Friday, October 19, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin GalbraithGayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton
for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

YA Novelist Inspired By Teenage Years of Lucy Maud Montgomery  by Nancy Wigston from The Canadian Jewish News. Peek:
“Part of writing YA is considering your audience and how they can relate to your character and their experience. This becomes a deeper challenge when it is historical fiction because you need to somehow show younger readers how similar things actually are – just the medium is different."
Miracles by Kekla Magoon from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:
"...the sort of magic one person can wield on another, the powerful kind of influence borne of admiration and authority. The...magic that inspiring teachers and mentors often wield over students, knowingly or not."
The Darkdeep, by Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs from Wild Things. Peek:
“Brendan is plot-driven and known for awesome twists in his novels; Ally tends to start novels with the characters and has incredible emotional resonance in her writing. We knew working together...would also challenge us and make us think about writing in different ways.”
In Conversation: M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
"...I had written a book about Soviet Leningrad. You had defected from Soviet Leningrad. I wrote you a fan letter praising Breaking Stalin’s Nose, your Newbery Honor-winning book about Stalin’s Great Terror. I couldn’t believe that you had managed to write a middle grade novel about that terrifying period…”
Anna-Marie McLemore, Author of Blanca & Roja, on Being a Bit of a Writer Cliché from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: “There’s a scene in which Roja has debilitating menstrual cramps and the start of a brutal period. Writing that scene, I felt a little like I was ripping my own body open and showing readers, This is what so many of us live with.”

Publishing & Marketing

Are Writing Conferences Worth It? By Kim Ventrella from Middle Grade Minded. Peek:
“Will I get an agent or sell a book at a conference? Maybe, but probably not. You are there to learn and make connections. Be open, ask questions and don’t be afraid to talk to the industry professionals attending the conference. They are regular people just like you.”
Seven Questions For: Literary Agent Quressa Robinson by Rob Kent from Middle Grade Ninja. Peek:
“I also would love to see more MG in all genres (except mystery). I’d especially love to see some witch-school action or an epic fantasy with strong series potential.”
Episode 28! Money, by Meg Medina from Kidlit Women*. Peek:
“Before you offer up what your fee is to visit a school, ask plainly what the school or panel organizers have paid presenters in the past. It is a fair question, no matter how squeamish it makes you.”
Writing Craft

Picture Book Structure by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:
“There are quite a few ways to think about picture book structure. Here, I’m going to present a looser 'Problem and Solution' structure…”
How to Process and Filter Feedback by Annie Neugebauer from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Like most big tasks, breaking the feedback process down into stages will make it much less daunting and more manageable.”
Five Writing Tips: Barbara Kingsolver by Barbara Kingsolver from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
“It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published, starting the next one always feels as daunting as the first. A day comes when I just have to make a deal with myself: write something anyway, even if it’s awful.”
Six Tips for Procrastinators to Finish the Book Already by Julie Glover from Writers in the Storm. Peek:
“Many a procrastinating writer has fallen into the black hole of the Internet...lest you think we are a new generation in terms of gadgets competing for our attention, author Virginia Woolf wrote... ‘Such a good morning’s writing I’d planned, and wasted the cream of my brain on the telephone.’”
How to Nail the First Three Pages by Lisa Cron from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:
"...writers often think that what pulls readers in is that perfectly written first sentence. The one that proves you’re a wordsmith. Because, of course, being a 'wordsmith' is what defines you as a writer. No, no, no."
Five Stops on Your MC’s Inner Journey by Dorian Cirrone from Fiction University. Peek:
“I noticed the how-to books talking about things like wounds, inner journeys, and transformations...As a type of shorthand for myself, I chose five aspects of the journey all beginning with the letter L, which made it easier for me to chart my MC’s transformation.”
The Benefits of Fan Fiction by Jo Eberhardt from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Fan fiction can be a way to focus on improving your skills in one area, without having to focus on all the other areas as well.”
How to Research Your Writing to Ensure Technical Accuracy by Dan Koboldt from Jane Friedman’s Blog. Peek:
"Space explosions are another trope with no basis in real-world science. Space is a vacuum, so spaceships (and death stars) don’t explode in massive fireballs (fire requires oxygen)."
Bookstores & Libraries

Why Buying Books Will Not Save Our Beloved Bookstores by Erin Bartnett from Electric Lit. Peek:
“One thing we can ask for: tax breaks for local businesses. As Beach suggests, there are not many incentives for landlords to keep rents reasonable for locally-owned businesses with low profit margins, especially in a city that continues to live up to its impossibly expensive mystique.”
Why Graphic Novels Belong In All Of Our Libraries by Pernille Ripp from her blog. Peek:
“Because you see when we tell kids that a book is too easy we are dismissing their entire reading journey. We are dismissing who they are as readers and just how much work it may have been to get there.”
Diversity

Seven Children’s Books That Transcend Hispanic Heritage Month by Elisa Garcia from Lee & Low Books. Peek:
“While it is great that these days are solely dedicated to celebrating and highlighting Hispanic heritage, in public libraries part of our mission is to ensure that our collections reflect the diversity of our users and that culture and diversity are celebrated year round!”
Bilingual Border Kids: The Dilemma of Translating Summer of the Mariposas into Spanish by David Bowles from Latinxs in Kid Lit Peek:
“It amazes me to no end that writers can do odd and/or regional dialogues all the time in English, but a similar attempt in Spanish elicits disapproving frowns.”
Ten Positive Things About Aging We Need to Show Kids in Books by Lindsey McDivitt from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:
“In a body of important research at Yale University, Becca Levy Ph.D. ‘…has found that people who internalize positive-age stereotypes lived up to 7.5 years longer than those with negative-age stereotypes.’”
6 Kidlit Books Starring Sensitive Boys by Alice Nuttall from Book Riot. Peek:
“For every Harry Potter (scrawny build and glasses aside, he’s a jock who’s never walked away from a punch-up)...there are boy characters out there who prefer mediation to conflict, whose interests and hobbies aren’t traditionally masculine-coded, and who take the role of supporter or nurturer in their group.”
A New Study Suggests That Female SuperHeroes Give Girls Confidence In Their Real Lives by Anna Sheffer from Hello Giggles. Peek:
“...58% of girls even said that seeing female heroes made them feel like they could accomplish anything. The empowering effect of seeing strong women onscreen was especially pronounced among girls of color."
Creating An Inclusive Library: LGBTQ+ Teens Share Their Recommendations by Tirzah Price from Book Riot. Peek:
“...while YA publishing is far more inclusive now than fifteen years ago, access to these books is still a very big issue. Teens don’t just need these books to be written, they need them to be talked about, promoted, made available to them in schools and libraries.”
David Levithan on His Sequel “Someday” and the Importance of Queer YA by Judith Utz from Teen Vogue. Peek:
“This particular sequel is very much grounded in the idea of finding a community versus finding oneself... Levithan says that this lack of communal name for the body jumpers is necessary and can definitely be linked to the queer experience, a common thread in his books.”
My Response to “Can You Recommend a Book About Columbus?” by Dr. Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children’s Literature. Peek:
“Columbus did not ‘discover’ America. That's an easy error to spot. With that in mind, I'm trying to come up with a critical literacy lesson that teachers can do to help their students develop the skills to read critically. Here's what I've roughed out so far…”
Give Me Your Aggressive Girls by Julie Daly from YA Interrobang. Peek:
"Girls in contemporary worlds have to play nice, be quiet, be small, be compliant...especially...if the girl isn’t straight, cis, and white. When a girl breaks that mold and sharpens her tongue and holds up her fist, she’s deemed unlikable and, often, the book is as well."
Awards

Congratulations to the finalists for the 2019 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Children’s Science Picture Book category. Peek: "The Prize celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults and is meant to encourage the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all ages." Special kudos to Cynsational authors Jane Kurtz and Kate Messner! See also Finalists for the Hands-On Science Book Awards and Finalists for the Middle Grades Science Book Awards.

Congratulations to Dawn Quigley for winning a Young Adult Fiction Gold Moonbeam Award for Apple in the Middle (North Dakota State University Press, 2018)! Congratulations to all the other winners of the 2018 Moonbeam Awards!

Congratulations to Cherie Dimaline for winning the 2018 Sunburst Young Adult Award for The Marrow Thieves (Dancing Cat Books, 2017)!

This Week at Cynsations

Author Lois Lowry and actor Jeff Bridges
More Personally - Cynthia

Thank you to everyone who signal-boosted and otherwise supported last week's release of my new novel, Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick, 2018).
“This is a fantastic novel that provides romance and laughs, but will also give readers plenty to think about.” —Rich in Color
"Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant."  —children's librarian Rosemary Kiladitis from Mom Read It (Hearts Unbroken is Strong, Smart #Ownvoices YA)
 Recent professional highlights included author speed-dating at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association conference in Denver. Fellow authors at the event included Austin's own Mari Mancusi (The Camelot Code (Hyperion)) and Candewick's Lindsey Eager (The BigFoot Files). Thank you to Candlewick Press and MPIBA!

I also enjoyed a #MGLitChat abotu Native middle grade books on Twitter. See a transcript. Thanks, Mike Hays!

This week, my primary day-to-day focus has been on critiquing manuscripts and preparing two talks for the upcoming Kansas/Missouri SCBWI Middle of the Map conference.  But today, I'm going to take a break from writing fiction and speeches to go see "The Hate U Give" with fellow Austin author Nikki Loftin. Join Nikki and Kat Shepherd for A Spooky Story Celebration at 10:30 a.m. Oct. 20 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "Writing workshop and activities geared toward families and kids ages 8-12 to celebrate all things spooky!

Three on a YA Theme: Must-Read YA Books by Native Authors from Tirzah Price at Book Riot.

More Personally - Gayleen

Thanks to Rebekah Manley for snapping this photo!
Along with C.S. Jennings, illustrator coordinator, and Samantha M. Clark, Regional Advisor, I was excited to share details of all the benefits that come with membership at our Austin SCBWI meeting last Saturday. (Have you updated your SCBWI profile lately? Or added your book covers? If not, you're missing out on promo opportunities that you've already paid for!)

More Personally - Stephani

This week I got my dose of storytelling inspiration not from a book, or the internet, or a book signing (all things I love), but from a concert. My husband and I took my in-laws to see Billy Joel at Wake Forest University.
Photo Credit: Mike Shaw
While I’ve known and loved his music for most of my life, I appreciated it in a different way this week. Even though it’s “still rock and roll,” it was his ability to tell a story through song that captivated me. Think about the dialog and sensory details from “Piano Man” or the vivid yet stark imagery from “Allentown.” The characters and settings he creates in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” evoke a whole range emotions.

Maybe the next time I get writer’s block I’ll switch on some Billy Joel.

More Personally - Robin
Robin

With everything going on in the country and world, I decided I needed a new hairstyle that would remind me to be brave and fight for what I believe in.

This week as I've been planning out my YA novel, so I can draft it as a NaNoWriMo in November, I look in the mirror whenever I need a reminder to be bold and write the novel I know I need to write.

Personal Links - Cynthia

Author-illustrator Debbie Ohi's Print-Ready Bonus Goodies

Personal Links - Gayleen

Cupid Shuffle

Letters About Literature

Personal Links - Robin

Trump Signs Actually Good Bill to Clean Up Ocean Garbage

A Guide to the Best Audiobook Service Options

Kid Lit Activism Continues with Focus on Nov. 6

Personal Links- Stephani

What Are We Teaching Boys When We Discourage Them From Reading Books About Girls

Resources, Events, and Podcasts for National Day on Writing, Oct. 20

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Guest Post: Deborah Halverson on Viewing Narrative Beats as “Revelatory” Beats in MG/YA Fiction

Deborah Halverson
By Deborah Halverson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We work hard to get to know our characters.

Creating bios, interviewing them, giving them personality tests. One discovery tool often overlooked in this great pursuit are the small actions tucked into the narrative beats.

Narrative beats are those little breathers in dialogue, sometimes filled simply with speaking tags like he said, she said. They’re rhythmic beats in conversations.

The actions that fill those beats can be priceless character revelations anytime, but especially in our first chapters, during our first drafting.

Alas, often writers fill those breaths with generic filler action. I see this at play when full manuscripts land on my editing desk.

Perhaps we writers drop in those generic actions because we’re so focused on getting the first scenes in place; perhaps we’re just not seeing those beats for the opportunities they are.

Oh, what treasure troves those little actions can be!

Regardless of why we do it, when we plug in filler action, we miss out on revelatory moments—“revelatory beats,” I call them—that can help us get to know our characters sooner and with delicious richness.

Our first step in mining these moments is spotting the filler. The filler in this example is looked:
Beth looked at him. “No. I want to go, too.” 
“Looked” doesn’t reveal anything about Beth. First pages full of similarly bland actions won’t help us get to know who she is. Other fillers include stare, glance, gaze, turn (to), smile, frown, and laugh. Synonyms for these actions creep in, too, like grin, snicker, giggle. The word eyes also appears in a lot of narrative beats, and those eyes are usually staring, looking, glancing….

We can turn these precious moments into opportunities to learn about our characters in our early drafting by pledging not to fill the breathers with generic actions, even when we’re speed-drafting to get the story tacked into place.

When we hold ourselves back like that, when we leave a beat demanding to be filled, our characters will step in to fill it.

Our characters will step up; they will do something that reflects who they are and how they’re feeling at that moment. What they decide to do is our revelatory gem.

What might they do? Click-click-click their pens, perhaps, to reveal they’re jumpy. Maybe they’ll pace, revealing they are particularly physical. Maybe they’ll rewash the same mug over and over and over, showing fastidiousness or revealing a tendency to avoid big things that demand their attention. Maybe they’ll pull out a tissue so they can open a doorknob without touching their flesh to the germy knob.

My pal Beth in the above example might do something to indicate how capable or strongly she feels about going, which in turn might prompt me to rework what I thought she’d say after the beat:
“No.” Beth darted ahead of him and blocked the doorway. “You’re not leaving without me.” 
Little actions, happening in the middle of an exchange with another character, reveal things about characters’ personalities, comfort zones, relationships, mood, and more.

Filling your first draftings with this kind of content instead of looking, or glancing, or brushing the hair out of his eye, helps you get to know your character early.

Revelatory beats may even cause us to alter the dialogue we were about to lay down. I didn’t know Beth was so forceful until I saw what she did in the narrative beat.

Are you wondering if you’re denying yourself those early revelations? Check. In your work-in-progress, do a find-and-replace search for each of the words above, no matter how much you’ve written. Tally up all their synonyms, too, to see how many times you choose the same general filler action. How does that number compare to your page count?

Then add all the filler uses together. How does that number compare to your page count? A manuscript I worked on recently used eye 150 times, look 301 times, and glance 16 times. 467 uses of the same general action, although some surely weren’t in the narrative beats. This wasn’t an unusual discovery, and the manuscript was a good one.

As an editor, I perform this search and tally often. I even have a name for it: The Stop Looking Test.


Click image to enlarge
For me, the test is an assessment tool to be applied to a finished manuscript. For you, it’s a tool to help you identify if you should make the first-drafting pledge.

Eventually, revelatory beats will become a subconscious part of your drafting style, so you won’t worry about bogging down your quick-drafting.

Not every narrative beat contains an action, of course. Sometimes that breather contains setting details or exposition. But when it’s time for action, we can make the action something revealing about our character so that we—and readers—will get a feel for the characters’ personalities from the very first pages in the book.

They are small moments, but they can add up to a big overall impression. And we all know how important first impressions can be.

Cynsational Notes

Deborah Halverson is the founder of the popular writers’ advice site DearEditor.com and the award-winning author of  Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (Wiley Publishing, 2011) and Writing New Adult Fiction (Writer's Digest, 2014), the teen novels Big Mouth (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008) and Honk If You Hate Me (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2009), the picture book Letters to Santa (illustrated by Pauline Siewert, Becker & Mayer, 2012), and three books in the Remix series for struggling readers (Pearson Canada).

She was an editor at Harcourt Children's Books and is now a freelance editor specializing in young adult/middle grade fiction, new adult fiction, and picture books.

Deborah has worked with authors—bestsellers, veterans, debut, and aspiring—for twenty years. She also serves on the advisory board for the U.C. San Diego Extension “Children’s Book Writing and Illustrating” certificate program.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Profiles of Persistence: Lisa Bierman, Meredith Davis, and Jill Donaldson on Committing Long-Term to Children's Writing

By Carol Coven Grannick
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Part One: The Writer’s Heart

Many hard-working, committed, persistent, and resilient writers forge ahead with their writing journeys in spite of obstacles, disappointments, “almost-there" moments and plenty of what I call “Beautiful, buts.”

This two-part interview explores the experience of being a long-time, determined writer who has not yet had a book published.

Writers Lisa Bierman, Meredith Davis, and Jill Donaldson hail from different parts of the United States, and have different personalities, habits, writing choices, and ways of shoring up resilience. But one thing they have in common is this: nothing will deter them from continuing to write and submit their stories.

Our writing journeys vary in results, but all of us, whether published or not-yet-published, know that the joy is in the journey.

As you reflect on your writer’s journey, what are the major “bumps” or obstacles you’ve encountered (internal as well as external), and how have you managed to handle them while still remaining committed? 

Meredith: The biggest, most persistent bump is what I’ve perceived as failure – failure to achieve goals, find an agent, get published by the time I was forty.

The fallacy in this thinking was that I based those goals on others’ achievements. Once I recognized what I was doing, I readjusted my success barometer.

As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I began to trust that I was on a path designed just for me, and all those things I wanted – the agent and the publishing contract and the awards will come at the right time.

I can’t force it, and don’t want to force it. I continue moving forward, writing and editing and submitting. I count the bumps and hurdles of rejections as part of the journey that will make an even better story to tell in the end.

What’s a story without some tension? I remind myself that the journey is just as important as the destination.

Lisa Bierman
Lisa: I have had many time periods when I did very little writing, and [these periods] could last months.

The biggest internal barrier for me has always been the lack of an imposed deadline. 

External events – a lot of family health issues – have intervened over the years as well. Having fellow writers I adore motivates me to keep returning to manuscripts.

Nothing beats the fun of having a character you begin to love or a string of rhyming stanzas that are really coming together.

Another factor that has helped me is that I often have new story ideas, and I enjoy brainstorming, but I’ve also learned that pursuing ideas that don’t have enough unique qualities can turn into unproductive time.

Jill: I started learning the craft of writing for children and teens in 1999 when I joined SCBWI. I found my writing soulmates and joined a critique group.

A few years in, one of my picture book manuscripts caught the eye of an editor at Random House and we went through several revisions. At that time, Random House merged with several other companies and my editor lost her job. The new editor did not do picture books, so my heart was broken. [A part of me felt like giving up, but instead] I began focusing on magazines and novels.

Not long after, my first article appeared in AppleSeeds.

Many of my other “bumps” have been external. Around that time, my family and I moved to Missouri for my husband’s job. Over the next six years, we moved three times, I continued to raise two active sons, complete my bachelor’s degree, and work full-time.

In 2011, we settled back home in Oklahoma, and I reconnected with old friends and my critique group and started taking my writing career seriously again. In 2015, a tornado damaged our house, and we were homeless for nine months.

In 2016, I faced a big emotional obstacle – the fear of losing my oldest son, who had joined the military and was deployed to war zones.

But I continued to volunteer for SCBWI throughout all of this time.

Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Team Jill Donaldson (regional advisor), Jerry Bennett (illustrator coordinator), Anna Myers (regional advisor emeritus), SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver and Helen Newton (former regional advisor).
I learned to channel frustration, fear, happiness, and peace into my stories, and that has given me the strength to persist in my passion of writing. I am so happy that I have never given up or quit writing because I recently signed with Stephanie Hansen at Metamorphosis Literary Agency.

What are your top three pieces of advice for developing and maintaining the resilience necessary to persist in a difficult business? 

Lisa:
  1. Remember how many fine writers have a fat rejection file. Probably all of them.
  2. We are told that the publishing industry is highly competitive, and it is. But make peace with the fact that some published books will seem unworthy to you, and you might puzzle endlessly about why certain books “made the cut." I suggest you focus on the books you are jealous of, that make you swoon. What can you learn from those lovely books? Probably a lot.
  3. Only write things that you really enjoy thinking about.

Jill:
  1. Connect and develop relationships with other kid lit writers and illustrators.
  2. Work at maintaining a balanced lifestyle, so your creativity is at its max when you sit down to write or illustrate.
  3. Keep your mind and heart open to learn and create in new ways. It is soul-satisfying when you have a breakthrough in your writing or illustrating.

Meredith:
  1. Keep reading. Great books continue to remind me why I’m writing and pursuing publication. I want to share stories and move others with my words the same way I’m moved by great writing.
  2. Keep learning. It’s part of the fun of being a writer. It’s exciting to try a new plotting technique or go to graduate school or attend a conference. I’m not just a writer so that I can have a published book. I’m a writer because I actually enjoy writing, and when I learn new things my writing improves. It’s like a woodworker using a new saw or a computer programmer learning a new language. Learning gives me tools to explore new ways of writing and keeps my process fresh.
  3. Keep nurturing relationships with other writers. The relationships I’ve made with other writers are life-giving. They encourage me and they inspire me. Other writers edit my work and they help me navigate the ups and downs of the writing life. They understand how hard it can be, so they can celebrate or commiserate authentically.
E.B. White writes of Charlotte,
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
These relationships are precious.

How do you handle questions about “what is out on submission” (from writing colleagues) or “what have you published?” (from non-writer acquaintances) 

Meredith's writing community: Anne Bustard (seated),
Meredith, Betty X. Davis, Kathi Appelt and Jane Peddicord.
Meredith: For a long time I didn’t tell people outside my writing circle that I wrote children’s books, but it was hard to stay incognito. I wrote Christmas letters and blog posts and long emails.

People told me they liked my writing, and so I got brave. I began to admit that I wrote children’s books, too, and then came the inevitable question.

Sometimes it was the double whammy: “Where can I buy them?” They assumed not only that I was published, but that I was published many times. As if that is no big deal!

Sometimes I try to explain about publishing, how it’s hard, editors move, the market is fickle, and I’m an unknown. But when I see eyes begin to glaze, I realize a quick “I’m not published yet, but I’m working on it,” works just fine.

Usually whomever I’m talking to has already moved on to new topics of conversation. Non-writers don’t realize they’ve exposed our insecurities, but other writers understand how hard it is and don’t judge.

The children’s writers I’ve met are kind and generous and they’re often rooting for me. We are a friendly bunch, so I try not to be intimidated and keep Dorie’s mantra from "Finding Nemo" playing on repeat in my head: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

I move on, and, “Just keep writing, just keep writing.”

Lisa: I give very brief answers. I'm honest. I'll say that I've been beating my head against the wall.

Jill: When I’m asked about submissions, I try to make it an opportunity to pitch my current work. Their reactions or lack thereof is helpful in knowing how I can be better.

When I’m asked about what I have published, I let them know what success I have had and then tell them that I don’t have any books published yet.

Part Two: Writing Craft

What are your favorite resources for improving your writing skills? 

Lisa's favorite craft books.
Lisa: Reading books in my genre – that’s the most fun way to improve my own work. When I see a picture book that is clever and delights me, it can also help me think, “I have concepts that are as good as these…My voice is similar…,” and those are the times I get excited again and want to keep the fire going.

Jill: I try to attend as many kid lit related critique meetings, writing workshops, and webinars as possible.

Meredith: I love a good conference or workshop, when I am surrounded by creative people and inspired by either a lecture or a writing exercise, but perhaps the most helpful tool for me is a story well told. It can be a book, a movie, a podcast, even a grandma at the dinner table.

I love trying to figure out what makes a story work, and then trying it out in my own work. What builds tension? How to best set up a scene? How to paint a character so she seems real? My favorite books are all marked up and highlighted with notes for what works and what doesn’t.

What strategies (internal and external) do you use for improving your craft?

Meredith: My best “honing” happens during revision. One of the most important things I can do to revise well is to leave my manuscript alone for a while.

When it’s time for a big revision, I need some space to gain perspective and let go of some of the details I can’t seem to pry my fingers off of when it’s still close and present and on my mind daily.

Internally, this means filling up with someone else’s words, reading a book that’s so good it distracts me from my work.

Externally, it means going out and engaging in the real world for a while, meeting a friend for coffee or lunch. This makes no sense. How can I be working on my craft by ignoring it? It works because when I come back to it, I see it through new eyes.

Sometimes I’ll try laying a construct on it, like Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder (Michael Wiese, 2005) or the “snowflake method” or the “sticky-note method” or whatever fun plotting game has come across my radar.

I look at my story as a puzzle instead of precious words I’ve woven together. Honing implies detail work, and getting to the root of what makes a scene and an entire story work. This can only be done with an objective eye, and I’m most objective when my affections are no longer entirely focused on my manuscript.

Jill: I study recently published kid lit books, create an organized comfortable working space, and play wordless music.

Lisa: Getting feedback as often as I can afford to, money-wise and time-wise.

What craft advice would you give to beginning writers?

Lisa: It takes a very long time for most of us to develop to a truly professional level. You must enjoy the actual writing, not just the idea of having a book to sell. Don't stay wedded to an idea too long, especially if an editor tells you in a critique that they see a lot of similar stories. If you're going to do a common book theme, like a bedtime book, ya gotta shoot for being better than Jane Yolen

Meredith: Light a candle. You can get really caught up with word count and how many pages you’ve written in a day, but the most important thing is making progress.

Meredith's writing space with lit candle.
We kid ourselves if progress only means meeting a designated and arbitrary word count. Sometimes progress looks like staring out the window or scribbling ideas on notecards or even deleting a bunch of pages that no longer work but were necessary to write to figure out your story.

This is all progress, though it may feel unsatisfying without physical proof of a hard day’s work. My advice is to put a candle on a plate and light it when you start paying attention to your manuscript.

Measure your progress by the puddle of wax that accumulates instead of word count. You’ll have a physical manifestation of the time you’ve spent with your work in progress.

When someone asks how your writing went that day, you can proudly (and cryptically) reply, “about the size of a salad plate.”

Jill: First, learn about the different kid-lit industry standards.

Second, learn about yourself. What are your writing strengths and weaknesses? Focus on improving your weakness. For example, if you don’t have a good grasp of grammar rules, then teach yourself with workbooks, online classes, and tutorials.

Third, train yourself to take and give constructive critique about your manuscript. Even the master writer, Jane Yolen said, “It’s never perfect when I write it down the first time, or the second time, or the fifth time. But it always gets better as I go over it and over it.”

Thanks to Lisa, Jill, and Meredith for sharing so much about your inner journeys and your thoughts about commitment to your craft! 

As short or as long as our journeys are, it's so important to call ourselves by our name - Writer - and to stay focused on the work, challenge, and joy of telling the stories we hold in our hearts and minds as beautifully as we can.

Cynsational Breaking News & Notes


Meredith Davis has sold what will become her debut book, Chance Comes Once, co-authored by Rebeka Uwitonze, to Scholastic.

Meredith founded the Austin chapter of SCBWI in 1995, the same year her daughter was born. She birthed an additional two children in subsequent years, worked in an independent children’s bookstore, and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She writes middle grade and picture books, fiction and narrative nonfiction, and looks forward to announcing her first book contract, a product of many puddles of wax. In the featured photo, she is shown with Betty X. DavisAnne BustardKathi Appelt, and Jane Peddicord.

Lisa Bierman spent 17 years as a marketing research analyst. Then she had two sons who, thankfully, did not want to hear the same picture books over and over.

Lisa was hooked on the beauty and possibilities in the world of kids' books. She has written (and not published) many picture book and chapter book manuscripts. Her poetry has appeared in kids' magazines.

Meanwhile, she has done freelance business writing, volunteered extensively for SCBWI-Illinois, for local public schools and for AYSO soccer.

Jillene Donaldson (Jill) creates stories for children and teens and is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the Oklahoma Writers' Federation Inc.

She grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with three siblings, several dogs, and a cat that climbed walls. She's had run-ins with a mean bull, an electric fence, monster dogs, toe-eating mice, and bullies who once double-dog dared her to eat a white grub, which she did.

Jill graduated as valedictorian; completed an AA in English Literature for which she won the Geraldine Burns Award for Excellence in English; and then earned a BA all while working full time and raising two awesome boys with her husband.

She loves putting frozen fruit in drinks and most anything with cheese or chocolate. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma City.

Carol Coven Grannick writes picture books, poetry and middle grade fiction. Her work has appeared in Cricket, Ladybug, Highlights and Hunger Mountain.

Her middle grade novel-in-verse manuscript, "Reeni's Turn," addresses body image-issues for the younger audience, and won an Honorable Mention in the 2018 Sydney Taylor Manuscript competition. It also was a finalist for the Katherine Paterson Award from Hunger Mountain.

Carol chronicles the writer’s inner journey with a focus on resilience for Cynsations and the Illinois SCBWI Prairie Wind.

See her previous posts: Let's Make a Plan: Reminders from Early Childhood Education; Life, Writing & A Word In Praise of Emotional Safety; Into the Scary for the Sake of Joy; and Does Expecting the Worst Make You a Pessimist? Confessions of a Learned Optimist.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Survivors: Lois Lowry on Thriving as a Long-Time, Actively Publishing Children's-YA Author

Learn more about Lois Lowry.
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

I was forty when my first book was published in 1977. Pretty old!

And it was a tough time in my life. I was leaving a 21-year marriage and leaving it—by choice—with nothing: no alimony, no house; just my car and my typewriter.

And I’d never had a real job, had no profession to fall back on: just the freelance magazine work I’d been doing as a photojournalist, and the one book which just by chance had been requested by an editor at Houghton Mifflin who had read something I’d published in a magazine. “You sound like someone who might be able to write for young people,” she told me, though what she’d read had been a story for adults.

No promise to publish what I wrote, but at least I had someone who was interested in seeing it—and who, in fact, did give me a contract. It meant that I could pay my rent.

I had not planned to be a writer for kids. Since college, where I’d majored in writing, I had planned, of course, on the great American novel. With four kids born in five years, though, I never got around to writing it.

Then by the time that first book, A Summer to Die, was published (it had no title when I sent it to the publisher. And I sent it by snail mail. Typed pages—I had a carbon copy at home. Remember carbon paper?) I was living in a rented apartment over a garage, trying to jump-start a new life.

The publisher kept sending me copies of reviews with excited notes: Another star! What did that even mean? I hadn’t a clue.

Phone calls came with news…this was 1977, long before email, of course…the paperback rights had been sold! The book had won the IRA Award! The California Young Readers Medal!

It was as if they were speaking a foreign language. But I was hearing something, an undertone of sorts, that was whispering: This. This is how you can make a living.

So I rolled a clean sheet of typing paper into the typewriter, set the margins, and began writing a second book for young people.

And there you have it: a pretty ignominious beginning. I wish I could say, as so many new writers do today, that I had a passion for children’s books, that I studied them carefully, that I took courses, went to seminars, formed a writers’ group, joined the SCBWI…etc..etc.

But few of those things were available then. And in retrospect, I think it served me well to feel my way into the field very tentatively and in total ignorance, without an agent, without expectations.

Bumps? What was Bette Davis said in "All About Eve" (“Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night…”)?

I’m not sure, in those early days, that I could have predicted “bumps”…or that such a prediction would have steered me away from this profession.

Of course there were some: mostly things I couldn’t have predicted. The famous writer who accused me of plagiarism (I hadn’t even read his book). The website that called me "The Antichrist."  The things I labored over…and the editor didn’t like them.

The book that was published with mis-ordered chapters! Yikes; that one hurt.

The book I published under a pseudonym, and with a manufactured author bio…and then it won a big award, and the publishing representative had to accept on behalf of the author “who unfortunately can’t get here from her home in the Midwest…."

But on the whole I could have left my seatbelt unsecured. It has not been terribly bumpy for me. I’ve been lucky.

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

Well, I would have sent in my first manuscript with a title on it, for sure! But aside from that jokey comment, I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, given the circumstances.

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

My first book, simply by chance and not design, was based on the death of my older sister when we were both young. It was a story I’d been telling myself for some years, the way we always go through tough personal things in our heads, trying to explain them to ourselves. The suggestion from an editor that I write a book meant that I found a place to set those thoughts down on paper.

But the timing was interesting. There had not yet been, to my knowledge, children’s books dealing realistically with the death of a young person (Beth, in Little Women (by Louisa May Alcott (1869))? Come on. Give me a break.)

And yet, my book was published in the same year as Katherine Paterson’s wonderful Bridge to Terabithia, which won the 1978 Newbery Medal (a medal, incidentally, that I was practically unaware of). Something must have been in the atmosphere which made the timing right for A Summer to Die.

And then I watched realistic novels become a little trendy, as things do. Eventually the trend led to some awful books, so called “problem novels.”

Pendulums, I guess, always swing too far. But their momentum dies; eventually realistic fiction about kids with problems settled in reliably for the long haul. Oddly, though I don’t think that I “caused” it in any way, I watched some others of my own books become trendsetters.

Number the Stars (1989) was an early one of countless Holocaust books (though it had been long preceded by Anne Frank’s diary (1947), deservedly a classic, and Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe (1968), among others).

Later, The Giver (1993) seemed to spawn an entire generation of so-called dystopian fiction; several editors confided jokingly to me that they dreaded seeing yet another futuristic manuscript.

And how on earth did it happen that in 2011, Richard Peck, Cynthia Voigt, and I all wrote books in which the characters were exclusively mice? But those are thematic and stylistic trends.

 The big changes I have observed over the years are more in terms of marketing. The book tours! (And then, as the internet took over, the fewer “real” book tours). The speaking engagements!

Goodness, if someone had told my introverted self back in 1977: If you become a writer of YA fiction, you will have to go and make speeches….I might have closed up my typewriter and looked for a real job.

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

In The Barn
Ignore trends.

Learn how to “track changes”!

Practice saying no to people.

Save receipts for the tax guy.

Most importantly, take yourself seriously.

Carve out a sacrosanct space in which to work. I wrote my first book sitting at a little table in the corner of my husband’s study, with his big important desk looming behind me. I shouldn’t have settled for that.

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

I wish that all of their wonderful books be translated into a zillion languages so that kids around the world will all be reading the same stories, laughing at the same jokes, weeping with shared sadnesses; and that somehow this will bring us all together in this world, and connect us in the ways that matter.

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

I just hope that in this last chapter of my life, my brain and imagination remain intact! That I can still maintain a relationship with young readers, and that I never lose the sense of joy that comes to me from putting words together on a page.

With actor Jeff Bridges; see the trailer for the film adaptation of "The Giver"

Cynsational Notes 

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Guest Post: Carmen Oliver: Cover Reveal & How to Create An Author Program That Schools Will Want

Carmen signing her first book contract
By Carmen Oliver
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

You’ve inked your first book sale. Congratulations!

Now, you’re busy getting ready for your big launch date, and you’re beginning to think about doing school visits.

But before you can connect with your student audience, you first have to create a presentation.

If you’re like most authors, this is where you begin to listen to your IE (internal editor), who is nattering incessantly in your ear.
  • You have nothing to say. Zilch. 
  • Everything has already been said. 
  • Why would they want you? You are a nobody. 
And because your IE is great at intimidating you – you begin to believe it and think that maybe they have a point.

Wrong. This couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ve got this. You’re in control.

And the reason why is this….

The key to creating an author program that schools will want is all about tapping into your authenticity. Let me say that again. Authenticity.

So what do I mean by that?

“What Are You Passionate About?” 


Carmen speaking at Sommer Elementary
I’m passionate about making a difference in the world…one word at a time. Serving is one of my gifts.

One of the reasons I joined the Canadian police force known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), at the age of nineteen was that I wanted to contribute to the world in a way that would have a positive impact.

My passion was there, but my focus was misguided.

After I did a lot of soul searching, I remembered how much I loved to tell stories when I was young. And write poetry. And share other people’s stories.

When I realized that I knew I could pour myself into writing books for kids. If I could write stories and create books, then they could, too. I believe that you can follow your dreams no matter how old or young you are. Age is not a factor. It’s not a condition I ever consider. And I also believe in never giving up. That if you set your mind on something, you can accomplish anything.

I think I can, I think I can, I know I can.

Those elements make up my core beliefs. They’re in everything I do. So shouldn’t some of those things be included in my presentations for students? They should, right?

Carmen writing at author Donna Janell Bowman's Lake House
What are you passionate about? What matters to you?

Just like our stories – what you have to say matters. So spend some time thinking about this and journaling. Tap into your authentic self and then massage this into your presentations. Your heart. Your soul. Your passions. And you will always stand out from the crowd.

Because no one has your voice.

Because you have something important to say.

Because there’s no one else like you.

With my next book A Voice For The Spirit Bears: How One Boy Inspired Millions To Save A Rare Animal, illustrated by Katy Dockrill (Kids Can Press, May 7, 2019), I’ve already begun to think about new presentations based on that book and how my own personal journey can be shared in authentic ways with my audiences.

How has my own struggles mirrored those of the protagonist D. Simon Jackson? How can I share my passions with readers in a way that will make a difference with them and resonate? What are the takeaways?

With every book you write, there’s a new piece of yourself for readers to discover. Each book reveals another one of your passions.

You need to incorporate this into your presentations. And if you do, I’m positive that schools will want to book you.

Passion is contagious and courageous. So turn off your IE and get to work. I, along with your readers, want to hear about what you’re passionate about. We want to be inspired.

Cynsational Notes
The faculty from Crafting Successful Author Visits in 2018 at the Highlights Foundation
Carmen will co-teach a related workshop, Crafting Successful Author Visits, from April 28 to May 3 at the Highlights Foundation in Milanville, Pennsylvania.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cynsational News

By Cynthia Leitich Smith,
Robin Galbraith, Gayleen Rabukukk, and Stephani Eaton
for Cynsations

Author/Illustrator Insights

Q & A with Kekla Magoon by Sally Lodge from Publishers Weekly. Peek:
"...the cohesive narrative of my work... being an ordinary kid who can make a difference. If you recognize the power of your own voice and your good qualities, you will be able to discover and stand up for what you believe in."
Author Chat with Susan Fletcher (Journey of the Pale Bear), Plus Giveway! By Kayla King from YA Books Central. Peek:
“...drafting is a more anxious time for me, because I always have the feeling in the back of my mind that it might just all come apart and collapse...But revising is the time when things start to come into focus.”
How Can Two Authors Make One Story? A Back and Forth Between Ally Condie and Brendan Reichs from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:
“When we both had a different idea about how a scene should turn out, we agreed that we couldn’t go with either of our initial solutions/plans. We had to come to a third solution, together...that third option was better than what either of us came up with on our own.”
Let’s Talk with Indonesian YA Writer Sinta Yudisia by Robin Kirk from YA Interrbang. Peek:
“The author of over 60 books, Sinta is a rock star in Indonesia, her home. She’s also a fascinating person who is an #ownvoices treasure.”
5 Questions for Hillary Homzie by Melissa Roske at From the Mixed-Up Files. Peek:
“Finish what you write. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gotten bogged down by the first three chapters—obsessively rewriting them. I would say just write on through to the end, and only after you’ve finally gotten your armature in place, then spend time fine-tuning.” 
7 Questions for: Author M.T. Anderson by Rob Kent at Middle Grade Ninja. Peek:
“When I'm in the midst of working hard on a novel, I'll probably spend about three or four hours a day writing. But that doesn't reflect the time when, for example, when I'm jogging before I write. That's when some of the most important work actually gets done…”
Awards

Congratulations to the National Book Award Young People’s Literature Finalists!
Congratulations to Carole Boston Weatherford, winner of the 2019 Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award!

Congratulations to the 2019 Forest of Reading Nominees!

Congratulations to Tim Tingle, Laurie Halse Anderson, Margarita Engle and all of other  243 nominees for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award!

Diversity

Poetry and Graphic Novels to Read After The Hate U Give by Gwen Glazer from New York Public Library. Peek:
“A lot of great lists online have already suggested dozens of fiction readalikes, so we thought we'd recommend graphic novels, poetry, and memoirs that address similar themes in a different format.” 
#IndigenousReads by Indigenous Writers: A Children’s Reading List by The Conscious Kid from Medium. Peek:
“Indigenous people are very much a part of today’s society. With their stories, Indigenous writers share the range of their lives, past and present, and we hope that you’ll embrace and share their stories.”  
Episode 19! Conversation with Ellen Wittlinger by Jacqueline Davies from Kidlit Women*. Peek: Ellen Wittlinger talks with Jacqueline Davies about the double standards of judging women's writing on today's kidlitwomen* podcast:
“A woman writing about her emotions is immediately seen as sentimental or sappy." 
10 YA Fantasy Books Written by Women of Color by Simone Jung from Book Riot. Peek:
“It fills my heart with joy that my reading days can be feature some faces that look like mine and expand the genre to many more universes.” 
What Are We Teaching Boys When We Discourage Them From Reading Books About Girls by Shannon Hale from The Washington Post. Peek:
“The bias against boys reading about girls runs so deep, it can feel daunting to try to change it. But change can start with a simple preposition swap: When talking to young readers, we can communicate a book is about girls without prescribing that it is for girls.”
Nic Stone’s Letter to Her Younger Self Is an Important Reminder That You Don’t Have to Fit in Just One Box by Nic Stone from TeenVogue. Peek:
“That’s what I’m writing to tell you. Where you are right now: trying to figure out which way is up and how to deal with your questions and confusion — that’s a perfectly acceptable place to be.”
I See You by K.A. Holt from Haiku of the Day. Peek:
"...maybe the story is different than her own, but all of that is ok because she will be able to pick up a book, see two girls struggling together (and alone) to make sense of the world, and those girls will be holding hands." 
Writing

Writing Through Chaos by Catherine McKenzie from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Sometimes the news is too dispiriting to ignore. Sometimes the news is too riveting to ignore…. Make small goals. I can watch one hour of this hearing if I write 500 words first. Or 100. Or 50. Make small goals and gradually up them.”
How to Write a Novel Synopsis by Mary Kole from Kid Lit. Peek:
“Don’t worry about making it cute, pitchy, or voice-y. Your writing should be clear and tight. Just the facts, ma’am.”
Non-Verbal Communication and Backstory by Jeanne Kisacky from Writer Unboxed. Peek:
“Nonverbal communication–which is based on learned, repeated, or automatic responses developed from past experiences–provides a powerful story tool for connecting the present to the past in a manner that can minimize this sense of manipulation.”
I Have Wasted My Life...Are You Wasting Yours? By Heather Demetrios from Wild Things. Peek:
“I’ve come to realize that social media—though a seemingly necessary evil in the author’s life—cannot be ‘necessary’ for me right now. Not if I want to actually write any books. Or dream up new ones. Or be grounded and mentally stable at all.”
Six Questions to Ask a Writing Coach by Cat Rambo from Medium. Peek:
“If you’re thinking about a writing coach, don’t grab the first one that presents themself. It’s important to find a coach that is the right fit for you, one that can help you find your voice and enable you to look at your work with fresh eyes.”
Create Killer Twists: Learn How to Redeem Your Villain by Sacha Black from Writers Helping Writers. Peek:
“If your villain is going to do a 180 and become good, then there should be a reason. Humans don’t do things without reasons, and in order for your readers to swallow such a significant change, you need to ensure you’re clear on why he’s doing it.”
Publishing

Barnes & Noble Evaluates Possible Sale by Jeffrey A. Tratchtenberg from The Wall Street Journal. Peek:
“Barnes & Noble Inc. said it is considering a sale after receiving interest from multiple parties including its executive chairman, Leonard Riggio, the latest twist for the embattled bookseller as its business reaches a critical juncture following years of decline.”
Marketing

The Best Way to Support Writers by Dan Blank from We Grow Media. Peek:
“Not only does that review make an author’s day, it means that when a reader looks at that book online and considers buying it, they can hear what others loved about it and why.”
This Week at Cynsations


More Personally - Cynthia


"Relationship Status: Who Cares? I'm Awesome" panel at Texas Teen Book Festival with David Levithan, Morgan Matson, Lillian Rivera and Nic Stone. Moderated by Ami Gandhi. Photo by Gayleen Rabakukk
Hearts Unbroken was released on Tuesday by Candlewick Press! Thanks to everyone who has pre-ordered, signal-boosted, and/or in any way supported this new book. I appreciate you!

Thanks especially to my Candlewick editor Hilary Van Dusen, my literary agent Ginger Knowlton, the acquiring editor Deborah Noyes, copyeditor Hannah Mahoney, jacket designer Pamela Consolazio, marketing pros Andie Krawczyk and Jamie Tan, my booking agent Carmen Oliver, my webmaster Erik Neills of Square Bear Studio, and manuscript readers Anne BustardAmy Rose Capetta (pre-order The Brilliant Death (Viking, 2018)), Cory Putman OakesSean PetrieKevin Wohler and Jennifer Zeigler.

Inspiration & craft reflections
Thanks also to my Cynterns Stephani M. EatonRobin Galbraith, and especially Gayleen Rabakukk.

For my a few of my craft thoughts on writing Hearts Unbroken, see my four-part series of posts. See the full list above at This Week at Cynsations.

Last week's event highlight was the Texas Teen Book Festival in Austin. Thanks to TTBF and BookPeople! Thanks also to my panel moderator, Ami Gandhi. See also The Texas Teen Book Fesival Turns 10 by Meghan Dietsche Goel from PW ShelfTalker.

In other event news, I was pleased to see that LoonSong: Turtle Island got a little ink in Publishers Weekly.

Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith from Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Peek:
"I’m a sense-of-place writer, and the majority of my stories are set in locations I know well. There’s an expression 'I know where you’re coming from.' It means 'I understand you.' Think about how we equate that."
Thanks for your support!
Interview: Cynthia Leitich Smith by Crystal from Rich In Color. Peek:
"As I drafted scenes, I was aware of exactly how they’d resonate with many Native teens and, to varying degrees, alienate many influential, non-Indian adults. I kept typing anyway."
The Heart of Cynthia Leitich Smith by Amanda West Lewis from Wild Things: VCFA MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults Blog. Peek:
"I crafted a love story juxtaposed against microaggressions and their escalation. A story that’s infused with humor and community and lived experience as a middle-class Native teen."
Let's Indigenize Our Bookshelves and Fully Welcome Native Kids as Readers by Cynthia Leitich Smith from Nerdy Book Club. Peek:
"I understood from a very young age that the Native part of myself didn’t seem to belong in the world of readers. (Did we send that message to all Native kids? Do we still? At what cost to them and to their non-Indian friends...)."
More Personally - Stephani

This week I went back to working on a manuscript of a picture book that I started while at VCFA. It felt really good to be back in a story, immersed in the details.


But the highlight of the week was when the kids and I went to Bookmarks, our local bookstore, for Alan Gratz’s book launch of his new book, Grenade (Scholastic, 2018). Alan gave such an engaging talk that the kids kept whispering to me to get up and grab each title he talked about. We came home with three! While there, my son reunited with his elementary school media specialist. She’s still so good at finding books he’ll love.

More Personally - Robin

Apparently it's Alan Gratz week because I also heard Alan talk at Hooray for Books! and had him sign books for my Halloween book project. Alan was my advisor for the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop in 2012. You are in for a treat if you ever get feedback from Alan. He's gives incredibly clear and insightful feedback!


More Personally - Gayleen

I had a magical evening Monday. Austin SCBWI hosted a reception with Kwame Alexander before a public event celebrating his new novel, Swing, co written by Mary Rand Hess (Blink, 2018). The Newbery-winning author chatted and answered questions about his writing journey and the VERSIFY imprint. I'm thrilled to be part of a team that makes events like this happen!



Personal Links - Stephani
Personal Links - Robin