Friday, April 22, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Why Jane Eyre Is a YA Novel by Lena Coakley from The Guardian. Peek: "...an even stronger reason adults might object to calling Jane Eyre a YA novel is because it explores female desire so openly. Jane Eyre does not contain explicit sex, but it does have an earthiness that shocked its Victorian readers."

How to Make a Kid Lit List by Chris Barton from Bartography. Peek: "Have you thought about the demographics of who's listed and who's left out?"

How to Tackle a Big Revision by Carter Higgins from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "...this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task...."

Judy Blume, Bookseller by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Most days she can be found plying her trade at Books & Books Key West, a two-month old independent bookstore in Florida that she and her husband, George Cooper, co-founded."

The All Too-Familiar Fog of White Authenticating by Nina Lindsey from Reading While White. Peek: "...a mostly White group starts comparing one excellent book with another. Inevitably, some people 'just feel' that Excellent Book A (by a White person) does 'more' for them than Excellent Book B (by a person of color). It probably does; and that's not the point."


This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways



More Personally

Thank you to the Texas Library Association and Candlewick Press for a wonderful experience at the TLA Annual Conference in Houston! This week's Cynsations roundup is a bit abbreviated as a result of my participation. However, I do have personal book news to share:

Jingle Dancer is featured among recommended reads for celebrating Dia by the Texas State Library & Archives Commission.

Personal Links

50 Picture Books About Mix-Race Families
Cannibal Galaxy Spotted
Joseph Bruchac, Two New Books
Diversity, Disabilities & Dolls 
Pop Superstar Prince Dies
Harriet Tubman Will Be on $20 Bill 
6 Ways Parents Contribute to Children's Anxiety
Wild Tigers on the Rise for First Time in 100 Years

https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lonestardia


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guest Post: Lara Herrington Watson on Analyze This: A Grammatical Breakdown of Favorite First Chapters

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By Lara Herrington Watson
@lashwatson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As I finished writing my second YA novel, I worried that my writing was getting stagnant.

What if I was learning bad habits that I would repeat through all of my future novels?

In order to glean some knowledge about my writing, I completed grammatical analyses on the first chapters of works by some of my favorite authors (Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Barbara Kingsolver, David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, and J.K. Rowling), and on my own novel.

I calculated percentages of sentences that begin with a subject, adverb, etc. I also looked at percentages of sentence type used: fragments, complex sentences, etc.

Here’s what I learned:

When reading your manuscript straight through for errors, highlighting different parts of speech individually (nouns, verbs, adverbs…) is an excellent editing method. This is how I started the project, and while it didn’t teach me much about my writing, scanning it piecemeal made the text pop in a different way. I discovered a dozen small errors and typos that I and my writing group had not yet found (in the first 50 pages alone).

Simplicity is okay. Forty-five percent of all my sentences are simple. I start 63 percent of my sentences with subjects. At first I was sure this was too high. But these numbers are actually pretty average compared to my favorite authors.

Levithan had the highest percentages of simple sentences and of sentences beginning with subjects (65%), but his writing is still some of the most poetic, jazzy, and prismatic writing I’ve read. Maybe this is because of the many gorgeous participial phrases in the middle or at the end of his sentences.

Similarly, Rowell’s writing gets more interesting (lots of fragments composed of participial phrases) whenever the protagonist waxes nostalgic about his girlfriend. Much like Levithan, her fragments make seemingly small, subtle emotional steps that work.

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Austen had the second highest percentage of fragments (Blame Mrs. Bennet’s blathering about Bingley.). Austen also uses the smallest range of tools for sentence starters, yet she scores fairly high in her use of complex sentences.

Complexity is also okay. One myth among young writers is that long sentences are always run-on sentences. This is untrue.

Take Hemingway, who is surprisingly complex. Because of his reputation as a straightforward, clear writer, I expected him to score high in fragments, but he had the least of anyone: only 2.2%.

His complex sentences were also the most complex of any I analyzed. Compared to writers like Levithan and Rowell, Hemingway often covers more ground (years, literally) with longer, more complex, and exceptionally clear sentences.

Use a range of tools. As far as sentence starters, Rowling definitely uses the widest range of tools. It’s probably not a coincidence that her varied writing has captivated children and adults alike.

Don’t focus too much on statistics. Initially, I thought that the best writing would have the greatest variation. But some sentence starters and structures work better depending on the author’s voice and the novel’s contents; Hemingway and Kingsolver, for example, punctuate their long, complex sentences with short, punchy ones. This may not make the most interesting graph, but it sets their voices apart and makes for great fiction.

My sample size is admittedly small. I’m only looking at first chapters, and there’s plenty more to learn. But my brain hurts from too much data entry, and the boarding school from my third novel beckons.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Voice: Shari Schwarz on Treasure at Lure Lake

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Shari Schwarz is the first-time author of Treasure at Lure Lake (Cedar Fort, 2016). From the promotional copy:

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. 

So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the map, even if it means risking his life and lying to his grandpa while they're on their wilderness backpacking trip. 

Bryce must work together with his difficult big brother, Jack, or they...and the treasure...may never see the light of day again.

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? 

How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?

One of my very favorite craft resource books is Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole (Writer’s Digest Books, 2012).

I took it everywhere with me for a few months and read through it twice as I was writing Treasure at Lure Lake. One thing I struggled with in my book was giving the brothers, fourteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Bryce, the right level of interiority, as Mary Kole calls it, which is access to the character’s thoughts and feelings about what is going on.

I wrote Lure Lake from the perspective of two boys, and if you’ve ever spent a lot of time around teenage boys, they aren’t always the first to share their emotions and deep thoughts. Of course, there are some that do—I do have four boys myself—but it was definitely a challenge for me to get into each of the boys’ heads and get their internal voices just right in my story.

Mary Kole’s book teaches about the importance of interiority.

She writes, “First we should see characters in action, and then we get some Interiority to really drive home the author’s intentions…With this one-two punch we can move on with a solid understanding of what we’ve just witnessed and learned.” (p. 59)

Another lesson I learned the hard way (through many revisions and trial and error) was how to make the reader care about Jack and Bryce at the beginning of the book. If the reader doesn’t care about their journeys very early in the story, then what would be the point of reading it? On p. 90 Kole writes, “…introduce not only a great character but a character with Objectives and Motivations. Then imbue the character’s life with enough conflict, both internal and external, to really get the story engine humming.” And, of course, there has to be interiority if we are to know the character’s goal, objectives and motivations.

Shari's boys
I also listened carefully to my own boys and their friends. I listened to anything that would point to their hopes, dreams, goals and motivations. It is still a constant learning process to perfect these story elements that make or break a good book.

Another element is creating a complex, layered character. One who seems real. There are books I’ve read where I was certain that the story was biographical, in large part because the main character was so invested in the plot.

Mary Kole not only stresses interiority, objectives/motivations to create a real character, but she also helps writers by taking them through creating a character with a complex core identity full of strengths, weaknesses, virtues, roles, emotions, responses, boundaries etc… She writes on p 109, “If you can create a strong character with a strong sense of core self, then thrust him through a plot that attacks those pillars of identity, and surprise the reader with some of his choices, you will have an amazingly layered protagonist on your hands.” And she doesn’t leave it just at protagonists. She advises the same for the antagonist.

I highly recommend this book for all writers, those new to the craft and also those who are well-experienced. I can’t imagine that anyone has “arrived” when it comes to writing. I know I will be writing and revising and learning over and over again with each new book I write.

It’s a challenging but inspiring process, and I’m thankful for the inspiration found in books like Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole.

As a librarian-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a librarian has been a blessing to your writing?

Cody (Corgi) and Jasper (puppy)
Before I started writing seriously, I received my elementary teaching degree with an emphasis in literacy, and then I worked as an elementary school librarian. I had the privilege to study children’s literature in-depth for my teaching degree which carried over into being a librarian where I was able to share with children my love of reading.

I didn’t begin writing Treasure at Lure Lake until a couple of years later. I think being a librarian allowed me to see and understand in general what kids love to read. There are those books and series that a lot of children gravitate towards, but they’re not for everyone. There are always at least a few outliers who don’t follow the trends and find their own niche in books they love.

There is also a difference between books that adults want children to read and books that children themselves want to read. Yes, there is a bit of a crossover, but there are many books that children love that adults roll their eyes at or worse.

As a librarian, my job was to connect readers with books. And the only way to do that is to find books they love based on their interests, reading level, prior books read and sometimes just a bit of luck. Part of connecting children to books meant that I needed to be up to date on new books coming out. How could I gush over a book to a student if I’d never read it?

American Lakes, Northern Colorado
Reading so many children’s books also helped me in writing Lure Lake. There is such a wide variety of readers which is one of the reasons why there are so many different types of books out there.

As a new author, it can strike fear in my heart to think that some people will not like my book. Some people may judge it harshly. Of course! No book is the perfect book for every reader out there. This has helped me realize that my book will not be for everyone which is a good reality check. But there are children who identify with parts of my story, whether it is the plot or the characters or the themes…and that is who I wrote my book for.

Being a librarian allowed me to have numerous conversations with students who loved reading. They would tell me about why they loved the books they did, what they wanted to read next and how the book impacted them.

I also was able to listen as students told me about what made a book hard for them to get through or why it was boring. And, best of all, I was able to work with those students who just hadn’t found a love for reading yet. They were the children who came back, week after week, still searching for a book that they might finally like.

There isn’t anything more gratifying as a librarian than to finally find that one book that makes a reader’s eyes light up for the first time. Seeing a reluctant reader finally devour a book, especially if it’s part of a series, is an amazing process to watch and the greatest blessing of all in being a librarian.

One of my own sons struggled with reading throughout elementary school. But when I placed The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Hyperion, 2005) in his hands when he was in fifth grade, he was hooked for the first time and read straight through that series and into the next.

Helping a child find the joy of reading is why I started writing Treasure at Lure Lake in the first place. I wanted to write a fun, exciting adventure that would be easy to read and would hopefully catch the imagination and hearts of reluctant readers that resonate with its story.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Memory: James Cross Giblin

From Macmillan
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Obituary: James Cross Giblin by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Publisher, editor, and award-winning children’s book author James Cross Giblin died on Sunday, April 10, following a long illness."

James Cross Giblin, 82, Wide-Ranging Author of Books for Children, Dies by Margalit Fox from The New York Times. Peek: "...for many years also a prominent children’s-book editor and publisher, was known most recently for his biographies for middle-grade and older readers, among them The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler (2002), which won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal from the American Library Association; Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth (2005); and The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy (2009).

Goodbye, Jim by Roger Sutton from Read Roger at The Horn Book. Peek: "Back before it was even a Thing, Jim was writing narrative nonfiction about the damnedest things–windows, milk–and had the gift for conveying his own enthusiasm for his topics to readers who never knew they could find, say, chairs, so interesting."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Author Interview: Sue Fliess on Calling All Cars

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Welcome to Cynsations! What was your initial inspiration for writing Calling All Cars (Sourcebooks, 2016)?

I wrote this book for my first son, Owen, who was obsessed (and that’s putting it mildly) with his Matchbox cars. He had about 75 of them, and by age 3, had given them all individual names.

We used to play a game where he’d close his eyes, and I would hand him one of the cars. He would feel it, and then tell me which of his cars it was. He never missed. He sometimes slept with them in his crib (I know, choking hazard! Once he was asleep, I removed them, okay?)

He even carried them everywhere he went. Once at the park, he buried one in the sand and then couldn’t find it. Not our finest hour.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

As you know, there is a lot of rejection in this business. Well, considering my car-obsessed son will be 13(!) next week, I would say from spark to publication was about 10 years, give or take a year.

The only timing that could have been better for answering this question would be if he was now 16 and learning to drive.

A lot happens in 10 years. I actually thought Calling All Cars was going to be my first sale, but the editor who was championing it left before the editorial meeting.

I sold several more books and most of them even published before I sold this one.

Events…those Matchbox cars were soon shared with Owen’s baby brother, Wyatt. My children learned to use the potty. They learned to read. I gained and lost a lot of baby weight. I became an Aunt. We moved from an Audi to a Subaru to a minivan to an SUV. I could go on.

Like I said, 10 years is a long time.

What were the challenges—research, emotional, logistical—in bringing the cars to life?

Not too long after I started sending this manuscript out, Pixar came out with a little movie about cars—you may remember it—and I thought my story would never make it.

I mean, how could I compete with Lightning McQueen?

So I shelved it for a good bit of time. When I landed my agent in 2009, and sent her everything—good or bad—I’d written (my apologies to her for that!), and this was in the mix. She believed in it, and I’m thrilled that it found a home—and such a good one at that with Sourcebooks. The editor and illustrator nailed it!

What did Sarah Beise's illustrations offer to the text?

I think Sarah did a tremendous job of giving the cars different personalities through their drivers. I was a little worried that an illustrator might animate the cars and they would smack of that Pixar film I mentioned…but because she has animals driving the cars, we avoided that issue entirely.

And with any picture book, the illustrations go well beyond what the text is saying. There are penguins snorkeling and surfing in the background, hidden children’s toys, pigs in the wide car, a turtle in the slow car, lions in the King and Queen car, bugs in the Bug, and all sorts of other clever nuances….and best of all, if you line up every page horizontally, the road connects from start to finish.

Why animal characters?

Charlie
My editor and I met and discussed the different options: animating the cars themselves, having people drive them (kids or adults), or animals. I was up for anything—and while people are fun, animals are just so much better. As a pet owner, I’m a bit biased.

I was really happy with the direction, and Sarah’s animals are cute and full of personality. It was the best outcome.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

This publishing ride has been an amazing one for me. I can remember in my pre-published days, visiting this great blog called Cynsations where I could get a sneak peek at all of the editors whom I was trying so hard to reach, on ‘the other side.’ And now, here I am, on the blog!

I’m honored. Thanks for having me.

Cynsational Notes

Big cars, small cars, let’s call ALL cars! This bouncy text explores the wonderful world of cars zipping up, down, fast, and slow. A perfect basic concept books for eager young learners from the author of Tons of Trucks. Then cruise into bedtime!

Rest cars, Hush cars
No more rush, cars.
Cars pull in, turn off the light.
Sweet dreams, sleepy cars...goodnight!

Filled with vibrant art, adorable animal characters, and cars of all kinds from love bugs to the demolition derby, Calling All Cars is for every child who loves to read about things that go! Surprise bonus—follow one long road throughout this vividly imagined world and don’t miss the hidden clues in the artwork!

Accompanying pictures are as follows: Sue’s yellow English Lab, Charlie; Sue’s home office; Sue’s son Owen playing with his matchbox cars; Sue in a DeLorean at an 80’s themed event at a Sonoma winery
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