Friday, October 31, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Please consider supporting We Need Diverse Books through a donation or signal boosting!

At the time of this posting, we've raised $56,910, which is 57% of our goal.

Thanks to all who've already participated.


Diverse Campaign w Thanks Card from Undercurrent on Vimeo.

Don't miss John Green on Why We Need Diverse Books and a celebration dance by WNDB president Ellen Oh and her daughter (Ellen promised this if we made $15K within 24 hours). See also Looking for a Diverse Middle Grade Book? from CBC Diversity.

More News 

Author Interview: Martine Leavitt and Blue Mountain by Lisa Doan from WCYA The Launch Pad. Peek: "Tuk is the name of my viewpoint character – he is the biggest and the fastest and the cleverest sheep. I love him because he is smart and strong, and yet he doubts himself."

Story Mapmakers: No GPS Required by Sarah McCoy from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "We, authors, are story cartographers. We navigate characters, plot courses of action, and direct readers in an expedition across unfamiliar terrains."

How Morals and Basic Needs Influence a Character's Strength by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...one of the main reasons we fall in love with characters is because we want them to succeed, to achieve their goals and overcome their flaws; this is where the positive attributes come in."

I Can't Be Faithful -- To Genre by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Diary of a Writer. Peek: "...many of the writers I love have convinced readers to know them well enough to know that their fiction won’t fit neatly into a genre label."

Mix It Up: 15 Books About Kindness and Giving from Lee & Low. Peek: "Mix It Up At Lunch Day, an annual day started by Teaching Tolerance over a decade ago to encourage kindness and reduce prejudice in schools by encouraging students to sit and have lunch with someone new, one day out of the year."

Kapow! Cutting Scenes Like a Superhero by Liz Michalski from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Every single one of those deleted scenes was a tiny jewel, and it’s obvious it pained Bird to cut them."

Not Scary Scary Children's Books: a bibliography by Ally Watkins from ALSC Blog. Peek: "...books for your kids who want to have some Halloween reading but want to be able to sleep at night." See also Scholastic Highlights Books that Celebrate The Day of the Dead! / ¡El Dia de los Muertos! from Latin@s in Kidlit.

Compelling Middle Grade Boy Readers to Turn the Page by Joe McGee from Project Mayhem. Peek: "Through progressive revelation, shorter chapter construction, and powerful, chapter-ending beats, middle-grade fiction can compel boy readers to keep turning pages, despite the lure of the multitude of electronic sirens."

Best Illustrated Books from The New York Times. Note: online gallery.

When Terrifying Leaps of Faith Pay Off: An Art- and Sketch-Filled Q&A with Abby Hanlon by Jules from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Peek: "When I started the book, the scary thing was that I knew I would get better as I got to the end, and that I would have to re-do everything (somehow before the deadline)."

November is Native American Heritage Month

Here are a few links, two from American Indians in Children's Literature, to get you started:

Cynsational Screening Room

For those who missed yesterday's reveal of the Feral series book teaser created by Book Candy Studios! Please share the trailer with your networks and the YA readers in your life.


Morganville: The Series; Rachel Caine's The Morganville Vampires Comes to Life, An Exclusive Behind The Scenes Look At The Web TV Series from Mundie Moms.


Cynsational Giveaways

See flap copy & enter giveaway!

The winner of Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little was Anna in Indiana.

The winner of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen was Katy in Florida.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Thank you, Reading Is Fundamental, for hosting me at a school visit last week at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. See AP coverage.

With Judy Blankenship Cheatham, R. Gregory Christie and Carol H. Rasco at Daily Grill in Washington, D.C.
Thank you, Writers' League of Texas for honoring me with your children's-YA novel award for Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013).

With children's picture book winner Doris Fisher, author of Army Camels (Pelican, 2013) at the Texas Book Festival.
I'll post a full photo report on the festival tomorrow, but quickly...

Greg Leitich Smith (with Anne Bustard and Jennifer Ziegler) was a featured author for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn.

Last call! My e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect read for Halloween and beyond--check it out!

Personal Links
Never Counted Out 

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 30, 2014

Cynthia Leitich Smith's Feral Pride Cover Reveal, Feral Series Book Teaser & Giveaway

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the cover for my upcoming novel, Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015) and the book trailer for the Feral series, produced by Book Candy Studios.

From the promotional copy for Feral Pride:

Anti-shifter sentiment is at an all-time high when Kayla’s transformation to werecat is captured on video and uploaded for the world to see.

Suddenly she becomes a symbol of the werebeast threat and—along with fellow cat Yoshi, Lion-Possum Clyde, and human Aimee—a hunted fugitive.

Meanwhile, a self-proclaimed weresnake has kidnapped the governor of Texas and hit the airwaves with a message of war.

In retaliation, werepeople are targeted by law enforcement, threatened with a shift-suppressing vaccine, terrorized by corporate conspiracy, and enslaved by a top-secret, intelligent Cryptid species.

Can Clyde rally his inner lion king to lead his friends—new and old—into battle against ruthless, media-savvy foes? A rousing blend of suspense, paranormal romance, humor, and high action.

The explosive finale to the Feral series by New York Times best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith.



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013), Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) and an advanced reader copy of Feral Pride. Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Guest Post: Chris Barton on Writing & Cross-Generational Interests

Via Public Domain Pictures
By Chris Barton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

There’s never an answer I that I find quick, simple, and faithful to the full truth when someone asks what inspired one of my books.

Take Shark Vs. Train (Little Brown, 2010), for instance.

Yes, I’m sure the seed was planted by my now 15-year-old son’s love of sharks and trains. But...

He loved reading books about sharks. He loved playing with wooden trains. Putting the two things together, however, just wasn’t his style of play. As a small child, he had a much more literal view of the world. Sharks were fascinating ocean creatures. Trains rolled on wooden tracks that he could build with all day long. There was no crossover.

My style of play as a kid, however, would have been to mash those two concepts together. And I guess that still is my style of play, because that’s how it worked with Shark Vs. Train.

The idea grew out of my paying attention to my kid, to what he loved, but the book that resulted was much closer to my imaginative comfort zone than to his literal one. I wrote it for me, not for him.

(See? It took me nearly 140 words to get close enough to the full truth to suit me.)

As another example, take my new book, Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (illustrated by Joey Spiotto and published by POW!)

Once again the seed was planted by the interests of that now-15-year-old, along with his now-10-year-old brother. This time around, those interests were video games such as Legend of Zelda, Wizard101, Little Big Planet, and Minecraft.

But in this case, my comfort zone would have resulted in no book at all. Though I had played video games some as a kid, I hadn’t played in many years, aside from the occasional encounter with an old arcade game.

And I was deeply skeptical of my kids’ respective abilities to balance time spent in front of a screen with time spent on their own creative pursuits, on outdoor play, on reading.

I also, however, wanted to understand what the heck they were talking about when they spoke of mods, sandboxes, attacks, bosses, and cheats. And I wanted to demonstrate to them that I took seriously the things that they loved -- or, rather, their love of those things.

I guess I could have done that simply through playing video games with my boys. Instead, I chose to demonstrate my appreciation for their passions through my own work. In other words, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for them, not for me.

Even though those two books resulted from my going down different paths, they both offered a similar choice: Is it for them, or is for me? But then, isn’t the same true for every book for children?

Chris writing with fellow Austin author April Lurie and Greg Leitich Smith
Isn’t there always a decision to be made regarding how much the experience of a book reflects the interests of the adult -- be it an author or illustrator doing the creating, a parent or grandparent doing the buying, a librarian doing the recommending, or a teacher doing the assigning -- and how much the experience of that book stems from consideration of what the child audience will bring to it or is likely to take away from it?

Every book is an opportunity to navigate that territory in the middle, between what we adults want and love and think we know and what those kids want and love and think they know.

Through my experiences with Shark Vs. Train and Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!, I’ve come to appreciate just how much room there is to maneuver through that middle ground.

Yes, I wrote Shark Vs. Train for me -- but that didn’t stop me from trying out scenarios on my boys and trying to crack them up and seeing what they responded to before deciding with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld and our editor which competitions to keep.

Chris with his wife, fellow author Jennifer Ziegler at Texas Book Festival.
And yes, I wrote Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! for my boys -- but I couldn’t have done that without relying on my own research skills and my own judgment about what was important to include or exclude, even when that put me at odds with a 9-year-old who totally thought that “M” should be for Minecraft.

Each book we write, and each book we recommend, is partly about us and partly about them. If we keep that in mind before we put our fingers to the keyboard or pull a title off the shelf, and if we consider how best to strike a balance in that particular case, I think we’re all more likely to be happy with the outcome.

Not every book will fall squarely between our desires and those of our readers. But the more books we share -- truly share -- the more opportunities we’ll have to average out closer to the middle.

And the more we’ll learn to trust each other.

And the better the chances that we’ll each be able to think of a book -- one that we give and that they receive -- as ours.

Cynsational Event

Join Chris and K.A. Holt, author of Rhyme Schemer, at 2 p.m. Nov. 1 at BookPeople in Austin.

Cynsational Notes

Chris Barton is the author of the picture books Shark Vs. Train (Little, Brown, 2010)(a New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller) and The Day-Glo Brothers (Charlesbridge, 2009)(winner, American Library Association Sibert Honor), as well as the young adult nonfiction thriller Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities (Dial, 2011).

His 2014 publications include picture book Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! A Gamer’s Alphabet (powerHouse) and his YA fiction debut as a contributor to the collection One Death, Nine Stories (Candlewick), and 2015 will bring picture book biographies The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (Eerdman's) and The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition (Millbrook).

Chris and his wife, children's-YA novelist Jennifer Ziegler (Revenge of the Flower Girls (Scholastic, 2014)), live in Austin, Texas, with their family.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Author Interview: Ginger Wadsworth on Yosemite's Songster: One Coyote's Story

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story, by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Daniel San Souci (Yosemite Conservancy, 2013). From the promotional copy:

A sudden rockslide in Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada separates Coyote from her mate. 

Readers journey throughout the valley observing its many famous landmarks on four paws with Coyote. You’ll explore both the natural world and the human world with one’s nose leading the way.

Who or what inspired you to write this story?

Illustrator Dan San Souci and I have known each other for years; we’re both part of the San Francisco Bay area community of children’s book authors and artists.

 At an informal party, Dan and I chatted about writing a book together, specifically about a coyote in Yosemite National Park. Dan, along with his brother, Bob, had already written several books for the park, including their Two Bear Cubs, a Miwok Legend from California's Yosemite.

I had published John Muir, Wilderness Protector (Lerner), Camping with the President (Calkins Creek), about the 1903 Yosemite camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, plus Giant Sequoia Trees (Lerner).

Photo by Ginger Wadsworth
I’ve visited Yosemite National Park my entire life as well as many other parts of the Sierra Nevada. In fact, I try to explore the park every year. Dan is just as familiar as I am with this amazing natural wonder.

We both agree that working in California’s Yosemite National Park, doing research in the library there or hiking the trails with a camera, binoculars, or art supplies, is almost like cheating. To be allowed to work in this gorgeous setting is a gift.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to work with Dan San Souci? His art is breathtaking! I said “yes,” and the rest is history!

How did you come up with a story line?

During one of my stays in the park, I took a nature walk with Ranger Shelton Johnson. We crossed Stoneman Meadow on one of the protective, wooden boardwalks.

We were a multicultural group and didn’t need to communicate with one another when Ranger Johnson pointed out famous rock formations or falls, or had us cross arms across chests to bang gently against one another to demonstrate how glaciers are formed.

At one time, when most of the group was looking up, I was peering into the meadow. A pair of pointed ears was moving through the grasses. Every so often, a coyote leaped high to pounce on something. It was “mousing” – hunting for an afternoon snack of field mice.

And so my story was born . . . of this wild dog that shares the park with us . . . and vice versa, yet we seldom notice one because we’re so caught up in taking pictures of granite walls and waterfalls. I’m just as guilty as the next person!

Photo by Ginger Wadsworth
I set my story in the Yosemite Valley because that is where most first-time visitors come. They seldom step beyond the valley in their typical one-day explore. There are many iconic spots in the valley—the wedding chapel, the Merced River, Half Dome, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Bridalveil Fall, and more—and I wanted to include as many as sites possible.

I am familiar with Dan’s work, and I hoped that my story would offer him a smorgasbord of possible images. After seeing his first images, I was “blown away” by what he captured with his watercolors. I recognized almost spot he painted!

Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.
What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

The book is published by the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating visitors about the world that is Yosemite National Park. I could not anthropomorphize the coyote in any way, and I had to be scientifically accurate. I also had to be willing to make changes to reflect the philosophy that the Park Service wants to portray. That meant that the manuscript (and Dan’s art) was reviewed for accuracy by the National Park Service staff.

Illustration by Dan San Souci; used with permission.
For example, coyotes are natural scavengers, and in the park they occasionally eat human food. I’ve seen them raid overflowing garbage cans, so I mentioned that in the text.

The staff works hard, with signs and handouts, to remind visitors that coyotes, bears, and all other wild animals should find and eat their natural food. After my reviewers asked me to revise that section, I took out the raiding of garbage cans. I even corrected the name of a pine tree I’d misidentified, and I’m most grateful that other eyes looked for errors.

Would you tell us about winning the Spur Award?

Last spring I stayed in the Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California, where I own a one-room cabin in an isolated canyon. It’s a perfect spot for this writer to concoct stories, photograph passing coyotes, or even go out and howl with them on a warm desert evening.

I have a well, electricity, and my cell phone sometimes works. Someone from the Western Writers of America called me to say that Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story earned the 2014 Spur Award in Storytelling, the best illustrated children’s book. I was to receive a Spur Award for the text, Dan San Souci for the art, and the Yosemite Conservancy for being the publisher.

I’ve been a member for many years, and this past June, I attended the Western Writers of America’s annual conference in Sacramento, California. Belinda Lantz from the Yosemite Conservancy and Nicole Geiger, my editor, joined me at the WWA banquet where I received my Spur Award.

I spoke about the honor of receiving this award that has an actual spur mounted on the plaque. I was thrilled with the award’s description of “the best storytelling for children in a 3,000 word book.”

After all, isn’t that what each of us strives for every single day?

It was my second Spur Award. Ten years ago, I earned one for Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion) in the category of juvenile nonfiction. I dedicated my 2014 Spur Award to the memory of my father, Hal G. Evarts, Jr., a founding member of Western Writers of America, and a prolific author of books about the west.

In fact I am the third generation of writers of the west. I never met my grandfather, Hal G. Evarts, Sr.,who wrote books that first appeared in serial format in many of the “big slicks,” magazines including the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and The Red Book.

My Spur Awards hang in my office, over an original painting by Dan San Souci from Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story. It’s a stunning night image of a coyote howling at Half Dome.

What’s next?

Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story has been approved for a second printing! In the meantime Dan and I are under contract to write a second book for the Yosemite Conservancy. Think Sierra black bears that live in around Yosemite National Park. It’s due out in the fall of 2016. I’ve been doing research this summer; Dan will step in once the text is accepted. We have lots of ideas for future park-themed books.

What else would you like to share?

Nicholas and Willa via Paws to Read at Orinda Library (A). Photo by Michelle Bea, posted with permission. 

I have two Golden Retrievers, Scout, and Willa. My third dog, Oreo, is a young, miniature poodle mix. Most of the time, Willa, Scout, and Oreo join me in my office, lying under my desk while I write.

 Willa and Scout are trained therapy dogs. I take them into libraries and schools where elementary-aged children read to dogs as part of national program called R.E.A.D. Our local name is “Paws to Read.”

Oreo and I are in dog school every Wednesday night. We’ll see if he can settle down and earn his therapy dog certificate.

Helping children improve their reading, courtesy of my dogs, is a perfect extension of my writer’s hat.

Cynsational Notes

Photo by Bill Wadsworth
Ginger Wadsworth is the award-winning author of over 25 nonfiction books for young readers.

Biography subjects are John Muir, Rachel Carson, Benjamin Banneker, Cesar Chavez, Julia Morgan, Annie Oakley, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and others; books with western American history themes including Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers (Clarion); and natural histories titles about the desert, rivers, sequoias, and spiders that include Up, Up, and Away (Charlesbridge).

Her most recent books are Camping With the President (Calkins Creek); First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low (Clarion); and Yosemite’s Songster: One Coyote’s Story (Yosemite Conservancy).

She lives in Northern California with her family.

Monday, October 27, 2014

New Voice: Christine Kohler on No Surrender Soldier

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Christine Kohler is the first-time author of No Surrender Soldier (Merit Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

A young man, an old soldier, and a terrible injustice. Should the punishment be death?

Growing up on Guam in 1972, fifteen-year-old Kiko is beset by worries: He’s never kissed a girl, and he thinks it’s possible he never will. The popular guys get all the attention, but the worst part is that Kiko has serious problems at home. His older brother is missing in Vietnam; his grandfather is losing it to dementia; he just learned that his mother was raped in World War II by a Japanese soldier. 

It all comes together when he discovers an old man, a Japanese soldier, hiding in the jungle behind his house. It’s not the same man who raped his mother, but, in his rage, Kiko cares only about protecting his family and avenging his mom – no matter what it takes. 

And so, a shy, peaceable boy begins to plan a murder. But how far will Kiko go to prove to himself that he’s a man ? 

Based on a historical incident, No Surrender Soldier is the story of a boy grappling with ancient questions of courage and manhood before he can move on.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view--first, second, third, omniscient (or some alternating combination) featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

point of view revision
Originally I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this idea; I only had a premise—a 15-year-old Chamorro boy discovers his mother was raped during WWII by a Japanese soldier; what he doesn’t know is that there is a Japanese soldier who has been hiding in the jungle behind the boy’s house for 28 years since the liberation of Guam during WWII.

So I wrote the Chamorro family’s chapters in third person omniscient. That way I could fully flesh out the characters of entire family—Kiko, tatan (grandfather), tata (father), nana (mother), and Bobo (dog).

From the very first draft, the story was in alternating point of view (POV) chapters between Kiko and the WWII Japanese soldier, Isamu Seto. But there was no prologue nor framing until much later.

From the first draft, Seto’s chapters were in third person limited omniscient with a close psychic distance. That never changed.

All that changed regarding Seto’s chapters is that they increased, and in deeper revisions, I had to keep making his routines bump up against Kiko’s so there was a constant cause and effect, action and reaction, actions and consequences. The plot and subplot run like two railroad tracks that keep intersecting until the big collision (climax).

Once I had the family fleshed out and knew where they were and what they were all doing and how they would all react to each other and situations, then I needed to peel it all apart and put the focus on only Kiko, since he is the main character and it’s his story.

point of view notes
To convert Kiko’s chapters to limited omniscient I highlighted each character and his or her actions, dialogue, internal monologue (most IM should have been Kiko’s only) with different colored highlighters.

Then anything that did not adhere to Kiko’s plot problems or was from Kiko’s POV got axed. I kept his chapters in third person.

I didn’t count how many revisions I wrote, so let’s just say that eventually I took the plunge and wrote Kiko’s chapters in first person.

This was a difficult decision, not because I didn’t know it might make the story more compelling, but because I was so afraid of not being able to write an authentic 15-year-old Chamorro boy’s voice. There is no fudging in first person. And I write narrative in a character’s voice, too, just not as heavy in dialect. (Writing pidgin English is an entirely different writing craft topic.)

I would never have attempted either of these character voices had I not lived on Pacific-Asian islands, including Japan and Guam, for a decade. But in the end, I was glad I settled on third person for the Japanese soldier and first person for the Chamorro teen because I believe it is what added to making their chapters so distinctly different.

Christine's office
As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first--character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Christine with Abby
No Surrender Soldier is historical fiction set on Guam during the Vietnam war era, specifically 1972. It also involves a WWII topic, the occupation of Guam by the Japanese. And I needed to research my Japanese character’s pre-WWII life in Japan. So I researched three time periods and two Pacific island locations.

Although I had lived on both of these islands, I did not live in the specific locales of my characters’ settings nor during these early of dates. What drew me first to this topic and premise was my curiosity about why the Japanese soldier hid in the jungle for 28 years, suffering such extreme deprivation. What I couldn’t shake from working and living in Asia-Pacific was the atrocities done to the occupied people during WWII. So I guess you could say it was seeing human suffering on both sides of battling nations that drew me to combine these two situations/concepts.

There was never a question in my mind as to when the story would take place—1972, the year in which the real No Surrender Soldier, Shoichi Yokoi, was captured. Of course the Vietnam War was still in action, though winding down. But it reinforced the war theme since my story deals with the after-effects of war and how it affects families for generations.

Christine's research
At the time I started writing No Surrender Soldier I had lived on the U.S. mainland for a decade. I had recently left my job as a copy editor at the San Antonio Express-News to write full-time and specialize in children’s literature. So it was more challenging to get the research materials I wanted.

When I had lived on Guam I had the foresight to buy the Guam history book in high schools, although I didn’t know at the time I would write a novel. I read this history book cover to cover.

Then I read every book I could borrow from the library (not many) or purchase on-line. But more importantly, I wanted to read all the newspaper accounts—U.S. and Japanese—about Yokoi. I contacted my Gannett publisher, Lee Webber, and he had the archivist Carmelita Blas copy and mail me copies of Pacific Daily News articles. Dirk Ballendorf, then director of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) at the University of Guam, also had an archivist Lourdes Nededog send me copies of everything in the files about Yokoi, which included foreign press clippings.

To purchase a compilation of Japanese journalists’ articles translated into English, I had to go on-line to an antique book dealer in Canada. I also read Yokoi’s autobiography, which was mostly about his life after he returned to Japan so it wasn’t as helpful.

Christine's blog
A funny side note regarding research: I’ve never lived on a farm, so when I wanted to write a pig-slaughtering chapter I checked out from the San Antonio library a book on how to slaughter pigs.

My husband used to spend his summers as a child on a farm and he said if anyone checked my library history they would show up at my door in the city and wonder what I’m up to.

Now that No Surrender Soldier is out, it’s being sold on-line at a sited called “Home Butchering Books”. No lie! Look it up!

I also contacted via internet Raymond Baza, a musician and composer, to ask questions about Chamorro music since it is as integral to the fiesta as food.

I had no problem building my world—place, culture, customs, food, etc. What was challenging for me was to know what to cut and what to keep in revision. I had to cut a tremendous amount of background and description so it wouldn’t sacrifice the natural storytelling.

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.


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