Friday, November 20, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Sharon Gibney by E.M. Kokie from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "As a teen, I didn’t see very much at all being written about mixed race identity — particularly in fiction that teens are reading. And I definitely didn’t see transracial adoption being dealt with in a nuanced, complex way that felt real to me as a young person living through that experience."

Writing Enslaved Narratives by Don Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...as a kid, I never saw that depicted in books, so I didn’t know. Had I known, I might not have felt so ashamed every time the topic of slavery came up in sixth-grade history class." See also Writing About Family & Freedom by Kelly Starling Lyons.

Best Policies for a Streaming Author Visit from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Streaming visits allow authors to connect with more readers and are easier on your budget- sometimes your author will even speak for free!"

Adventures of a Debut Author: A Tweet Cheat Sheet from Debbie Gonzales. Peek: "Check out how easy it is to support a friend in 140 characters or less." See also Five Ways to Use Instagram as an Author by Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine from Jane Friedman.

Interview: Kevin Henkes by Roger Sutton from Media Source. Peek: "I do love the time between when I've finished a book and when that book comes out in print. I use that time to come up with an idea for the next book, so I don't mind it being stretched out."

Call for Nominations: 28 Days Later from the Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "Nominations are now being accepted for our ninth annual 28 Days Later campaign, a Black History Month showcase honoring emerging and established children’s book creators and their amazing literary contributions."

Parrotfish Needed an Update: The Rapidly Changing Language of Transgender Awareness by Ellen Wittlinger from The Horn Book. Peek: "I’ve known for several years that there were words in the book no longer considered correct and, in fact, that there was one word currently deemed offensive." See also Recommended Books on Transgender Lives and Telling the Stories of the Transgender Community by Gwen Glazer from the New York Public Library.

Five Things I Learned on Deadline by Chandler Baker from Chuck Sambuchino at Writers Digest. Peek: "It’s easy to panic on deadline. In fact, panic is the default. Sometimes I think I live in a perpetual state of panic with a little voice in my head screaming in terror."

How to Decide How Many Point of View Characters Our Book Needs by Marcy Kennedy from Angela Ackerman at Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "One technique we can use for figuring out what’s best for our individual story is to write down all the potential point-of-view characters we might want to use, and then ask ourselves the following questions."

"Reading Aloud Binds Us Together in Unanticipated Ways" by Kate DiCamillo for The Washington Post. Peek: "I wanted to let people know that we can all — young and old — connect more deeply through stories. But oddly, what happened is that as I worked to deliver the message, the message was delivered to me."


This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Surviving Santiago by Lyn Miller-Lachmann are Jess in Ohio and Donna in California.

More Personally

Greg with cakelustrator Akiko White.

Last Sunday Greg Leitich Smith successfully launched Borrowed Time (Clarion, 2015) to a standing-room-only crowd at BookPeople in Austin. See Greg's event report.

See also Borrowed Time Mixed Paleontology and Fantasy by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "...a slam-dunk for dinosaur aficionados and will appeal as well to those who are fans of literary time travel and outdoorsy adventure."

Effective immediately, Cynsations will go on winter holiday hiatus while I update my official author website for a 2016 relaunch. Keep up with children's-YA book news and resources at Twitter @CynLeitichSmith and facebook.

Congratulations to Neil Shusterman, winner of the National Book Award in Young People's Literature, for Challenger Deep (HarperCollins)!

Congratulations to the WNDB Inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant Recipients!

Thank you to Kim Bogren for recommending my picture book Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) at Words Reflected.

Link of the Week: Perfect Websites for Shopping for Book Lovers & Geeks by Naomi Bates from YA Books & More.


Personal Links

Slippery Words Talks to Violent Ends Contributors
Texas Book Festival Seeks Literary Director
Things I'll Never Say: Author Roundup
How "The Hunger Games" Changed Hollywood 
Open Letter to Teachers About Images of American Indians
Singapore: Lights for the Deaf & Rings for the Blind

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Greg Leitich Smith on Time Travel & Tracking Dinosaurs

Borrowed Time launch party at BookPeople in Austin
By Greg Leitich Smith
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There’s a line from the first "Jurassic Park" movie to the effect that the place has all the problems of a major theme park and a major zoo.

I sort of feel the same way about writing time travel fiction: You have all the major problems of historical fiction and all the major problems of science fiction/fantasy.

And in writing a dinosaur time travel novel, I found, to my surprise, that of the two, the more problematic one has been the historical – dinosaur -- aspect.

We are seeing new discoveries and new interpretations of dinosaur behavior and evolution almost weekly. In publishing, of course, there can be up to a two-year lead time from a sale of a manuscript to its publication. A lot can happen in that time.

For example, there is a dinosaur called Tsintaosaurus – long thought to have had a single horn coming out of its head like a unicorn. In 2013, however, a study was published that concluded that the “horn” was placed in the wrong position and Tsintaosaurus didn’t resemble a unicorn at all. Any manuscript set for publication that featured the unicorn became instantly outdated.

Sometimes, though, the science is less settled, as in the case of Nanotyrannus. Nanotyrannus is a name that was assigned to a specimen of a dinosaur that resembles Tyrannosaurus rex but is somewhat smaller (Hence “nano”). Although some of the evidence is ambiguous, some recent analyses suggest that Nanotyrannus was just a juvenile T.rex.

(That said, there are new specimens that some paleontologists believe may prove the existence of Nanotyrannus that have yet to be fully examined).

So, what’s an author to do?

Do your research until it hurts. For me, this involves getting as many primary sources as possible. In the case of paleontology, this means journals such as PloS One, Cretaceous Research, and the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

I tend not to trust media reports of new discoveries but sometimes they link to or you can infer a link to the original article. Most articles on the new discoveries will have a recap of past thinking on an issue.

Know your point of view. Chronal Engine (Clarion, 2012) and Borrowed Time (Clarion 2015) both feature a small tyrannosaur the point-of-view protagonist Max calls Nanotyrannus. Max does mention the ambiguity in the naming (because he’s slightly pedantic), but nevertheless continues to call it Nanotyrannus throughout.

Why? Well, first, “Nanotyrannus” is kind of a cool name and continually referring to the animal as “the juvenile T.rex” would’ve been clunky. Also, he didn’t have the wherewithal to perform an analysis of the creature to determine what species it actually was...

Don’t be afraid to make an informed judgment call – in fiction, at least, there’s room for poetic license. And, besides, the science might catch up to you. Both Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time feature a variety of dinosaurs of differing sizes in the dromaeosaur family (These are the “raptor” dinosaurs made familiar by "Jurassic Park").

In the location and era the book is set, however, the bones of only small raptors have been recovered, although there are some ambiguous teeth believed to be from larger raptors. Consequently, in the books, I feature different-sized species of raptor. And recently, paleontologists announced the discovery of Dakotaraptor, a giant-sized “raptor” dinosaur – somewhat larger than the raptors from "Jurassic Park" -- from the same era in which my books are set.

What’s a reader to do?

I tend to be the type of reader who gets annoyed by factual errors. They trip me up and make me less trusting of the author and less willing to suspend disbelief. So here’s my strategy:

Whenever I pick up a book for the first time, I always look at the first publication date (often the copyright date). I had assumed that everyone did this or learned to do this, and was surprised when I was informed this was not so.

But the original date of publication will give you a heads up on the mindset of the author, the era in which he is writing, and what facts are known (or should have been known) to him or her at the time.

For example, Arthur Conan Doyle’s portrayal of sluggish and scaly dinosaurs in The Lost World (published 1912) is very different from the active and intelligent predators in Michael Crichton’s Lost World (1995). But I’m willing to accept Conan Doyle’s portrayal because of the era in which he was writing. (I’m also willing to accept Crichton’s featherless raptors because his book was published prior to the discovery that raptors had feathers).



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win signed copies of Chronal Engine and Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (both Clarion). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

New Voice: Christine Hayes on Mothman’s Curse

Mothman Selfie Sheet
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christine Hayes is the first-time author of Mothman's Curse, illustrated by James K. Hindle (Roaring Brook, 2015). From the promotional copy:

Josie may live in the most haunted town in America, but the only strange thing she ever sees is the parade of oddball customers that comes through her family’s auction house each week. 

But when she and her brothers discover a Polaroid camera that prints pictures of the ghost of local recluse John Goodrich, they are drawn into a mystery dating back over a hundred years. 

A desperate spirit, cursed jewelry, natural disasters, and the horrible specter of Mothman all weave in and out of the puzzle that Josie must solve to break the curse and save her own life.

How do you psyche yourself up to write, to keep writing, and to do the revision necessary to bring your manuscript to a competitive level? What, for you, are the special challenges in achieving this goal? What techniques have worked best and why?

I so envy writers who are able to follow a set routine. That would be the ideal. I’d love to be more productive, more disciplined! But the truth is, while I try to spend time every day writing or revising, I often end up staring at the computer screen, reworking the same passage over and over, or finding jobs to do around the house that could easily wait.

If I go several days without any forward writing progress—and to me that can include blogging or marketing efforts—then I become anxious and unsettled.

Christine's work space
I find I have to set small, measurable goals and break big projects up into bite-size pieces to fool myself into not feeling overwhelmed. I’ll mark a deadline on the calendar, then work backward to determine how much I have to get done each day. Even imaginary deadlines can be valuable motivators!

Then I try to follow through in unconventional ways, mixing up my routine from day to day. I’ll work a few days at home at the kitchen table, another day sitting in the car at the park, another at a local café. On a few occasions when I was facing critical deadlines, I checked into a hotel to sharpen my focus and cut down on distractions.

For first drafts, I get the most done with a notebook and pen, writing things out by hand. Later, as I type what I’ve written, I’m able to self-edit, adding or cutting as needed. It’s an effective way to shape the story early on.

For the next round of revisions I often print out a chapter at a time and use a red pen to mark it up. Sometimes there are only a few usable sentences left per page once the ink dries. It’s tough to watch the word count shrink, but satisfying to see those few sentences that are able to withstand a more intense level of scrutiny.

As far as making a manuscript competitive—polished, professional—I think it’s a dichotomy. You can’t compare your work to others, because you will always feel like you fall short.

Christine's pottery collection
I love the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I see this with my kids all the time. If I were to give them each a cupcake, they’d be happy for a minute or two, but they would inevitably notice that a sibling has more frosting or less frosting or a better color of frosting or whatever. As adults, we never quite grow out of this.

At the same time, you should be reading every day—books both in and out of your genre, news articles, magazines, something. Not to compare, but to fill your mind with words of all kinds, drinking in what’s beautifully done, learning lessons from work that’s perhaps less polished, clichéd, poorly paced, etc.

Set a high standard for yourself. Maybe six months ago you wrote something and said, “This is my best work.” But then you write something new and when you revisit your earlier work you realize that you’ve grown as a writer. It’s a beautiful and amazing process.

I struggle with procrastination and self-doubt. I also tend to overthink, to tinker with passages too much, but at some point I have to stop fussing and just let go. The gauge for me is feeling like it’s the best I can produce in that moment in time, until my agent or editor gently points out the many ways a piece can be improved!

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal since grade school. As a young teen, I would check out stacks of ghost story anthologies from the library. I had mostly given up on kids’ novels at that point. I found it so disappointing when I would choose a book that seemed like it was about a ghostly mystery, only to discover that the “ghost” was a fake, dreamed up by the bad guy to hide some evil plot. I craved books that celebrated the unexplained.

One book I do remember falling in love with was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (FSG, 1963). Though not precisely a paranormal story, it was full of wonder and possibility.

I had the same teacher, Mrs. Tapscott, for both fourth and fifth grades. She read to us every day, and one of the books she read was A Wrinkle in Time. She had this sweet southern voice, and she had no patience for kids who thought they were too cool to listen during reading time.

She also read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin, 1937), The Cay by Theodore Taylor (Avon, 1969), and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Dutton, 1959). She was an incredible lady.

I also remember seeing commercials for a series of Time Life books called Mysteries of the Unknown. I wanted so badly to own every volume. A few years ago I found one at a garage sale for a dollar. Of course I snapped it right up! Isn’t it funny, the things we carry with us from childhood?

Outside of books, one specific influence that stands out in my memory is the show “In Search Of,” hosted by Leonard Nimoy in the late 70s/early 80s. Each week they would explore an aspect of the unexplained: the Bermuda Triangle, aliens, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster. I ate it up.

Then, of course, were the slumber parties where we watched movies like "Psycho" and "The Lady in White." It was delicious, that shared feeling of fear: hiding behind our pillows, imagining footsteps outside the window—because in fact we were perfectly safe. We were seeing new facets of the world, exploring what it meant to be brave.

I think spooky books are appealing because they offer adventure, escape—a vicarious experience in a parallel world. They allow kids to view fear through a lens that hopefully makes their real-world problems a little less scary, a little easier to face.

These days I love "M Night Shyamalan" movies and the show "Supernatural." I even watch the occasional episode of "Ghost Hunters." My husband teases me about my “creepy side.” But I’ve never enjoyed slasher movies or anything gory, especially zombies. They give me nightmares!

It’s probably why I write middle grade. I love a good scare, but nothing graphic. I think what you don’t show can be even scarier than spelling out the grisly details. The movie "The Village" comes to mind here. It wasn’t well-received by critics, but it created an almost tangible atmosphere on the screen. It had gorgeous, enticing cinematography, a washed-out color palette with hints of red (“the bad color”), and an epic soundtrack. I thought it was beautifully done.

I’m also fascinated by old things and abandoned places. Every broken-down barn or rusting piece of junk tells a story. You can almost feel the history there as you imagine the ghosts that might be lingering. It’s my go-to source for inspiration.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Guest Interview: Author Eric Pinder on Writing Picture Books & How to Share With a Bear

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Eric Pinder is the author of four picture books and four adult nonfiction books. His most recent release is How to Share With a Bear, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015). From the promotional copy:

The perfect thing to do on a chilly day is to make a cave. But comfy caves never stay empty for long….

What can you do when a bear takes over your cave? Try to distract him with a trail of blueberries? Some honey? A nice, long back scratch? 

How to Share With a Bear is a story about how although it’s not always easy, sharing with a sibling can be the most fun!

Congratulations on How to Share With a Bear! Tell me about the inspiration for this story.

Being a kid should automatically count as credit toward getting a degree in architecture, because we’ve all made blanket forts and blanket caves as kids. What’s more fun? I think every uncle, aunt, parent, and babysitter has had to master the architecture of a blanket cave at some point, too. Often it’s a collaborative effort, in the same way that reading a picture book is a shared experience.

For How to Share with a Bear, I had the blanket cave setting in mind from the start. The word “cave” got me thinking about real caves, and what you might find in one. That led naturally to a bear.

How or when did you make that leap in your imagination from bears being scary creatures that could eat you to being a cuddly companion?

William Faulkner’s “The Bear” was an early influence, even before I started writing for children. And no one gets through high school without seeing Shakespeare’s bear chase characters right off the stage. So we have this perception of bears as big and scary, but in childhood we’re also familiar with Fozzy Bear, Yogi Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, and our own teddy bears.

Hear the word “bear” and you don’t know at first which you’re going to get: the terrifying grizzly or the funny, cuddly kind of bear. The very word “bear” creates uncertainty, all on its own.

Uncertainty creates tension and suspense. And suspense makes readers keep turning the pages. We have these two dueling, conflicting perceptions of bears lodged in our minds from an early age, and I think the subtle tension that evokes is what makes bears so great for storytelling.

Cat in the Clouds, If All the Animals Came Inside, Share with a Bear... I'm sensing a theme with animals and nature.

One of my earliest favorite memories is camping with my dad in Baxter State Park on a rainy afternoon when suddenly a moose stuck its head right into our leanto to say hi. I didn’t have that day in mind when writing If All the Animals Came Inside, but now that I think about it, that memory must have been an influence all along.

I know you spend a lot of time outdoors and have even written some books for grownups on that subject. Can you tell me what prompted you to write for children and what has been the biggest challenge in crafting stories for young readers?

One day a strange thing happened: Everyone in my circle of friends started having kids. Their houses were suddenly full of books by Seuss and Boynton and Silverstein. I’ve always liked poetry, and writing picture books is similar; they’re both read aloud—performed—so the sound and rhythm of each word and syllable matters. It’s almost like writing a song. Reading those old favorite books on friends’ shelves and hearing them performed out loud reminded me of how much fun they are. I had to start writing some of my own.

Writing for any age group is challenging. The biggest challenge with picture books is appealing to two different audiences at the same time: the grownup reading the book, and the child listening to them read. Re-watching Sesame Street recently made me appreciate how well they often write on two levels like that. One Sesame Street skit features a bear who is a writer. The bear’s name is Flo. It took me a second to connect the dots: Flo Bear, i.e. Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary. Clever joke! That second level of understanding flew completely over my head when I saw skits like that as a toddler, but it didn’t confuse or distract me, either. Watching it as a grownup, it made me chuckle.

What's your process like? Do your stories simmer in your head for a long time before you sit down at the computer?

I leave a plate of cookies next to my laptop overnight and hope that elves will write the story for me. Then I get up the next morning, eat one of the stale cookies, mutter about elves, and start typing away on my own. To force myself to make time to write, I’ll put background music on the CD player and make a rule: no checking email or playing Scrabble or anything else but writing until the music stops. Usually the first half-hour is agonizing, but then I’ll get momentum.

Sometimes a single sentence or an opening scene will simmers for months before the rest of the story appears. At other times, like a gift from the Muses, a whole first draft will appear on the page in one sudden creative burst. But that’s rare. I should probably bake more cookies for the Muses.

You also teach creative writing at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Does that also feed your creativity?

The best way to describe teaching is “exhausting but rewarding.” Lesson prep and commenting on student stories is time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Sometimes a student’s story or poem will be so good that it makes me grin the whole time I’m reading it. Just being part of a community where everyone loves books, talks about books, and asks smart questions about books on a weekly basis sparks creativity.

Of course, there are times when I wish I’d assigned less homework. (Right now, my students are probably saying, “Yeah, us too.”) It takes energy and time to critically read and edit dozens of pages of stories by others between classes, and that does leave less time and energy for your own creative work. It makes sticking to a regular writing schedule, even if it’s only an hour a day, extra important.

For most teachers the summer—blissful, leisurely summer—is the most productive season for our own writing. But the books we read and the classroom conversations we have during the rest of the year definitely fuel new writing projects.

I frequently see Facebook posts of you selling books at Farmers Markets. Tell me more about this unique venue choice.

A middle-schooler at an author event said, “Hey, my mom runs the farmers’ market. You should sell your books there.”

That’s not a venue that would ever have occurred to me, but, being a starving writer in need of money, I filed the idea away and gave it a try.

The first day I sold $200 worth of books. People like getting signed copies. Even on rainy days when I sell nothing, it’s still fun to meet and talk to people. You can tell who the teachers and school librarians are.

The best part is seeing kids who really love books. A beginning reader at one market slowly read If All the Animals Came Inside aloud to his grandma, pausing every now and then to say, “Did you write this page and this page?” and “What the heck’s a yak!?” It was like listening to a funny DVD commentary for my own book. Halfway through, he told me, “You’re actually doing a really good job writing this. So far.” Kids are the bluntest and best of literary critics.

At some markets I’m the only writer there, sandwiched between vegetable stands, maple syrup, and corn on the cob. Other towns combine farmers’ markets with craft fairs, so there are painters, wood-carvers, and photographers there, too.

One tip for doing book-signings at venues like this is that it helps to have at least three or four different books on your table. People like to see a selection and be able to browse. I’ve seen authors with only a single title at their table, and they’ve struggled. The more covers you have on display, the more eye-catching your table will be.

What's coming up next?

Another picture book with Stephanie Graegin, How to Build a Snow Bear, is coming in 2016, and The Perfect Pillow, illustrated by Chris Sheban, in 2017. The latter has animals but surprisingly no bears, which may be a first for me.

I also just finished a big revision of a creative nonfiction manuscript about adventures in teaching. That one does have bears, and wolves, and even a camel. So I guess I’m not done writing about animals just yet.

I read about the bats being cut from How to Share With a Bear - any plans for bat inclusion in future books? Or do you have something against bats?

I love bats! They eat mosquitoes and have sonar as a superpower. Sometimes a scene, like the one with the bats, is good on its own, but the story as a whole is stronger without it.

I save deleted scenes and pruned sentences in a folder called “Scraps.” Sometimes they’ll get used or adapted later in a different story.

Cynsational Notes

Both Eric and Gayleen are alums of the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults program and graduated in the Winter 2011 class known as the Bat Poets.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Trailer: My Dog Is The Best by Laurie Ann Thompson and Paul Schmid

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for My Dog Is The Best by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Paul Schmid (FSG, 2015).

From the promotional copy:

What do you get when you combine one energetic, enthusiastic little boy with his sleepy but tolerant dog? Unconditional love. 

Using simple words and spare illustrations, My Dog Is the Best celebrates the special bond that exists between a young child and a beloved family pet. It's the heartwarming story of two best friends. . . told by a boy with a very active imagination.



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