Friday, February 20, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition by Chris Barton, illustrated by Cathy Gendron (Millbrook, 2015).

The Universality of Being an Outsider by Jacqueline Jules from Latin@s in Kidlit. Peek: "I had been taught from a young age that I represented my religion. If I was impolite, all Jews would be considered rude. I had to be on my best behavior at all times so that others would not have a reason to dislike Jewish people."

So Many (Too Many?) Issues: Perceptions of Diversity in Book Reviews by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "In the real world, plenty of individuals deal with more than one minority identity at the same time, every day. Obviously a novel is not reality — often, reality is too unbelievable for fiction — but YA fiction that seeks to deal with real-world experiences must be able to address the lives of teens who check more than one minority box."

How to Write Vivid Character Descriptions: Be Invisible by Nola Sarina from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "When I am faced with an apprehensive encounter, I don’t often think about the fact that my hair is faded, or red, or long. I just toss my hair."

The Unlikeable Female Character: Thoughts on Middle Grade Literature by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "...I was struck time and again by the sentence, 'I just didn’t like the main character.' Normally this would be enough to condemn the book right there and then, but that was before I noticed that from time to time, and it is rare, we aren’t really supposed to like the main characters in our books all the time." See also Betsy's The African-American Experience Children's Literature Reference Guide (2010-2015).

The 2014 Cybils Awards from The Cybils: Children's and Young Adult Book Bloggers Literary Awards. Shout outs to Melissa Stewart, J. Patrick Lewis, and Candace Fleming!

Learning to Love Your Fanatic Antagonist by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fanatics...are generally working for what they see as the greater good. And the ends they’re fighting for aren’t necessarily bad things."

USBBY's Outstanding International Books List from School Library Journal.

Interview with Author Kekla Magoon by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "Yes. It is first person present tense narrative, which means sitting at the computer and thinking 'I' and meaning 'Malcolm X.' Mind-boggling."

Multicultural Literature 2014: Statistics Gathered by the Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison. See 2014 American Indian Log.

Writer Productivity: Have Measurable Goals by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "The incremental effort link talks about taking 34,000 stitches to knit a pair of socks, but one of the ways you stay on track with socks is having a pattern, and having an idea of how much time you can commit to knitting."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winner of Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putnam Oakes and a plush dino toy is Bethany in Wisconsin.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

My author assistant, Leo (short for Galileo)
The Austin American-Statesman says of Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015): "...the chance for alternative interpretations of who the shifter community could represent — any group reviled by those who consider themselves mainstream — make this series as meaty as it is entertaining."

Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith for sending in the final copy edits for Chronal Engine: Borrowed Time (Clarion). Learn more about Chronal Engine.

Thank you to everyone who turned out last Saturday for my standing-room-only talk on "Crafting Diverse Books for Young Readers" at the SCBWI Austin monthly meeting at BookPeople!

My Link of the Week is The Diversity of Diversity from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "My mom was widowed, not (gasp!) divorced, but she was still 'other,' and as such, so was I and I felt it often. I knew the fact that there wasn't a dad in my house made me different. It was a loving, safe household, but I frequently interpreted signals in some disappointing and sometimes even saddening ways."

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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.

Releases Feb. 24, 2015
Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Writing Coach Esther Hershenhorn

By Elisabeth Norton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations 

Esther Hershenhorn is an award-winning Chicago children’s book author.

She coaches children’s book writers and teaches Children’s Book Writing at the Writer’s Studio of the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies and the Newberry Library.

Her recent titles include Txting Mama, Txting Baby (2013) and S Is For Story: A Writer's Alphabet, illustrated by Zachary Pullen (2009)(both Sleeping Bear Press).

Regional Advisor Emeritus of SCBWI’s Illinois chapter, Esther also served two terms on SCBWI’s Board of Advisors. Esther blogs at Teaching Authors. She was interviewed by Elisabeth Norton for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference.

Your intensive at SCBWI Europolitan is titled Rx for Children's Books Creators: Getting Your Stories Right. Can you tell us more about the idea of the Creator's Story?

I’d been out and about for quite some time, learning and honing my craft, receiving more than my fair share of “admirable declines,” when I was fortunate to attend – three years in a row - the sadly-no-longer-available Vassar Children’s Book Publishing Program.

Each day, each session, each year, I chose the same seat: last row, right corner, next to the glass case that held a first edition of William Steig’s Brave Irene.

That last year, still unpublished, I was thinking about how much Irene and I had in common when the venerable instructor, publisher Barbara Lucas, spoke of The Universal Plotline – the Hero-dash-Heroine, moving forward in scenes of escalating disaster to fulfill a wish/realize a dream/solve a problem until, grown and changed, he or she returns home with something even better than what he or she first sought.

I literally smacked my forehead.

I was traveling the Universal Plotline! That was it!

The inevitable yet surprising satisfactory resolution would someday be mine.

There’s a good reason Christopher Vogler titled his book on mythic structure for storytellers and screenwriters The Writer’s Journey.

As creatives we are often focused on honing our writing or illustration skills. It sounds like your workshop at Europolitan is going to take that to the next level. How do you think a Creator's Story intersects with the stories they are creating?

As we creators toil to tell our good stories well, it’s good to remember just how in synch we are with our questing characters.

All of us are moving forward on plotlines both physical and emotional, driven by wants/needs/wishes; each of us is acting and re-acting, with accompanying emotions, to overcome the obstacles placed before us.

Award-winning author and superb teacher Marian Dane Bauer believes a writer needs to put his story into the story he’s telling if it’s ever to resound in his reader’s heart – and I agree, wholeheartedly.

Not the actual story, but the emotional import of the story. We strengthen our story’s underpinnings – and heart – when we’re in synch with our characters emotionally.

You are an active teacher, speaker and career coach. What are some of the common issues you find in the manuscripts submitted to you for feedback?

The first time I read a manuscript, I read on behalf of the intended reader – no matter the age. More times than not, the writing in the manuscript sings, and I want to go along, really and truly, but the chinks in the story’s logic push me away, forcing me to exit what John Gardner labeled the requisite continuous dream.

Simply put, the story has holes and I’m not buying it.

The Good News is: returning to a story’s characters to dig even deeper usually solves the problem.

Returning to a story’s characters also solves a second common story problem: the absence of an emotional plotline. There needs to be a reason why we care what happens next, why we want to live inside this story and travel along.

This is true for picture books, early readers, middle grade and YA fiction as well as nonfiction.

If you could only give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would that be?

My advice about craft: read like a writer and write like a reader.

My advice about the journey, because writing is just that: story gifts both the reader and the writer.

Cynsational Notes

Learn more!
Elisabeth Norton was first published at age 16 when she had no idea what an “unsolicited submission” was. Seeing her byline on the subsequently published magazine article ignited her desire for a career as an author.

Once she realized she wanted to write for children, she joined SCBWI and now serves as Regional Advisor for the Swiss region.

Originally from Alaska, she now lives in Switzerland between the Alps and the Jura and writes for middle graders.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Video: Making Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

An insight into the making of the book Viva Frida (Roaring Brook, 2014).

With spare, polished text and luscious illustrations, award-winning author/illustrator Yuyi Morales explores the passionate, imagination of the incomparable Frida Kahllo.

Video with Music by Miguel Martinez.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 SCBWI Europolitan Con: Author-Editor Jill Santopolo

Jill Santopolo
By Dina von Lowenkraft
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jill Santopolo is the author of the Alec Flint Mysteries, the Sparkle Spa series and the Follow Your Heart books.

She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in Writing for Children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and a certificate in Intellectual Property Law from NYU.

In addition to writing, Jill is an executive editor at Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, a thesis advisor at The New School, and an adjunct professor at McDaniel College, where she helped develop the curriculum for the certificate program in Writing for Children.

 Jill has traveled all over the U.S.—and to Canada—to speak about writing and storytelling. She lives in New York City. She was interviewed by Dina von Lowenkraft for the upcoming SCBWI Europolitan conference.

Greetings, Jill! Thank you so much for agreeing to stop by for this interview. I've always been intrigued by people, like yourself, who are both authors and industry professionals at the same time. How did you end up doing both?

I probably ended up doing both because I’m a little bit nuts…

Really, though, I wrote short stories my whole life and always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I also knew that “writer” was a hard career to pursue right out of college.

So, while I was in school I started interning at publishing companies in New York City. I totally fell in love with the editorial side of things, so decided to put writing aside and concentrate on becoming a children’s book editor.

After I’d been working in publishing for a few years, I started writing a YA novel after work and on the weekends, just to see if I could actually do it. The answer was “sort of”. I did write the novel, but it didn’t sell. It did, however, get me an agent.

And my second novel sold—along with a third I hadn’t written yet.

I was a little uncertain about whether or not I’d be able to write that third novel, and a colleague suggested applying to the Vermont College of Fine Arts for an M.F.A. in Writing for Children & Young Adults. I did, and I got in, and it cemented the idea that I wanted to keep writing novels for kids. But at the same time I discovered how much I truly loved editing books, too, so I kept doing both. (And kept loving both.)

Do you think that being a writer affects the way you edit (and vice versa)?

I don’t think it’s changed anything on grand scale, but now that I’ve experienced the process from both sides, I definitely do small things differently.

For example, as an editor, I give myself editorial letter deadlines and share them with my authors so they know when to expect my feedback. And as a writer, I stick to all my writing deadlines and jump in to help plan launch events and promotions when that makes sense.

What I do think had a huge affect on how I edit and how I write was getting an M.F.A.. Spending two years analyzing fiction and learning about craft made me, I think, a more thoughtful, confident editor and a more thoughtful, confident writer.

I know that at the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Amsterdam April 4 and April 5, one of your talks is on using theater games to improve your character development. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Learn more!
Of course. When I do author visits at schools, I always talk to the students about how pretending and storytelling are very similar—in one situation you’re acting out what it’s like to, say, be a turtle, and in the other you’re telling a story about what it’s like to be a turtle.

I think the same thing applies on a deeper level with acting and writing. I acted quite a bit from middle school through college, and I loved the way getting into character meant finding out more about the character than was written on the page.

I think that the same theater games that help actors discover details about their characters that aren’t in the script, also help writers to discover things about their characters that they haven’t yet written into their manuscripts, but that might deepen a character or speak to their motivation throughout the novel.

I think that sounds like a great tool and I can’t wait to participate in your workshop! I know you’re also going to be talking about how writers can look at their work through a sales or marketing lens. Why do you think that’s important?

I don’t necessarily think that it’s important while someone is first writing a novel, but I do think that it’s helpful to be able to encapsulate your story in one sentence or one paragraph, like you’d have to do if you were submitting to agents and editors and also after a book is published, if you’re going to be doing some marketing yourself.

I also think it’s important as far as expectations are concerned. Looking at similar titles and their sales tracks can give writers an idea of what their sales might look like. And thinking about an audience—along with those comp titles—can help writers figure out how to target their outreach once a book has been published and decide how much marketing and publicity they’d like to take on themselves.

The theme of the SCBWI Europolitan is about growing beyond boundaries, can you talk a little bit about diversity in books?

Like pretty much everyone in publishing now, I think that it’s important to publish novels with diverse themes, diverse characters, and diverse life experiences—and it’s something that I pay attention to when I’m working to balance my own piece of Philomel’s list.

Because I edited Atia Abawi’s novel The Secret Sky, which is set in contemporary Afghanistan, I got to go with Atia recently to a panel at NCTE about books set outside of the U.S., which is a piece of diversity that’s not always talked about quite as much.

It got me thinking more about the kids around the globe and the ways in which experiences and feelings are universal—and the ways in which they’re not. I’m looking forward to continuing that conversation at the SCBWI Europolitan (and to having many other exciting conversations as well!).

We’re so excited that you will be one of our faculty members and are looking forward to seeing you in Amsterdam and continuing all these discussions!

I’m excited too!

Cynsational Notes

Born in the U.S., Dina von Lowenkraft has lived on four continents, worked as a graphic artist for television and as a consultant in the fashion industry. Somewhere between New York and Paris she picked up an MBA and a black belt. Dina is currently the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Belgium, where she lives with her husband, two children, three horses and a cat.

Her debut YA fantasy, Dragon Fire, was published by Twilight Times in August 2013. She is repped by Kaylee Davis of Dee Mura Literary.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Guest Post: Henry L. Herz on Dinner Guests

Illustrated by Abigail Larson (Pelican, 2015)
By Henry L. Herz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

With the pending release of my debut picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, I find myself thinking a lot about fantasy and mythological creatures.

And which fantasy characters would I like to have over for dinner.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes includes a hydra, which could be viewed as a multi-headed wingless dragon. And when I think dragons, I think Pern, Earthsea, and "Game of Thrones."

So, my first guest would be Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.

An excellent choice, no? She’s beautiful, brave, and compassionate. She’s been robbed of the throne, but she’s not whiny about it. She can eat raw horse heart without complaint, so my cooking is probably safe for her. But, her dragons would probably wreck my furniture, and formally introducing her to the other guests would mean we wouldn’t start eating until midnight.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes features a dwarf, and that’s just the right character to keep those pesky dragons in check. While Gimli is well-known, I have to go with "The Hobbit"’s Dáin II Ironfoot. He earned renown as a young dwarf by slaying the Orc chieftain Azog at the Battle of Azanulbizar.

Like his kindred, the Lord of the Iron Hills is tough and battle-hardened. But unlike some dwarves of Middle Earth, Dáin has wisdom. He knew that even though the goblins were defeated, it was not yet time for the dwarves to reoccupy their ancient home of Khazad-dûm.

After the Battle of Five Armies, he rules the Lonely Mountain with the good sense to keep on good terms with the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale. But, he’d probably drink all my ale.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes also features a witch, an ettin, sprites, a werewolf, and a minotaur. And since the witch in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a false one, I will instead invite Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Châtelaine of Cair Paravel, and Empress of the Lone Islands.

What is it with the ladies and long names? You may recall her by the more convenient title of White Witch, played so deliciously by Tilda Swinton in the movie version of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The seven-foot tall sorceress could teach a class on being cold and goal-oriented.

She uttered the Deplorable Word in order to vanquish her sister, even though that eradicated all life in the world of Charn. She subsequently sends Narnia into a deep freeze, although that skill could turn out quite handy keeping my ale chilled (at least until Dáin drinks it all).


Jadis is tall. She’s immensely strong. She’s petrifying. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. And Jadis has minotaurs, ettins, werewolves, sprites, and other assorted minions. But, she’d probably eat the Turkish Delight I prepared for dessert.

Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes briefly mentions an elf. The Lord of the Rings offers us many elves, but none more tragic than Fëanor

Here’s a guy born with a mithril spoon in his mouth. He’s immortal, his dad is High King of the Noldor elves, and Fëanor lives in Valinor, which is the primo real estate in Arda. He is the most gifted gemsmith to ever live. He crafted the palantíri, and he captured in the three infinitely valuable Silmarils the light of Laurelin and Telperion, the two trees that illuminate the world.

When Morgoth kills the two trees, Fëanor is told he can restore them by giving up the Silmarils. But his pride, anger, and hatred prevent him from doing so. Morgoth steals the Silmarils, and Fëanor convinces many Noldor to pursue Morgoth to Middle Earth, even killing on three separate occasions fellow elves that won’t do their bidding. Though Fëanor and countless elves die in the attempt, they fail to finally recover the Silmarils.

Hm. Upon further consideration, maybe I should just have some authors over for dinner.

Presenting at the Canyon Crest Academy Writers Conference


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