Friday, October 21, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Suspense or Manipulation? by Claudia Mills from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: "Vary chapter endings so that some can offer, e.g., satisfying closure on a scene, or a humorous or serious reflection."

Synopsizing Your Way to Success by Vaughn Roycroft from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "What I mean is, the words came pouring out, in a way they hadn’t in weeks. Much more so than they would be if I’d plunged in cold, or if I’d started a scene chart."

Smarter Not to Rhyme My Picture Book? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "That’ll give you the read-aloud quality you’re probably aiming for, but without the challenges inherent in trying to tell a story while maneuvering the rules of rhyme."

Finding Your Way Into a Story by April Bradley from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Character is a writer’s lodestone, and we enter our stories in various ways through them: what they want, what they’re doing, how they look, what they think, how they feel."

What's Your Character's Hook? Does Your Hero or Heroine Have A Special Skill or Talent? by Angela Ackerman from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "What you choose for your character doesn’t have to be mainstream–in fact, sometimes unusual talents add originality (like knowing how to hot wire a car…especially if the character happens to be a high school principal!)"

Interview: Mark Gottlieb, Literary Agent at Trident Media, by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "So it really depends but I try my best to leave creative decision matters ultimately up to the author and/or editor in order to avoid stepping on any toes." See also Top Children's Literary Agents, 2016-2017 (YA, MG, PB). Note: based on reported, not total, sales.

On Writing the American Familia by Meg Medina from The Horn Book. Peek: "That’s an experience familiar to fifty-four million people — seventeen percent of our population — who identify as Latino in the U.S. today. So it’s fair to say that I’m writing about the American family."

Got a ‘reluctant reader’? Try poetry, says author Kwame Alexander by Julie Hakim Azzam from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Peek: "Sports, he said, 'is a great metaphor for life,' and a lure to talk about other things such as family and friendships." See also Teen Read Week by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children.

Revise or Give Up? by Mary Kole from Peek: "If there are weaknesses to your manuscript that you or someone else has identified, or if it’s in a very crowded category (zombies, for example) and you just don’t know if you can make a dent, I would really dig in to the area that needs work."

How Your Hero's Past Pain Will Determine His Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "In real life, who we are now is a direct result of our own past, and so in fiction, we need to look at who our story’s cast were before they stepped onto the doorstep of our novel."

Thoughts on Stereotypes by Allie Jane Bruce from Reading While White. Peek: "The fact that (most) people don’t believe that any one of these stereotypes applies to the entire population of Black women doesn’t mean that they’re not stereotypes."

Things Boys Have Asked Me by Joe Jiménez from Latinix in Kidlit. Peek: "Sometimes we might even forget they are there. Other times, we let these questions stick to us, like splinters, buried in our hands and feet."

Managing Crowds of Characters from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: " tricks this time didn’t seem to work that well, at least for this particular regular reader. As well, I didn’t use as many of my reminder tags/dialogue clues."

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Stopping an Event from Happening by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "(Inner Motivation): safety and security."

Writing a Series: How Much Do We Need to Plan Ahead? from Jami Gold. Peek: "...for those who write by the seat of their pants or for those who like experimenting with ideas even as plotters, the story of their current book might be a mystery, much less the stories of future releases."

Do Your Settings Contain Emotional Value? by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...even though time has passed, an echo of that old hurt and rejection will affect him while in this restaurant."

Windows & Mirrors: Promoting Diverse Books for the Holidays & Beyond by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Last fall children’s booksellers in the Northern California Children’s Booksellers Alliance and the New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council challenged each other to see which region could sell the most diverse books in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This year that challenge is back."

Character Rules by Yamile S. Méndez from Project Middle Grade Mayhem. Peek: "I've compiled a list of ways in which I can explore my characters' traits to understand their desires, goals, and motivations from which all my stories enfold."

Cynsational Giveaways
This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Wow! I'm honored that my picture book Jingle Dancer (Morrow/HarperCollins)(discussion guide) is highlighted on the Native American Children's Literature Recommended Reading List and Discussion Guide from the First Nations Development Institute in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

Peek: "First Nations partnered with Debbie Reese, Ph.D. (Nambé Pueblo)... The idea is to encourage a 'national read' and discussion about these important Native narratives." See also Ten Ways You Can Make a Difference. #NativeReads

What else? In the wake of the recent presidential debates, I've been thinking about gender-power dynamics with regard to joint public speaking events.

Male authors frequently interrupt or punctuate female authors' answers with their own opinions. The one male author on a panel, for example, may say more than his three female co-panelists put together, never mind their efforts to graciously participate or the fact that they don't interrupt him. Moderators too often serve only to reinforce these predispositions.

This is so common that women children's-YA writers frequently joke about the symbolism of the microphone. It's humor that comes from pain, plus truth, plus a determination to prosper anyway. It's a coping device that shouldn't be necessary.

At this moment in the national dialogue, let's clean our own house and do better in the future.

Are you on Instagram? Find me @cynthialeitichsmith. See also Instagram for Authors by Stephanie Scott from Adventures in YA Publishing.

Personal Links

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Guest Post: Traci Sorell on Signing with a Literary Agent

Kansas State U. Powwow with son Carlos & cousin Matthew Lester (senior)
By Traci Sorell
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I had no idea how beneficial an agent could be when I attended my first SCBWI conference in October 2013.

I quickly realized how much about the industry I did not know.

I began to network with other children's writers, especially fellow Native Americans, and when it came time to look for an agent, I utilized that network extensively.

I questioned fellow writers with representation, especially those from Native/people of color backgrounds, about their experience. I asked how agents had presented themselves at conferences or other events. I read agent online interviews and social media posts.

I wanted my agent to be a steadfast partner with a strong work ethic. It is a long-term relationship, so both people have to be dedicated to maintaining it. I required someone who was excited about my work and associated with a well-respected agency.

Traci's Reading Chair
Ideally, I wanted someone who had editorial experience that reflects what I write—fiction, nonfiction, and Native/POC subjects. To be honest, this makes for a small submission list, so I did expand beyond that.

When I communicated with agents via email and telephone, I tracked whether what they shared reflected my list.

My gut got an extreme workout when I received two offers of representation on the same day. I cannot stress enough the importance of developing and checking in with trusted mentors.

Ultimately, I accepted Emily Mitchell's offer of representation with Wernick & Pratt Agency. She met every single item on my list. Her clients contacted me quickly and gave their honest feedback about her representation.

Emily had vetted me with my editor at Charlesbridge, her former employer. We had both done our homework.

To me, it is kismet that Emily presented at that first conference I attended—and in my home state of Oklahoma too! That day, she shared her desired client attributes—voice, authority, pragmatism and flexibility. I'd like to think I resemble her list, too.

Cynsational Notes

Follow @TraciSorell 
Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies. She has been an active member of SCBWI since August 2013.

In April 2016, Charlesbridge acquired her first nonfiction picture book, We are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, from the slush pile.

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.

Traci is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation. She grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.

She is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor's degree in Native American Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

She also has a Master's degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin. Previously, she taught at the University of North Dakota School of Law and the University of New Mexico.

She also worked as an attorney assisting tribal courts nationwide, advocated for national Native American health care, and directed a national nonprofit serving American Indian and Alaska Native elders. She now lives in the Kansas City area.

See also Story to Contract: Traci Sorell’s Incredible Journey by Suzanne Slade from Picture Book Builders. Peek: "Be grateful. Every day. If you approach your creativity and the process of writing from a place of gratitude, it opens you up. You will be more aware of story ideas, available to hear critiques that improve your craft, and connected to others around you in the kidlit world. Gratitude opens up receptivity."

Emily Mitchell began her career at Sheldon Fogelman Agency, handling submissions, subsidiary rights, and coffee. She spent eleven years at Charlesbridge Publishing as senior editor, contracts manager, and director of corporate strategy. After a brief post-MBA stint in the non-publishing world, Emily returned to children's books at Wernick & Pratt.

Her clients include Geisel Honor winner April Pulley Sayre, author/photographer of Best In Snow (Beach Lane, 2016); Caron Levis, author of Ida, Always (Atheneum, 2016); and Frank W. Dormer, author/illustrator of The Sword in the Stove (Atheneum, 2016) and Click! (Viking, 2016).

Emily holds a bachelor's degree in English from Harvard University, a master's in secondary English education from Syracuse University, and an MBA from Babson College. She lives outside Boston.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Guest Post: Jaclyn Dolamore on Writing Beloved Books

By Jaclyn Dolamore
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I've moved into indie publishing lately, where it is entirely my choice which books I release into the world. So, I've been thinking about branding.

One thing it has taken me a while to realize is that just because you don't write the most popular thing and you get some bad reviews because of it, doesn't mean you need to change anything.

My second novel, Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury, 2001), is my favorite of my published books. Its review average on Amazon and Goodreads was never great, which initially made me feel like there was no place in the world for what I most love to write.

However, as the years have gone by, I've gotten many fan letters for that book from both kids and adult women who tell me it's one of their favorite books and they've read it many times. It took me all those years for the fan mail to trickle in before it finally dawned on me that it is the most beloved of all my books, as far as I can tell.

My brand is: cozy romantic fantasy about a couple in healthy relationship with lots of details about food, clothes, and domestic life, and bits of humor. The fantasy backdrop is more in the "courtly politics" vein rather than physical action, although there is a little of that.

The characters are always somewhat on the fringe of society, your lovable outcasts and weirdos, and if I've done my job, you keep reading because you find the characters delightful and you want to know what happens to them and see them find a place in the world.

Betsy the Cat
They are the kind of books you might read when you're sick or having a bad day; where the characters are friends, the world is home, and you can trust that your heart won't get ripped out of your chest.

A lot of readers like having their heart ripped out of their chest. They give me reviews that say they wanted more action, more magic, more highs and lows. It's always tempting to listen to the bad reviews instead of the good.

And sometimes I love reading stuff that is epic, sweeping, dark. But when I try to write it feels like when I wear my disco dress with the fluttery sleeves. I love that dress but it just isn't me the way my plain 1960s navy blue librarian dress is.

Other people might even like the disco dress better, but it doesn't matter, I still would be happier living in the librarian dress.

As a reader, too, the cozy reads are the ones that fall apart on my shelf, because I pick them up again and again. So I realize now that it is more important to keep writing books that are the most me, and retain those readers who appreciate them too, than it is to try and chase the next big fantasy bestseller.

Cynsational Notes

Jaclyn's books include:
  • Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury, 2009); 
  • Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury, 2011); 
  • Magic Under Stone (Bloomsbury, 2012); 
  • Dark Metropolis (Hyperion, 2014); 
  • Glittering Shadows (Hyperion, 2015); 
  • The Vengeful Half (Self-published, 2016); and 
  • The Stolen Heart (Self-published, 2016).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Giveaway & New Voices: Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat on How to Be a Debut Author

Christina & kiddos
By Erin Petti & Christina Soontornvat
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Today Erin and Christina talk about their new releases and lives as newly published authors.

Then offer tips as to how to survive and thrive your literary debut experience.

Erin Petti is the first-time author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016). From the promotional copy:  
Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. 

Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word "return," whispered to her by the ghost. 

It's up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought--there's someone wielding dark magic, and they're coming after her next.
Christina Soontornvat is the first-time author of The Changelings (Sourcebooks, 2016). From the promotional copy: 
All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest...where she vanishes. 

A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. 

She's been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it's up to Izzy to bring her home.

CHRISTINA: The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee (Mighty Media, 2016) hit the shelves this fall. Has life changed for you now that you are a published author?

ERIN: Life is busier now with events and all that good stuff, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Also, it's totally and completely amazing to walk into a bookstore and see something I wrote on the shelves.

Pretty much a lifelong dream come true!

CHRISTINA: Yeah, seeing my book on the shelf is still kind of a shock. When friends snap a photo of The Changelings (Sourcebooks, 2016) in a store halfway across the country, that’s when it hits me that all of this really happened.

Because otherwise life isn’t too different, you know?

It’s not like publishing a book gets you out of doing the laundry or the dishes! And meanwhile I can’t help putting even more pressure on myself to write the next thing.

ERIN: Oh absolutely, but writing that next thing is exactly what you have to do. That’s the biggest piece of advice I share with writers who are querying or about to debut - "keep writing!"

It took me a long time to write, revise, and query and there were moments where it was hard to get back to the actual writing part.

But the writing is really all you have control over so as long as you're creating and getting words on the page, you're doing your job.

CHRISTINA: That’s a good reminder – the author’s job is to write the books!

And you’re so right – there is a lot you don’t have control over, which can be stressful but also liberating in a way.

Speaking of “jobs,”you have a young daughter and another baby on the way as well as other work that you are passionate about.

How do you juggle life and writing?

ERIN: It's not super easy to schedule, and I've definitely had a measure of trouble keeping the house clean and my kid’s shoes on the right foot - but we're getting by.

My husband is more or less super-dad, and I rely on him an awful lot. But you are one to talk with your own work and two young kids!

CHRISTINA: Well, meeting other writers – like you – who have similarly jam-packed lives has been good for me. It’s a reminder that the vast majority of us have to purposefully and doggedly carve time out from our crazy lives to write, even after we get published.

Some days I get a couple hours, other days just enough time to jot down notes. But I’ve found that if I don’t write every day I get into trouble, and it’s harder to pick it back up. Oh, and I definitely gave up on having a clean house years ago!

Readers are going to fall in love with The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee. Your book isn't just for the Halloween season, but it definitely explores the paranormal.

Do you have a favorite spooky scene from the book?

ERIN: One of my favorite scenes is when the three young heroes are walking alone through the cold, dark New England woods searching for a certain (possibly haunted) cottage.

I got to play with the environment a lot--exploring just what is lurking in those tall shadows--and it really shows the kids at their bravest.

CHRISTINA: And those illustrations really build the suspense! They remind me of Edward Gorey’s drawings, which I totally love.

ERIN: I love the illustrations, too! We’ve both talked about how we lucked out with our books’ art. Your beautiful cover jumps off the shelf! It definitely gives you the feeling that these fairies are no Tinkerbelles, that there is something darker going on.

CHRISTINA: Yes, the story was inspired by old folktales of fairies who steal babies and swap them with Changelings, so definitely a little dark. Their motivation for doing that was one of the most fun things to explore in the book. Why would they want human babies? And why would a Changeling sign up for that exchange?

Tips for Debut Authors

1. Enjoy the moment: As much as we hate to start things off with a sentiment that should be cross-stitched onto a pillowcase, this one happens to be very true.

Celebrate the big and small milestones – your first signing, seeing your book on the shelf for the first time. And then there will be a moment when a reader loves your book so much that they tell you.

Soak that in. Don't skim over the beautiful moments. You only do this debut thing once.

Christina with authors Lindsey Schiebe, Madeline Smoot & P,J, Hoover
2. Connect with a community: Other authors are the best and most supportive people to have in your corner, and sometimes the only way to maintain your sanity.

Twitter, conferences, and debut groups are wonderful ways to connect with other debut authors who are going through the same ups and downs as you are.

It also feels so satisfying to cheer on their successes and root for people whose books you love.

3. Turn that dang thing off: Social media can help keep you connected when you need it. But it can also suck the hours right out of your day – and time is going to be your most precious resource when your book comes out.

So as much fun as it is to chat and retweet clever "Stranger Things" gifs, know when to put down the phone and work/read/rest.

Social media can sometimes also make you feel like everyone in the world is getting a book deal/winning awards/getting a movie contract/selling millions of copies – everyone but you. If you ever feel that way, turn off that app for a little while, and see Tip #2.

4. Make it easy on your publicist: Your publicist will be your ally in helping to set up events, pitch you for conferences, and make connections for a blog tour.

But as much as they love you and your book, they will have other authors they are also working with and new books continuously coming down the pipe. Do what you can to help them help you.

During your first meeting or conference call, ask them for concrete ways you can help. Maybe you know of a local area children's book festival that your author friends rave about. Or perhaps your critique partner has a great blog and she wants to do a giveaway for you. Doing your research ahead of time will make everyone's jobs easier.

5. Get ready for things to change: Have you ever gone to a SCBWI Conference and sat next to a debut author who told you, "Just enjoy the freedom of not being published yet. You can write so unselfconsciously," and you wanted to stab them with the pen that came in your registration tote bag? Turns out there's a little bit of truth to that.

For a lot of authors, getting published creates this paradox of delusional thinking that now they will never be published again. I blame some of this on the overemphasis of "being a debut." and the accompanying feeling that once your debut is over, you are used goods.

But whatever the reason, there are expectations now, real and imagined, from you, your agent, your publisher about you as a professional author. And you may find yourself longing just a little for the days when you wrote just to write, and there was less expectation, less self criticism, more freedom. (But don't say that to unpublished writers at conferences. Those pens are sharp).

6. Get ready for things to be exactly the same: After the initial sparkly, Instagram-worthy swirl of launch date subsides, life is likely going to feel pretty same-ish.

Yes, there may be events and school visits, book signings and festivals. But for most of us, the bulk of our days will carry on as before.

Your non-writer friends will assume you are out shopping for a Tesla Roadster or having brunch with Ann Patchett when really you are cleaning a lint trap or scraping an exploded baked ziti off the oven door.

If in that moment you think to yourself, "I shouldn't be doing this – I'm a published author," you are in big trouble.

7. Keep writing: The best way to simultaneously get over your anxiety and celebrate your newfound authordom is to write more things.

If you have gotten to this point of having a book published, you must love the work of writing. There is no other reason that a sane person would endure the long, unpaid hours, the sting of rejection letters, the glacial delay of gratification, if that person didn't love to write.

You may have to write more things because you signed a contract for another book. If so, lucky you! But even if that's not the case, start on a new project before your debut comes out. You may have to set it aside during the busy days of your launch, but it will feel so good to open up your laptop and have something ready and waiting for you.

8. Find joy in other things: These things may be hobbies or your day job or your daily walk, or art museums or jiu jitsu. Or they may be people, like your spouse or your friends or your children.

These things matter very much, just as much as writing. And unlike writing, these things will hug you and they will eat your cruddy, over-baked ziti. And when you are having a hard day, they will hold up your new book and smile and say, "Look what you did! You did this!"

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Guest Post: Linda Boyden on How Do I Write?

Linda reflecting on her writing life.
By Linda Boyden
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

How do I write?

With deepest apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Dr. Seuss, let me count the ways:

with pencil, pen or quill,
from a picture, if you will,
on a napkin, in the dark,
 at the ocean, on a walk,

at a desk, from my dreams,
at a keyboard, near a stream:
the Muse attacks and I succumb, writing words one by one.

It may start anywhere, anytime without invitation. A spark leaps across one brain cell to another and I must write. I must capture the word/phrase/sentence on paper or in a text file so I can hold it hostage before this elusive gift evaporates.

During school visits, I tell my student audiences; this idea-generating stage of writing comes from something I refer to as the Cosmic Goo, a Nether-World place where ideas wait to be used.

Cosmic Goo (it's a technical term)

Once an idea has introduced itself, I enter the pre-writing phase, where I begin to translate images into slightly more tangible things, words. I want to see, touch, taste them; more importantly, I want to hear them.

I read all my work aloud, from rough draft to finished products, particularly important for picture book or poems. By doing this, I can test their word rhythms. I want to pair every idea with its perfect word mate; doubly important if the draft insists upon being rhymed.

Rhymed or in prose, rhythm is key. If I can't hear the intrinsic word melodies that rhythm produces then neither will my readers.

A stop in word rhythm will slow or stop the reader's flow, and potentially keep them from reading more.

For revising and editing most of my manuscripts, I proceed in two ways: I work a piece to the ground or I abandon it...for a night, a week, a year, or even completely. Separation has definite advantages.

Often, I will go to sleep ruminating on an irksome line, paragraph or scene and awake with its solution, or at least with the way to proceed. In contrast, a longer incubation period allows me to discover that not all pieces deserve to survive. I have learned to use the delete key.

Grandchildren (at a younger age) featured with blessings.
However, if a piece does deserve serious revision, then it deserves the best I can provide.

Good revision is much like good parenting: it starts from your heart.

You invest time in the improvement of your words or art; you encourage and nudge them to shine to become their best; last, you send them on their way and step back.

Will the words and illustrations you love ring true in the Big World?

Will your hard work pay off?

Like adult kids on their own, books mutate from your plans. A few make the New York Times Best Sellers List. Many speak to the hearts of librarians and teachers.

If you are lucky, truly lucky, your book will touch the one child it needed to help, the one who will fall asleep with your work tucked in her or his arms.

That's the beauty and importance of writing and illustrating books for children.

Cynsational Notes

“I write. I teach. I color in or outside the lines. I spoil kids and grandkids....
"Poetry gives voice to our silent songs."

Author/illustrator/storyteller/recovering-teacher/poet, Linda Boyden has written six and illustrated five picture books:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Latest Trend: Beautifully Illustrated Nonfiction Picture Books by Vicki Cobb from The Huffington Post. Peek: "Great illustration should have a balance – a reduction to the essence, as well as visual interest and a seductive charm - dare I even say, beauty?"

The Book Monster: When Writing Gets Hard by Kate Moretti from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I was pushed to finish this book because of a contract and a deadline. If I’d been on my own, I might have put it away." See also Finding Confidence as a Writer by Allie Larkin.

Giving Characters (& Readers) Too Little Information by Mary Kole from Peek: "They don’t want to simply unload all of the necessary information all at once when the protagonist lands in the new world. The downside of this approach, however, is that it leaves the protagonist in limbo."

Trimmer Named Head of Holt Books for Young Readers; Godwin to Get Imprint by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Christian Trimmer has been named editorial director of the imprint; he is currently executive editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.... Laura Godwin, v-p and publisher, will launch her own imprint, called Godwin Books."

SMP Launching Crossover Imprint, Wednesday Books by Rachel Deahl from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...will publish YA and adult titles focused on coming-of-age themes. SMP said the line will focus on 'bold, diverse, and commercial voices in fiction and nonfiction who speak to readers looking for stories in and beyond the YA category.'"

The History That's Not In Textbooks by Guadalupe Garcia McCall from Lee & Low. Peek: "No one can ever do justice to the retelling of the extent of the horrific atrocities committed during that time with complete accuracy and authenticity because so much of it was concealed, poorly recorded, or swept under the proverbial rug."

Out and Proud vs. Hiding In Plain Sight by Tirzah Price from Book Riot. Peek: "This new consideration inspired me to take a closer look at the lesbian hand cover trend, and some of the considerations that authors and publishers (but mostly publishers) have when creating these covers. How are they approaching these covers, and what, if anything, has changed in the last two years?"

Steve Matin: A "Wild and Crazy" Role Model by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "A writer’s professional road is long and unpredictable, quite simply because we writers don’t have full control over how our work is received in the world."

Interview With MG Authors Audrey Vernick and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich by Darlene Beck Jacobson from Smack Dab in the Middle. Peek: "I think I base just about all of my characters on people I know or have met, a lot of the time I don't do it consciously."

YA Authors Turn Advocates by Sarah J. Robbins from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...we speak with authors of recent books about what motivated each of them to take on an especially tough topic. We asked them to talk about the challenges and responsibilities of walking the line between artistry and advocacy, both during the writing process and after publication, once their work reaches its audience."

Congratulations to VCFA WCYA alum Stephen Baker, the Karen Cushman Late Bloomer Award winner, from SCBWI! Stephen graduated in summer 2016.

Creating Unforgettable Settings: Choosing the Right Setting by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...there should be places within that setting that are important to the character. Melinda’s janitorial closet in Speak. Or the forest outside District 12 for Katniss in The Hunger Games."

This Week at Cynsations
Book Giveaway!

More Personally

A quiet week of teaching here, as I've reviewed the third-round packets from my students at the VCFA MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults.

However, I did take a break to reward myself for turning in my manuscript with a detoxifying mud wrap at Ann Web Skin Clinic.

(Austinites! Ann Webb is a school, so treatments are substantially less expensive than you'd pay at a traditional spa. But the services are excellent, and it feels like spa experience.)

Ready for a mud wrap!
I've been thinking a lot lately about the importance of self-care, hence my post this week (Election Reflections & Caring for Your Creative Heart).

It's not selfish to look after your own physical and especially your own mental health. If our glass is empty, we have nothing to give. Nothing to give our friends and families, nothing to give our communities and our literary art. Nothing to give ourselves. Fill the well, book lovers! Fill the well!

On another note, my official facebook author page has been liked more than 6,000 people. Please feel free to join me there if you haven't already. Much like Cynsations, the focus includes but goes well beyond my own work to children's-YA writing, illustration, literature, education and publishing more globally. Along the same lines, please consider yourself invited to join my nearly 18,000 followers @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

Personal Links

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Guest Post: Carol Lynch Williams in Memory of Rick Walton

By Carol Lynch Williams
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In the early part of last year, Rick Walton, one of my best friends and a prolific picture book writer, was diagnosed with a terminal and aggressive brain tumor.

For many years before this diagnosis, Rick battled early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Recently, the tumors returned (after a surgery that left Rick partially paralyzed) and as I write this, my friend, my hilarious, clever, word-twisting friend, lives out his last days.

I’ve wandered around the house crying far too much, visiting Rick when I can.

This world of grief is something we all experience in one way or another. No one is exempt from sorrow. It makes up a part of who we are and so grief finds its way into many of my novels. My characters grapple with love lost, death, abuse. I write about life. The sad part.

Writing about grief, telling the true story of a sorrowing character, is tremendously important.

 Readers need examples of survivors. But what happens when that grief becomes too much for the writer?

These last few weeks, as Rick has become more and more sick, has found me not wanting to write unless I must. I don’t believe in the muse nor do I believe in writer’s block. Writing is hard work and we must work to get words on the page.

I do think, however, there are drags on our creativity—events that can eat up our words almost before they are formed. That’s where I am now.

Many years ago, it seemed my worlds crashed around me. I went through a divorce, lost the home I’d raised my girls in, ended up moving every few months trying to find a place for my children and me to settle. I was desperate for a place to call home.

At the same time, four people in my life died, money became more and more scarce, a close relative experienced two psychotic breaks, a drugged neighbor kept trying to break into our rented house . . . and when I thought I could bear no more, I went to two unrelated funerals in two days.

I felt overwhelmed with grief. At one point I finally cried out to my God, “I believe in you but do you believe in me?” That accumulated sorrow led to my young adult novel Waiting (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2012).



there were other times

other events

HarperCollins, 2016
other devestations

when my heart and my body, and my spirit even, felt unable to do anything, including write.

There were times when I wept alone and in the open.

Times when I wondered if I could draw in a breath.

Then, I despaired.

I found myself hoping for courage and the ability to do what I had to do: write.

Here are a few things, past the hoping, that helped me get the courage to do the hard thing of finishing a novel. I:

  1. Prayed. Talking to God is an important part of who I am. I spent hours talking, weeping and talking some more.
  2. Exercised. I took off walking, and talking, alone. This exercise permitted my body to breathe and to relax, to rid myself of layers of grief.
  3. Shared the pain. There seemed a time when even a grocery store checker asking me how I was brought on my sharing. That speaking up lightened the load, made it feel possible for me to keep going.
  4. Gave myself room and time. It’s okay if the words don’t come right away. They will come.
  5. Trust yourself. You will write again. It will happen. The next thing you know you’ll find yourself allowing new characters in your life, then wrestling in that awkward middle part of the novel, then typing those triumphant words, THE END. 

Every day since the news that Rick will soon die, I’ve gone to see him. I hold his hand, talk to him about my own life, read him messages from those who love him and can’t travel to Utah to tell him goodbye themselves.

But I haven’t written.

S&S/Paula Wiseman, 2016 (a funny ghost story)
Nothing creative.

Not my blog, not either of the two novels I should be rewriting, not on the mid-grade or YA novel I started this summer.

I’m waiting.

For words.

For peace.

For the sorrow to not be as heavy.

I wish you all could have known Rick Walton as he was years ago. You’d love him like I do. He’s pretty darned fantastic. I’m going to miss him.

My best friend. My Rick.

More from Carol

Rick Walton passed away peacefully, with his mom and sister by his side, three days after I completed this writing.

Cynsational Notes

Rick Walton's books included Frankenstein: A Monstrous Parody, illustrated by Nathan Hale (Feiwel & Friends, 2012); Girl and Gorilla: Out and About, illustrated by Joe Berger (HarperCollins, 2016), and Bullfrog Pops! An Adventure in Verbs and Objects, illustrated by Chris McAllister (Gibbs Smith, 2011).

A legacy of inspiration, remembering Utah children’s book author extraordinaire Rick Walton by Ann Cannon from The Salt Lake Tribune. Peek: "In the end, the people Rick inspired will go on to inspire others who will inspire others who will inspire others. And because he adored people as much as he adored words, his circle was large. His influence will be felt by individuals who may never know his name."

See also How Writer Rick Walton Inspired Utah's Literary Wellspring by Rachel Piper from The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Children's Authors Build a Community from Publishers Weekly and Rest Well, Rick Walton by Scott from Utah Children's Writers.

About Carol
Carol Lynch Williams, who grew up in Florida and now lives in Utah, is an award-winning novelist with seven children of her own, including six daughters.

She has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College, and won the prestigious PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship.

The Chosen One (Griffin, 2010) was named one of the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult Readers; it won the Whitney and the Association of Mormon Letters awards for the best young adult novel of the year; and was featured on numerous lists of recommended YA fiction.

Carol’s other novels include Never Said (Blink, 2015), Glimpse (Simon & Schuster, 2010), Miles From Ordinary (Griffin, 2012), The Haven (St. Martin's 2012), and Signed, Skye Harper (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2015). See also Sisterhood, Body Image, and Sexual Abuse | Carol Lynch Williams on “Never Said” by Shelley Diaz from School Library Journal.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Janell Bowman on Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Donna Janell Bowman is the first-time author of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016). From the promotional copy:

A Horse that can read, write, and do math?


That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. 

Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

This question ties so perfectly into my belief that there’s a piece of us in everything we write.

In 2006, I read a book about Beautiful Jim Key, authored by Mim Eichler Rivas (William Morrow 2005/Harper Paperbacks 2006). It was a given that I would be drawn to a horse book. I grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch, where life revolved around raising, training, and showing horses, and caring for the myriad livestock and other animals. I have always been an animal lover, and I know firsthand how powerful the human-animal bond can be—how the combination of time, trust, and affection can create such synergy that you can practically read each other’s minds.

Courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.
That kind of relationship bonded William “Doc” Key and his horse, Beautiful Jim Key. While the horse was what drew me to the story, I was immediately awed by Doc. His greatest historical contribution was an unmistakable message about kindness, in a time of extreme racial prejudice, and brutal treatment of animals.

How could I not love the story of a man who overcame so much to make a real difference in the world?

Thanks to Doc, “Jim,” the horse, became a sort of poster child for the emerging humane movement, while Doc overcame injustices, broke racial barriers, and helped change the way people thought about and treated animals. Doc was awarded a Service to Humanity Award, and Jim was awarded a “Living Example” award.

So, back to your question, Cyn, about what inspired me to write this story—it spoke to my heart. I dived into research with zeal.

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

There were a number of challenges to writing this story, but three that most stand out:

First, the research. It was claimed that Beautiful Jim Key could read, write, calculate math problems, compete in spelling bees, identify playing cards, operate a cash register, and more. I had to get to the bottom of how this could be possible.

I used the adult book as my jumping off point, but I wasn’t satisfied to rely solely on somebody else’s research.

This is a story that straddles the 19th and 20th centuries, so I read a great deal about the period, including slavery, the Reconstruction Era in the distinct regions of Tennessee, the history of the humane organizations; the related World’s Fairs, Doc’s business interests, etc.

Emotionally, the most difficult part was reading about how animals were treated in the 19th century, and, more importantly, how enslaved people were often treated with similar brutality. Only a tiny fraction of my research appears in the book’s back matter, but it all deeply affected my approach to the story.

I visited the Shelbyville (TN) Public Library and skimmed through their microfilm. Then I spent some time at the Tennessee State Archives, donning white gloves as I perused the crumbling scrapbooks from the BJK collection.

During that 2009 trip, I also visited the humble Beautiful Jim Key memorial in Shelbyville, TN, and Doc’s grave site at the Willow Mount Cemetery. (I might have shed a few sentimental tears.) We then tracked down what I think was Doc’s former property, though the house is long gone.

This kind of onsite research, along with old photos and local news accounts, allowed me to imagine the setting of Doc’s hometown. Back home, I collected binders-full of newspaper articles, playbills, and promotional booklets. Through these, I got a feel for how people thought about Doc and Jim.

And, most importantly, I found some of Doc’s explanations for how he taught the horse. What became clear was, though we may never know exactly how the horse was able to do so many remarkable things, the countless news reporters and professors who tried to prove trickery or a hoax, never found anything beyond “education.” Jim only rarely made mistakes.

Ultimately, what Doc and Jim did for the humane movement is even more significant than what the horse performed on stage.

Originally, I had planned the story for middle grade audiences until my agent (who wasn’t my agent yet) suggested that I try a picture book version. I already had half of the chapters written by this time, so I was aghast at the thought of starting over. And I didn’t know how to write a picture book biography. I spent the next two years analyzing and dissecting a couple hundred picture book biographies to figure out how they work.

I decided to blog about some of my craft observations, using the platform as a quasi-classroom for myself and anyone else who might happen upon my site.

Many, many, many drafts later, I had a manuscript that attracted the attention of a few editors. Lee and Low was the perfect home for Doc and Jim.

There was a built-in challenge in writing this story about a formerly-enslaved African American man. Because I don’t fit any of Doc’s descriptors, it was doubly important that I approach the subject with respect and sensitivity.

I couldn’t merely charge through with the mindset that I’m just the historian sharing documented facts.

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?

It is so exciting to finally be crossing the threshold into this new role. The past nine years, which is how long I’ve had the story in my head and in my heart, have felt like the longest-ever pregnancy.

There’s a mixture of joy, relief, and fear during this delivery stage. Fortunately, so far, very nice starred reviews have praised the book, and each reviewer wisely sings the praises of Daniel Minter’s spectacular lino-cut acrylic art.

As I think ahead to marketing and promotion, I’m planning for the Oct. 15 release, the Oct. 23 launch party, and how the book might raise awareness of the need for more kindness in the world—not only toward animals but toward each other.

From my very first draft, nine years ago, I knew I’d revive the original Beautiful Jim Key Pledge—originally signed by two million people during Doc and Jim’s time.

I plan to incorporate the pledge into my author presentations, and it will be downloadable from my website soon. I also hope to align with some humane organizations to help them raise awareness.

I have two more books under contract, several others on submission or in revision, and a novel-in-progress.

In 2018, Peachtree Publishers will release En Garde! Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, followed in 2019 by King of the Tightrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson.

Such is the author’s life, right? We write, we rewrite, we revise, we sell, we wait, we celebrate, then we do it all over again. Because we can’t imagine not writing something that moves us. And we can’t imagine not writing for young people.

Cynsational Giveaway

Book Launch! Join Donna Janell Bowman at 3 p.m. Oct. 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Donna will be speaking and signing.

Fundraiser: Step Right Up and Help The Rescued Horses of Bluebonnet Equine Human Society: "They are horses, donkeys, and ponies that are helpless and hopeless. And they are hurting. The lucky ones land at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. Under the loving care of professional staff and volunteers, the animals are medically and nutritionally rehabilitated, then placed with trainers to prepare them for re-homing/adoption." See also Interview: Step Right Up Author Donna Janell Bowman by Terry Pierce from Emu's Debuts.

Enter to win two author-signed copies of Step Right Up:  How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low, 2016).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Guest Post: M.T. Anderson on the Premier of "The Great Gilly Hopkins" Film

By M.T. Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Vermont children’s book community had an incredible treat on Oct. 7 at the Stowe Cinema 3Plex in Stowe, Vermont:

We all descended on a movie theater in Stowe where Katherine Paterson had opted to hold the premiere of the film adaptation of her National Book Award-winning middle-grade masterpiece, "The Great Gilly Hopkins" from Lionsgate. It was a formal champagne and popcorn kind of event.

(Begging a question: What Would Gilly Do? Somehow I see Mountain Dew hitting the screen during the touching scenes.)

Several generations of Patersons were there, including Katherine’s sons David (who wrote the screenplay) and John (who produced).

It’s a wonderful movie, with a cast that includes Glenn Close, Octavia Spencer, Kathy Bates, and, in a delicious little cameo, Katherine herself. Fans of the book will be delighted to see how much of the original dialogue has been lovingly retained – one of the benefits of having the author’s son as screenwriter.

Pic of MT by Leda Schubert
Afterwards, Katherine admitted that Kathy Bates will now play Maime Trotter permanently in her head, and I think many of us would agree. The way she inhabited that iconic character was flawless and deeply moving.

The screening was followed by a panel with Katherine, David, and John talking about the genesis of both the book and the movie. They reminisced about the two children whose stay with the Paterson family in the late seventies led more or less to Katherine’s conception of the novel – and to her vision of Gilly’s rage at her situation. And they talked about how they’d maneuvered the project through Hollywood, trying to keep the story intact.

At the same time, they spoke frankly about why certain details differed from the book to the movie … the swapping of the case-worker’s gender, for example. (It would be a fun class discussion to have!)

It was a real delight to see the movie and then, immediately, hear these three talk about it. The evening was organized by Vermont College of the Fine Arts as a benefit for Tatum’s Totes, a charity which provides emergency bags filled with clothes, blankets, and toys for foster kids in transit.

By the way,, the movie is apparently available for streaming online at all the usual venues (iTunes, Amazon), if it’s not showing at your local theater. Though that service doesn’t come with as many Patersons.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Election Reflections & Caring for Your Creative Heart

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

This week I've caught myself for two minutes here, five minutes there, reading a scene from my manuscript in progress.

Not to edit it. Not because I'm nervous about what my new editor will say (that won't kick in for another couple of weeks).

Not because I don't have other things to do. I'm busy teaching and writing speeches.

This week I'm reaching for my work in progress because it comforts me. It's tangible proof that I'm working steadily to the best of my ability to offer something positive to this world, to its future.

I feel a need for tangible proof right now. I'm holding myself accountable and weighing my efforts.

Of late, several writers and illustrators have thoughtfully spoken with me about navigating the dialogue around the current U.S. presidential election.

Here are my thoughts:

First, engage in nurturing self-care. As creative people, we must be courageous and empathetic. That makes us vulnerable. As a creative community, we must take emotional and mental health seriously.

Especially for diverse writers--more so for those who're also women, the landscape is precarious and allies too often undependable.

So, again, please take care of yourself and each other.

That said, no, you don't have to surrender your freedom of political speech for your career. If you believe that your democracy is at stake, your community is at stake, know that publishing as an industry is not going to punish you for saying so.

As for the gatekeepers and the general public, yes, it's possible that you may not sell a copy or, for that matter, two hundred copies of your book, if you speak out. It's possible you may not be invited to a particular event or win a particular award because a given individual disagrees with you.

In a traditional partisan contest, with its typical rhetoric, it may be worth weighing whether to raise your voice or let your books do the talking, especially in cases where those particular books could save kids' lives.

But, my friends, I seriously doubt any of that's in play this time.

We're talking about a national dialogue in which Tic Tac felt the need to issue a statement: "Tic Tac respects all women."

You know, in case you were worried about the position of a mint company on gender.

We are neck deep in the surreal.

So, don't be too hard on yourself if you're triggered or baffled or or disheartened or outraged. Everyone I talk to keeps apologizing for having feelings. Of course you have feelings!

My suggestion: Participate in a way that preserves, reflects and/or affirms your creative life. If what's best for you is to be quiet and go vote, okay. That's fine. If you want to engage on Twitter and then go vote, that's an option, too. But regardless, focus on your own work.

Continue to craft great books for children and teenagers. Maybe not this minute or this week, if you're not up to it. But when you're ready.

This is the world we're giving to future generations, and those of you who create (produce, champion and connect) literature for young readers are among my heroes. Hang in there.

I believe in you.

Cynsational Notes 

Switch to Indigenous People's Day by Yvonne Wakim Dennis from The Buffalo News. Peek: "While not a perfect panacea, a nationwide Indigenous People’s Day could be a powerful 'first step' to righting some of the wrongs indigenous peoples have suffered."

See also Italian Americans Who Fought for Justice from Teaching a People's History.

Indigenous People's Day YA Collection from Lee & Low. Peek: "This Young Adult collection highlights indigenous cultures and the issues they face. These paperback and hardcover books for both on-grade level and struggling readers are sure to engage and offer a range of complexity to meet all students' needs." See also Interview: Shana Mlawski on the History Surrounding Christopher Columbus.

Best Books About Native Americans/First Nations by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature.
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