Friday, April 20, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich SmithRobin Galbraith,
Gayleen Rabukukk & Kate Pentecost for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

South Asian Historical Fiction—Author Interview with Veera Hiranandani and Giveaway by Suma Subramaniam from From the Mixed-up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Peek:
“I grew up hearing about partition [of India in 1947] from my father...I would hear parts of the story, but I knew they weren’t telling me everything. This ignited my curiosity and when I got older, I started asking more questions and researching on my own.”
April 2018 Horn Book Herald: Spring News: Five Questions for Margarita Engle by Elissa Gershowitz from The Horn Book. Peek:
“Daydreaming is the secret to feeling close to one’s subjects. My writing is personal because I read as many diaries, letters, journals, and other first-person narratives as I can find. Then I imagine being on the inside of the story instead of the outside.”
Q & A with Jewell Parker Rhodes by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“ a writer I believe words have the power to shape the world. I believe today’s youth are going to make the world better. These two beliefs inspire me to write about resilience and to mirror children’s unlimited capacity for compassion, empathy, and love.”
Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Jonathan Roth from KidLit 411. Peek:
“Always look to see what’s being done, but in the end only create what really moves you. Also join SCBWI to learn about the industry and meet like-minded people, and always be open to feedback and prepared for rejection, because it’s a tough, competitive business that requires relentless perseverance.”
Erin Entrada Kelly Talks Newbery Award and Filipino Storytelling Tradition by Kara Yorio from School Library Journal. Peek:
"To write about a deaf character, Kelly reached out to the American Society for Deaf Children and was introduced to Gina Oliva, a deaf woman and advocate who has written books about deaf children mainstreamed in schools.”

Q & A with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Why Children Need More Diverse Books from Penn GSE Newsroom. Peek:
“How you write that Other is going to depend on your perspective, and how you have experienced the others. We can't escape race, but we can do better at representing each other humanely in our stories.”
Sensitivity Readers Spot Racism, Stereotypes Before Books Are Published from CBC Radio. Peek:
"'I was investing a lot of time trying to help individual writers understand something that they just did not want to really work very hard on understanding in the first place,'" said [Debbie] Reese.”
Cultural Appropriation in Fiction: Here Are Some Tips to Consider When Your Writing Includes Different Cultures by Ixty Quintanilla from Everyday Feminism. Peek:
“I talked to two inclusive media experts, Bradford and Gussine Wilkins, to compile a checklist that you need to keep in mind to make sure you’re not culturally appropriating in your writing.”
Diverse Sci-Fi Fantasy Books to Read After A Wrinkle in Time by Thien-Kim Lam from I’m Not the Nanny. Peek:
“If your child loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962), here are some diverse sci-fi fantasy to add to their bookshelves. I’ve included a mix of middle grade and YA books for your reader.”
Writing Craft

Mining Our Characters’ Wounds by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Emotional neglect, a betrayal, a rejection, a lie, are all painful enough, but often become the lens through which we see ourselves. We accept that rejection. Believe that lie. Justify the betrayal due to something fundamentally flawed within us rather than the betrayer.”
7 Tips for Creating Believable Fantasy or Science Fiction Worlds by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:
“In our efforts to create the 'perfect' world for our stories, we sometimes force what we want into worlds that couldn’t possibly function. Make sure you’re not making these two common world building mistakes....”
Getting Feedback Can Hurt—Here’s How to Ask for It by L. Roger Owens from Brevity. Peek:
“I’ve discovered there is an art to asking for feedback, and if you learn it, you can get the kind of feedback you need, when you need it. Here’s what I’ve learned.”
Behind the Books: Nonfiction Writers Aren’t Robots by Laura Purdie Salas from Celebrate Science. Peek:
“...there’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out.”

W.W. Norton Brings on Boughton to Launch Children’s Imprint by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“Boughton speculated that the launch will likely take place toward the end of 2019. In terms of the breadth of the imprint, he said, 'We’re cultivating a broad range of books, both in terms of age and category. Nonfiction is a particular strength for Norton and a particular interest of mine.’”
Preorder Campaigns by Rosalyn Eves from Thinking Through Our Fingers. Peek:
“...preorder campaigns can be a useful way to build buzz about your book before it comes out, particularly if readers share the campaign or their swag on their social media platforms.”
Why Our Youngest Generation Needs Your Compassion by Sara Stevenson from Austin American Statesman. Peek:
“Almost 30 percent of 12th graders reported that they did not read any books for pleasure in 2014. Kids are spending more and more of their leisure time on social media, gaming, and YouTube. Still, at least at the middle school level, we can reach them.”
Hard Time and Softback Books: Teaching Children’s Literature in Prison by Kerry Madden from Los Angeles Times. Peek:
“Paired up, the men read the other softback picture books. I gave out notebooks and pens and asked them to write their own stories about childhood, school and food. While they were scribbling away, one of the students said, 'I can't remember anyone ever reading a story out loud to me.'"
This Week at Cynsations

Brent Hartinger

More Personally - Cynthia

My post-oral-surgery diet.
After several days of reading for my MFA students and one of my Cynsations reporters, I had oral surgery. I'd been warned in advance to stock soft, cold foods for the recovery period. So, I researched to pinpoint the healthiest, best-tasting iced cream on the market, and Halo Top is apparently high rated across the board. My best use of the Internet in quite a while.

Link of the Week: Help Children's-YA Author Kathleen Duey Remain at Home from GoFundMe. Peek:

"Kathleen would want her many fellow writers to know how difficult it has been to leave the warmth and support of the community of writers she has cultivated over the years.

"She would also want her many fans to know how much she appreciated their positive comments and encouragement.

"She didn’t stop writing because she wanted to, she simply was unable to continue."

Kathleen is the author of more than 70 books for young readers. She's had a successful literary career (but not an especially commercial one). See also a Cynsations Interview with Kathleen Duey, a 2007 National Book Award Finalist.

Please consider supporting Kathleen and/or signal boosting this fundraiser. Thank you.

Personal Links- Robin

Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Voice: Jen Petro-Roy on Epistolary Novels & P.S. I Miss You

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jen Petro-Roy is the debut author of P.S. I Miss You (Feiwel & Friends, 2018). From the promotional copy:

Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister, Cilla, away to stay with a distant great aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. Forbidden from speaking to Cilla, Evie secretly sends her letters. 

Evie writes about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend. 

Evie could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back, and it’s time for Evie to take matters into her own hands.

I'm always fascinated by epistolary novels and was very eager to talk with Jen about her process.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life? 

One of the most interesting parts of revising P.S. I Miss You was how complicated the calendar year would prove to be!

Because all of Evie’s letters are dated, I had to make sure that the contents of her letters aligned with the dates given on the top of every letter. If Evie mentioned that she would be doing something on a Friday, then that later letter and its events had to align with the appropriate day of the week.

Since Evie comes from a very Catholic family, I also had to make sure that the religious holidays fell on the correct day of the specific calendar year I used to crosscheck.

Then I had to make sure that I gave enough time for her older sister Cilla to write back, and that Cilla’s letters weren’t commenting on something from a letter that wouldn’t have been received yet. It made my head spin after a while!

Another challenge was the unique nature of writing a novel in letters.

I concentrated on making sure that while most of the letters were written in a genuine “letter writing” way, with Evie talking about her feelings and what happened on a certain day, that I also balanced those musings with dialogue in appropriate places—and especially dialogue that didn’t feel forced in letter format. 

Young Jen reading at the beach.
What model books were most useful to you and how? 

While writing and revising P.S. I Miss You, I was initially inspired by Beverly Cleary’s classic, Dear Mr. Henshaw, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (HarperCollins, 1983). Re-reading that book gave me the idea to write my debut novel in letters.

I loved the concept of two loved ones being separated for some reason (I just had to figure out the reason!) and using letters as a device to express that longing and sense of disconnection.

The amazing Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons (HarperCollins, 1994) also showed me that middle grade readers can handle serious issues, and that these issues can be incorporated into stories in a way that is honest and true.

One of my author inspirations is Kate Messner, who throughout her career, especially in the realm of middle grade fiction, has demonstrated how to infuse stories with gravitas while also balancing that “realness” with warmth, humor, and hope.

What is your relationship to the children’s-YA writing and illustration community? To the larger children’s-YA literature community? 

My relationship to the children’s-YA writing community first started when I was a librarian.

Before I decided to concentrate on making my dream of publication a reality, I was a children’s/teen librarian for about five years. I selected the YA books for my library, I booked author visits, and I interacted a lot with people in the library world on Twitter and social media.

As I started to think more seriously about actually revising some of my messy first drafts or finishing my many half-drafts, I began following more authors on Twitter. Agents and publishers were soon added to my list, and I started interacting with them all, learning about the business of publishing and gathering helpful writing tips through blog posts and comment threads.

I think this sense of community is so crucial to our profession since it can be so solitary. Yes, we do research and talk to people, and yes, we go to conferences and schmooze (or do as much as we can, as so many of us are introverts!), but most of my time is spent at the keyboard, either writing or staring into space.

It’s so nice to be able to reach out to my peers and learn from our community when I’m online. Cultivating those relationships helped make my publication process a lot less stressful.

How are you approaching the transition from writer to author in terms of your self-image, marketing and promotion, moving forward with your literary art? 

Honestly, this transition has been more difficult than I expected.

Like many, I always had this pie-in-the-sky belief that once I was published, everything would be perfect. I think it’s that belief that gets so many struggling writers through the stressful process of querying, revising, submitting, and more.

You believe that you will make it.

Jen with first finished copy of P.S. I Miss You.
You believe that things will someday be wonderful. And, yes, publication is wonderful. It’s thrilling to see P.S. I Miss You on bookshelves and to know that my peers and (more importantly!) actual kids are reading my words. But I didn’t realize how much I would still question myself.

I have a history of getting anxious about certain things, and I tend to compare myself to others a lot, even though I know it’s not helpful or even merited.

I don’t begrudge anyone their success, and it’s not even about what I “don’t have.” It’s that insistent voice inside my head that has haunted me for so long (and which I’m incorporating into my 2019 fiction and nonfiction books, Good Enough and You are Enough, both Feiwel & Friends) that sometimes tells me (if now only in a whisper rather than a yell) that I’m not performing to the best of my ability.

Launch party cake
That’s when I need to stop and remind myself that I wrote a book. That I published a book. That I’m proud of it and that I’m continuing to write. That I love what I’m doing. I love the art of it. I love constructing sentences and creating stories and characters.

That that is good enough, whatever my official “job title” is now.

Cynsational Notes

Jen Petro-Roy was born, raised, and still lives in Massachusetts, even though she rejects the idea that snow and cold are ever a good thing.

She started writing in third grade, when her classroom performed a play she had written. It was about a witch and a kidnapped girl and a brave crew of adventurers who set out to save the day. As a kid, numerous pictures of Jen often featured Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins books clutched in her hand, so it was just a matter of time until she started writing her own books for children.

In the past, Jen has worked as a teacher and a teen and children’s librarian. She loves running, board games, trivia, and swimming, and has a mild obsession with the television show Jeopardy!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Voice: Patricia Valdez on Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor

By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love a good picture book biography and read so many in elementary school, especially those featuring women.

So when I learned Patricia Valdez’s debut picture book would feature the work of Joan Proctor, a zoologist researching amphibians in the early twentieth century, I knew there’d be a great story there.

Others think so too because the book has received starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.

I’m thrilled to feature Patricia’s Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Knopf, 2018) today on Cynsations.

Patricia, what first inspired you to write for young readers?

I’m an Immunologist, and my children always love to hear stories about the tiny armies inside their bodies.

I started out writing stories about germs invading cuts and the immune cells that came to destroy them. My kids got a kick out those stories, but they were nowhere near publication-ready.

As a woman scientist, it was always clear to me that there were not enough stories about us. The stories we did have were not particularly inspiring to me. Not that I don’t love Marie Curie, but the thought of spending my whole life in a laboratory handling lethal doses of radium was not appealing.

I decided I would find those interesting women that history forgot, and that is what started my writing journey in earnest.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This story came to me by way of a Komodo dragon.

My family loves to visit the Komodo dragon at the National Zoo. His name is Murphy and he’s so majestic. Thanks to the helpful zoo facts posted on the enclosure, I learned they were the largest lizard on the planet.

Illustration by Felicita Sala, used with permission.
I was curious to learn more, so searched online. As I scrolled through an article about Komodo dragons, one sentence jumped out at me. It said something along the lines of “Joan Beauchamp Procter was the first person to describe Komodo dragons in captivity in the 1920s.”

I immediately needed to know more about this woman scientist. And it turns out, she was as interesting as I thought she might be!

Illustration by Felicita Sala, used with permission.
As a member of a community under-represented in youth literature, what did your diverse perspective bring to your story? 

Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor is a picture book biography about Joan Beauchamp Procter, a British herpetologist who lived in the early 1900s and designed the London Zoo’s Reptile House, which is still in use today.

Illustration by Felicita Sala, used with permission.
I was drawn to her story because it was rare to find women scientists working at that time. Women barely had the right to vote and universities didn’t allow women to earn full degrees. In a sense, Procter was a fish out of water working in a male-dominated field.

I related to her story because although my graduate school class had an equal number of women as men, I was the only Latinx out of 50 students. Like Procter, I stayed focused and succeeded.

I’m happy to report that I see so many more diverse faces in my former department’s most recent class pictures, but we still have a long way to go. I hope Procter’s story might inspire all children to pursue their passion, whether that includes the sciences, the arts, or both.

Cynsational Notes

Booklist gave Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor a starred review and wrote, "Whimsical artwork and an empowering story make this biography of a lesser-known woman scientist truly charming."

In addition to being an author, Patricia Valdez is a scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Originally from Texas, Patricia now resides in Maryland with her husband, two children, and three cats. You can find her on Twitter @Patricia_Writer.

Patricia is represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group.

Traci Sorell covers picture books as well as children's-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from Indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

Her first nonfiction picture book, We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga illustrated by Frané Lessac, will be published by Charlesbridge on Sept. 4, 2018. The story features a panorama of modern-day Cherokee cultural practices and experiences, presented through the four seasons. It conveys a universal spirit of gratitude common in many cultures.

In fall 2019, her first fiction picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre will be published by Penguin Random House’s new imprint, Kokila.

Traci is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary Agency.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Survivors: Brent Hartinger on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing YA Author

Learn more about Brent Hartinger.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

In children’s YA writing, maintaining an active publishing career is arguably an even bigger challenge than breaking into the field.

Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?

Oh boy, this is such a great topic!

There's so much discussion of getting published, but much less about staying that way, and making a living over the long-term. I also love that it's a reoccurring feature, because I've loved reading what others have had to say on this topic, too.

First, I completely agree that maintaining a career is as much a challenge as getting published in the first place. And, weirdly, I think it boils down to control. Or, more specifically, the lack of it.

Nutshell? We writers don't control how our projects are received. But I think that lack of control is something writers need to accept.

I'm a multi-hybrid author -- part screenwriter, part traditional novelist, part self-publisher. And all these mediums and platforms allow different degrees of author input, and in all of them, the writer always has control over what he or she writes in the first place.

No one can force you to write anything. Even in screenwriting, you can leave a project you truly don't agree with the direction it's taking (or at least have your name taken off of it, if you still want to get paid).

So yeah, we have control in that respect.

But ultimately, no one can predict or control how a project will be received by the world. Art is literally an "art," not a science. It's a cliché, but it's true: no one knows anything.

When it comes to books, even reviews and awards are not good predictors of sales or financial success,

I think this simple fact is what drives most writers crazy, and what burns so many people out.

Well, that and the unrelenting rejection, but the two things are related.

People want predictability, but it doesn't exist in the arts.

In my own career, I've had projects that I thought were some of the best work I've ever done, and they didn't sell well -- a few times, they didn't even sell to publishers! They never saw the light of day. Some probably weren't as good as I thought, but I still think others were. Others were published, but just fell through the cracks.

Of course, I've also had a few hits, but those aren't necessarily the projects I think are my best.

This is the story of almost every long-term author I know.

So when it comes to a long-term career, the lack of control really is the thing to be reckoned with. Successful debut novelists may not understand this, because they obviously think they're work is good, and it was successful, so naturally the system must reward good work.

Sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn't.

So many things are as important, or more important, than the book itself: things like past sales, current trends, your relationship with industry insiders (or your editor and publisher's relationship with industry insiders!).

It's hard to overstate how important timing is to a project's success. But since no one can predict the future, and because books take so damn long to produce, timing is something we writers have -- you guess it! -- almost no control over.

At best, we can hope to catch a wave, which is what I did with my first book, Geography Club (Harper, 2003). It was a big hit, and I remember thinking at the time, "Authors always complain about how hard it is to get attention for your book, but that's not true. It's easy!"

Woo boy! What I didn't know then could fill a library.

Honestly, the more time I spend in this industry, the more real breakout success mostly seems like random chance to me.

That's hard for some people to accept. It's been hard for me to accept!

People don't talk about this very much. The American ideal is that we're in charge of our own destinies. We all control our own fates. If you work hard, you'll be rewarded! And in almost every non-artistic field, I think this is true.

Not so much for us artists. And there's definitely something to be said for just accepting this reality.

It's kind of a "zen" thing. It can save you a lot of heartache.

But lest someone think I'm all depressed and hopeless, let me hasten to add I don't think that means artists are powerless. We can't control how our books are received, but we can still find control in other areas.

For me, that's meant being nimble and adaptable as a writer. Whenever my novel-writing career flagged, I'd turn to writing screenplays. Once when I couldn't seem to get a traditional publishing deal, I tried self-publishing (to pretty great success, I might add!).

I think the secret to my career is that I've diversified.

I dedicated myself to a life of writing fiction decades ago, and I have never wavered from that. But my career goals have never ever ever been about any "one" project, or genre, or medium.

I'm lucky that I actually enjoy writing so many different kinds of projects.

And when things got tough financially, I sometimes did half-steps over into writer-adjacent careers. I taught writing for a year (at your invitation, Cyn!), and even once co-founded a website that we ended up selling to Viacom (for some very big bucks, thank you very much). But don't try this today.

As usual, it was all about timing.

Basically, I've tried to stay true to my career goals, even as I've stayed open to all kinds of possibilities.

I found control in other areas too, but I've obviously blathered on way too long on this, the very first question!

If you had it to do all over again, what—if anything—would you do differently and why?

Regrets? Yeah, I've had a few.

I said before that we artists have to accept that we don't have much, or any, control over how our projects are received. But I also said that doesn't mean we're completely powerless. Here are ways I had control over my writing career, but I didn't know it until after it was too late.

If I had to do it over again, I'd stick to one genre for at least my first three books (and/or write under a pen name). Or I'd write a series! Geez, why didn't I do that?

Anyway, I'd establish myself as a crystal clear brand.

Your brand is your single greatest marketing tool, and you're probably an idiot if you squander it and blur it all to hell, as I have done repeatedly. This is an area where my eagerness to write in different genres has really hurt me, I think.

Second, I've let people treat me poorly. Agents and editors, I mean. It's important not to be a diva -- that might be even more of a career-killer than being a doormat, and I do see diva behavior among successful authors (although mostly it's the middling-successful ones). But in my case, I've been much more likely to be the doormat than the diva.

I say now that if something feels off with an agent or editor, give it a year, maybe two. That's a long time. If it still isn't working out, there's probably something fundamentally bad going on, so make a break.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it's terrifying to leave an agent with no one else lined up. But just do it, okay?

A bad or unenthusiastic agent really is worse than no agent. I've signed nine screenwriting options in my life, and contracts for at least ten books, and exactly none of them were the result of an unenthusiastic agent. They were all either the result of a passionate advocate, or I basically hustled up the deals myself and brought them to my reps.

(Incidentally, I've never been happier with my representation than I am right now, Uwe Stender at TriadaUS.)

Anyway, as much as possible, surround yourself with people you're passionate about, and who are passionate about you.

There's one other mistake that I don't think I've made, but I think a lot of writers do. For long-term success, it's really, really important to learn the craft. But when I say learn the craft, I mean really learn the craft.

In the short run, quirkiness and gimmicks can totally get you a book deal. This is a creative industry, and all creative industries totally turn on gimmicks and quirks -- and every now and then, some writers even take real risks and make actual artistic steps forward. This is literally how a lot of books and movies get attention for themselves, by feeling like something fresh and different. That's how you break out, so naturally that's what publishers have a keen eye for.

But gimmicks and quirks will only get you so far, especially after that first book.

Unless you can come up with another equally good gimmick, you're eventually going to have to prove yourself as an actual writer. Because that's what will sustain a career.

No matter how funny your quips or beautiful your prose, after a book or two, it will start to seem like you're repeating yourself.

I've always been fascinated by plot and structure. It's why I was originally drawn to screenwriting.

I'm not always sure critics and award committees care very much about plot and structure, but I think readers and audiences do. So learn it, along with voice, and theme, and characterization. And learn how to take criticism and revise.

I think I can tell a pretty good story. You know, with a coherent theme, and a beginning, a middle, and an ending that is somehow both unexpected and satisfying?

Books and movies like this aren't as common as you'd think. But I do think story still matters, at least a little.

Anyway, I'd like to think the fact that I can tell one is part of the reason why I'm still selling books and screenplays after twenty years.

And while you're at it, learn discipline. I know there are mercurial types that manage to create and sustain long careers in the arts despite being unable to keep to a schedule or deadline. More power to 'em!

But I think my own writing life has been made much easier by being disciplined and self -motivated. I've never missed a deadline, and never will. Everyone says I'm a good reviser. I'd like to think editors and agents appreciate all this.

The field and body of literature are always evolving. For you, what have been the stand-out changes in the world children’s-YA writing, literature and publishing? What do you think of them and why?

Oh, the increased diversity, obviously. It's so fantastic, and so overdue. Like everyone, I'm worried it's a "trend" not a "change," but it's started to feel more like a sea change these past few years.

I guess I was sort of a pioneer in LGBT YA fiction (back in the early '00s, when I caught that first wave), and it blows my mind how diverse that sub-genre has become.

With all the bullcrap I went through, I would not have predicted it.

What advice would you give to your beginner self, if that version of you was a debut author this year?

Relax. Realize the experience with your first book will be a predictor of absolutely nothing, that every book is different, and you can't control almost any of it, but that's okay because it'll all probably work out in the end.

No single thing is as important as you think it is at the time, and that's true of everything from bad reviews to major awards.

Oh, and GoodReads! Please ignore that completely. It's for readers, not writers, and it doesn't matter anyway. The same goes for all those "best of" lists that the YA world loves so much.

Basically, try not to panic so much.

But it probably wouldn't matter if I had given that advice to myself, because being published is so weird, so completely bizarre, that there's no way to prepare for it. It's like trying to prepare for parenthood. Or sex. Or death.

You can't know it, or understand it, until you do it. (And now I'm being pretentious, aren't I?)

I guess I would say this though: If you're lucky enough to find real success, try really, really hard to enjoy it as much as possible. Because it might not happen again for a while.

Oh! And absolutely don't compare your book or your degree of success to other authors. That is absolutely the worst trap you can possibly fall into. No matter what your level, there will always be someone more successful, more lauded, so you're completely doomed to always feel bad about yourself, to feel like the world isn't "fair."

I said before that artistic success is mostly random?

Well, the downside to that is that it's mostly random. But the upside is that eventually you'll have your time in the spotlight.


At least if you follow my other advice about trying to relax and be zen, not being a diva, learning the craft, and surrounding yourself with people who are passionate about you and your work.

It also helps to have something to say. I hope that goes without saying. Ha!

What do you wish for children’s-YA writers (and readers), looking to the future?

Well, it sounds funny at a time when everyone is talking about opening YA up to college-age characters, but I kinda wish the genre would focus more on actual teen readers. I get that a lot of twentysomethings and thirtysomethings love YA, and I'm always happy when anyone is passionate about my books or the genre I write in. Plus, it's cool that a genre I like is culturally relevant.

But if I'm honest, it feels like a lot of authors are already basically writing twentysomething characters, and just calling it YA. They say things like, "Teens are really sophisticated these days!" Which is true, but isn't really the point.

The issues teens face are different than the issues twentysomethings face, and the sensibility is different too. It sometimes feels like twentysomething readers have overwhelmed the genre. It's a little like how female authors of gay male romance have turned gay fiction into something different than fiction for and about gay men. But that’s definitely a longer discussion.

Anyway, that's my wish. That more YA authors would pay more attention to actual teen readers, and less to twentysomething book bloggers.

As a writer, what do you wish for yourself in the future?

My goal has always been to support myself as a writer of fiction, and I've managed to do that for twenty years now. I'm really proud of that fact. I've even had mortgages!

I also love that I've developed a passionate following, even if it may not be massive. I really do have the world's best fans.

But I confess that before I die, I'd love one huge, splashy, unqualified, culturally relevant break-out success. Is that selfish?

Anyway, in the meantime, my husband and I sold our house, and now we're traveling the world for several years.

We started in Seattle, and we're in Miami now until May when we're moving to London for the summer and fall. After that, we're not sure, but New Zealand, Thailand, and Costa Rica are all on the table to live in eventually.

Which I actually think is relevant to this whole discussion about finding lasting success in a writing career. Here's the real secret. Work your hardest, do your damnedest, learn from your mistakes, and never give up.

But then? Accept that after that, some things really are ultimately out of your control. And then go out and live your best possible life, trying as hard as possible to be happy.

Cynsational Notes

The Survivors Interview Series offers in-depth reflections and earned wisdom from children's-YA book authors who have successfully built long-term, actively-publishing careers.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Guest Post: Lori Mortensen on Writing Story Endings & If Wendell Had a Walrus

By Lori Mortensen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Story beginnings are so important, it’s no wonder they get a lot of attention.

Writers not only have to come up with a fresh idea, they have to nail an opening hook that sets up the main character, grounds the reader in a specific setting, and gets a compelling story problem rolling. It’s a big bite of the story-writing apple.

However, story endings are just as important as story beginnings. After readers devour each page, they’re expecting a satisfying ending that’s often described as “unexpected, yet inevitable.”  A conclusion that fulfills the story’s promise in a surprising, yet emotionally fulfilling way.

Readers want to read that last page and say, Ahhhh…

When stories miss the mark, it’s like running a race, only to find that there’s no finish line. Whaat? Or, coming to the end of a scrumptious meal, only to find a stale graham cracker for dessert. You can taste the disappointment.

So what makes a satisfying ending?

At first, simply solving the story problem might seem like the obvious answer. For example, if Sally wants a pet, she gets a pet. If Sam wants to be a superhero, he becomes a superhero.

In my rhyming picture book, Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg, illustrated by Michael Allen Austin (Clarion, 2013) Clyde wants to catch his dog for a bath.

The obvious ending would be Clyde catching his ol’ dirty dawg and giving him a bath, right? But that ending doesn’t feel satisfying. There has to be more than Clyde just getting his way.

Instead, I showed Clyde trying to catch his dog, each attempt more comical and disastrous than the last. Clyde would get so frustrated he would ….

What would he do? I wondered.

I was delighted when I instantly realized things would get so bad, Cowpoke Clyde would scrap the whole idea.

Oh, no! I thought gleefully.

How was Clyde going to scrub his dog now? I was just as eager to find out what would happen as I hoped future readers would be. Moments later, I knew what my satisfying ending would be.

Clyde would not only scrap the idea of catching Dirty Dawg, he would decide to take the bath himself.

Whoa! I didn’t see that coming, but it felt absolutely perfect. As Cowpoke Clyde scrubbed and crooned in the tub, Dirty Dawg joined him with a tremendous splash!  At this point, I realized the story wasn’t about Clyde checking off a laundry list of chores.

It was about them. Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg.

Once Clyde stopped trying to finagle his dog into the tub, the duo discovered that taking a bath was something they both enjoyed. I avoided a didactic ending where Cowpoke Clyde showed Dawg who was boss and turned it into a satisfying friendship story that drew Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg together. 

In my original counting picture book story Mousequerade Ball, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Bloomsbury, 2016) mice arrive at a ball in ascending numbers from one to 10.

At the climax, a cat shows up and scares them away in descending order back to one.

A fun idea, but after several rejections, I knew it needed a more satisfying ending. But what?

I decided the solution rested with the cat.

Instead of arriving as a threat, the cat shows up only wanting to dance. This unexpected twist gave the story a new meaning and level of satisfaction.

It wasn’t simply a book that counted mice up and down. It became a story about friendship and inclusion.

On April 17, my picture book If Wendell Had a Walrus, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Henry Holt) will hit the bookshelves. In this story, a boy named Wendell wants a walrus.

The obvious ending? Wendell getting a walrus.

However, as I wrote along, a different ending came to mind. As soon as I wrote it, I knew it was perfect.
  • Unexpected. 
  • Inevitable.
  • Satisfying.
Would Wendell get a walrus?

What do you think?

Illustration by Matt Phelan, used with permission.
So once you’ve got that all-important story beginning under your belt, remember that endings are just as important as beginnings.

Don’t be satisfied with the first idea that comes to mind. Play around a little and come up with something unexpected.

You’ll not only have more fun writing it, readers will have more fun reading it. And when they finally come to the last tantalizing page, they’ll sit back and say …


Cynsational Notes

Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles.

Other recent releases include Chicken Lily, illustrated by Nina Victor Crittenden (Henry Holt), and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, illustrated by Michael Allen Austin (Clarion) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.

When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life.

For more information about her books, teacher activities, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

In Memory: Russell Freedman

By Gayleen Rabakukk
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Russell Freedman, 88, Writer of History for Young Readers, Dies by Neil Genzlinger from The New York Times. Peek:
"Russell Freedman, who brought readable, relatable history to young readers in dozens of well-researched, generously illustrated books, died on March 16 in Manhattan."

"The prolific nonfiction author — winner of the 1988 Newbery Medal for Lincoln: A Photobiography (Clarion, 1987) — wrote over sixty books," reported the Horn Book in Russell Freedman (1929-2018).

His children's literature career spanned more than 50 years and he wrote about the evolution of nonfiction standards in a 2014 essay for the Horn Book, Changing Times. Peek:
"Back in the 1950s, the popular Landmark books had no illustrations. None. And while skillfully written by notable authors, those books had no bibliographies, and, heaven forbid, no chapter notes! Today’s nonfiction for kids, abundantly illustrated, meticulously documented, is, I believe, more inviting than ever before, and more authoritative."
After earning an English degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1951, Freedman served in U.S. counter intelligence during the Korean War.

Afterward, he returned to San Francisco and became a reporter and editor for the Associated Press before moving to New York to work in advertising.

His first book, Teenagers Who Made History (Holiday House, 1961), was inspired by an article he read in The New York Times about a 16-year-old who invented a Braille typewriter, according to Shannon Maughan's Obituary: Russell Freedman in Publishers Weekly.

He went on to write more than 60 additional nonfiction books, earning him the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1998 and the National Humanities Medal in 2007.

In a 2007 interview with Daniel Scheuerman for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Freedman said he considered In Defense of Liberty (Holiday House, 2003) his greatest personal success.
“'What is more important than the Bill of Rights to America?' he asks. 'Nothing! And I got to try to convey this information to a new generation.'” 
He also called the book one of his biggest challenges.
“'You’re dealing with legalisms, to some extent, and abstractions, and you have to put them into human terms.'”
In Russell Freedman Brought History to Life For Kids from School Library Journal, Kara Yorio said:
"Freedman’s books continue to be topical and are often found on recommended reading lists. We Will Not Be Silent: The White Rose Student Resistance Movement that Defied Hitler (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), The Voice That Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004), and Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006) all discuss important people and movements that readers can connect to current events."
A memorial service is planned for Oct. 11 in New York City on what would have been his 89th birthday.

Cynsational Notes

Gayleen: It's impossible to know how many young readers Russell Freedman inspired during his half-century career, but I know for certain I was one of those readers.

During elementary school I read an old copy of Jules Verne: Portrait of a Prophet (Holiday House, 1965) and remember finding his descriptions of Verne's adventure stories much more exciting (and accessible) than the actual Verne books.

Though as a fourth grader, I never made the connection that the biographer who led me to the creator of Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth was also an author himself.

My conscious appreciation for Russell Freedman began during my first semester at Vermont College when my advisor Jane Kurtz suggested his work as a model for nonfiction.

Since then I've read many of his books and continue to be awed by his attention to detail and ability to transport the reader into historic events.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith, Robin Galbraith,
Gayleen Rabukukk & Kate Pentecost for Cynsations

Author/ Illustrator Insights

Donna Janell Bowman and Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words! By Adi Rule from The Launch Pad. Peek:
“Initially, I was a bit nervous about shining a light on an event that Lincoln himself was ashamed of, until I read his law partner’s recollection that Lincoln complained that biographies magnified perfections and suppressed imperfections.”
Author Q&A With Mystic Writing Debbi Michiko Florence by Nancy Burns-Fusaro from The Westerly Sun. Peek:
“I love mochi, a Japanese chewy treat! Knowing that traditionally, it is the men who pound mochi and the women who roll the mochi, I wondered what would happen if a little girl wanted to do the man's job of pounding the mochi? Would her family allow her to?”
Michelle Leonard: Author and Bookseller at Quail Ridge Books from Emily Colin. Peek:
“It’s very exciting when your book’s available for preorder, but consider suggesting that friends, family, and fans order from their local bookstore or yours. You can locate local bookstores through Indiebound. Consider contacting local bookstores first and share their preorder links... instead of Amazon’s. Ask others to do the same."
 Interview with Neal Shusterman from the Cybils. Peek:
“I write very visually. I tend to see the book like a movie in my head. The great part about writing a novel, however, is that you can really get into the character’s minds, and you can use language in a way you can’t in films.”
Rita Williams-Garcia
StoryMakers with Rita Williams-Garcia from KidLit TV. Peek:
“Award-winning author Rita Williams-Garcia chats about her new book Gone Crazy in Alabama and shows us her very own childhood diaries!”
Coffee and Conversation with Laura Shovan! By Laura Bowers from As the Eraser Burns. Peek:
“I joined SCBWI in 2003 and signed with my agent in 2014. It [path to publication] was slow, and then very fast. Two weeks after I signed with Stephen Barbara, we had offers on my debut novel.” 

2018 Walter Award Book Giveaways from We Need Diverse Books. Peek:
“Our next book giveaway for classrooms is online now through April 30th, 2018.”
A New Generation of African-American-Owned Bookstores by Alex Green from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“After a steep decline, the number of black-owned independent bookstores is growing.”
Submissions Now Open For Our New Voices And New Visions Award Writing Contests for Authors of Color from Lee & Low. Peek:
“This year, we’re opening submissions for our nineteenth annual New Voices Award and our sixth annual New Visions Award a month early. That means submissions for both awards are now open!”
Patrice Caldwell Believes Book Publishing Needs More People of Color, So She Founded an Organization to Make It Happen by Kerri Jarema from Bustle. Peek:
“The founder of the organization People of Color in Publishing — which started as a closed Facebook group for people of color who are working or want to work within book publishing — works each and every day to give POC the resources they need to make headway in the industry.” 
CCBC 2017 Statistics on LGBTQ+ Literature for Children & Teens from CCBlogC. Peek:
“In 2017, we expanded our CCBC diversity statistics to include books with LGBTQ+ content and/or characters, and the results have been both fascinating and eye-opening.”
A Culturally Responsive Approach to Earth Day: Key Questions for Classroom Discussion by Lindsay Barrett from Lee & Low. Peek:
“ important element of both culturally responsive teaching and research-based practices for encouraging activism in students is to establish connections between students’ learning and their own lives and communities.”
Writing Craft

Make Your Writing Anxiety Disappear By Thinking Small by Jane Anne Staw from Jane Friedman. Peek:
 “Leaving too much time allowed the anxiety to creep in, and to avoid that feeling, I did anything but write.”
How Will Your Setting Affect Your Fight Scene by Jenilyn Collings from Thinking Through Our Fingers. Peek:
“...a martial arts class...pulled out the ground mats to simulate fighting on top of a building. The rules were that the first person to step off the mat lost..(fell off the building). Suddenly these boys, who had spent years kicking and punching together, completely changed their fighting styles.”
When You’re Not Okay: A Mental Health Checkup for Writers by Kim Bullock from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
"...writers in particular were common among sufferers of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and substance abuse, and were almost fifty percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population."
How Writing in Chunks Can Make You a More Productive Writer by Janice Hardy from Fiction University. Peek:
“Writing in chunks is a nice mix of plotter and pantser that pulls the best from both drafting styles. It allows you to be as spontaneous as you want, and or organized as you want, while still maintaining a framework to write in.”

Delaying an Agent Submission by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek
“Writers are humans. They are, whether you want to think so or not, vulnerable to the quirks of human nature. And one of those foibles is impatience.”
How to Handle An Offer of Representation by Nathan Bransford from his blog. Peek:
“Don’t immediately yell, ‘Yes, Dear Lord, Yes’ even if you really want to. Take your time to make sure it’s the right fit.
If Graphic Novels Are Hip for Adults, Why Not Picture Books? by Bruce Handy from The New York Times. Peek:
“...the best picture books, far from being baby food, display a pictorial sophistication that puts many graphic novels to shame; think of them as visual haiku, an art form of juxtaposition and implication, bright colors notwithstanding.”
There’s No Female Conspiracy in Publishing —Your Book Might Just Not Be Good by Lauren Spieller from The Guardian. Peek:
“...I’m rejecting their books because they aren’t ready for publication in my eyes, or because the book simply isn’t my cup of tea."
Skyhorse Reorg Results in Cutting of Children’s Staff by Emma Kantor from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“As part of the restructuring, the publisher is cutting its workforce by approximately 20%, eliminating 16 full-time positions out of 77, including all four full-time editors who worked exclusively at its children’s imprint, Sky Pony Press.”
Cyn Note: Our condolences to all those who lost their jobs and those whose books are orphaned.


The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2018 Edition from Bank Street. Peek:
“The Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education strives to guide librarians, educators, parents, grandparents, and other interested adults to the best books for children published each year.”
This Week at Cynsations
Enter the Giveaway!
More Personally- Cynthia

Thank you for your ongoing readership of Cynsations! March 2018 was the all-time second highest traffic month (74,290 page views) after an all-time high in October 2014 (81,706 page views).

Have you been following our popular Suvivors Interview Series, featuring insights from children's-YA authors who've actively published over the long haul?

I love this quote from our latest installment with author Martine Leavitt (shown above):
"I have had the privilege of writing what I needed to write, saying what I needed to say, playing my brains out, and putting whatever graffiti I wanted on the wall of the universe.

"My work is witness. That is the only success I can truly say I own, but I own it with my whole soul."
Rock on with your awesomeness, Martine!

Attention, SCBWI Members! It's time for round one of the vote for the Crystal Kite winner from your region. Login to the website, click on "My Home," and then click "Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards" at the bottom of the left column. Good luck to all the nominees!

Personal Links- Robin