit lovers, to the big wide world, that was my reason one.

Reason two?

My first book.
American Indians are vastly underrepresented in the body of literature for young readers and in the industry more broadly.

When I entered the field, the literary depictions of Indians were almost uniformly historic, New Age-y, and/or inaccurate.
It was time to help change perceptions or I’d never be able to publish many of the stories I wanted to write.

By putting myself out there via tech, I was able to send the message that Native people are multidimensional. And that we have a past, a present and a future.

With that in mind, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Cynsations, I'm giving away a copy of Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Guest Post: Deanna Roy on Getting By As A Writer With A Little Help From Your Friends

Kindergarten author talk
By Deanna Roy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There are a lot of lonely jobs out there. Night security. Toll booths.

I once worked at a huge event arena, where my sole job was watching a panel of red lights in case one light up.

When I first became a full-time writer, it seemed like a dream.

No more pesky day job! No more distractions! I could write all day.

Then reality hit.

I was by myself, in my house, and expected to create fascinating people, colorful locales, and dynamic dialogue, all while sitting in a chair.

So I got on Facebook. I would Tweet. It’s part of the platform, I said to myself. I tried coffee shops. I convinced myself that people watching was research. But really, what I needed was a coworker.

Someone who understood what I was going through.

RWA book signing
I was lucky, though. In every step of my publishing journey, I had a lot of writer friends. I’m not afraid to join groups, to start groups, to coerce people to show up for my groups!

As my circles expanded from local writers to ones online, I began to understand how important these connections had become.

And it wasn’t just to keep the Total Hermit Lifestyle at bay. We could share our struggles, puzzle out our problems, cheerlead each other, and help with deadline accountability.

No matter where you are in your journey, finding others to walk beside you, whether on real or virtual paths, is critical. You may believe that you need to already have an agent, a contract, a book published, or a bestseller to feel comfortable reaching out. But it’s not true.

All along the way, I got to walk with writers who were facing similar obstacles. We subbed to agents and pored over query letters. We did overnight beta reads and tried to decipher rejection letters to divine our publishing futures as though the words were tea leaves in the hands of a fortune teller.

As you move from one phase of the process to another, your interests and needs will change.

You find hitting a new goal doesn’t mean you automatically have a million new friends, but it does involve a different set of hurdles and expectations.

Navigating success takes just as much help as working to get there.

There is no magical place where suddenly everyone opens their arms and tells you to join the party. Only as you look back do you realize the friends that you have supported, cheered, and commiserated with along the way are the ones you treasure the most.

So don’t write in obscurity.

Find a place where everyone has the same hopes and challenges as you. If you like to do it in person, find a local chapter of SCBWI (for kid lit) or RWA (romance) or Sisters in Crime (mystery) or any of the local writer groups or meet ups. If you like to start out from the quiet security of home, try places like Kboards and Verla’s SCBWI Kidlit Blue Boards and Romance Divas.

Everything that has happened to me in the process of getting over thirty titles out into the world was not just a product of my own work and initiative. I am the sum of all the things that have been taught to me, the lessons I learned by failing, and watching people approach my path from their own. I made it a priority to stay in touch with these fellow travelers, no matter where their journey took them next, or if their climb to a similar goal was faster or slower than mine.

My next project is absolutely a product of the friendships with kidlit writers I’ve met along the way.

The Adventure Collection is a boxed set of books for middle grade readers from writers I know both online and locally. When Apple iBooks wrote me to ask what I could put together to be featured on their site, I knew exactly who to call. The people who had been with me all along.

Cynsational Notes

Deanna Roy is the author of many books for children and tweens, as well as a long line of adult fiction.

At book signing.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Author-Illustrator Interview: Lita Judge on Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Born To Be Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014):

What do grizzly bear cubs eat? Where do baby raccoons sleep? And how does a baby otter learn to swim? 

Every baby mammal, from a tiny harvest mouse "pinky" to a fierce lion cub, needs food, shelter, love, and a family.

Filled with illustrations of some of the most adorable babies in the kingdom, this awww-inspiring book looks at the traits that all baby mammals share and proves that, even though they're born in the wild, they're not so very different from us, after all!

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I wanted to show the amazing ways in which animals protect and raise their young and how remarkably similar a baby animals needs are to our own.

When I was a little girl, I watched my grandparents raise Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owl chicks. We played foster parent to Green Herons, Red Tailed hawks, raccoons, otters and any other animal that was orphaned or injured.

My grandparents were biologists, and they taught me to respect animals and to study how they live and interact in the wild. My work reflects my upbringing, and the fact that I’ve always felt compelled to bring a better understanding of animals to young readers.

Lita with a Great Horned Owlet

Lita's grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

Lita's grandmother, Fran Hamerstrom, with a Golden Eagle

What was the timeline between spark and publication?

This book went fairly quickly as far as my picture books go.

When I say quickly, I mean three years. That’s how long it takes me to build up the text and sketches after I have an initial concept in mind.

The initial sketching is always the most time consuming for me. When I illustrate wild animals, I want to reflect not only how they look, but how they move and relate to each other.

That means I actually do hundreds of sketches of animals from life, videos, and pictures before choosing a gesture that I feel says what I’m trying to convey.

Final art is a mere three months or so after the months and months of drawing and playing around with text. And then there is that year-plus time at the end where you are done but have to wait for release.



What were the greatest triumphs and challenges along the way?

For this book, I wanted to show the topic of baby animals in a universal way, depicting not only the needs that all baby animals have, but also showing the connection between our own needs when we are young to theirs.

This meant I had to do a very broad approach and choose the animals to illustrate each point carefully. For every animal that you see in the final book, there are dozens more on the cutting room floor. Taking out a detail, whether it be text or drawing, that you love is always the hardest part for me, but in the end, you find the best way to depict the topic.




What was your connection to the topic?

I have spent most of my life observing and drawing animals. Whether in zoos, or in the wilderness, I carry a sketchbook, binoculars, and camera with me always, recording what I see.

I’ve always been fascinated particularly with baby animals, their playfulness and open expressions.





How did you go about your research process?

Research for a nonfiction book is always an intense and joyful part of my creative process.

For a book on animals, I rely on a lifetime of watching, drawing, and photographing animals. I chose many of the animals in this book particularly because I had spent time observing them in nature.

If it’s an animal I can’t observe easily in nature, I can often go to zoos to draw them, observing not only their appearance, but how they move. Wildlife videos are also a great help for this.

My parents are wildlife photographers and have built up an amazing reference library of photographs over the years.

There is always a lot of reading about animals that goes into a project like this, but the most important thing for me to be able to capture the expressions and likeness of an animal is to spend a lot of time observing and drawing them.


Lita with her grandfather

How did you approach the art?

For me, drawing animals really comes down to capturing its gesture or body movement and expression. I don’t want my readers to just know what a chimpanzee of meerkat looks like; I want them to feel a connection to them. I want them to look into the faces of my animals and feel like there is an animal looking back at them.

I also want them to get an understanding of the intimate world of animals within their own world; how does a mother panda hold her baby, or a baby orangutan curl up and feel safe with its parent.



To capture all this I first do hundreds of very loose sketches, focusing on body language long before I worry about details.




Once I feel like I’ve captured that intimate portrait between the animals, I start focusing on the details, which describe their faces and bodies.

Slowly my drawings become more refined until at last, they are ready for a light watercolor wash at the end.



Looking back on your career, how have you grown and changed as a writer and artist?

I started writing only nonfiction but have grown to love creating both fiction and nonfiction stories.





I think my background as a geologist, and having grown up helping my grandparents with their research projects in the field, made me very comfortable with the research involved with creating nonfiction.



But the more I drew and wrote, the more I began to want to push myself into creating fictional characters that emoted expressions full of exuberance and whimsy.

I think my background with wildlife made my fictional drawings of animals better because they were rooted in an understanding for anatomy and how animals move.

And I think my work with fictional characters made my nonfiction better because it really helped me focus on building connections between my readers and my subject through studying the subtlety of expressions.

Good Morning to Me!, to be released spring 2015

What advice do you have for budding author-illustrators?

Focus on our craft. Put your emphasis there more than worrying about how, when, and where to get published. I see so many people that are very eager to get published; they really put a lot of energy into trying to make connections or getting published before they’ve had a chance to let their work blossom into a unique voice. There will be time for all that, but until then, draw, write, draw, write, draw, write…. until you have stories dancing out of your mind!



Is there anything you'd like to add?

Just that I’m really thankful to get to do the work I love. And thankful to the muses that keep me inspired by all their delightful expressions and loving companionship!




Cynsational Notes

Born in the Wild has received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

Cynsational Screening Room

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