Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Six Picture Book Biographies Show the Joy of Longer Lives by Lindsey McDivitt from A Is for Aging. Peek: "...these picture book bios offer huge benefits to kids—showing them adventure, creativity, and enjoyment, not only over the course of an evolving life, but well into old age."

Outlining: Why I Made the Switch and Tips for Trying It by Elizabeth S. Craig from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...I’d have to outline for the one editor anyway, and I’d either have to be super-organized and not make any mistakes to get the other two out…or else I could try outlining all three of them. I became a reluctant outliner."

Three Tips to Surviving a Public Speaking Event by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Whatever the occasion, when it’s your turn to stand up in front of an audience, make them wait. Not too long, though." See also The Online Presence That's An Extension of Who You Are and What You Do (Or Is It Just a Fantasy?) by Jane Friedman from Writer Unboxed.

"Ya Gotta Pay Your Dues" by Donna Janell Bowman from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Even now, after a tiny bit of success in my publishing journey, I still find comfort in justifying a rejection as one step toward paying my dues (but I would love to receive a rejection addressed to Princess.)" See also Should Children's Authors Self-Publish? A Conversation with Two Literary Agents by Sangeeta Mehta from Jane Friedman.

Fear and Killing the Muse by Linden McNeilly from Quirk and Quill. Peek: "...with all that trepidation around us, controlling our every anxious breath as we try to create stories, what can we do?"

More Than Numbers by Megan Schliesman from CCBlogC. Peek: "...as we talk about numbers, which is an important dimension of the discussion about diversity and publishing, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the terrific books by people of color that are published each and every year." Note: highlights top titles of the year by African Americans. See also Thoughts on Ferguson and Recommended Resources by Jason Low from Lee & Low and Justice on the Lesson Plan by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich from the Brown Bookshelf.

Using Google Earth to Research Your Setting by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "...allows you to see the topography, or the terrain, of a setting. Is it hilly, flat, or somewhere in between?"

My First Author/Illustrator Skype Visit, What I Learned and What I'd Do Differently Next Time by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from Inkygirl.com. Peek: "Make sure you leave time for a Q&A, and coordinate with the teacher ahead of time so that he/she is able to have students prepare questions in advance."

Jacqueline Woodson: "I Don't Want Anyone to Feel Invisible" by Michelle Dean from The Guardian. Peek: "Woodson says she began writing the book when her mother died suddenly. She described the death as a “wake-up call that the people I love, and the people who know my story, and the people who know my history are not always going to be here.” Writing became a quest to make sure some kind of record existed."

Writing Non-Human Characters by Cavan Scott from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "A race of non-humans should never have the same characteristics, unless perhaps if they are a true hive mind. Similar traits maybe, but there should be individuality there."

Becoming a Better Writer in 2015 by Barbara O'Neil from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Maybe one is that I’m going to write about things that scare me, or things that are secret. I might only write those things for myself, as an exercise, but maybe I’ll write them into the work of my novels, too."

Picture Book Month


"Founder Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller) and co-founders, Katie Davis (author/illustrator), Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author), and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator), put together their worldwide connections to make this happen.

"Every day in November, there is a new post from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important." Each also features teacher guides and curriculum connections."

Learn more from and about the work of:

Arree Chung


We Need Diverse Books

The fundraising campaign is ongoing and will close Dec. 10. Thanks to all for donating, signal-boosting and participating in the larger conversation in children's-YA books!

"First we announced that we reached our initial goal of 100K. Now we can announce we have reached both of our first two stretch goals! Thank you so much for making this possible, and now it's time announce our third stretch goal:

$150,000 and beyond: Sustainability

"The problem with diversity in children's literature won't be solved over night or even in a year. Battling entrenched barriers for diverse books takes sustained effort. Your donations from here on out, every single dollar, helps WNDB maintain our long-term viability and to continue to change the face of children's literature for years to come."

See also The Problem with Ethic Heritage Months from Lee & Low and A Cheat Sheet for Selling Diversity from Grace Lin (PDF).

Kid Lit for Haiti

Kid Lit for Haiti is an online auction featuring talent donated by authors, illustrators, editors, art directors, and agents. 100% of the proceeds benefit the students supported by the 501c3 nonprofit organization called The Friends of Haiti Inc. All money from this auction will be used for scholarships for students in Haiti.

Participants in the auction include: Stephen Mooser, co-founder of the SCBWI and author of more than 60 books; Melissa Manlove, editor at Chronicle Books; Ingrid Law, Newbery Honor author; Jen Rofe, agent at Andrea Brown Literary; Matt de la Pena, acclaimed author; Denise Vega, two-time Colorado Book Award winner; Giuseppe Castellano, art director at Penguin Random House; Dan Lazar, agent at Writers House, and many more (found on blog at Kid Lit for Haiti).

Cynsational Giveaways

See also a two-book giveaway of The Good-Pie Party by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton from Tara Lazar at Picture Book Idea Month and a giveaway Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky from Goodreads.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

It's a short week here at Cynsations! Lots to do around the house. I'm taking off early for the holiday and will be back on Monday. Cynsational readers, I am thankful for you!

Playing at Alamo Drafthouse with fellow Austin authors Cory Putnam Oakes...

and Greg Leitich Smith! Learn more about "Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1."

See a review of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" by Shoshana Flax from The Horn Book.

Rain talks about Thanksgiving...
Link of the Week: Thanksgiving: What It Means for Native Americans: An Audio Interview with Suzan Shown Harjo from The TakeAway with John Hockenberry. Peek: After discussing the conflicting concepts of many Native people (a day of mourning) versus most others in the U.S. (a day of celebration) with regard to Thanksgiving, she says in part, "Giving thanks is a genuine Native tradition, and it's a wonderful tradition, and I especially like the idea of a feast that everyone's having that is comprised soley--if you do it right--of Native foods." See also Suzan Shown Harjo Receives Presidential Medal of Honor.

Another Link of the Week: Writing Native Lives in YA: An NYPL Discussion by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Thinking in conventional editorial terms, Klein sought solutions to what she perceived as persistent questions in the book, and looked to other works of young adult literature as models. But many of these models, she came to realize, derive from western literary archetypes..." See also a full recording of the event.

Even More Personally


What a thrill it was yesterday to celebrate fellow Austin children's writer Betty X. Davis's 99th birthday--still playing tennis, still writing, still quick with a joke. Betty: "People ask me what's my secret to a long life." Dramatic pause. "I started young."

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. Details TBA.

Now Available!
Pre-order Now!
Cynthia will speak on "Writing Across Identity Markers" at 10 a.m. Feb. 14 at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople in Austin.

The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

Cynthia will appear from April 14 to April 17 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 at the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency in Montpelier, Vermont.

Cynthia will speak from June 25 to June 30 on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association in San Francisco.

http://taralazar.com/piboidmo/

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giveaway: ARC of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win a signed advanced reader copy of Wish Girl by Nikki Loftin (Razorbill, 2015). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. From the promotional copy:

...this lyrical novel that will break your heart and lift your spirit.

Peter Stone’s parents and siblings are extroverts, musicians, and yellers—and the louder they get, the less Peter talks, or even moves, until he practically fits his last name. When his family moves to the Texas Hill Country, though, Peter finds a tranquil, natural valley where he can, at last, hear himself think.

There, he meets a girl his age: Annie Blythe. Annie tells Peter she’s a “wish girl.” But Annie isn’t just any wish girl; she’s a “Make-A-Wish Girl.” And in two weeks she will begin a dangerous treatment to try and stop her cancer from spreading. Left alone, the disease will kill her. But the treatment may cause serious, lasting damage to her brain.

Annie and Peter hatch a plan to escape into the valley, which they begin to think is magical. But the pair soon discovers that the valley—and life—may have other plans for them. And sometimes wishes come true in ways they would never expect.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Voice: Cori McCarthy on The Color of Rain

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Cori McCarthy is the first-time author of The Color of Rain (Running Press, 2013). From the promotional copy:

If there is one thing that seventeen-year-old Rain knows and knows well, it is survival. Caring for her little brother, Walker, who is “Touched,” and losing the rest of her family to the same disease, Rain has long had to fend for herself on the bleak, dangerous streets of Earth City. 

When she looks to the stars, Rain sees escape and the only possible cure for Walker. And when a darkly handsome and mysterious captain named Johnny offers her passage to the Edge, Rain immediately boards his spaceship. Her only price: her “willingness.”

The Void cloaks many secrets, and Rain quickly discovers that Johnny’s ship serves as host for an underground slave trade for the Touched . . . and a prostitution ring for Johnny’s girls. 

With hair as red as the bracelet that indicates her status on the ship, the feeling of being a marked target is not helpful in Rain’s quest to escape. Even worse, Rain is unsure if she will be able to pay the costs of love, family, hope, and self-preservation.

In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

When I sat down to write what would become my debut, The Color of Rain, I knew that I was going to be stepping right off the edgy map. You see my main character, Rain, is a prostitute.

A space prostitute to be exact.

I suspected that I’d get frowns from parents, be banned from “clean” YA bookshelves, and that my oh-so-proud mom would not be able to hand this book around to her church friends. And yet, Rain’s story was more important to me than its obvious obstacles.

You might ask why.

Well, while there are a multitude of great stories about noble sacrifice and the glory of love, I felt compelled to talk about the other story—what happens when someone goes too far for love—when love leaves you with regret and shame instead of Happily Ever After feelings.

It does happen. It happened to me. And it definitely happens to teenagers more regularly than the rest of the population. So I wrote this super edgy story for those people with the hopeful message that there is a light at the end of the tunnel no matter what—or in Rain’s case, a light at the end of the Known Universe.

In my new book, Breaking Sky (Sourcebooks, 2015), I’ve come up against a whole new world of edgy complications.

My new main character, Chase, is unlikeable. Capital U. Self-centered, showoff, maverick—she’s a top fighter pilot at an Air Force academy for teens who keeps her eye on breaking a cold war standoff with Asia—and not on the people in her life.

Like Rain, Chase’s backstory harbors great disappointment, and in response to that hurt, Chase has closed herself off.

How is this edgy? Well, Chase has a reputation for leading on romantic interests for nothing more than a quick make-out session. Nothing deeper.

My beta readers for this story wondered where Chase’s heart-breaker status came from, and the answer to that has become as important to me as showing teen readers the flipside of love in Rain. In short, Chase’s story is about being careless with others. About isolating yourself from anyone who can hurt you—and then the long road back to caring.

After these two books, what I’ve learned about “edgy” is that it can be a powerful force in telling the toughest of emotional stories. For Rain, I chose an edgy premise that was as impossible to swallow as the enormous feelings behind her regret, and with Chase, I created a girl who hurt others in an attempt to keep anyone from ever hurting her ever again.

Could I have told these stories without edgy red flags like prostitution, human trafficking, swears, and “make-out sluts?”

Maybe. But I doubt they would hit home, feel real, and echo through the reader’s deepest life turns.

In the end, I want every reader who identifies with my story to come away feeling like they’re not alone. That may seem a little hokey, but hey, books have always been there for me.

If I can contribute to the great emotional library in any way, I’ll die happy.

As someone with a MFA in Writing for Children (and Young Adults), how did your education help you advance in your craft? What advice do you have for other MFA students/graduates in making the transition between school and publishing as a business?

Vermont College of Fine Arts
I would not be an author without the education I received at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Basically, my MFA turned my passion into a career.

I started writing when I was thirteen, poems mostly and a few memoir-type short stories. From eighth grade on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was a bit overwhelmed by the naysayers. The people who believe that paying money to study fine arts is a waste.

Luckily for me, I had parents who encouraged me to major in creative writing in undergrad. I attended Ohio University, which had an underdeveloped creative writing program and workshops that were overwhelmed by geology majors. I was depressed to be writing with people who took my major’s classes as a joke or an “easy pass.”

Relief came via a year abroad in Dublin, Ireland where I wandered constantly and filled notebooks full of poetry. When I came back to Ohio, I finished my degree and set my sights on film school and screenwriting.

Secretly, I still believed that I would not be able to be a writer unless I made money, and film…that’s where the money had to be, right? Wrong.

Years later while still scribbling in notebooks and writing a fantasy story that had 200 pages of backstory—no joke—I found out about VCFA.

With fellow YA author Amy Rose Capetta
The program completely changed my life overnight.

It taught me hard things, like throwing out that evil temptress of a fantasy novel, and glorious things, like how I could put myself into anything I wanted to write.

I recently heard another author ask what an MFA is good for if you don’t want to write the Great American Novel or short stories.

I was so appalled by that question.

No one at VCFA told me what to write.

No one told me how to write it.

What my mentors and my peers in workshop did for my work was to read whatever I was writing and talk about it openly and honestly.

They taught me how to recognize the easy shortcomings in my writing and how to take the criticism on the not-so-easy shortcomings.

Beyond the glorious craft talk at VCFA, there were many open discussions about literature, the market, the publishing industry, the importance of networking, and the ups and downs of this business.

This proved to be essential in launching my career.

After I graduated, I landed my top agent, but not because she fell in love with my creative thesis—because I didn’t run away with my fingers in my ears when she asked if I had something else.

Not even a year later, that something else sold as The Color of Rain.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A Trio of Trailblazing Performers by Joy Fleishhacker from School Library Journal. Peek: "Introducing three African American women born in the early 20th century, these noteworthy picture book biographies resound with compelling storytelling, expressive artwork, and a sonorous message about overcoming obstacles and following one’s dreams."

Selling on Proposal AKA The Dreaded Synopsis by Gretchen McNeil from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "It’s a double-edged sword, of course. While you’ve managed to charm an editor and publisher with your synopsis and/or pages, you still have to deliver a final manuscript on or before a due date, and the pressure of scheduling your creativity can be crippling."

How to Choreograph a Great Action Scene by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "It’s not just movement, but conflict made concrete. Movement across a scene without a purpose is just the beat of a scene and action implies much more."

Should Book Reviews Mention Characters' Race? by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: "...we are always trying to figure out where and how to mention ethnicity, especially in reviewing books in which skin color plays a part only in the illustrations and goes unmentioned in the text." See also Writing More Diverse Characters: the Third Culture Individual from Tu Books.

Rejecting Rejection: Terror Days by Amy Rose Capetta from The Writing Barn. Peek: "The first two books I wrote have a straight main character. The projects I kept coming up with after that? Besides being in a different genre, the main characters were queer. And I had a thousand worries attack me all at once."

Librarian's Corner: Vicky Lorencen on Playing With Words from Ann Jacobus at ReaderKidz. Peek: "Without formally saying so, Grandma taught me that words weren’t just for communicating, they’re also for enjoyment. I was encouraged to play with words."

Manuscripts on Submission 101 by Jennifer Laughran from Jennifer Represents... Peek: "If I get an offer, or a request for revision, of course I share it immediately. The same goes for a really kind/complimentary or otherwise uplifting decline."

Positive and Negative Character Motivation by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "We often react to adversity by stubbornly wanting to best it. But it’s important to note that this is a reaction to something negative in life that we’re inspired to overcome."

Character Skills and Talents Astrological Divination by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "A character who has studied astrology extensively can chart an individual’s celestial path by using the date and hour of their birth."

Everything I Need to Know About Character I Learned from Buffy by Dave King from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Even his darkest characters have balancing characteristics that make them interesting and often redeemable – the Scooby Gang has included at times two vampires and a demon. D’Hoffryn, for instance, though a Lower Being and Lord of the Vengeance Demons, is always unfailingly polite."

The Point of Writing by Meg Rosoff from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Truth is what will give your work resonance and power and make it worth reading long after you’ve spent the money that someone may or may not have paid you for your work."

Bibliotherapy for Teens: Helpful Tips & Recommended Mental-Health Themed Fiction by Erin E. Moulton from School Library Journal. Peek: "While mental illness is clearly prevalent, a stigma persists. A recent article in Time, prompted by the suicide of actor Robin Williams, estimated that about 60 percent of those suffering from mental illness don’t seek assistance. Reading is not a replacement for professional therapy. But surely, the right books can help." See also Books to Celebrate and Teach About Adoption by Jill Eisenberg from Lee and Low.

Scholastic Picture Book Award: "...a joint initiative between the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NDBCS) and Scholastic Asia, and it is presented biennially to an outstanding unpublished picture book with distinct Asian themes by an Asian team of writer and illustrator." See also from SCBWI Japan Translation Group: "Entries of unpublished, Asian-themed picture books up to 500 words will be accepted until Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. Singapore time. Picture book text must be in English, but works in languages other than English may be considered, if an English translation is submitted with the original text and illustrations."

What Do You Have to Do Online? Authors Have Surprising Freedom by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Peek: "Do you like to write short, write long, take/edit photos, produce audio, or produce video? Those are the only options you have, regardless of the platform. Think about which form of communication you are good at, and can consistently produce."

Starving in the Midst of Plenty by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature. Peek: "I will return from the conference with a suitcase packed with books (or I will be mailing a ton of them). They will float on to other hands as soon as they are read. But I am a trifle embarrassed by these riches."

The Stakes Should Always Be Death by Maureen McQueery from Teaching Authors. Peek: "For the reader to be concerned, risk has to be real and the protagonists' motivation worthy. Worthy motivations involve noble concepts like: forgiveness, love, redemption, self-worth."

National Book Award


Congratulations to Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, for Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books)! Don't miss coverage of Brown Girl Dreaming from NPR and How This Year's National Book Awards Could Change the Face of Children's Literature by K.T. Horning from The Conversation.



We Need Diverse Books

The initial $100,000 goal for We Need Diverse Books has been met--hooray! And thank you! But the campaign is ongoing and the organization has announced our stretch goals. Peek:

"Once we’ve reached our first stretch goal, WNDB will be able to create a paid internship program to help interns from diverse backgrounds (as noted in our mission statement) who demonstrate financial need. We hope our grants will allow people who might not otherwise be able to achieve their dream of a career in publishing. We will also be able to fund a year-long mentorship program for multiple writers....

"We will expand our outreach and create more educational kits and educational materials to be used to discuss diversity in all its ways and forms. And we'll offer travel grants, to help currently-published authors attend conferences and events that would otherwise not be accessible to them.

"Finally, we plan develop a WNDB app. The WNDB app goes beyond recommendations and looks for new interactive ways to support diverse authors and books. With it, WNDB is excited to create a new high-tech way to bring diverse books to you, the reader."

Note: Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), after apologizing and describing his comments with regard to Jacqueline Woodson at the National Book Awards as "monstrously inappropriate, and yes, racist" has donated $10,000 and will be matching donations today up to $100,000. (Jackie is on our advisory board.)

Marketing Diverse Children's Books by Matia Burnett from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Rodriguez also witnessed a parent refuse to purchase her daughter a copy of My Friend Maya Loves to Dance by Cheryl Willis Hudson, illustrated by Velasquez (Abrams), which is about an African-American ballerina. Regardless of the skin color of the main character in the story, Rodriguez said of the girl who was so drawn toward the book: 'She too was a ballerina. That’s all she saw.'"

See also Lindsey Lane on Why We Need Diverse Books. Peek: "We are trying to understand what it means to write diverse characters if we are white. How do we do it? Can we do it? Are we allowed? How can we contribute to the We Need Diverse Books campaign?'" Note: a heartfelt, respectful contribution to the conversation.

Cynsational Giveaways

Jingle Dancer Interior Image.

The winner of Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little is Jen in Texas. The winner of Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau is Akiko in Texas. The winners of What Flowers Remember by Shannon Wierbitzky are Donna in New Jersey and Frances in Illinois.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Where Are the Characters of Color in Science Fiction & Fantasy? panel at YALSA Symposium in Austin.

With authors Justina Chen, Janet Wong & Lorie Ann Grover at the Hyatt Regency Austin.
Thank you to Mighty Girl for highlighting my picture book Jingle Dancer (HarperCollins, 2000)!

Link of the Week: Four Mistakes Made in Children's Books About Natives and Books That Fix Them by Debbie Reese from Indian Country Today.

Even More Personally

In the holiday spirit with Greg Leitich Smith at Whole Foods!
Personal Links


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak at the American Library Association MidWinter Convention in Chicago from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. Details TBA.

Now Available!
Coming Soon!
The SCBWI Austin 2015 Writers and Illustrators Working Conference will take place March 7 and March 8 at Marriott Austin South. Note: Cynthia Leitich Smith will be moderating a panel and offering both critiques and consultations.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will serve as the master class faculty for the VCFA Alumni Mini-Residency from June 19 to 21.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a We Need Diverse Books panel at the 2015 Annual Conference of the American Library Association from June 25 to June 30 in San Francisco. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Guest Interview: Lindsey Lane on A Heap of Talking with Edward Carey

Edward in Edward Gorey's coat; photo by Allison Devers
By Lindsey Lane
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am sitting at Sweetish Hill Bakery & Cafe, waiting to interview Edward Carey, author of the forthcoming middle grade/YA novel Heap House, Iremonger Book One.

If I’d read his bio before the interview, I might be a little bit intimidated.

Not only is Carey the author of two adult novels, Observatory Mansions and Alva and Irva: the Twins Who Saved a City, which have been translated into thirteen different languages, and both of which he illustrated, he is also a playwright with a long list of credits in England, Romania, Lithuania and Malaysia.

He has lived all over the world and currently makes his home in Austin with his wife Elizabeth McCracken and their two children and occasionally teaches creative writing and fairy tales at the Michener Center and the English Department at the University of Texas at Austin.

Gulp…Instead, I’m happily oblivious when Edward Carey bursts through the door of Sweetish Hill, hair blown back, red faced. I wonder if he’s driven here on a motorcycle.

Edward Carey: Parking. There’s no parking. I couldn’t find any parking. I had to run a great distance. I’m so sorry I’m late.

I assure him that six minutes past a meeting time in a town with too much traffic and not enough places to put cars is not late. In fact, my mother would argue, five minutes of lateness builds the anticipation of meeting someone. Particularly someone whose book I really loved.

Heap House is brilliant, original, inventive and unlike any book I’d ever read. The writing is smart and funny. The premise is ancient and fresh.

While Edward orders tea, I’ll share a brief description of the book:

Clod is an Iremonger. He lives in the Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London.
At the centre is Heap House, a living maze of staircases and scurrying rats. Clod has an illness. He can hear the objects whispering. His birth object, a universal bath plug, says 'James Henry', A storm is brewing over Heap House.
When Clod meets Lucy Pennant, a girl newly arrived from the city, everything changes. The secrets that bind Heap House together begin to unravel to reveal a dark truth that threatens to destroy Clod's world.

Already, it has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

L2: Can you give me a one sentence description on Heap House?

EC: It’s a coming of age love story set in the rubbish heaps of Victorian London.

L2: So how did you come to write Heap House?

EC: I love Dickens. I love illustrations. I love kids books. I love Robert Louis Stevenson. I love books with a sense of adventure.

L2: Okay. But why Heap House? What was the inspiration?

Edward in China; photo by Hugh Ferrer
EC: Well, there was this museum outside Bejing. I can’t remember the name of it. And when I went in there, they had rooms full of things.

One room full of mirrors. One room full of keys, one full of doorhandles. One room was full of bathtubs.

And it seemed to me all these objects put together were somehow communicating with each other.

L2: Really?

EC: Well, that’s what it seemed like to me. A 14th century tub talking to 19th century tub. They were going on and on.

L2: And that visit led to a book about objects that talked?

EC: It started me thinking about it. In Victorian England, during the height of Britain’s Empire, there was also an horrendous amount of poverty and neglect, and poor people were just crushed under the weight of industry. There were massive amounts of poor people and children were left at orphanages with one object from their families.

There’s a place in London called the Foundling Hospital (now it’s a museum) and sometimes when the mother anonymously left her baby there in the night, she’d leave a small object behind with it, a thimble say or a button or the metal label from a gin bottle, and this would be all that was afterwards to give any hint of where the child came from.

Can you imagine? Your mother is so poor she can’t keep you and she leaves you at an orphanage with one object. What tremendous power these singular objects have.

L2: Ahh, I’m beginning to see the heft and history of the objects in Heap House and their relation to people. But at Heap House you have massive heaps of things and rubbish not just the characters’ birth objects.

EC: Right. That’s what we spend our whole lives doing. Consuming and spending and acquiring and what happens when we don’t look after those things? We throw them away.

And what happens when we die? Those objects, those precious things get orphaned and thrown into the rubbish.

Terribly sad, really.

copyright Edward Carey
L2: How did Clod start coming into focus amongst all the objects?

EC: I started drawing this odd, ill-faced child who looked slightly miserable and I wondered, Hmm, what do you have to say for yourself?

L2: Do you draw a lot?

EC: All the time. But not all of them become characters. Clod did, because he looked so concerned about something. I gave him a bathplug for his object. It worked symbolically because a plug keeps things in or lets them out.

L2: And Lucy? Her object?

EC: I gave her a box of matches. Her name comes from Lucifer. When she comes into the house, she turns things up side down. Almost like a burning, a purifying or a transformation. So…matches.

L2:What would you like your birth object to be?

EC: I think a pencil sharpener would be quite nice.

Edward and I digress and talk about a few of the characters’ objects for a while. He tells me the Grandmother in Heap House gets quite nasty. She’s the one who chooses peoples birth objects and some of them aren’t very nice. Like one poor fellow gets a noose. Not a bright future for that character.

If you would like to have a birth object, you can go to Edward’s website (scroll to bottom) and you will be assigned one. Mine is named Joseph Cecil Tennant and appears to be a little stool.

I try to wheedle the details out of him about Book Two and Three.

EC: Book Two’s done. It will be out next October. I haven’t worked out Book Three. I’ve got tons of stuff but it’s not filled in. I like not entirely knowing what’s going to happen so I have the freedom to surprise myself.

L2: That’s what I loved about your writing. It surprises. Like this description:

Bornobby washed with some sort of scented soap so you could always smell him coming, but always there was an undersmell with him, as if a ghost of a fish was following him about, swimming in his air.

It’s the kind of writing that give other writers permission to write more boldly, more inventively.

EC: Thank you.

copyright Edward Carey
L2: What writers give you permission to draw outside the lines, so to speak?

EC: Angela Carter. Leonora Carrington. Carson McCullers. Shirley Jackson. Patrick Ness. Neil Gaiman. That’s why I love to teach fairytales. Grimm, Hoffman, Andersen these are really dark stories. They are our original stories, Grimms’ tales are a primal source of fiction, which over time have often been sanitized. Originally there wasn’t a stepmother in Hansel and Gretel. It was the mother who sent the kids into the woods because there wasn’t enough food. I love those stories. There are always woods you can’t go into.

If you go into the darkness, what will happen? Death? Or Love?

I also love the Secret Garden, Rudyard Kipling, and J.M Barrie’s original Peter Pan. It has the greatest opening lines in children’s literature: “All children, save one, grow up.”

Or perhaps this first line:

“It really all began, all the terrible business that followed, on the day that my Aunt Rosamud’s door handle went missing.” --Beginning the narrative of Clod Iremonger

copyright Edward Carey


Cynsational Notes

Photo of Lindsey by Sam Bond Photography.
Adapted from Lindsey's website bio:

Lindsey graduated from Hampshire College with a BA in Theatre Arts-Playwriting and moved to Austin where she started writing plays like the award winning "The Miracle of Washing Dishes."

Later, she worked at The Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman where she interviewed death row inmates, cops and wayward millionaires.

When she wasn’t writing, she trained as a boxer and promoted the first all-women’s boxing event to raise money for the Austin Rape Crisis Center.

In 2003, Clarion published her picture book Snuggle Mountain, named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. Later, PicPocket Books published Snuggle Mountain as an app.

Lindsey received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. Her debut YA novel Evidence of Things Not Seen was released by FSG in September.

Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen from Cynsations.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guest Post: Melanie Chrismer on Author-Author Promotion

Melanie at Blue Willow Bookshop
By Melanie Chrismer
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I love being a children’s author. The writing time, the “yes, we want to publish your book,” the camaraderie with other writers and the school visits.

Yep, I like them too, a lot.

School visits let me see the kiddos who want to read and do read my books. They giggle and “woe.” They open wide eyes and laugh as loud as they can. It’s great to experience; a terrific boost. But some of my books would never be introduced without a dear, sweet librarian. I love librarians.

The added factor here is that librarians are researchers, detectives, protectors, introducers and economists. They have to be. Therefore, with all of the books out there, the competition is fierce. All we writers want book lovers attention and desire for our books to be upper most on their minds. We want our babies to at least catch their eyes.

How do we do this? In the best case scenarios you get what you put into it. If the publisher is behind the book fully they will market and publicize it. Yeah. But sometimes that dwindles quickly.

If the sales reps like the book they may champion it. Double yeah. But sometimes that doesn’t happen.

If a bookseller is charmed by your book they may order it with dollar signs in their eyes. Super yeah.

But, you guessed it, maybe or sometimes not.

The rest is up to you.

After the hoopla of the book debut (and actually before) the author has to hit the road running and spread the word. It doesn’t have to mean a billboard but hinting to librarians is helpful. The school visit is a goal for continuing to spread the word. Those visits often carry an author through to the next royalty dispersal or new contract advance.

The average children’s author (one who writes good books and has a continued career) only makes a bit of money. Writing and literary entertaining is the best, but it helps to have a profit.

Okay, so the librarian is a nucleus for book notoriety and school visits help. Going to a library or reading association conference is a great book connection. Even so, take it from a die-hard conference go-getter, it is not always enough. Neither is sending out two hundred-fifty post cards or mass E-mailing and calling schools. (Yet those do work about one out of 25 times.) The extra book marketing is word of mouth; librarian and author word of mouth.

The authors who gather together for publication advertizing have the right idea. But even two authors working their chops together can double their publicity. Recommending a colleague to a librarian or bookseller is a small act with great potential. Reciprocal actions are a thanksgiving to the writer pal. The opportunities may not be a windfall but with each partner the chances increase. And don’t forget, the librarians talk to each other too.

My challenge is to ask you to pass on the publicity. Recommend someone you honestly think has a good book. This may be considered automatic. If so, terrific. If not, talk to a writing comrade or several. A good word is free, shared recommendations can be profitable. That isn’t mercenary. It is a basic need for any business. We are in a business, not a hobby.

Melanie's "writing shoes"
Also, don’t suggest someone you don’t think is recommendable. A book that one person likes may not be a book for you. The partnership must be mutual or the shared benefit isn’t. A one-sided relationship is simply sad. If someone rejects your offer—get over it.

We’re writers. We get rejected all the time. Do we quit?

Not if we want to continue being published.

Oh, and by the way, I’m game. If you are not familiar with my books—what are you waiting for?

Look them up on my website. If you like what you see, send me an email with a link to your site. I’ll be honest and you should be, too. If we agree to recommend, well, there you go.

Reciprocity is the beginning of author-author publicity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Guest Post: Candace Fleming on The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

By Candace Fleming
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I first read Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra (Atheneum, 1967) the summer between my seventh and eighth grade year after pulling it off my mother’s bookshelf.

“You’re not going to like that,” she warned. “It’s pretty dense history.”

She was right. It was dense, but I loved it! Imperial Russia (and its demise) intrigued me. I was hooked!

And that sense of curiosity has stuck with me over the years. I’ve read dozens of books on the topic. I’ve watched documentaries and gone to museum exhibits. And I can recite – seriously – whole passages from Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago (1957).

But I’d never considered writing about the Romanovs until five years ago. That’s when students in middle schools – mostly girls – suddenly started asking if I knew anything about Anastasia Romanov.

I would visit a school and inevitably during the question-and-answer period of my presentation a hand would wave wildly in the air. No matter that I’d come to talk about Eleanor Roosevelt or Mary Lincoln. Time and again I found myself talking about Tsar Nicholas II’s youngest daughter.

Why the sudden interest in Anastasia?

I finally found answer. Those students had seen the 1997 animated movie, "Anastasia," and realized it was based on a nugget of truth.

But what was that truth? They longed to know. And they hoped I could tell them.

Sadly, in the little time allotted, I really couldn’t… not enough anyway. And so I began to conceive of a book for them, one that would reveal the truth about Russia’s last imperial family.

It’s a story as big as the country itself – compelling, heartbreaking and, at times, downright weird.

Imagine this: The Russian royal family is living a fairy-tale existence. The richest man on the planet, Tsar Nicholas II owns one-sixth of the world’s land, thirty palaces, gold and silver mines, five yachts, an endless collection of priceless painting and sculpture, two private trains, countless horses, carriage and cars, and vaults overflowing with precious jewels. The Romanovs have it all!

But Nicholas is a man of limited political ability. He’s simply not suited to rule Russia. And his wife, Alexandra, is held spellbound by a charismatic, self-proclaimed holy man named Rasputin. She believes Rasputin can save her hemophiliac son, Alexei, from bleeding to death. Desperate, she will do anything – anything – including handing over the reins of power to the charlatan.

Bust of Nicholas which sits on Candace's desk
Meanwhile, in the palace there also live four, beautiful grand duchesses – Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. But they are kept isolated from the world by their paranoid and overprotective parents. They don’t attend balls or banquets. They don’t have any friends their own age, or suitors, as they grow older. The have only each other. Living in this bubble stunts them emotionally.

Even at age twenty, Olga giggles like a schoolgirl and blushes when she sees an onscreen kiss. And with all this craziness going on inside the palace gates, no one is paying any attention to the dark clouds that are gathering outside them.

Starving, war-weary Russians are tired of Nicholas and Alexandra’s inept rule. They revolt, and the Romanov’s fairy tales lives come crashing down, leading to ninety days in captivity… a horrific and bloody mass murder… hidden bodies and rumors of escaped princesses. Riveting, yes?

And demanding. Every word of my telling had to absolutely true. Those middle-schoolers deserved it. And so I plowed into research, following four paths of inquiry.

The first path was primary research. After all, the heart of all research is the firsthand accounts and eyewitness testimonies of those who lived through an historical event. And so I read reminiscences written by the children’s’ tutors, by Alexandra’s ladies-in-waiting and by Nicholas’ courtiers. I delved into the royal family’s letters and diaries and other personal papers. I read Yakov Yurovsky’s chilling account of the murders; statements from the guards; depositions from the priests and cleaning women who visited the Romanovs in their last hours. All of it was so personal, so intimate.

If you think about it, primary research really is the height of nosiness…and probably the reason I love it so much. I get to be part detective, piecing together testimony from all that conflicting testimony; part gossip, reporting on all the juicy details I uncover.

My second path? Secondary source material. There are hundreds of books about the Romanovs and the Russian Revolution (although almost none for young readers). Dozens of scholars have made the rigorous examination of Russia’s past their life’s work. They’ve written insightful, enlightening histories. I read dozens of these.

For months every night I curled up with books with titles like The Russian Revolution of February 1917 or The Fall of the Romanovs. There’s no denying that my book stands on the shoulders of these works.

My third research path led to experts – scholars, historians, and other writers. Experts, I’ve learned, are incredibly generous.

All my nonfiction titles have been immeasurably improved by their time and effort. But no one was more helpful than Dr. Mark D. Steinberg, professor or Russian, East European and Eurasian studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

 In the course of my own research, I’d come to rely on Dr. Steinberg’s work – his accessible histories of Russia, his impeccable translations of documents recently released from the Russian archives, his re-examination of Nicholas’ leadership abilities, his new and brilliant scholarship on Lenin. Can you tell I’m a fan?

So as the first draft of the book neared completion I approached him tentatively. More than anything, I wanted him to read what I’d written. I wanted his opinion and knowledge. I wrote him, explaining my purpose and my readership. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped he’d answer.

He did…enthusiastically. Over the course of the next six months, he read my draft, made suggestions, pointed out errors, suggested more appropriate source material and forced me to look at the evidence in different ways. He sent along books and articles he believed would help in my work. He re-read portions of the book I’d reworked based on his comments, and patiently answered what must have felt like a tireless stream of questions throughout the entire publication process. That’s generosity!

Last, but certainly not least, my fourth path took me traveling. It’s important, I think, to visit the places where the story happened. Landscapes speak and houses hold memories and secrets. This was especially true when writing The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia (Schwartz and Wade, 2014).

Not only was visiting Russia the best part of the research process, but it also contributed volumes to my understanding of the story. Just walking around and feeling St. Petersburg’s air brought the family closer to me. At Tsarskoe Selo, I wandered down shaded lands and through lush gardens.

I didn’t just learn how the place looked. I discovered how fragrant the lilacs are after a rain shower, and how the ornamental bridge creaks when you cross it. I discovered how vast and empty the place is. It didn’t feel lived in. And I suddenly imagined that’s how the place must have felt to Alexandra. It was all so grand, but so lonely. No wonder she searched for something more intimate. For the first time I understood her choice to hide her family away in a set of rooms in the small Alexander Palace. I understood her. No historical document could have given me that.

Candace in front of the children's playhouse at Tsarskoe Sel
Wandering through the family’s private quarters within the Alexandra Palace also informed the book. I expected to see small rooms furnished in ordinary – some eyewitness said “tasteless” – décor. The place was described in numerous primary sources – it’s hideous wallpaper, it’s horrible lilac color, its icon-cluttered bedroom walls.

So I wasn’t prepared for how homey the space was. These were rooms people lived in. None of it felt royal. It was a country house, rather than a palace.

And again, I couldn’t fault Alexandra for her choice. She’d created a nest for her family, away from the prying eyes of the world. What mother doesn’t want to do that? In fact, for the first time I began to admire – just a tiny bit – her decision to turn her back on those royal trappings.

I’d walked through her rooms at the Winter Palace earlier – the place she abandoned for Tsarskoe Selo – and they’d been so gorgeous, so regal, so cold. I began to see why she wanted her family to be here instead of there. And it made me rethink those primary accounts I’d read earlier.

All had criticized her choice. They called her rooms tasteless because she didn’t want to live between marble walls. They called her selfish for removing her family to country. They called her crazy for choosing a simpler life.

Teaching Ideas
I’d bought into their criticism until I saw the Romanov’s home. But now I was questioning those eyewitnesses. Alexandra was growing more nuanced…more complex… more human.

Oh, and there is one last, important discovery from that trip to the Alexander Palace. In none of my sources had anyone mentioned how close the palace sat to the front gate. I’d assumed it was somewhere in the middle of the park, away from prying eyes. Not so.

The tall, main gate with its golden, double headed eagle opens directly onto the palace’s circular driveway. Every day the family could look through its iron grillwork to the town of Tsarskoe Selo just on the other side. It gave me pause.

The family was so close to its people. They were right there, just on the other side of the gate. The Romanovs could look out their windows and see them. They could hear their people’s voices from the palace balcony. They could smell their cooking and their livestock. They really weren’t as physically removed from the people as sources led me to believe.

It gave me pause.

Why, I wondered, didn’t the Romanovs feel more attachment to their subjects?

The question led me down entirely new paths of thought. And it eventually led to the book’s inclusion of first-hand worker and peasant accounts under the title, “Beyond the Palace Gates.”

The result? Five years later, I can say I’ve offered up my answers to those middle-schoolers’ questions. Is it the royal fairy tale most of them imagined? Probably not, but it’s definitely the truth. And really, isn’t that what they wanted all along?

Candace's pets -- Oreo, Oliver and Oxford



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