Friday, May 08, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Liz Garton Scanlon on the release of her debut novel, The Great Good Summer (Beach Lane, 2015)! From the promotional copy: 

Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to find Ivy's missing mom and say good-bye to the space shuttle.

Ivy Green's mama has gone off with a charismatic preacher called Hallelujah Dave to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. At least that's where Ivy and her dad "think" Mama is. But since the church has no website or phone number and Mama left no forwarding address, Ivy's not entirely sure. 

She does know she's missing Mama. And she's starting to get just a little worried about her, too. 

Paul Dobbs, one of Ivy's schoolmates, is also having a crummy summer. Paul has always wanted to be an astronaut, and now that NASA's space shuttle program has been scrapped, it looks like his dream will never get off the ground. 

Although Ivy and Paul are an unlikely pair, it turns out they are the perfect allies for a runaway road trip to Florida--to look for Mama, to kiss the Space Shuttle good-bye, and maybe, "just maybe," regain their faith in the things in life that are most important.

More News & Giveaways

How To Meditate When You're Too Busy to Meditate and Why You Should Care With Leo Babauta by Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Fears are based on fantasies (I want to be an amazing writer who impresses everyone!) and the worry that they won’t come true. The antidote, in my experience, is to let go of the fantasies and just be present in the moment."

I Am So Over Writing About "Strong Girls" from Kirby Larson. Peek: "Every time I write the words, 'strong girl' or 'strong woman,' I am implying that the default state of the female of the species is weakness. And I, of all people, know first hand that nothing could be further from the truth."

Rewriting Again...and Again from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...the scariest question of all, was I using the quick-in, quick-out of verse as a way of avoiding exposing my own vulnerability?"

A Bi-cultural Narrative by Kim Baker from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "...people are often surprised to hear about my Mexican heritage. When people do find out (and I’m pretty open about it), sometimes we play stereotype bingo and they ask questions to see if I meet their preconceived qualifications (Do I have a big family? Yes. Do I like spicy foods? …Yes. Do I listen to mariachi? Please stop.)."

A Plea for Anger by Susan Vaught from Emu's Debuts. Peek: "...positive, healthy things to do with anger, like exercise, or write a fiery speech or even an entire book, make a video, paint it out, write a bill to become law, walk away from a toxic person or situation, protest injustice–the list of healthy ways to spend anger is pretty limitless. Put it to work."

Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary): Agent Looking for Diversity by Lee Wind from I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? Peek: "As a Londoner for most of my life, I come from one of the most racially diverse cities on earth. My sons went to schools where white kids were often in a minority and there was a huge racial mix. They had friends from all over the world, many were from first or second generation immigrant families, and my sons’ circles included Hindu, Muslim and Jewish children/teens." See also Survey Seeks to Shed New Light on Publisher Diversity by Kathy Ishizuka from School Library Journal.

Change by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every change, big or small, knocks us readers off balance which in terms of emotional craft is good. Shake us out of our fog and our hearts open. We’re free to feel."

Illustrator Shadra Strickland Takes Us Behind the Art of Sunday Shopping from Lee & Low. Peek: "The most challenging part of making the art for Sunday Shopping, was making sure that all of Evie and grandma’s 'bought' items were consistent in all of the small paintings. I had to draw the same small bits of paper in every scene as the wall of items grew and grew." See also Lee & Low Announces 16th Annual New Voices Award from Lee & Low. Peek: "...given for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500."

A Writer's Flexibility by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...life has a way of twisting itself into a pretzel. Your well-planned life (and those of loved ones) takes many unexpected twists and turns. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And if you’ll bend a bit, the writing life allows you to be flexible as well, so you can keep your career and your sanity both."

Will Awards Net More Author Visits? by Kim Norman from Cool School Visits. Peek: "I’ve always thought perhaps it would, so I posed the question to teacher and librarian friends on Facebook."

When Your Scenes Is Dragging: Six Ways to Add Tension by Anna Elliott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whatever issue it is that your characters are arguing about– try to raise the stakes as much as you possibly can, so that the pressure on them to make the right decision is that much greater."

Finding the Humor: Jokes in the Midst of Tragedy by Rochelle Deans from QueryTrackerBlog. Peek: "When you're working with heavy themes, the most important thing to remember is that to your characters, there is no overarching theme. There are the present circumstances and what they're doing about them, nothing else." See also Send in the Clowns by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Authors.

Muslim Representation in YA Lit by Kaye M. from School Library Journal. Peek: "Muslims are a beautiful example of diversity, in ethnic background and in practice, denomination and interpretation. The essence of our faith rests in diversity and universal humanity, on bonding through similarities instead of being forced away from each other due to perceived differences." See also #WNDB Chat on Religious Diversity Storify.

An Indigenous Perspective on Diversity in Young Adult and Children's Books in Australia by Ambelin Kwaymullina from The Wheeler Centre. Peek: "In relation to greater publication of Indigenous works, there is not only a lack of opportunities for authors, but a critical lack of Indigenous editorial expertise."

Bid on critiques by top children's-YA literature agents and editors to benefit Hunger Mountain: The VCFA Journal for the Arts and Vermont College of Fine Arts.

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Giveaways



The winners of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) were Karen in New York and Jenn in Wyoming.

More Personally

Celebrate Children's Book Week with Eternal (Candlewick)!
The highlight of the week was the launch party for Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont/Lerner, 2015) at BookPeople in Austin!

By Cakelustrator Akiko White
With Shana Burg, Carmen Oliver, Meredith Davis, Debbie Gonzales, Lindsey Lane & Varsha Bajaj
Debbie, debut novelist Anne Bustard & Lindsey
I'm delighted to announce that Erik Niells of Square Bear Studio is in the midst of redesigning my official author website. Look for a more streamlined, device friendly and definitely updated site soon.

Congratulations to Yamile Saied Mendez on her New Visions Award honoree from Lee & Low and on signing with Linda Camacho from Prospect Agency. Cheers also to New Voices Award winner Axie Oh and Award honoree Andrea Wang.

Congratulations to Children's Choice Book Awards Teen Choice Debut Author Jennifer Mathieu (The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook))! See more on the winners.

Interview with YA Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from T.A. Maclagan. Peek (to debut authors): "You are courageous. You are living your dream. Breathe, breathe, breathe and laugh as much as you can."

Personal Links
Learn more!

Cynsational Events

We Need Diverse Books YA Author Panel, moderated by Cynthia, will take place at 1 p.m. May 17 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "After the public event, the authors will host a writing workshop at BookPeople. Space for the workshop is limited." RSVP ASAP.



Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 28 on an Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) program--"We Need Diverse Books: How to Move from Talk to Action Panel"--at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

Learn more!
Cynthia will teach on the faculty of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts from July 8 to July 19.

Join Cynthia from July 30 to Aug. 2 at GeekyCon in Orlando, Florida. See more information.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will lead a YA Writing Retreat for A Room of Her Own Foundation from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Cynthia will speak Sept. 29 at Richardson Public Library in Richardson, Texas.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award To Celebrate 20th Anniversary

Courtesy of Jesse Gainer
Director, Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award will be celebrating its 20th anniversary Sept. 25 and Sept. 26. In addition to showcasing exemplary Mexican American children’s and young adult literature, the program strives to share examples of powerful ways to engage young people in culturally responsive teaching and learning with the award winning literature.

The main events include a conference from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 25 and a Mexican American literature fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 26.

Rivera Award Conference

The conference is an opportunity for educators and others who are interested in Mexican American children’s and young adult literature to meet and discuss critical topics in the field with award-winning authors and illustrators as well as leading scholars in the field. Fourteen authors and illustrators who have won the Rivera Award in the past ten years will be featured speakers at the conference. The cost is $25 ($10 for college students) and includes lunch and registration materials. Register now at: riverabookaward.org

Rivera Award Literature Fair

The literature fair will include a book parade, presentations by the authors and illustrators, literature-inspired presentations by students, music and dance performances, and many hands-on activities for the whole family. It will take place at the San Marcos Public Library and San Marcos Activity Center. The fair is free and open to the public.

If you would like to bring students to share original works inspired by their study of Rivera Award books, or if you would like more information, please contact Jesse Gainer (jg51@txstate.edu).

More on the Anniversary Celebration!


Participating Authors and Illustrators

Winners of the Rivera Award from 2006-2015

Works for Younger Children Category (age birth to 12 years)

  • Winner 2015 : Duncan Tonatiuh for Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez’s and her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Abrams);
  • Winner 2014: Duncan Tonatiuh for Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale (Abrams);
  • Winner 2012: Winifred Conkling for Sylvia and Aki (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2012: Duncan Tonatiuh for Diego Rivera: His World and Ours (Abrams);
  • Winner 2010, Carmen Tafolla and Magaly Morales for What Can You Do With A Paleta? (Tricycle);
  • Winner 2008, Marisa Montes and Yuyi Morales for Los Gatos Black on Halloween (Henry Holt);
  • Winner 2006, Susanna Reich & Raúl Colón. José! Born to Dance (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2001: Amada Irma Pérez and Maya Christina Gonzalez for My Very Own Room/Mi propio cuartito (Children’s Book Press). Note: Amada Irma Pérez will represent the first decade of winners.

Works for Older Children Category (age 13-18 years)

  • Winner 2015: Isabel Quinteros for Gabi: A Girl in Pieces (Cinco Puntos);
  • Winner 2014: Susan Goldman Rubin for Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People (Abrams);
  • Winner 2013: Guadalupe Garcia McCall for Under the Mesquite (Lee & Low);
  • Winner 2011: Alex Sanchez for Bait (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2009: Carmen Tafolla for The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans (Wings);
  • Winner 2009: Benjamin Alire Sáenz for He Forgot to Say Goodbye (Simon & Schuster);
  • Winner 2007, Juan Felipe Herrera for Downtown Boy (Scholastic).

About the Award

Texas State University College of Education developed The Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award to honor authors and illustrators who create literature that depicts the Mexican American experience. The award was established in 1995 and was named in honor of Dr. Tomás Rivera, a distinguished alumnus of Texas State University.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Claire Legrand Announces Some Kind of Happiness

Follow @clairelegrand
By Claire Legrand
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I will always remember the first time I had a panic attack.

I was in fifth grade, in the middle of a math lesson, and I don’t remember what triggered the attack, although I assume it had something to do with the fact that I was in the middle of a math lesson. Numbers never came easily to me, and even at a young age, I was hyper-aware of that fact, and embarrassed by it.

So I asked to be excused and hurried to the restroom. I hid in a stall and sat on the toilet, shaking. I was flushed all over, sweating like you do when you wake up from a nightmare. My skin crawled, and I couldn’t stop scratching it. I couldn’t breathe.

I thought maybe I just had to throw up and then these feelings would go away, but I couldn’t, and they didn’t.

With no idea what was happening, I huddled there, terrified and alone, for as long as I felt I could get away with it. I thought I was going to burst out of my skin.

That was the first time, but it wouldn’t be the last.

I will always remember playing in the woods behind my grandma’s house. Now, the trees aren’t quite as tall as they once were, the woods not as deep. Now, I can see reality through the leaves—other houses and other streets, power lines. But growing up, it was an endless wonderland, a neverland, a paradise for me and my cousins.

"My cousins and I hung this sign at the entrance to our clubhouse."
We explored it for hours and days, months and years. We grew up there, shaping it to fit our games of runaways and witches, Peter Pan and Robin Hood.

We built a clubhouse and gathered moss to make potions. We crawled into the green hollows beneath bushes and whispered about where we would go next—other kingdoms, other forests. We stayed out past sundown, the windows of my grandparents’ house glowing with lamplight.

We were never afraid of the dark, not in that place. It was ours, after all. We had made it.

To us, that world seemed full of magic.

I have always wanted to write a story about that place, as I remember it. To capture it forever in the pages of a book.

I’ve always wished that my scared, ten-year-old self could have found a book on the library shelves that told the story of a girl like me. Who got scared like I did, and sad like I did, for no particular reason. A book that could have helped me understand what was going on inside me.

I hope that, through my next book, Some Kind of Happiness, I’ve accomplished both of these things. It’s the story of eleven-year-old Finley Hart, who knows she should be happy. She has a good life, a loving family. Some days she is happy. Some days, though, she’s not. She gets scared for no reason she can pinpoint, and sad, too. She feels tired and heavy. She loses herself to inexplicable panic.

"The tree named 'Mother Octopus'"
Whatever is wrong with her, she wants to hide it from the world, and especially from her parents. They have their own problems to deal with, and she won’t be another one.

To cope, she creates the forest kingdom of the Everwood and writes about it in her beloved notebook. Only in the Everwood does she feel in control. Only there does she feel safe.

While spending the summer at her estranged grandparents’ house, Finley draws her cousins and the wild boys next door into the world of the Everwood—but when the days spent exploring in the nearby forest reveal buried family secrets, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur, and Finley must find the courage to bring darkness into the light—both her own darkness and that of the family she has come to love.

I’m so excited to announce that Some Kind of Happiness is set to release May 2016 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. This is my third middle grade novel, and perhaps my most personal one. It’s a story about secrets, family, and friendship, adventure and summertime, mental illness and the power of imagination.

I hope you love it as much as I love it—and even more than that, I hope it finds its way into the hands of kids who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression but didn't yet know how to describe what they were feeling. Like me, maybe they only know it as a nameless, lonely weight on their shoulders. Maybe it scares them, or embarrasses them. Maybe they try desperately to hide it.

I just hope that maybe, as they go on this adventure with Finley, they’ll find words to articulate those feelings, and that weight will start to feel a little bit lighter.

For more on the look and feel of Some Kind of Happiness, be sure to check out the book’s Pinterest board—and for a brief, exclusive excerpt from the book itself, read on!

Excerpt

Once there was a great, sprawling forest called the Everwood.

It was not the kind of forest children played in.

It was the kind of forest most people stayed far away from, for it was said to hold many secrets, and not all of them kind.

According to rumor, the Everwood could be both beautiful and foul, vicious and gentle.

"We were in our own special world."
It was home to astonishing creatures and strange, solitary people—some of whom were born in the Everwood, and some of whom wandered inside, whether they meant to or not. No one in the Everwood got along, for they had no ruler to bind them together, no neighborhoods or cities. They lived like wild things and kept to themselves.

Or so the rumors said.

Most people were afraid to enter the Everwood, but some brave souls made the journey anyway: Adventurers, witches, explorers.

They never returned.

Perhaps the wild creatures who lived in the forest had trapped them there. Or maybe the Everwood’s secrets were so enchanting that those who made it inside did not care to leave.

Everyone who lived near the Everwood knew it was protected by two guardians, who were as ancient as the Everwood itself. Throughout their long lives, the guardians had learned how to read certain signs—the wind in the trees, the chatter of the Everwood creatures.

One summer, not so long ago, something happened that would change the Everwood forever.

The ancient guardians determined that soon, a terrible Everwood secret—one they had kept hidden for years—would come to light. And if this happened, the guardians read in their signs, the Everwood would fall. They would no longer be able to protect it. Its secrets and treasures would be laid bare. Its people would be turned out into the cold, wide world.

There was hope, however. A small, cautious hope.

The guardians could read this hope, slight as it was, in their signs. It was as clear to them as though it were a page in a book:

The Everwood, if it were to be saved, would need a queen.

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win a signed set of books by Claire Legrand: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster, 2012), The Year of Shadows (Simon & Schuster, 2013), The Cabinet of Curiosities (Greenwillow, 2014), and Winterspell (Simon & Schuster, 2014). U.S. only. Author sponsored.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015

New Voice: Danica Davidson on Escape from the Overworld

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Danica Davidson is the first-time author of Escape from the Overworld (Skyhorse, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Stevie, who comes from a long line of Steves, doesn't feel as if he fits in the Minecraft world. His father is great at building and fighting off zombies, but Stevie struggles in these areas. 

One day, when Stevie is alone in the field trying to build something new that will impress his dad, he discovers a portal into a new world.

Stevie steps out of a computer screen and into the room of eleven-year-old Maison, a sixth-grade girl who loves to build and create, but who is bullied and made an outcast by her classmates for not indulging in activities deemed "cool." Stevie is shocked by how different this world is, and Maison takes him under her wing and teaches him all about her world. The two become friends, and Maison brings Stevie to school with her.

Stevie is horrified to see there are zombies in the school He realizes that when he opened the portal, this allowed zombies to also enter the new world. More and more creatures are slipping out by the second, wreaking havoc on a world that has no idea how to handle zombies, creepers, giant spiders, and the like. Stevie and Maison must put their heads together and use their combined talents in order to push the zombies back into Minecraft, where they belong. 

As Stevie and Maison's worlds become more combined, their adventure becomes even more frightening than they could have imagined.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

I’ve always loved writing — I still have stories I dictated to my parents when I was three, or little notebooks I wrote in when I was so small I had to follow my mom around and ask her how to spell each word.

This continued on throughout the years, with me starting to write multiple novels in middle school. I like to write in a private area, usually with music playing. The music varies depending on the type of scene or book I’m writing.

For my book Escape from the Overworld, I got the contract before I’d written the book and the publisher wanted a quick turnaround of about six weeks.

There was definitely a moment of, “Six weeks – what have I gotten myself into?” But then I made myself plan.

Working as a journalist has taught me that you sit down and you write your project; if breaking news is happening, your editor is not going to care if the Muse isn’t inspiring you that day.

I’d turned in a synopsis for the book, which is what led to the contract, so I spent the next week figuring out in my head the details of the scenes. The main characters are eleven, so I reread some writings I did at eleven to help me get back in the voice. The week after that, I made myself write at least 2,000 words at day on the manuscript before taking any breaks. I wrote more on the weekend or if the words were flowing extra well that day.

In one week, I had my rough draft of about 20,000 words. I gave it to some friends to help me edit (warning them it was called a rough draft for a reason), and waited till I got their edits back before I returned to the manuscript. Once I got their thoughts, I started my revisions and I made my deadline.

There were a number of things that were important to me while writing. I know some people might be quick to dismiss it as, “Oh, it’s just a Minecraft book,” but I wanted it to be more than that.

Since I notice a lot of Minecraft books (or even just adventure books in general) are male-dominated, I made sure my protagonists are male and female and on equal footing. I take on issues like bullying and the fears of going to a new school. I made the shop class teacher female, because I know many people would unconsciously picture a shop class teacher as being male. Both the main characters are from single-parent households, since I wanted to show that’s normal for many kids and nothing to be ashamed of.

Learn more!

As a result of my bullying and girl-power angles, the book has been included in an anti-bullying, girl-empowerment program called Saving Our Cinderellas that aims to inspire young girls of color in cities around the country. I want the book to be fun — I end almost every chapter with a cliffhanger for a reason — but I also hope it can inspire young readers and touch them emotionally as well. It's my goal to write all different types of books for all different ages.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

This is kind of a trick question for me, because writing is my full-time day job, but it’s journalism.

Hear me out.

My fantasy was to publish novels and become a professional writer that way, but as many writers know, that’s easier said than done. When I was in high school, I had to start earning my own money because of financial and family issues. Like many a naive young writer, I submitted stories to "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places. And like many a naive young writer, I have some fabulous rejection letters from the "The New Yorker" and other such prestigious places.

I realized that wasn’t going to work, so I started out smaller, writing for local newspapers. Once you’ve published things professionally, other places will take you more seriously. I would take samples of my published work and send them to bigger and bigger places.

Porthos
My interest in anime and manga had me writing about the subject for local papers, and then I used that to get me in Anime Insider, which led to Booklist, Publishers Weekly, CNN, The Onion, Los Angeles Times and other places. (I know this sounds really quick, but I can tell you it actually took years, and I got many rejections in the meantime.)

I even found opportunities to write the English adaptation of Japanese graphic novels for the publishing company Digital Manga Publishing.

At first I was working other part-time jobs to supplement my income, but within a few years I became a full-time writer. Every single day I wrote articles and sent out more submissions.

I began to be known as an expert on manga and graphic novels, and this led me to writing for MTV, which at the time had me reporting on superhero comics being made into movies. I love writing for MTV News, and now I cover social justice issues for them, which means I write about things like philanthropy, activism and advocacy with causes that matter to young people. I was part of a small group of MTV writers to receive a Webby Honor for Best Youth Writing.

All of this helped me hone my craft, get my name out there, and pay the bills.

When I got my agent not long ago, he was very impressed to see a twenty-something who’d sold more than a couple thousand articles to big-name places.

Then while he was shopping around a YA series of mine, Skyhorse Publishing approached me, wanting a manga art guide. Of course I was thrilled and grateful! Next they asked me if I could write some sort of Minecraft book, which led me to pitch Escape from the Overworld. The manga book will be out soon, and I just finished my rough draft for my sequel to Escape from the Overworld, which has the planned title Attack on the Overworld.

I still haven’t been in "The New Yorker," but that’s okay.

Cynsational Notes

Danica Davidson Explores Issues Facing Kids in Her Minecraft Novels by William Wilson from Forbes.


Monday, May 04, 2015

New Voice: Reem Faruqi on Lailah’s Lunchbox

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Reem Faruqi is the first-time author of Lailah’s Lunchbox, illustrated by Lea Lyon (Tilbury House, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Lailah is in a new school in a new country, thousands of miles from her old home, and missing her old friends. 

When Ramadan begins, she is excited that she is finally old enough to participate in the fasting but worried that her classmates won't understand why she doesn't join them in the lunchroom. 

Lailah solves her problem with help from the school librarian and her teacher and in doing so learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs. 

This gentle, moving story from first-time author Reem Faruqi comes to life in Lea Lyon's vibrant illustrations. Lyon uses decorative arabesque borders on intermittent spreads to contrast the ordered patterns of Islamic observances with the unbounded rhythms of American school days.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Trying to write and mothering young children can be very tricky! I have a two-year-old and four-year-old and have learned that you get better at working through interruptions. When I’m writing, I’m usually receiving interruptions from my children to take them to the bathroom, for another snack … the list goes on!

When my four-year-old is at school, I have my interruptions cut in half with just my two-year-old's needs. That's when I feel I get the most writing done.

I do try to write sometimes at night when the children are asleep and find it semi-successful. I find I work best during daylight. I love natural light and find it conducive to working and getting my ideas flowing.

At night, it is easy to feel tired after a busy day!

When I quit teaching to stay home with my children, I wrote a lot of children's manuscripts when my first child was a baby. She slept a lot during the day so I enjoyed getting that time to write.

Those stories didn't make it in the publishing world, but through them I now found a stronger voice that works for me.

"Writing" her name with Webdings
I do think it's important though to rest when your children are resting as that time is precious and when your mind is rested, it is easier to write. Sometimes whole stories will pop in my head when I am doing something random like getting my children ready for bed. It's as if I can visualize the story, the words, the illustrations, but sometimes when I sit down at the computer, it is frustrating when that story disappears! But if it's a good story, I believe it will resurface.

The title for my story, Lailah's Lunchbox, popped into my head when I was cooking: I thought it would be fun to write a Ramadan story about a child who "forgot" their lunchbox every day during Ramadan. I wrote the title on a sticky note and put it away for some time before coming back to it.

For those trying to write and raise children, I would tell them there is no such thing as having it all! You may have a great manuscript you’re working on but you will be eating left-overs for dinner for the third day in a row and children that need a bath! Or you may be itching to write a story, but find yourself caught up in bathing children, cooking food, laundry, dropping and picking up children from school, etc!

Something has got to give way when you write. Sometimes I may be caught up in a story and look around at my house and children and think What Happened?!

This happened when I was writing once!
 At those times, find reassurance in your words that you have just worked on and know that because of entropy, your house will continue to keep getting dirty. Putting your words out there takes work and in due time your work will pay off!

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I got a flurry of emails until the "Yes" email!

I made a list of six agents and six publishers to send Lailah’s Lunchbox to. I mailed the manuscripts on May 30 and tried to distract myself with other things. On June 16, I received an email with the subject ‘Your Manuscript’ in my inbox. That was enough to make my insides leap!

The email was from Fran Hodgkins, the Director of Editorial Design at Tilbury House, saying I had sent my manuscript to their old mailing address and that it had been re-routed to their new address.

This is the wrong address for Tilbury House!

Fran said she enjoyed reading it and was sharing it with the co-publishers, Jon Eaton and Tris Coburn, as well as Audrey Maynard, the editor. She went on to say my story was a unique take on Ramadan and she was glad I thought of it. She wanted to know if I had received a response from any other publishers as yet.

I wrote back saying I hadn’t heard a response yet and then went on to forward the email to my aunt who was the person who had encouraged me to send in Lailah’s Lunchbox. She was just as excited as I was!

I checked my email a lot that week but no response. A week later I followed up with Fran asking if she had any response from her co-publishers to which she responded that they were meeting the next day to discuss my story.

I didn’t hear anything from them the next two days. Then on June 24, Tilbury House Publishers followed me on Twitter (@ReemFaruqi). At this point, I started to get more hopeful.

I couldn’t wait anymore so emailed Fran to see if there was any updated to which I got the yes email on June 26:

I was going to wait and have our children's book editor call you, but I'll take this opportunity to say that we really like your manuscript and would like to publish it.

I'm CCing Audrey on this email, as she is the one who'll be working with you closely and our publisher, Tris Coburn, will be in touch to talk terms.

If that all sounds good to you, let me know....

I then took the next 20 minutes to celebrate. I couldn’t believe that I finally got a Yes!

My two-year-old had just gone down for a nap so I couldn’t tell her and I had to celebrate semi-quietly. My husband was teaching so couldn’t phone him up to tell him. My four-year-old was at school so couldn’t tell her either.

So I just jumped around for a minute before calling my aunt who was just as excited as I was, and then my mother who knew when I told her to “Guess What?” that I’d gotten a book deal offer! I wanted to email Fran back with a hundred exclamation marks saying:

THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But once I’d composed myself, I wrote:

Hi Fran,

Thanks for the quick reply. I couldn't wait long enough for the editor to call me. Yes, this sounds amazing and I so excited!

Looking forward to talking with Tris Coburn.

Reem

Within the next few days, I spoke with the publisher Mr. Tris Coburn and Ms. Audrey Maynard, the children’s book editor. It felt surreal to be talking to people whose names I had admired.

That night I went over to my mother’s house and we had a cozy family dinner to celebrate!

Editing time!


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