Friday, December 12, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cover Reveal! Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani (Tu, 2015) from Lee and Low. Peek:

Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.

Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.

The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.

More News & Giveaways

Tone: Is Your Romance Sensual or Intellectual? by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "The question is, of course, what tone do I want for my story? That’s what a writer does as they read great stories from other writers: you think about what they are doing that is working so well, and how to translate that into your own stories."

Five Writing Lessons from a Vocal Coach by Kathryn Craft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "A question is like a vacuum that pulls the reader in. So rather than stuffing your story with events that may or may not add up to a cohesive whole, think about creating the questions that your story will fill."

Interview with Author-Agent Tanya McKinnon by Wendy Lamb from CBC Diversity. Peek: "As an African-American agent with a diverse client list in both children’s and adult books, I am always on the lookout for books that push the envelope of human understanding. Books that honor our multicultural world, regardless of who writes them, are my passion."

Tinkering Vs. Progress by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "What do I recommend to writers who are getting caught up in their early pages at the expense of finishing a draft? Write a long outline where you detail what you plan to do in each additional chapter."

Are Writers Ahead of the Curve in Integrating Work and Life? by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "I'm going to mention writers here, who are always working, if for no other reason than that they are constantly taking in information that can become a new idea."

Overcome Your Manuscript Doubts By Asking Why by Jennie Nash from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "I actually believe that not knowing the answer to why is one of things that holds a lot of writers back. They know they like to write, they know they’re good at it, they know they have a story to tell, but they don’t know why it matters to them, or what, exactly, it means to them."

The Battle Between Manipulation and Believability by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "...always ask yourself: 'Have I given enough set up to the story so my readers are able to believe this event can happen this way?'"

Facebook for Authors: Getting Started Guide from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Facebook is not a replacement for an author website, even if your publisher says it is." See also Survey Results: What Agents, Editors and Art Directors Look for Online by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.

Considering the Young Adult Memoir by Megan Schliesman from CCBlogC. Peek: "...one of the challenges, when taking on a project like this from an editorial perspective, is trying to balance the teen's voice with the adult collaborator's (when there is a collaborator)."

Bibliotherapy for Teens: An Expanded Booklist by Ashleigh Williams from School Library Journal. Note: Kudos to Erin E. Moulton. See also Nine YA Novels with Protagonists Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing from Disability in Kidlit via We Need Diverse Books.

How to Become a Writer by Lisa Cron from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...who ever finds time laying around unused? Especially since all that great 'time saving' technology they’ve been gleefully producing at warp speed has morphed into the biggest time suck ever."

The Answer to Implicit Racism Might Be In Children's Literature by Noah Berlatsky from Pacific Standard. Peek: "...white anxieties are important, precisely because they contribute to these systemic racist outcomes. White teachers who are anxious about appearing racist may be afraid to give students of color critical feedback, setting them up for failure."

Dealing with Pacing Problems by Jake Kerr from Adventures in YA Writing. Peek: "While pacing itself is not right or wrong, its execution can be. Parts of a novel (or even the whole thing) can be paced too fast or too slow. Let’s look at some common problems...."

The Things We Carry by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The often unseen and unacknowledged things we carry in our invisible backpacks not only color our interactions with the world around us, but can often predict the outcome of a journey before we’ve even begun."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of a signed ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin was Charlotte in Rhode Island.

See also Giveaway: Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi with Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk from Carmen Oliver at ReaderKidZ.

Cynsational Screening Room

My most heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the We Need Diverse Books campaign! See also Alexie, Woodson Among the Speakers at BookCon 2015 from ABC News.



Wherein my Very Merry Publisher Rocks Out, Candlewick Style!

 

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Vote for Feral Curse!
I'm honored to report that my agent, Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd., has sold my upcoming YA contemporary realistic novel, How to End a Date, to Deborah Noyes at Candlewick Press for publication in fall 2016. Note: Deborah edited all the novels in the Tantalize-Feral universe. She also is an enormously talented photographer and author in her own right.

I'm also thrilled to announce that I will be returning to the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, effective January 2015.

Check out Feral Pride and other titles coming from E-volt in 2015!

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award! Thanks! See also Feral Curse on the list of American Indians In Children's Literature's Best Books of 2014 -- such great company! Be sure to check out all the recommended books!

At the Austin SCBWI Holiday Party with Greg Leitich Smith; photo by Sam Bond.
Donna Janell Bowman wins the dessert contest with "Book Worms."
RA Samantha Clark serves up green eggs and ham at a great fete!


Personal Links

AICL Recommended!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3.

Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

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

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

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

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Dianne White on Doing the Work & Not Giving Up

By Dianne White
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I haven’t always been a writer – at least not in the way I assume my friends who write must have been as children growing up.

I never wrote stories I couldn’t wait to share with my parents and teachers; I was not the kid who stapled lined pages together to write and illustrate my own books; I never kept a journal, and I’m not one of those people with rich imaginations able to tell grand stories at the drop of a hat.

I’m not at all like many writers I admire who are either far more gifted than me or simply have a voice and heart that seems to easily capture on paper that intangible something that makes a reader fall in love with a book.

So, how did I end up with a debut picture book published by my dream editor and illustrated by a Caldecott artist? Serendipity and something more.

Blue on Blue (Beach Lane, 2014) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime books. It was quickly written and sold to the first editor who saw it. This does not usually happen! Nor has it happened with any other manuscript I’ve written over more years that I care to mention. But the happy journey of Blue on Blue’s publication points to the few things that I, and every pre-published or published children’s writer, have the power to control: Do the work and don’t give up.

an author in the making
Do the work – put in your 10,000 – or less, or more - hours of practice. However many hours it takes you is really all that matters. So don’t compare. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you that each book is its own puzzle. What sometimes looks easy to the outsider is never exactly as it seems. But practice and study and an attitude that understands there’s always room for growth will never disappoint.

As a primary grade teacher who earned a credential in the late 80’s during the height of core lit and thematic units, I had only just begun to understand the power, width, and breadth of the picture book genre. I fell in love and wanted to write such books.

But like most things, wanting to do something and learning to do it well don’t always go hand in hand. The work must be so grounded in passion that you’re willing to do what it takes to get you there. Writing is hard, and publishing is a business, after all. Writing is also art, so go in expecting to face rejection – lots of it - with the knowledge that it will never be as easy as it looks.

Okay. Sure. There will be people who will reach their publishing goals faster than you. But, in the end, we reach our goals our own way, and if it takes you longer than you think it should, then do yourself a favor and embrace the journey. Because, honestly, that’s one of the very best things about the children’s book community - the awesome, and very supportive people you’ll meet along the way. Be sure to take time to appreciate that goodness and the many terrific people rooting for you.

Don’t give up – this is where your level of passion comes into play. Writing for kids is an honor and a gift. Treasure it and understand that it is your passion that will keep you plugging away, rethinking, and revising.

When Blue on Blue debuted on Dec, 9, it was almost six years from acquisition to publication. In every single way, it’s been worth the wait. It’s a book I’m deeply proud of, most especially because it reflects the vision of a group of dedicated picture book lovers– editor Allyn Johnston, illustrator Beth Krommes, and art director Lauren Rille.

Picture books exist because of this community of artists, all of who contribute something wonderful and unique to the projects they’re involved in.

I continue to work on new picture book ideas, but I’m enjoying this time of “firsts.” It’s been a long but worthwhile journey and I can’t wait to see what new experiences and wonderful things lie just around the corner.

Cynsational Notes

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master's in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

After teaching students of all ages for 25 years, she now writes full-time. Her first picture book, Blue on Blue, illustrated by 2009 Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, is published by Beach Lane Books.

Illustration by Beth Krommes; learn more about Blue on Blue!
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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guest Post: Jean Reidy on Choosing a Writer's Workshop

Cynthia Leitich Smith & Jean Reidy at The Writing Barn
By Jean Reidy
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I've been tackling a new genre – the middle grade novel. And after hammering out the latest draft of a novel-in-progress and getting solid feedback, I was excited to put the "work" into a workshop.

So, I kept an eye out for just the right opportunity.

On a message board, I saw mention of The Full-Novel Workshop at The Writing Barn in Austin, Texas, and amazingly, the week of the workshop was completely open on my calendar.

It was like the stars had aligned and I'd gotten the approval of the universe...not to mention explosive enthusiasm from family, writer friends and my agent.

As it turned out, the workshop hit me just right – at the right place in my career, in my novel process and in my life. I struck gold. But not entirely by accident.

A writing workshop can be a serious commitment – travel expenses, workshop fees, time away from "real life." There are many to choose from – across every genre and for every stage of your writing. So how do you pick? It takes a little soul-searching, a little researching, and a leap.

Know What You Need

My work-in-progress had been through a round of critiques and revision. My agent had read the first 50 pages. Her response? "Love it. Finish it."

But I struggled with story structure. I needed a workshop that provided not only critique and revision time but also instruction that would put new tools in my novel-writing toolbox.

A workshop should meet you where you are in your writing process and match your experience. If you're new to writing, look for workshops that focus on the nuts and bolts of your genre. If you're farther along or befuddled by feedback you've received, you may need to revisit the art of story again, from a fresh perspective. If you're published, consider a master class designed to take your writing to the next level.

Often writers seek out workshops where they'll have opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. But if your manuscript isn't ready, you won't be doing yourself any favors.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you need instruction? Critique? Time to write or revise? Time to relax and refresh? Or all of the above?
  • Are you wanting to focus on specific techniques like outlining, plotting, revising?
  • Are you hoping to get a first draft down or tackle a revision?
  • Do you want to be paired with a mentor? And, if so, what do you hope to gain from that?
  • Finally, how much time do you need to accomplish your goals and how much time can you commit?

Know What You're Getting (and at What Price!)

Student Meredith Davis & faculty Kathi Appelt
One word – research! Faculty? Facility?

Food? Almost any answer can be found with some investigating. The Writing Barn publishes detailed workshop schedules, faculty bios and facility photos on their website. I knew how my week would look – ample time for revision, instructional programming, mentor meetings, visiting author evenings, social time, plus a trip to BookPeople – before I committed.

But I went farther. I scoured faculty online interviews. I read their books. I searched forums and message boards for reviews of workshops they'd taught. And I asked trusted pros in the industry.

My conclusion? The Writing Barn faculty were teaching experts.

If a workshop you're considering includes a critique, pay attention to who will be providing your feedback. It may come from a peer participant, an author, an editor or an agent.

My workshop included a full-novel critique from an award-winning author and one-on-one discussion time with her. Score! Plus, the low teacher/student ratio throughout the week offered me a more personal experience all around.

Chatting informally at The Writing Barn
Consider the workshop location and travel options. While remote locales may appeal to your creative wanderlust, a "planes, trains and automobiles" journey to and from a venue can completely curtail your positive experience.

And don't forget to check out accommodations. My creativity thrives in cozy settings and the "Caldecott Room" at The Writing Barn was just the ticket.

Are you an introvert? Find a workshop that provides private space for recharging and common spaces for spontaneous sharing and socializing.

Ah yes, that spontaneous sharing might end up being the most valuable part of your workshop experience. While sitting on a front porch over a glass of wine discussing a main character's "controlling beliefs" – you just may unlock the secret of your story, clear the path for a successful revision and make lifelong friends. I know I certainly did.

Author Shana Burg teaches at The Writing Barn


Cynsational Notes

Rita Williams-Garcia taught the Full Novel Workshop
Upcoming programs/faculty at The Writing Barn include:

Jan. 8 to Jan. 11: Authors Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

March 26 to March 29: Memoir event, with Theo Pauline Nestor

April 30 to May 2: Picture book event with author-librarian Betsy Bird, editor Neal Porter, and literary agent Alexandra Penfold

Check The Writing Barn website for additions!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Bruce Hale on Is There a Book Idea in Your Childhood?

By Bruce Hale
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Tell the truth, did you ever want to be a secret agent?

To experience the glamour, the danger, the mad spy skills?

I sure did, and from that childhood desire to be James Bond sprang my newest Disney-Hyperion series for tweens, School for S.P.I.E.S.

(Of course, that desire also led me to apply for a job with the CIA after college, but if I told you about that, I’d have to — well, you know.)

The deep, true passions of childhood can be a tremendous springboard for stories, as well as a way of reaching for what’s true in you as a writer. And by telling you how my own passions inspired this series, I hope to give you some ideas on mining your own childhood enthusiasms.

I was a child spy

Growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I swam in a Cold War sea of spies and espionage. TV boasted "Get Smart," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," and "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." X-ray glasses and toys like Six-Finger (a finger-shaped gun — don’t ask) abounded. And the movies were full of "Bond, James Bond."

I loved it all. My friend Billy and I played spies up and down the block, snooping into our neighbors’ doings and generally causing trouble. That love of spies continued up into middle school, when I discovered girls and lost interest in spies. Or so I thought.

In truth, the spy gene just went dormant for a while.

Many years later, after I’d written the Chet Gecko Mysteries series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I was casting about for my next project, when inspiration met preparation. And School for S.P.I.E.S. was born.

Yogic inspiration

Practicing tree skills with Billy
What’s the strangest place you can think of for inspiration to strike? A Laundromat? A bathroom? A disco?

Mine came during yoga class.

I arrived expecting your stereotypical yoga teacher. You know — beatific expression, serene energy, gentle style.

Instead, we got a big-hearted yet fierce little Korean woman — part drill sergeant, part slave driver. “You, flex your feet! You, straight your legs!” she snapped.

Half the class was mystified, the other half terrified.

I, however, knew a character for a book when I saw one.

Fast-forward to the end of my Chet Gecko series. I was beginning to mine ideas for the next project, using Ray Bradbury’s technique of creating a list of titles based on childhood memories. I also listed my early loves, like spies, monsters, and Daniel Boone.

In reviewing those lists, something clicked when it came to spies. I added in my old yoga teacher (now the spy school director), threw in a pinch of Oliver Twist, and the series concept sprang to life.

Granted, it took over thirteen drafts and a lot of work, but that childhood love of spies birthed a book, then a series.

Did it also, you wonder, lead to a job with the CIA?

Truth is, when they told me to get an advanced economics degree because all they needed were economic analysts, I thought, Maybe I’ll investigate that childhood dream of becoming a children’s author after all.

Cynsational Notes

Bruce Hale has written and illustrated over 30 books for young readers, including the award-winning Chet Gecko Mysteries, Clark the Shark (HarperCollins), and Snoring Beauty (Harcourt), one of Oprah’s Recommended Reads for Kids. His School For S.P.I.E.S. series began with Playing With Fire, and continues with Thicker Than Water.

Cynsational Giveaway

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Monday, December 08, 2014

New Voice: Miriam Busch on Lion, Lion

Miriam and Lucy
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Miriam Busch is the first-time author of Lion, Lion, illustrated by Larry Day (Balzer & Bray, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A little boy is looking for Lion.

Lion is looking for lunch.

And so our story begins. But look closely . . . in this tale, nothing is quite as it seems!

Children will delight in this classic picture book with a mischievous twist.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

In 2008, shortly after we met, Larry Day asked me to build a story around a character he had drawn: Rusty, a rotund, red-haired boy-king kicking at a puddle.

I wasn’t sure I could do that – after all, this wasn’t my character. (And I was working on a novel. FYI, I’m always working on a novel.) But I tried.

Larry drew. I revised. Larry redrew. There were lions. And chases. The lion Larry had named Philbert was my favorite character-- but I was unsure about Rusty himself.

Still, we sent it out. After a couple of rejections, I revised again. Still, something felt off. We revised over and over. Finally, we thought it was ready. Editors unanimously disagreed with us.

At this point, we had been re-re-re-revising for about four years. I did not understand Rusty’s character. I had no idea how to write a picture book. (To be fair, I didn’t know how to write that novel, either.) Rusty’s “story” was still thin -- just a beautifully drawn running gag. I felt awful, I especially missed Philbert, but we scrapped it.

A couple of months later, Larry and I met for breakfast at a diner. I guess enough time had gone by, or the “giving up” had released the pressure. (Or maybe it was the coffee?)

Read sample!
I doodled on a napkin. What if: Philbert stayed? And we set it on Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where I had once heard Luo children sing in the middle of this beautiful land where rogue hippos could chase you up a tree? The kid’s from there, too, right? And what if he’s not a king, but just this clever boy who knows how to outsmart a Philbert?

In my (still-working-on-it) novel, characters speak at cross-purposes and misunderstand each other, sometimes deliberately. Characters speak at cross-purposes all the time. Why not in a picture book?

Why not have the word “lion” have two meanings?

We borrowed the first three lines from Rusty and boom: Lion, Lion rushed onto that napkin.

Within a week, Larry had a dummy ready to go. This time, it felt totally right.

We submitted it. One editor loved it, but had just purchased something similar. Another editor loved it, but Acquisitions said no.

Before Alessandra Balzer made an offer, she asked if we were willing to try an urban setting and different animals. We were four-and-a-half years in. By that time, we weren’t worried about changes. As long as the main character and the heart of the story remained, why not?

We played with what “urban” meant: Nairobi? Bilbao? Caracas? And finally settled on a Providence RI/ Brooklyn, NY/ Istanbul-behind-Topkapi-Palace feel.

Miriam and Larry at a school visit
We cycled through a whole lot of different animals, and with each change came research: fantasy or not, the animals’ foods still must be correct. And the lion still needs to be aggravated in a way that best serves the story.

The biggest change (and the one I was most resistant to) involved simplifying a particularly dear-to-me emotional throughline. I tried what Alessandra suggested through gritted teeth.

I wrote and rewrote. I was alternately angry and despairing. I wrote terrible versions. Alessandra was patient. I tried again. I honestly don’t know how many revisions we went through, but I do remember the “Yay! Done!” email.

Pretty spectacular, but unreal—I’m still half-waiting for the call to tell me to rework it. Lion, Lion, this picture book with ninety-seven words, took six years.

My advice on revision? None of this is new, and all of it’s worked for me: Listen to your little voice that says something isn’t working. When readers you respect suggest a change, try it, even if your jaw aches from gritting your teeth. Put the manuscript away for as long as you can, so you can re-see it. Take a walk. If a part or a character or a storyline isn’t serving the story, take it out, even if it’s the finest writing ever. Be willing to scrap everything but the heartbeat. Rebuild from there. Play.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

Honestly? I know it’s been said before, but read read read.

Linda Sue Park gave this lecture where she said (I’m paraphrasing): if you want to write novels, read a hundred novels before you start. If you want to write picture books, read a thousand picture books.

You read and you read and you read, and you get a sense of rhythm, of pacing. Read to absorb the craft. Notice.

Notice how the visuals tell a part of the story you cannot, how the main character manages the problem, how the author trusts the reader to fill in the blanks with imagination and inference.

The thing is, so much in this business is serendipity – and there are books I love so much which don’t get the popular attention I think they deserve – and we have no control over this.

Miriam and Larry
Jane Resh Thomas says (and again, I’m paraphrasing), “Do your work. It’s absolutely the only thing over which you have any control.”

Do your work. Quell your impatience.

Be willing to revise a million times.

Consider, really consider, every criticism. Give yourself time.

Don’t be so enamored with your own words that you lose sight of the heartbeat of the story.

Know your characters deeply and well.

Also, full disclosure: Falling in love with your illustrator isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

Larry and I married while he was finishing the final art for the book.

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