Friday, October 24, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Arab American Book Award Winner:

A Kid's Guide to Arab American History by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi (Chicago Review Press, 2013). Peek: "...dispels stereotypes and provides a look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture in a format enjoyable for elementary students. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent."

Honorable Mention: The Arab World Thought of It: Inventions, Innovations and Amazing Facts by Saima S. Hussain (Annick Press, 2013). Peek: "Saima Hussain, who was raised in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, presents the contributions of the Arab people in such fields as astronomy, medicine, architecture, food, education, and art."

Source: Arab American National Museum; scroll for more information.

More News & Giveaways

I Want What She's Got: The Disastrous Comparison Game by Emma Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: "There's a thief among us in the writing community: this thief is insidious, harmful, and causing an enormous amount of heartache, pain, and angst. And worst of all, this thief is stealing writers' ability to write. What is this thief?"

Inspiring the Next Architects: Children's Books About Design, Building and Architecture by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "Ask students to imagine that they are architects assigned to design a new school. Describe the materials you will need and what the building will look like."

Here I Am by Brian Pinkney from CBC Diversity. Peek: "As a renderer of images that affect children, it’s essential that I stick to my commitment of showing black kids in all their glory. By doing this, I hope to be able to bring power, change, healing, self-expression, and heart to children of every color."

Five Lessons I Learned About Novel Writing from Watching "Orange Is The New Black" from Shelli Cornelison. Peek: "Torture has its place."

Microtension by Jan O'Hara from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Few assumptions are safe. We must constantly revisit the past in light of new information. We’re kept engaged by this sense of shifting reality." See also The Secrets of Subtext by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker.

How to Write Balanced and Compelling Backstory by Jeni Chappelle from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "...there’s a fine line between clarifying a character’s past and writing too much backstory. Readers don’t usually need to know much of the characters’ history in order to engage..."

How Image Systems Can Supercharge Your Novel by C.S. Lakin from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Great novelists know the power of motif and symbolism, often using something like a repeated word or phrase, or an object of importance to the character, to bring a richness to the story and to enhance the theme of their novel. In effect, they are creating something similar to an image system."

Mini Trend: Grrrl Power Graphic Novels by Elissa Gershowitz from The Horn Book. Peek: "...excellent graphic novel memoirs (or fiction that feels an awful lot like) written by women about their adolescence."

How Can I Make Readers Cry by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "Examine your entire story to be sure every plot point amps up emotional tension. Since plot serves character arcs in romances, events should pierce the characters’ deepest fears and most passionate hopes repeatedly."

We Need Diverse Books and School Library Journal Announce Collaboration from School Library Journal. Peek: "Content sharing and support for the We Need Diverse Books Diversity Festival to be held in summer 2016 in the Washington, DC, area."

The Landscape of YA Lit: A State of the Union by Kristin Halbrook from YA Highway. Peek: "Honest and fearless. Innovative and different. Crossing all genres, and crossing over into different age groups."

Writers on Writing: Dear Professor H. by Lesléa Newman from Passages North. Peek: "If you meant to intimidate us, Professor H., you certainly succeeded. You distributed the syllabus and launched into the course requirements without once explaining the phrase 'serious pleasure' which stared down at us like an angry gargoyle."

Kidlit Con

A series of posts covering the event from Finding Wonderland.


Cynsational Giveaways
The winners of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley were Abby in Rhode Island and Elizabeth in Georgia.

The winners of ARCs of Backwards Moon by Mary Losure were Crystal in Wisconsin, Heidi in Utah, and Kelly in Pennsylvania.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Today Cynsations is posting from Washington, D.C. I've been here with R. Gregory Christie and Reading Is Fundamental, visiting with students at Andrews Air Force Base. Pics to come soon!

My link of the week is Everything I Know About Plot, I Learned from Buffy by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Whedon keeps this working because his morality, while always clear, is never simplistic. Good and evil are the sides, but characters sometimes switch sides or aren’t sure what side they’re on."

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Personal Links

Catch up with the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels!

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Author Interview: Susan Kuklin on Writing Nonfiction & Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, words and photographs by Susan Kuklin (Candlewick, 2014).

A groundbreaking work of LGBT literature takes an honest look at the life, love, and struggles of transgender teens. 

Author and photographer Susan Kuklin met and interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference. 

Portraits, family photographs, and candid images grace the pages, augmenting the emotional and physical journey each youth has taken. 

Each honest discussion and disclosure, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other because of family dynamics, living situations, gender, and the transition these teens make in recognition of their true selves.

What was your initial inspiration for Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out (Candlewick, 2014)?

First came an email. A librarian/friend wrote to me about the need for more YA nonfiction literature about LGBTQ teens. Although this is a subject I care about deeply, I was in the middle of another book – No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row (Henry Holt, 2008)–and so I tucked it away into the nether region of my brain. Nevertheless, the topic kept popping back up.

What was the timeline from spark to publication and what were the major events along the way?

The timeline from spark to publication was about six or seven years. The spark that helped me focus on transgender youth rather than the entire LGBTQ community was a conversation I had with my cousin, who is pansexual and a generation behind me.

She told me about a transgender friend who said to her, “When looking for love and friendship, it’s the person, not the gender, that counts.” That comment got me thinking. At the time the “T” in LGBTQ had not been talked about much in books or in the media.

The major event was meeting the staff at the Callen-Lorde Community Health Clinic’s Health Outreach to Teens program, [HOTT]. They do incredible work there, and are so thoughtful towards their clients. With their help I knew I had a book.

Then, of course, meeting each participant was a Big Time major event.

What were the literary and artistic challenges in bringing the book to life?

Every day brought a new challenge that had to be explored creatively. 

Susan photographs Christina shopping.
My process is a bit unusual. I write in the first person because I believe that it offers a more direct, intimate relationship with young readers. To do this, I need to capture the individual’s voice and convert it from tape to paper. But it’s also necessary to balance the person’s voice and experiences with a clear literary narrative.

Each chapter must add something new to the subject. The chapters need to have rhythm and arcs, highs and lows.

Recently, I’ve begun adding my voice to the narrative of my books as a way to change the pace, describe someone or something, or impart additional information. Although challenging, that’s part of the creative process. I love working this way.

How have you approached author marketing for this title?

I’m the world’s worst self-promoter. But I’m very happy to talk about my books at conferences, libraries, schools, blogs, and other media.

For Beyond Magenta, my wonderful publicist, Erika Denn at Candlewick Press, created a stunning press release that was to sent to media, libraries, colleges, and other venues. She also sent the release to LGBTQ organizations and publications. The Internet is a great publishing tool. Erika, along with my agent, friends, and I sent announcements, reviews, and articles to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I blogged. Tweeting and re-tweeting helped the book reach a larger audience.

What advice do you have for authors when it comes to connecting a book that reflects a specific community but speaks to all readers?

At the end of Beyond Magenta, in my Author’s Notes, I wrote why it’s important for everyone to connect with the book. An Author’s Note gives writers the chance to make our themes known.

I believe it was Eldridge Cleaver who said, “If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” I hope my readers agree.

You’re a well-published author of children’s-YA nonfiction. For those new to your work, could you share with us a bit of your publishing history, highlighting as you see fit?

This is a big question because I’ve published over thirty nonfiction books with wide-ranging subjects. One of the joys of being a nonfiction author is that I get to learn about so many diverse topics.

I choose an issue and then go beyond the sound bites and “fifteen minutes of fame” to illustrate how real people deal with real events. I do it through interviews, research, and photography.

My photo essay, picture books for children are about simple events that loom large in a young child’s life [When I See My Doctor (NA), When I See My Dentist (NA), How My Family Lives in America (Simon & Schuster, 1992), Families (Hyperion, 2006)].



For slightly older kids there are photo essays with more text about other cultures [Kodomo: Children of Japan (NA)], and some about how objects or events in their lives are created [Fireworks, How a Doll Is Made (NA)].



I love ballet and modern dance so I’ve tried to do as many dance books as possible: Reaching for Dreams: A Ballet from First Rehearsal to Opening Night, with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (Lothrop Lee & Shephard, 1987), Dance, co-authored with Bill T. Jones (OP), The Harlem Nutcracker, co-authored with Donald Byrd (OP), Going to My Ballet Class with the Robert Joffrey Ballet School (OP), and Beautiful Ballerina, written by Marilyn Nelson, with my photographs of the school of the Dance Theater of Harlem (Scholastic, 2009).

My young adults books are more text driven than photography driven, and are about very serious subjects, such as, teen pregnancy (What Do I Do Now? (Putnam, 1991)), prejudice (Speaking Out: Teenagers Take On Race Sex, and Identity (OP)), and suicide (After a Suicide (OP)).

I’ve authored books about our criminal justice system (Trial (Henry Holt, 2001), No Choirboy (Henry Holt, 2008)) and more about human rights (Iqbal Masih and the Crusaders Against Child Slavery (Henry Holt, 2008), Beyond Magenta (Candlewick, 2014)).

It’s been my good fortune to work with many interesting people from all walks of life. I hope they’ve enlightened my readers because they sure did inspire me.

To name but a few, Bill T. Jones (Dance) motivated me to break aesthetic rules and stretch beyond my potential. Human rights activists (Irrepressible Spirit (OP)), and buddies who helped people living with AIDS (Fighting Back: What Some People Are Doing about AIDS (Putnam, 1989)), and Bryan Stevenson, the lawyer and law professor who represents poor people on death row (No Choirboy (Henry Holt, 2008)), restored my faith in humanity. Getting to know these and other people in my books has helped cynical me understand that there are very good people in this troubled world of ours.

What advice do you have for other nonfiction children’s-YA writers?
  • Be totally passionate about your subject. 
  • Fall hopelessly in love. 
  • Honor that love by being faithful to its truth. Only write truth
  • Tell a good story. Then revise, revise, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite more. 
  • Find new and creative ways to make your subject jump. 
  • Don’t forget truth
  • Listen to criticism but make objective decisions about what to change and what to leave as is. 
  • And, hey, read lots of nonfiction.

On the illustration front, what are the advantages and challenges of photography?

It seems to me that people, especially kids and young adults, like seeing people like themselves in books. So I would say that’s a big advantage. It surprises me that there isn’t more photography in fiction, nonfiction, and picture books.

The biggest challenge is that a photograph is but a moment in time. It’s rare that you can go back and re-shoot. If, after six or seven months, the designer begins work and asks for a photo of the subject doing such-and-such, you’re stuck. An artist can redraw, a photographer usually cannot.

What advice do you have for photographers interested in creating books for and about young people?

Christina reads Susan's first draft.
Write a very strong proposal about a subject that you care about deeply. Check out which publishers seem to lean towards the kind of books you want to do. Put together a portfolio of your work and especially use images that backs up your proposal.

What do you do when you’re not writing and/or shooting pictures?

I like to have fun. I go to lots of concerts, dance, theater, and museums.

I’m also a foodie who loves restaurants and cooking dinners for my husband and friends.

My husband and I try to take one big trip a year. I study Italian but that’s not always fun.

I’m a big reader. I love reading long, thick books that keep me lost in a story for days–and nights.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest Post: Carmen Oliver on Founding a Children’s-YA Author & Illustrator Booking Agency

By Carmen Oliver
of The Booking Biz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

“I don’t believe in barriers…just fly your plane.”
—Captain Nicole Malachowski from Tanya Lee Stone’s Almost Astronauts (Candlewick, 2009)

Over the last eleven years, I encountered a lot of barriers.

A lot of uncertainty.

But during that time, it afforded me the opportunity to really focus on studying children’s literature and the publishing industry. I have volunteered and apprenticed in various leadership and communication roles with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Writers’ League of Texas, and the Texas Book Festival.

Carmen & Dianna Hutts Aston at a conference
My agent Erzsi Deak of Hen & Ink Literary is negotiating the sale of my first picture book, and I’m well published in children and adult magazines. I judge children’s writing contests and mentor new writers.

All of this to say has created the fuel to fly my plane.

In March 2014, I founded The Booking Biz, a boutique-style agency specializing in booking award-winning children’s authors and illustrators for school and library visits, festivals and conferences, and bookstores and special events.

I chose to pursue this career because it spoke to a number of my passions. It allows me to connect children with terrific book creators and hopefully, in some small way, make a difference in their lives.

Additionally, I couldn’t wait to collaborate with like-minded individuals who respect and adore children’s literature. Working with librarians, educators, and event coordinators who are passionate about creating lifelong readers and learners, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

For me, like many in the children’s publishing business, the decision to work with someone must come from a connection, respect, and love of their work. But not only that, I have to believe 110% in their ability to reach their audience and deliver a presentation that will enrich, inspire, and motivate long after they’ve left the proverbial stage. Therefore, I only take on clients whereby I’ve seen their presentations or that come highly recommended by someone I trust implicitly.

Librarians, school administrators, and event organizers need to be able to trust my recommendations. I’m not a salesman. I’m an advocate and partner for my authors/illustrators but also for the businesses searching for speakers.

Don Tate drawing at a festival
Here are a few things that leap to mind when someone from my agency presents:

  • Animated & entertaining
  • Audience participation
  • Connecting and relate-ability 
  • Teaching but not preaching

I believe one of the most important roles of a children’s booking agent is to listen. In Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, he said “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

How often do we find ourselves doing that? I know I’ve done it many times. Talking before the person has finished speaking. As a booking agent, it’s important to quiet your mind and focus on what is being said, how it’s being said, and what isn’t being said. There’s a lot that can be missed if you’re already concentrating on your next sentence, pitch or comeback.

Not every author needs a booking agent. Not every librarian or event coordinator will work with one either. But when you do enlist their service, here are a few of the benefits:

Bethany Hegedus wows the crowd at a school visit.
  • Professional, personalized pitches to organizations on author’s behalf 
  • Negotiates contract/agreement for fees and scheduling 
  • Acts as a liaison between author and event coordinator 
  • Manages all nitty-gritty details 
  • Assists and/or coordinates book sales 
  • Markets and builds new relationships 

At this point, I think it’s important to point out that creating partnerships with librarians, educators, and event coordinators shouldn’t rely solely on the shoulders’ of the booking agent. Your booking agent is your partner and as partners, you both should be equally reaching out into the community and making connections. Every good pilot needs a supportive co-pilot to fly the plane.

More on the Agency

The Booking Biz represents children’s authors Bethany Hegedus (TX), Dianna Hutts Aston (TX), Dianne de Las Casas (LA), Whitney Stewart (LA), David Elliott (NH), Lindsey Lane (TX), author-illustrator Don Tate (TX), and illustrator Evan Turk (NY). The agency is currently not accepting any new clients at this time. For information, visit the Booking Biz website.


Guest Post & Interview: J.L. Powers & George Mendoza on Children's Book Illustration & Colors of the Wind

By J.L. Powers
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

What would your life be like if it felt like you were looking into a kaleidoscope every time you opened your eyes?

What would it feel like to experience strange visions twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even at night when you dream?

That’s what happened to George Mendoza when he started going blind as a teenager.

My first picture book, Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza (Purple House Press, 2014), is a picture book biography about George Mendoza.

When George was 15, he lost his central vision and started seeing things that weren't there—eyes floating in the air, extraordinary colors, objects multiplied and reflected back.

George describes this condition as having "kaleidoscope eyes."

He triumphed over his blindness by setting the world record in the mile for blind runners, and later competing in both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics for the Disabled.

Now a full-time artist, Mendoza's collection of paintings, also titled "Colors of the Wind," is a National Smithsonian Affiliates traveling exhibit. His artwork has also been printed onto fabric and is now sold internationally by Westminster as cloth for clothing and quilts.

Ironically, George paints what he “sees,” an entirely unique phenomenon among painters.

Colors of the Wind is George’s story, illustrated with his paintings (and supplemented with line drawings by Haley Morgan-Sanders).

"Flight of Feathers"
I sat down with George and asked him about the process of becoming a children’s book illustrator.

Powers: What is it like to go from fine artist to illustrator of a children’s book?

Mendoza: Because of my vision problem, being legally blind, I was unable to illustrate the book. But ironically the words that you wrote fit into my paintings. It was kind of a miracle in a way.

Jill Morgan selected those paintings very carefully. And it saved me a lot of trouble because I couldn’t really put paintings to the words.

Wise Tree
Powers: What is it like to have your art used to depict the journey to becoming an artist?

Mendoza: Well, I’ve had great success with painting and having Westminster Inc. do the fabrics, quilts, clothing based on my artwork.

I never thought of doing a children’s book. I think because we’re in a digital age, I thought of doing book covers and CD covers—but never a children’s book.

To have my artwork reproduced digitally on books and fabrics is just a beautiful feeling, to know that people look at my art.

In the beginning, when I first started painting, people said, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing because he’s blind.”

Now they don’t even know that I’m blind because they’re introduced to my artwork only as its reproduced digitally on different types of products.

Powers: Have you ever had art used as covers for CDs? Because I love that idea.

Mendoza: I have actually been contacted by some no-name bands that have put my artwork on their CD covers….and it’s fine with me.

Powers: That’s cool. Anything else you want to say about your journey as an artist and this foray into children’s book publishing?

Mendoza: I grew up with children’s books because my father was a children’s book writer, a very famous children’s book writer. He published over a hundred books with major celebrities like Carol Burnett, Frank Sinatra, celebrities like sports figures. He’s got a classic out called Need a House? Call Miss Mouse (by George Mendoza, illustrated by Doris Susan Smith (Grosset & Dunlap, 1981)).

Jill Morgan (publisher at Purple House Press) wanted to buy the reprint rights for my dad’s book.

She was like the hundredth publisher—email or phone--that I had received over a two-year period so I finally said, “What about our children’s book, Colors of the Wind?”

She said, “Well, let me look at it.”

And it became a children’s book!

www.purplehousepress.com
Visit Purple House Press!


Monday, October 20, 2014

New Voice: David Zeltser on Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age

Curriculum Resources
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David Zeltser is the first-time author of Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species (Egmont, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding it against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. 

The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. Because Lug is different, his clan’s Big Man is out to get him, he’s got a pair of bullies on his case—oh, and the Ice Age is coming.

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo (a Boar Rider girl!). 

In a world experiencing some serious global cooling, these misfits must protect their feuding clans from the impending freeze and a particularly unpleasant pride of migrating saber-toothed tigers. 

It's no help that the elders are cavemen who can't seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.

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

On Friday, December 7, 2012, I got an international call. It was my agent, Catherine Drayton, in Sydney, Australia. She told me that Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age and a sequel was going to be published. I started sobbing--which felt strange, embarrassing, joyful and cathartic all at once.

My daughter was two at the time, so I remember feeling especially happy that she might read the books one day. After the call--thinking I was all cried out--I called my wife. I immediately started bawling. Then I called my parents . . . you get the idea.

We celebrated by going out for dinner. I have no idea where or what we ate, but I’m sure there was dessert involved and that it tasted especially sweet that night.

One of the best memories I do have--my mother-in-law emailed me to say: "Congratulations! Don't let it go to your head."

She’s from Scotland.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny?

I have a giant stuffed iguana named Pedro next to my computer. I’ve noticed that whenever I write something funny, Pedro winks at me and whispers “Bueno.”

What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

I wouldn’t advise setting out to write in any particular genre or style. I think the key thing is to find a story and characters you love, and then to try various approaches and see what reads best.

Deborah Halverson
Lug started out in third person but--on the advice of the wonderful Deborah Halverson--ended up in first person. It was just more fun to read that way.

More importantly, I would make sure you love the process of creating stories more than anything else. If it’s not your true calling, do the thing you love more.

Be completely honest with yourself--are you doing this more for the love of storytelling, or to ‘become an author’ one day? Are you genuinely enjoying what you’re writing? If the answer is ‘kinda,’ chances are that’s how other people will feel too.

Finally, find writer/reader friends and show them your stories. Listen, learn, and rewrite. Put your story away for a while and look at it again fresh. Then, rinse and repeat. Since you usually only have one shot with a manuscript, only go out to agents after you’ve gone through this process a few times.

Having said all that, I think the funniest books aren’t too focused on the funny. They’re compelling stories with interesting characters who happen to be in comic situations. We’re not going to laugh much if we don’t care about the characters or the story.

Personally, my favorite kind of humor is situational. I like building scenes so that the humor comes from what’s happening to the characters, rather than from the author commenting on what’s happening.

If that’s not enough unwanted advice, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Care and Training of the Writer in Your Life.

Cynsational Notes

David Zeltser emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. He has a forthcoming picture book, Ninja Baby, with Caldecott Honor illustrator Diane Goode (Chronicle Books). David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Follow David on Twitter: @davidzeltser

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Scary & diverse
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition from Lee & Low. Peek: "Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces!"

Green Earth Book Awards from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "Part of this celebration included a donation of 10,000 environmental books to schools. Each year Green Earth Book Awards are given to books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction and nonfiction, YA fiction and nonfiction."

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Strategic Thinking by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The ability to accurately view and assess present-day reality in order to plan for and create the future that one desires (winning a game, reaching a personal goal, growing one’s business, etc.)."

A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Pay attention to how beauty is define." See also The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Book Fair by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews.

Two Pages to Tell a Story by Yona Zeldis McDonough from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant." See also Gender Bias in Writing & Publishing: Fact or Fiction by Julie Munroe Martin from Writer Unboxed.

An Author's Journey to Getting Back into Print by Eleanora E. Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!"

Metis characters & gender-expectations theme
Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle by Carole Lindstrom: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig."

Historical Accuracy in Illustration: Shifting Standards or Stubborn Uncertainties? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Can illustration ever really and truly be factual, just shy of simply copying a photograph? Should we hold historical fiction and historical nonfiction to different standards from one another?"

At Age 91, Island Artist Ashley Bryan Still Trying to "Tap That Inner Mystery of Who I Am" by Bill Trotter from The Bangor Daily News. Peek: "Born in the summer of 1923 in Harlem, New York, to a large family that traced its roots to the Caribbean island of Antigua, he could not escape the conflicts of the era."

Boo Hoo from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Was I still grateful that night to be published and well enough regarded to be on the road? Of course. But that didn’t keep the night from being dark." See also The Key to Rejection by Shannon O'Donnell from Project Mayhem.

Celebrate Yourself by Kathryn McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...we can get so focused on what recognition and success look like in the world around us that we forget what success looks like to each of us, on our terms."

National Book Award finalist; learn more.
Get to Know the Finalists for the National Book Award from National Public Radio. Peek: "The National Book Awards shortlists — for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature — were announced Wednesday on Morning Edition...." Note: scroll for Young People's Literature. 

Thoughts from an Author-Editor by Kate Brauning from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But this year, my debut novel is being published (How We Fall (Merit Press,  November 2014))."

How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Need to Be? Five Principles by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What is the memoirist’s responsibility in telling the truth, the whole truth? What is our responsibility to others who share our story?"

A Writing Retreat Re-Defined by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be 'real,' and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care."

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Imani's Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge, 2014).



Via A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal:



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win.

The winner of a signed copy of Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron is Elaine in Missouri.

Enter to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest) from Carmela Martino at Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Great news! The Austin SCBWI chapter has instituted a scholarship for Writers of Diverse Characters. I hope that our example will lead other chapters and writing organizations to take similar action.

My children's books Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) join Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief (Dial, 1998) as companion books to Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, 2012) for Saratoga Reads!

I look forward to traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York to celebrate! See more information.


Do you like my Cynthia Leitich Smith author page at Facebook? I'm somewhat stunned to report that I've passed 5,000 followers (and counting) over there, and the comments section is pretty lively.

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Christina Soontornvat on the sale of her debut picture book to Nancy Paulsen Books!

New logo!
We Need Diverse Books Announces Walter Dean Myers Awards and Grants by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The Walter Dean Myers Award...nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing... In addition...grants will be awarded to up-and-coming, unpublished writers and illustrators who are creating diverse works and require financial support...." Note: I'm an advisory board member of WNDB.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post: Simon Nicholson on An Alternative History & Investigator of Mystery

Excerpt, educator's guide & more information!
By Simon Nicholson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I was reading books about Houdini. It seemed to me one of the most exciting things about him was that, as well as being the world's most famous illusionist, he also devoted much of his life to doing battle against "magic".

Enraged at the thought of ordinary people being exploited, he worked ceaselessly to expose fake séances, false mediums, Spiritualist hoaxes.

With his stunts and de-bunking activities, the great Houdini sought to prove that man was master of his own fate, that no "magic" could be more powerful than what ordinary men or women could achieve with their own skills, muscles and wits.

An extraordinary quest—particularly for his times. I started wondering what could have made Houdini so driven in this way. Something in his childhood perhaps?

An idea for a series of books for middle grade readers took shape; in which a young Harry Houdini, boy investigator, would be faced with supposedly magical mysteries, and would use his emerging escapological skills to unmask the truth.

I started work on an alternative history: a series of events that didn't happen, but which, just possibly, might have done. I knew that the real Houdini's boyhood had been a relatively peaceful one in Appleton, Wisconsin; but I asked myself whether that could have been a "cover-up", a carefully devised tale to conceal a far more thrilling reality?

So I placed my Harry on the Manhattan streets in 1886, shining shoes; I introduced him to two young friends, Billie and Arthur. Together, this trio find themselves getting swept up in a series of frightening mysteries; an elderly magician kidnapped by unknowable forces; the mayor of New Orleans falling victim to a daemonic curse. People are terrified, rumours of magic abound; but young Harry uses his skills to expose the truth…

And to outwit the danger that results. Generally, people create rumours of magic for sinister purposes, and the villains in my books would be no different.

More on Simon Nicholson!
The real Houdini made powerful enemies through his determination to expose falsehood; that would be true of my boy investigator too. His enemies would try to silence him by the most deadly means possible, leading him to develop those unbelievable powers of escape.

Over and over again, he would escape to tell the tale; he and his friends would travel the world to defeat mystery. And at the end, I decided, there would be neat scene in which Harry would decide to invent his "cover story", a convincing tale of how he grew up peacefully in Wisconsin, USA…

So: Young Houdini, investigator of mystery.

Cynsational Notes

Simon Nicholson is the author of The Magician's Fire, the first book in his Young Houdini series. Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in the U.S. and by OUP in the U.K. and rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on The Power of Story & Our Brains

By Kimberley Griffiths Little
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was young I read a book a day.

I always had a book with me, whether it was inside my desk when I was done with the class assignment, or in the car as the family drove somewhere (and especially long trips), the waiting room of the dentist office, or while sitting in church when I didn’t understand the sermon. A book was literally the best friend I carried in my pocket.

I lived inside those stories. I became the main character. I laughed, I wept, and sometimes I sobbed into my pillow.

The writing bug bit me early and I started scribbling very bad stories when I was 9-10 years old—hoping that someday I might create some of the magic of books myself, just as my favorite authors did.

Now, when I go into schools I like to spend a few minutes talking about that book magic. I tell them;

“When we open up a book there are all these little black marks on a white page. Just a bunch of black marks. And yet, as we decipher those funny black marks they become words and sentences. They turn into a story. And that story comes alive in your head, in your imagination.

"Those black marks let us slip inside the skin of the main character and suddenly we are in their mind, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, going places, having adventures, solving mysteries, or getting into trouble. And often those bunches of black marks make our heart pound, our throat ache, and our emotions run the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other. I call that magic!"

Now we’re finding out that scientific researchers are studying people’s brain activity while reading. They are discovering that novels go beyond simulating reality to giving readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Exactly!

A favorite of Kimberley at age 14.
In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex (sense of smell to us common folk) lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark.

The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. But when people read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active.

Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas.

In a study in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.

What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

Visit Kimberley at Spellbinders!
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

I find that simply fascinating!

The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Reading is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.

This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind.

So now I call reading a “Virtual Reality Experience”.

A story about the amazing Richard Peck:

At one of the very first writer’s conferences I attended (about 20 years ago!) in Santa Fe, New Mexico; we were privileged to hear the Newbery-winning writer Richard Peck.

At the time he had not yet won the Newbery, but had published a body of young adult novels that had been on piles of award-winning book lists. He was mesmerizing and full of wisdom, speaking of his childhood and learning how to read at his mother’s knee.

I will never forget something Richard Peck said that day: He said, “Books are better than real life.”

Obviously my fifth grade teacher did not understand this when he wrote a letter home to my parents and told them that he was concerned about me because “Kimberley reads so constantly she’s not playing during recess, and I fear she might be losing touch with reality.”

Not to worry, Mr. Thiessen (a teacher I actually really liked and who read to us every day after lunch). I knew the difference, but I also knew that books were better than real life!

What is also significant is that my parents never breathed a word about that letter way back then. My mother didn’t mention it until many years later when I was married with children of my own.

As I wrote in the dedication of my book, The Last Snake Runner (Knopf, 2004):

This book is for my parents, who never turned out the light on reading: just took me to the library again.

I’m grateful for books and stories and parents who encouraged reading, which helped their extremely shy and awkward daughter with very few friends to create a meaningful life through books as she grew up and grew less shy and less awkward – although it took most of my life!

Now I get letters from adult and kids alike telling me about the power of my stories in their lives and how the stories helped them through family crises and sadness—or kept them up half the night turning the pages while chills ran down their arms.

I hope my brand new Scholastic novel, The Time of the Fireflies, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and gives you a good case of chills at midnight.

Cynsational Notes

Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul by The New York Times.

How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain by Lee Dye from ABC News.

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Post: Margo Sorenson on Working with a University Press

By Margo Sorenson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it's often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I'd step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother's inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Here is Tori's story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.

Lefse on Turner
To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?
If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university's imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you're surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband's Norwegian immigrant family's precious traditions, I believed in Tori's story. I contacted my children's literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn't know if they would publish a children's book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn't I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, "No," but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina's Young Palmetto Books imprint  specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children's book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori's story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover
One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven't you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that's not their mission or reason for existence, so if you're looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there's also that "don't judge a book by its cover," right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori's story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.
New e-book cover!

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would "adopt" our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather's chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother's new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she's working so hard just for Bjorn, since he's not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!

Checklist:
  • Is your story historical or cultural?
  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?
  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?
  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson's twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco's Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, "picking-up-stix" with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.

When his uncle's restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake's last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant? 

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.
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