Friday, April 24, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Winner of the 2015 Children's Africana Book Award is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans (Little, Brown, 2014).

Character Talents & Skills: Strong Breath Control by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "A practitioner skilled in this area must also be able to find their center of calm quickly, neutralizing fears and anxieties when they appear as a result of environmental changes, circumventing fight-or-flight responses tied to survival instinct."

Context Matters: On Labels and Responsibility by Jacqueline Koyanagi from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "The difference between 'generic eccentricity' and a formal diagnosis is just that–formal diagnosis. It seems absurd that it bears stating, but a person on the autism spectrum is on the spectrum even before they are diagnosed. Similarly, bullying is bullying regardless of when diagnosis/identification occurs–and, yes, even if it never occurs."

Constructing an Image System from a Verse Novel by Cordelia Jensen from E. Kristin Anderson at Write All the Words! Peek: "Image systems are about showing the reader a new way to look at the world, but they can also add a layer of depth to your writing by helping you convey to your reader a character’s growth and evolution."

WNDB Tells AWP 15: Write Diverse Books That Sell by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Referring to a backlash to the growing momentum of the calls for the publishing industry to publish more multicultural books, Leung pointed out that diversity in literature is the wave of the future. 'Writing about diversity is as much of a fad as writing about human characters is a fad.'"

Learn more!
The Letting Go from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "...I can see that the times I gave up on a major project were usually a mistake. But right now I’m talking about the moment when I release something I’m working on so that it can come back to me fresh."

Top Twenty Picture Book Agents, compiled by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: Not all agents report their sales to Publishers Marketplace.

There Are No Secondary Characters by Jill Hill from Project Mayhem. Peek: "You see, the secondary character that I’m dealing with hasn’t been in the story for a couple of hundred pages, and I kind of forget what was driving him. That’s a problem."

Spellbind Your Readers With Realistic Magic by Tal Valante from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "...obviously magic needs some limitations, otherwise it all becomes too easy. But what kind of limitations? The trick answer is this: the more interesting (and intuitive!) your limitations, the more interesting your story would be."

Combine Babies & Bylines by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "So between now and Mother’s Day, I want to blog about practical ways to combine writing and parenting throughout these stages. Just as beneficial, I hope I can show you some ways that your kids can be your best source of material." See also Kristi on Combining Writing and School-Age Kids.

The Children's Book Council Partners with the Unprison Project to Provide Prison-Nursery Libraries from CBC Diversity. Peek: "In honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 10, the last day of Children’s Book Week 2015, the Children’s Book Council (CBC) is partnering with The unPrison Project — a 501©3 nonprofit dedicated to empowering and mentoring women in prison, while raising awareness of their families’ needs — to create brand-new libraries of books for incarcerated mothers to read with their babies at prison nurseries in 10 states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming."

Cynsational Giveaways


This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Thanks again to the Texas Library Association, Texas SCBWI chapters and Candlewick Press for your hospitality and support at last week's TLA annual conference in Austin. It was a joy to see y'all and visit about connecting great books to kids!

TLA Author Goodies! Thank you!

Keep scrolling to check out a very sneaky peek at Greg Leitich Smith's new cover for Chronal Engine II (Clarion, fall 2015).

Personal Links



Cynsational Events

Borrowed Time by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion, Nov. 2015)
Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guest Interview: Dana Walrath on Like Water on Stone

By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. In 1984, Dana Walrath journeyed to Palu, in Western Armenia (now part of Turkey), where she saw the mill and farmlands that once belonged to her maternal ancestors, who were forced to flee the Ottoman Empire in 1915.

Her family story became the basis of her acclaimed novel in verse Like Water on Stone (Delacorte, 2014).

Dana Walrath is a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts and the author of the graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s (Harvest, 2013).

See also the companion post Writing from the Marrow from Dana Walrath from Cynsations.

Much of the story is narrated from the point of view of Ardziv, the eagle who suffers, witnesses, and ultimately intervenes. What role do eagles play in the Armenian culture and folklore?

In the last stages of writing Like Water on Stone, Ardziv appeared in the story to protect the young ones as they traveled, to make it safe for readers, and also to protect me as I wrote. This fits with the eagle’s place as a symbol of strength and power in Armenia, both ancient and modern. Eagles grace the currency, the coat of arms, and the architecture of contemporary Yerevan.

The earliest Armenian eagles predate Christianity as on the flag of the Artaxiad Dynasty (189 BC-1 AD) that has two eagles facing each other with a flower between them. When Armenia adopted Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD, eagles were incorporated into the designs of their churches.

Eagles’ ability to soar fits well as this brings them close to heaven. Because the genocide often involves religious divisions, Ardziv gave me the opportunity to connect the story with a symbol that predated religions to underline our common humanity.



Throughout the novel, thirteen-year-old Shahen refers to his father and his older brothers as "fools." Would you consider his questioning of them anomalous within his culture?

More than anything, Shahen wanted to go to New York to be with his maternal uncle. You are right that respect for elders counts in Armenian culture. But a mother’s brothers have a special place in the family. They select husbands for their sisters and often these husbands go through life being called “pesah” or groom. Shahen behaves respectfully towards his father and brothers; it is only with an inner angst and voice that he calls them fools. This intensifies after violence comes to their home as Shahen struggles to make sense of the horrible events that have transpired. In the face of horror, we all do or think things that don’t completely make sense, or wouldn't fit in with normal life.

As well, Shahen’s small size and his place as the youngest boy in the family, who had not yet hit puberty, also accounts for some of his internal struggles. He felt impotent. Like no one listened to him when he saw the trouble coming. While researching the biology of eagles, I learned that male eagles are all smaller than females. This in a way brought Shahen and Ardziv even closer.



Shahen is the bold one while the girls and women are more cautious and submissive. Are these gender relationships specific to this one family, or is it more typical of their culture?

I have to admit that the gender roles in Armenia are definitely of a pre-feminist sort! My mother said that her Armenian father did not speak to her or her sister because they were girls.

It is also important to place the Armenians in the larger Ottoman cultural framework. Many of the Muslim women with whom they co-existed were veiled, making Armenian women quite daring in comparison. Marriages were arranged, but this is the dominant pattern throughout the globe.

The United States is unusual in leaving such an important economic decision, the union of two families, to the whims of young people in love. Against this backdrop, however, I think the female characters in Like Water on Stone have tremendous strength. Mariam shows her tenacity and determination with her writing. Mama always had her own opinions and, like a good mother, insisted that Sosi behave according to acceptable norms. I see Sosi and Shahen as equals. Sosi never wanted to leave her beloved home, but she finds the strength to support and honor Shahen during the hardest parts of their journey.

Because this is loosely based on my grandmother, Oghidar’s story—she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from Palu in today’s Eastern Turkey to Aleppo, Syria—I was very conscious of Sosi’s strength. For me going back to Palu in 1984 was such a powerful experience, to walk that land, to stand inside the ruined church, to find a mill that may have belonged to my family.



You don't shy away from portraying the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. How do you handle this in a way appropriate for middle grade readers? How can the novel-in-verse format contribute to making difficult material easier for young readers to process?

The white space of verse absolutely gives readers (and writers!) space to process the violence and devastation of the Armenian Genocide. We do not speak or think in full sentences when something terrible happens. Often words disappear altogether. Free verse allowed for that fragmentation. I could write in rhythmic patterns that captured the fear and panic without leaning into the goriest details.

Ardziv’s role as protector was also important in terms of the violence. He narrates some of the most brutal scenes, following as adults who lovingly cope with the consequences of the brutality. Late in the book, Sosi narrates one terrible scene instead of Ardziv. This is because I see Ardziv as the strength and power that lives inside of each of us. She found her own strength—her inner Ardziv—and used this tough moment to pull her family together and to face the truth about what had happened.

I thought that I had handled the violence delicately enough that it could work for middle grade readers. As a parent, I shared similar works with my children when they were that age. Some of the gatekeepers do not agree and feel that that the book is appropriate only at a high school level and above. I was so honored to have Like Water on Stone be named a book of outstanding merit in poetry and historical fiction yet the mature content 14-16 age range was there again. I suppose this might mean that I have to figure out a way to tell the story of the Armenian genocide for some younger readers.

You received a Fulbright grant to travel to Armenia. Was the grant specifically for the research of this book? What advice would you give other writers seeking funding for international research? 

My Fulbright application, “The Narrative Anthropology of Aging in Armenia” was related to Aliceheimer’s, my graphic memoir series about my mother and dementia, and was not specifically written for Like Water on Stone. I was gathering stories and making art about growing old in Armenia.

It was just amazing good luck that Random House acquired Like Water on Stone during my first few months in Armenia. This meant that in addition to the Fulbright project, I was completing the final revisions of the novel while totally immersed in Armenian culture.

Anthropologists often work through participant observation, so every minute of every day, I was soaking in details that were relevant to both pieces of work. The elders I worked with spontaneously shared their family’s genocide stories with me. I had genocide scholars and the Genocide Museum and Institute right there for fact checking. Regular folk dancing refined the music and dance threads of the story. I had countless maps to draw upon to try and sort out the young ones' journey and got connected to primary sources about life in Palu.

The two projects naturally became connected. Armenia is consumed by memory of the genocide, something that is especially important in the face of Turkish denial. When I told people here about my mother’s memory loss, they immediately asked if she were a genocide survivor, linking trauma to memory loss.



The year in Yerevan also let me reconnect with relatives who landed on the other side of Mount Ararat after the genocide, among them my cousin, Shushanik Droshakiryan. Her great-grandfather and my grandmother Oghidar were brother and sister in Palu. Shushanik has led the direction of a stunning animation of Like Water on Stone that premiered at the Tumo Center for Creative Technology this week. It has been wonderful to be back here in Yerevan for this.

In terms of practicalities, because it is an academic program, you have to have the highest degree in your field in order to be able to apply. In the case of writers, the MFA will do it. I know many writers create beautiful works without this degree. For me, getting an MFA from Vermont was the best present that I ever gave myself. The mentoring the inspiration from stellar lectures and readings pushed me farther in two years than I ever could have managed on my own. Being able to apply for a Fulbright would be an added bonus.

You mention in your author's note seeing the Turkish family that now lives on the land once owned by your ancestors. What did that woman say when you told her this?

This moment of truth was when she decided to tell me that the mill had been owned by Armenians before it came into her family. I think she had already put it together that I might be an Armenian because it was so out of the ordinary for two American tourists to end up in the woods outside of town. She shared that fact and then I told her my story. Then together we shared a moment of silent respect.

I imagine that many families in Turkey who benefited materially from the Armenian genocide feel guilt about the material gain they received. Armenians were forced from their homes, and forced to leave all their possessions behind. The people who remained just took them over.

Charity or Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam. To benefit by taking the property of others stands in stark contrast to this notion. I like to think that this woman recognized our common humanity and that she told me the truth out of a desire to make amends for the breaches of the past.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guest Post & Giveaway: Anne Bustard on Musicality: Composing with Repetitions

By Anne Bustard
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Every writer wants her work to sing.

Writing that sings is exquisitely crafted. It lifts its voice in praise of language. Its story is pitch perfect. It invites readers to sing along and has the power to linger in a reader’s consciousness long after the last note.

Like a composer creating a musical score, a writer must consider every note, every sound, and use repetition and even silence to bring harmony to the musical score.

Through careful crafting and attention, writers discover which notes to amplify, which sounds to hold, which refrains to reproduce, which rests to sustain and which melodies to draw all the way through.

In music, a refrain is a repeated phrase, verse or group of verses repeated at intervals. Used by authors, repetitions emphasize emotion. Repetitions say, “Pay attention, this is important.”

In The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse (Scholastic, 1996), the word “dolphin” is emblematic of Mila’s world, her life and her desire. Hesse uses it more than 140 times. At first, the abundance of “dolphin” would seem obvious given the large role of dolphins in the story. However, because the artistry of language comes in choice, Hesse has reason to flood the novel with this word.

Hesse creates a character with limited language ability. “Dolphin” is the one word that Mila knows for sure. It is the word that will not change, and the one that she holds close. “Dolphin” is the word that she relates everything else too.

Even as Mila grows her vocabulary on land, her use of “dolphin” remains prolific. Mila talks about them, sings about them, dreams about them. Hesse ensures that readers cannot escape the word and its influence.

With each use, Hesse pulls the heartstrings of the reader. “Dolphin” is Mila’s one-note song. It shows what Mila wants most of all and who she identifies with. It is also the word that brings music to her life. It is the music of dolphins that she cannot live without.

The choice to use the same word over and over, not only serves the story, but defines Mila’s character. It shows who she is on the inside.

Flurries of repetitions can also make an impact. Like trills that sustain a note, bursts of repeated words and phrases make readers notice them above all others.

Used effectively, repetitions deepen the emotional trajectory of the story by underscoring the progression of a character’s growth. Repetitions can build in power and strength as a story reaches its crescendo and then resolves. For instance, when repeated words are introduced early or midway through the novel and come full circle to repeat at the end it, that brings closure and satisfaction to readers.

The story is complete, right down to the word level.

Crafted with care, repetitions are not superfluous, excessive or monotonous. Blending seamlessly into the narrative, repetitions keep readers conscious of what is at stake, what is important, what matters. Repetitions keep the emotions flowing. They take up no extra space. Each counts.

As I wrote and revised what would become my middle-grade debut, Anywhere but Paradise, the last word of the story appeared—home. That word led me to Peggy Sue’s heart’s desire.

Used repeatedly, it led us both home.

Cynsational Notes

Anne's assistant, Sweet Baby James
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate.

She has an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster).

Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont, 2015) was released on March 31.

She lives in Austin, Texas. Find Anne at Facebook.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Anywhere But Paradise by Anne Bustard (Egmont, 2015). From the promotional copy:

It’s 1960, and Peggy Sue’s move from Texas to Hawaii, the newest state, sounds like a dream—palm trees, blue skies, big waves.
But her cat has to be put in quarantine like he’s a criminal, and Peggy Sue is worriedly counting the days until Howdy will be released—if he can survive.
Then her first encounter with a girl at Hanu Intermediate School is shocking. Kiki, an older student, takes an instant dislike to Peggy Sue, warning her that the last day of school is “kill haole day.” Peggy Sue’s only hope of being spared is to help Kiki with her home ec sewing project.

Things get better when she meets neighbor Malina and starts hula lessons, but it takes a tsunami, a missing dog, and an intervention from the vision of Pele herself to help Peggy Sue understand that even though her new home in paradise isn’t perfect, she’d rather be in Hawaii with her family and new friends than anywhere else.

“. . . evocative descriptions highlight both the local and universal aspects of island life. 
Born in Hawaii, Bustard adeptly weaves elements of 
Hawaiian culture, lore, and history into an emotionally rich story.” 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Guest Post: Joy Preble on Being a Mid-Career, Mid-List Author

By Joy Preble
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I took pause for a moment when my lovely friend and mentor, Cyn Leitich Smith, asked me to write about what it’s like to be at this stage in my career.

“You know,” she said. “You’ve got a foothold but you’re not a new voice or (yet) a grand dame.”

The truth is that she nailed it exactly. Like so many authors—most of us in fact—I’m somewhere in the middle.

Finding Paris (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins, 2015) will be my sixth book, following on the heels of two paranormal series. It will be my first darker contemporary YA, which is very exciting.

Next spring, I’ll follow it with It Wasn't Always Like This, a wildly romantic novel coming from Soho Press, about an immortal girl in search of her long lost immortal true love. Tuck Everlasting meets "Veronica Mars."

To many of my writing colleagues, this means I’ve made it. And in some ways, I have.

Seven published books on shelves is wonderful. It’s more than I ever dreamed of when I was first starting out. I began this career later than some, which makes me even more grateful for how it’s turning out.

I have been toured around the country and presented on panels at various book festivals in various places. I have a new world of author and publishing friends and colleagues. I teach writing as a working writer now, and schools and libraries ask me to visit and often pay me nicely. I’ve been invited to give keynotes and workshops and have had panels accepted at conferences of all sorts.

My first novel, Dreaming Anastasia (Sourcebooks, 2009), is in its fifth or sixth printing. Fairy tale fans continue to find and embrace the series, which is awesome.

I get fan letters. Well, emails, but still!

My family and ‘civilian’ friends and former English teacher colleagues think I’m a rock star. I have stopped trying to tell them otherwise. It’s me in dirty yoga pants typing, I say.

The trade reviews have been lovely for Finding Paris. Really lovely. It’s a genre shift for me, a foray into darker contemporary after five paranormal books, and so this is good to hear. My editor sends me happy notes. The risk reward of trying something new has been worth it.

But.

My career is still not a sure thing. I have written for three different publishers—which is common, but also means that the power of my backlist is sometimes lessened. But not always. I have to work a little smarter to wrangle invites to events. I’m not generally the first name my publicists think of when they’re pitching for panels. Sometimes I am.

The top tier events are still a club that sits just out of reach, at least most days.

I don’t have the luxury of saying, as we’d all like to say: My only job is to write better and better books. (Well, actually most authors except for the elite few worry about publicity and promotion. It’s part of the job.) I really do love reaching out and making my own opportunities.

But mid-listers have to hustle a little harder. Yes, hustle. I know it’s word all fraught with connotation, but I don’t know a better one right now.

In an article on “Top Ten Spring Books You Should Look For,” I might appear in the scroll down as “other titles we’re excited about.” My buzz is a little softer.

Another truth: It’s just less thrilling to promote the breakout of the seventh book. Or the tenth. The splash of the debut is generally the more exciting story. So much so, that I recently saw a very brilliant YA author break out after a number of titles and still be mistakenly referred to as a debut.

It is often easier to trumpet the miracle than it is to promote the norm, which is that after writing a body of work of increasing substance and value, we write the one.

Do you know the actor J.K. Simmons? He just won an Oscar for his role in "Whiplash." He has been a working actor for a very long time, the guy whose face and voice you know but whose name probably escaped you until this year.

He was the police psychiatrist on "Law and Order SVU," Peter Parkers’s boss in the Spider-Man movies. He does tons of commercial voice over work and all those Farmer’s Insurance commercials and cable series like "Oz."

But Whiplash—for whatever reason—that was the breakout. The role that got people talking. A full and varied body of work over many years until it was his turn.

Anyway. I am thrilled about Finding Paris. It’s a more serious platform for me, about blind spots and secrets and how hard it is to find our way, and the imperfect people who love us, even if they don’t know how to help us. I am so excited to talk about this book!

I am fortunate beyond measure to get to make a living (at least part of one!) doing something I love. I am lucky to work with amazing people who love books as much as I do and grateful to everyone who has been so kind on this journey, particularly my wonderful and clever editors and my readers who keep coming back for more. All of these people have allowed me to stay in the game.

And when the breakout moment comes, I will look up J.K. Simmons’s Oscar speech.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: T.A. Maclagan on Spy Novel Covers & They Call Me Alexandra Gastone

By T.A. Maclagan
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone by T.A. Maclagan (Full Fathom Five Digital, 2015):

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.

She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.

Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.

For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.

But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.

Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.

Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

Find T.A. at Facebook, Tumblr & Twitter
As a book cover art aficionado (I have a Pinterest page of covers I fan girl over – yes, I’m that much of a book nerd), I headed into the cover design phase of my publishing journey with both excitement and trepidation.

I wanted a cover that I could love so badly, but knew that authors don’t usually get much input on cover design.

I was both surprised and thrilled, however, by how open Full Fathom Five was regarding the whole process. They asked me for my thoughts at the start, and then after each cover that came in, until we found the perfect one! It really felt like a journey we took as a team.

Yeah, I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true nonetheless.

My initial idea for the cover was a close-up face shot of Alexandra that emphasized her heterochromia (two different eye colors), but with the rest of her face being a bit hazy.

With the book’s title being what it is, I thought Alexandra needed to be staring out at the reader and as her heterochromia is a pivotal component of the book, I also felt that should be emphasized. I liked the idea of the rest of her face being a bit hazy because Alexandra struggles with her identity as the story unfolds and the haziness, I thought, could allude to that struggle. In addition to her face, I pictured a Washington D.C. skyline in the background, and a two-headed swan at the base of the cover (a symbol from the book).

As you can see from the final cover, which was the fourth iteration, some of my ideas made it onto the cover while others didn’t and thankfully so, because when I was thinking of cover design, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of book marketing.

With Full Fathom Five being generous about including me in the cover design process, I was able to learn quite a bit about what goes into making a successful cover. What I didn’t at first realize is that the cover should not only represent the book but also represent the genre.

For They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, that is spy fiction, in general, and YA spy fiction, in particular. This is something my original vision for the cover didn’t take into account. When someone looks at your cover, they should know what kind of book they are looking at.

With They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, I doubt anyone would think anything other than spy with the red and black color scheme and the riflescope. The red and black practically screams spy. Just look at these covers for popular spy novels...(photos of spy book covers).



The style of the cover is also in keeping with advertising for one of my favorite TV show, The Americans, which is also about sleeper agents living in the United States. My first drafts of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone were written before "The Americans" hit the airwaves but some of my later editing was definitely influenced by the dynamics of the relationships on the show.

So I find it fitting that there’s some resemblance between Alexandra’s cover and advertising for the show as I believe the book, despite being YA, could easily cross over into the adult market and would appeal to fans of the show.



As far as representing the YA spy genre, broadly speaking YA spy books fall into two subgenres, the “lighthearted adventure” subgenre, and the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre. These two subgenres have very different styles of covers.

Books like Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series (Hyperion), Robin Benway’s Also Known As series (Walker), and Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Squad (Laurel Leaf) are all very popular YA spy books that fall into the “lighthearted adventure” category and as such they all have similarly styled covers.



Because They Call Me Alexandra Gastone doesn’t fit into this subgenre, it was important the cover didn’t, in any way, resemble this cover style. Instead, the cover for They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is much more in keeping with books like Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (Hyperion) and Lindsay Smith’s Sekret (Roaring Brook) from the “darker, more serious, suspense” subgenre—note the use of red on both covers.



After the cover designer nailed the color scheme and spy vibe, we faced one last hurdle. The model featured on the cover was used in every cover version we saw and looks very much like how I envisioned the character. That said, we were struggling a bit with her expression as the cover designer zoomed in for the third cover attempt. It looked too flat. That’s when the riflescope idea came into play. With the scope overlaid across her face, her expression morphed from flat to defiant.

As Alexandra is a kick butt kind of girl, this last minute addition to the cover, sealed the deal for me and gave me a cover I’m more than a little proud to have as the face of my debut!
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Anne Ursu About The Real Boy by Corrine Duyvis from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "Oscar isn’t labeled as autistic or having any kind of special needs in the book, and it’s been interesting to see who picks up on his autism. And many readers don’t. I’ve found that it tends to be people who are closely associated with autism in some way or another who see it." See also The Joke's On Me! Humor & Autism by Lyn Miller-Lauchmann.

Hand-holding in Dialogue Tags by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "The star of dialogue is the dialogue itself. Holding the reader’s hand through each snippet of dialogue says to me that you don’t quite trust yourself to communicate the scene in a way that the reader gets it."

Interpreting César Chávez's Legacy with Students by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. Peek: "His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day."

Word Count Intimidation by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "First, be done with numbers. Pledge not to count words until you type 'The End' on the final scene."

Showing Emotion: Moving Beyond the Face by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The face is the first thing we notice in real life, and the focal point during any conversation."

On Writing & Self-Censorship in Writing for Young Readers by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Aren't all stories containers for worldview, messages, and morals, even if it's the view that the world is morally uncertain?"

How I Got Into Publishing by Faye Bi, publicist at Simon & Schuster from CBC Diversity. Peek: "A love of books is not enough to work in publishing. Some candidates can’t afford to accept an unpaid internship to get their foot in the door, let alone three. Some need to consider higher paying industries to pay off their loans or take care of their families. Others don’t live near New York, or have any publishing companies near them."

Children's Literature for Math Awareness Month (April) by Jennifer Schultz from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Even if you don’t have a special program planned for Math Awareness Month, you can easily mark it with a counting-themed story time or display."

Ten Children's Bookseller Challenges and How Stores Solved Them by Judith Rosen from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Every bookstore faces obstacles, but the way that it overcomes them can make the difference between being a so-so store and being a great one."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of Silence by Deborah Lytton (Shadow Mountain, 2015) was Rachel in Arizona.

YA Fantasy Cover Survey from Teenreads.com. Once you complete the survey, you'll be able to win a fantasy book or a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore of your choice. Note: for readers age 12 to 29.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

With Michelle Knudsen, Texas librarians & Candlewick peeps at Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill!
Colorful Canon panel at the Texas Library Association Conference, featuring Jeanne Devlin (Roadrunner), Lee Byrd (Cinco Puntos), me, Don Tate and Marina Tristan (Arte Publico), Keri Rabe (moderator). My enthusiastic thanks to all!
Novelists Lindsey Lane, Brian Yansky and Katherine Catmull at the Austin SCBWI Monthly meet at BookPeople.

Local Authors Leading Campaign for More Diverse Books by Sharyn Vane from the Austin American-Stateman. Peek: "Quick, check your kids’ bookshelf: How many characters look just like them? The answer likely depends on what race they are. And that’s a reality that many in the literary community — including key players from Austin — are working to change." Note: requires registration to read in full.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

This morning Cynthia will appear on the panel "Let's Hear Their Stories: American Indians, Arabs and Arab Americans" from 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. in Convention Center Room 10 C, Level 3 at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin. Peek: "Representing American Indians and Arabs/Arab-Americans in library collections is an important component of diversity. The panel of authors and library science specialists surveys the availability of children's and YA books about these groups and will point out ways librarians can evaluate books for accuracy, fairness and freedom from stereotype." Panelists also include: Nancy Bo Flood, Janice L. Kowemy, Elsa Marston, and Loriene Roy.

Join Cynthia from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. May 2 at Saratoga Springs Public Library for a celebration in conjunction with Saratoga Reads! at Saratoga Springs, New York. Note: Cynthia will be presenting Jingle Dancer (2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002)(all published by HarperColllins).

Join Cynthia at 11 a.m. May 30 in conjunction with the YA Book Club at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Cynthia will serve as the master class faculty member from June 19 to June 21 May 2 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.

Cynthia will lead a breakout session on "Diversity in Children's and YA Literature" Aug. 22 at East Texas Book Fest at the Harvey Hall Convention Center in Tyler, Texas.

Cynthia will appear Sept. 19 at the Mansfield, Texas Book Festival.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

We Need Diverse Books & Children's Book Council To Partner on Publishing Internship Program

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Children’s Book Council (CBC), the non-profit trade association for children’s book publishers in North America, and grassroots nonprofit We Need Diverse Books™ (WNDB) today announced their partnership on educational programming and resources for interns selected for the WNDB Internship Program, launching this summer.

The program is designed to open up the children’s book publishing industry to talented job-seekers from diverse backgrounds, providing them with an invaluable opportunity to learn about the industry through professional guidance and hands-on experience.


As part of this effort towards creating a more diverse children’s book publishing industry, the CBC will offer WNDB Publishing Interns:
  • Exclusive educational opportunities, including a luncheon with the CBC Diversity Committee, comprised of children’s book editors and publicists at top publishing houses 
  • Inclusion in the CBC Early Career Committee’s summer event, connecting the interns with publishing staffers in their first five years in the industry Invitation to a CBC Forum, a CBC-member event which provides information and discussion on current publishing trends and issues 
  • Invitation to a CBC Diversity Panel, a CBC-member opportunity which brings together voices within and outside of children’s publishing to communicate the challenges they face in selling and promoting diverse books, and to work together to develop solutions. 
  • Tip sheets for getting jobs in the publishing industry and making the most of their internships CBC-member exclusive multimedia content, including videos and recordings of educational programming 
  • Access to the CBC Early Career Committee’s ECC Newsletter, featuring interviews with mid-level publishing staffers, industry job moves, & member-exclusive news, opportunities, and invitations 
  • Access to Diversity in the News, the CBC’s monthly newsletter rounding-up relevant news in children’s books and diversity 
Ellen Oh
“The Children’s Book Council has been a dedicated champion of diverse books and voices since the launch of the CBC Diversity Initiative in 2012” said CBC Executive Director Jon Colman. “We are excited to team up with WNDB to further the work of creating an inclusive and representative children’s book publishing industry.”

WNDB President Ellen Oh says of the collaboration: “We are thrilled to be partnering with the CBC on our pilot internship program. Not only do we need diverse books, but a diverse and dedicated workforce.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Voice: I.W. Gregorio on None of the Above

Browse-able Excerpt from Epic Reads
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

I.W. Gregorio is the first-time author of None of the Above (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2015). From the promotional copy:

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s world completely unravels. With everything she thought she knew thrown into question, can she come to terms with her new self?

Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I never would’ve been published if it weren’t for my critique group. Writing a book, like the process of development for any craft, is such a marathon. You need people cheering you on and passing you water and nourishment in the form of thoughtful, constructive critique. You need to have people who push you to become the best writer you can be.

Most importantly, if you’re going to be publishing a book that is going to be read by the world, you need to help yourself by giving your book baby to kind readers first, because not all critics will be kind. Which is okay - literature is a highly subjective art.

That’s why my critique partners Abigail Hing Wen, Sonya Mukherjee (The View From Gemini (Simon and Schuster, 2016)) and Stacey Lee (Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015)) are the first people I mention in my acknowledgements after my agent and editor.

So where does one find critique partners? Like many, I first met Abby, Sonya and Stacey through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

SCBWI was essential to me because it taught me the nuts and bolts of the publishing process, dispelling some of the mystique. There’s nothing like running into a famous editor in the restroom to help you realize that editors and agents aren’t mysterious deities.

L-R Stacey Lee, Sonya Mukherjee and Abigail Hing Wen and I.W.

What was the one craft resource book that helped you most during your apprenticeship? Why? How would you book-talk it to another beginning writer in need of help?


I’m a big fan of Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anchor, 1995) because it’s funny and honest and generally inspirational.

It’s title also sums up the one trusim of writing advice: Books only get written if you write. Even if you only take one step a day, you’ll eventually finish that marathon.

For writers who have completed their novel but want to polish it, Renni Brown and Dave King’s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How To Editor Yourself Into Print (William Morrow, 2004) is an excellent primer that offers really specific examples of ways to polish your writing on a sentence level.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Research was an enormously important part of my story because I’m not intersex myself (a biological condition in which a person’s chromosomes, internal or external sex doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female). It was so very, very important for me to hear the voices of actual intersex people, rather than treating the topic of intersex as a writing exercise, or curiosity.

So I did a lot of reading, scouring medical libraries and the Internet for first-person accounts. Then I took a deep breath and cold-emailed some support groups. There was silence at first, but I tried different people, and followed-up, and eventually someone agreed to read my manuscript. One one person had read it and vetted it, she invited me to a conference where I met more intersex women and men who wanted to read it.

HarperCollins was gracious enough to provide over a dozen ARCs of None of the Above which I sent to members of the intersex support group. Many of them were kind enough to offer advice and edits that I implemented as late as my second-pass pages (just before the book went to printers)!

Ilene at the AIS-DSD Support Group Conference (Credit: aisdsd.org)

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

This is the question. When I wrote None of the Above I was working full time and had one child. Because the hours between when I come home and when I put my daughter to bed were sacred, I squeezed writing after we tucked her in, typically opening my computer at around 8:30 p.m. and then reluctantly going to bed myself shortly before midnight. Luckily my husband has a career in the arts too (he’s a musician) so he understood the urge to create, and didn’t feel snubbed if I wanted to write instead of hanging out with him.

The day after I sold my debut, I had my second child. Six months after that, We Need Diverse Books was born.

Both of these worthy “babies” have taken up a lot of my time in the past year! It’s been harder and harder to eke out the time to write - I’d say that my window has shrunk to a period from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.. But throughout the day during quiet times, I’m mulling over my plotline, trying to get angles on my slowly developing characters. Bird by bird, as Annie Lamott says.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like? Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

I actually met my agent, Jessica Regel at Foundry Literary + Media, at a New Jersey SCBWI conference! I was actually in the middle of revising my novel from dual narrative to single point of view, and wanted to test drive the manuscript with some critiques.

The conference also offered a pitch session with agents, so I surveyed the list of participants and was delighted to see Jessica on the list because she represents emily m. danforth, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2012). The book is a thematically perfect analogue to None of the Above with its LGBTQI+ theme, so I thought Jessica and I would be a good fit.

I was lucky enough to have my first critique right before the conference, and I was so happy when the editor I was paired with loved it and wanted to see None of the Above on submission.

Of course, I had to explain to her that I wasn’t done with my revision yet, and that I would have to query, etc. I asked her what agents she would recommend. When she mentioned Jessica, I mentioned that I had a pitch session with her the next day.

“Oh, great,” she said. “Tell her that your manuscript is the one I talked to her about.”

I’m pretty sure my response was “!!!!!!!!”

The next day at the pitch session, Jessica asked for the partial manuscript, read it in her subsequent two hour break, and offered representation that afternoon. Afterward, I took some time and actually got two more offers on the partial manuscript, but had to choose Jessica because of her enthusiasm, her representation of a book I adore, and her general professionalism. She sold my book within a month to Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray (who happens to also be The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s editor!) and the rest is history!

Agent Jessica Regel and I.W.

The long and the short of it is: I would recommend that you look closely at the acknowledgments section of books that you love, and try to discover who represented them. Go to conferences not because they’re the guarantee of an offer, but because they can give you a sense of who you might click with as a person. And keep trying! You only need one.

Cynsational Notes

I. W. Gregorio is a practicing surgeon by day, masked avenging YA writer by night. After getting her M.D., she did her residency at Stanford, where she met the intersex patient who inspired her debut novel, None of the Above (Balzer & Bray / HarperCollins).

She is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™ and serves as its V.P. of Development.

A recovering ice hockey player, she lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Find her on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram at @iwgregorio.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith at TLA 2015: Sync Up!

From Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will appear this week at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Texas Library Association in Austin.

Cynthia will speak on the panel, "A Colorful Canon: Building Diversity in Children's Literature from 2 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. April 14  in Convention Center Room 10 C, Level 3. Peek: "Small presses offer a powerful response to the cal for diverse children's literature. Learn how small publishing houses and authors are contributing to an important conversation about books that help children see themselves in the books they read." Panelists also include Lee Byrd, Jeanne Devlin, Don Tate and Marina Tristan.

Cynthia will sign Feral Pride (Candlewick, 2015) and other titles from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 15 in aisle 12 of the author area.

Greg Leitich Smith will sign books from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 15 in aisle 4 of the author area.

Cynthia will speak on the panel "Let's Hear Their Stories: American Indians, Arabs and Arab Americans" from 10 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. April 17 in Convention Center Room 10 C, Level 3 Peek: "Representing American Indians and Arabs/Arab-Americans in library collections is an important component of diversity. The panel of authors and library science specialists surveys the availability of children's and YA books about these groups and will point out ways librarians can evaluate books for accuracy, fairness and freedom from stereotype." Panelists also include: Nancy Bo Flood, Janice L. Kowemy, Elsa Marston, and Loriene Roy.

Cynsational Notes

Cynthia also will be appearing at additional select teen, librarian and publisher events in conjunction with the conference. Keep an eye out and come say, "Howdy!"



Monday, April 13, 2015

Agent Interview: Linda Camacho on Prospect Agency

Linda at Cliffs of Moher
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

You're a writer and an agent. Let's start with Writer You. How did you come to literature for young readers?

When I was in middle school, I was obsessed with YA, like R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series (St. Martin's Griffin), Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High books (Bantam), and L.J. Smith’s Night World series (Simon Pulse).

The YA section used to be a lot smaller, so I think I burned through most of them at Walden Books way back when! I tried my hand at typing up my own stories set in the wilds of high school, but never finished them.

I soon moved into the adult section of the store, and years later, got my first job on the adult side at Penguin. I enjoyed my time there, but one day I found myself going through my childhood book collection and wondering why I hadn’t even considered children’s book publishing. I loved the books I was working with, but children’s books were more special to me. Once that train of thought started, there was no stopping it!

After much job hunting and waiting, Random House children’s books called and I made the jump.

Describe your apprenticeship and the types of stories that call to you.

My tastes are broad and I have a varied background at different houses. My first job at Penguin was in production under the Berkley/Jove/Ace/Riverhead imprints, so that was a healthy dose of genre fiction with some literary fiction. After some time, I left Penguin when I briefly toyed with the idea of law school. I missed publishing, however, so to get back in, I interned and rotated through the departments at Dorchester, Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Writers House literary agency.

Luckily, Random House children’s eventually took pity and hired me to work on marketing picture books all the way through young adult titles, which is where I’ve been the last five years.

I have to say, I do skew toward darker books, ones that reflect the human condition in all its ugliness and beauty. Ones that make my heart pound or tear it right out in the telling. Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls (Walker, 2012), Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now (Wendy Lamb, 2004), Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone (Henry Holt, 2012), and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (Knopf, 2006), come to mind as examples.

You are a graduate of the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Why did you pursue an MFA?

I knew I wanted to get my graduate degree in something I was really passionate about. I considered getting my MFA to continue building my editing skills, but wasn’t interested in pursuing one at a program that denigrated genre fiction (which, unfortunately, most do).

It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt (Front Street, 2006) that I noticed her author bio mentioned the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I then started seeing that VCFA name in the dedication pages of other books, a few of which Random House published. I reached out the admissions folks, and after that, VCFA was the only place I wanted to go. It was a happy day when they accepted me!

What did you gain from the experience?

Like all writers, I was a reader first. I had a gut instinct for what worked in a story, especially as I got hands-on experience in the publishing world; however, I wasn’t always great at articulating those impressions. VCFA really pushed me me to pinpoint what was working (or not) in a manuscript.

It was an intensive two years of craft boot camp. I became much stronger in providing editorial feedback—not to mention, I became a much better writer in the process.

Beyond that practical aspect, I made the most wonderful colleagues and friends at VCFA, ones that I know will be with me for the rest of my life.

What would you say to someone considering an MFA in writing for young readers?

Depending on your goals and means, I would encourage it. Is an MFA necessary for publication? Definitely not. If publication is your only aim, I’d steer clear of the MFA.

If, however, you’re also looking to improve your craft and/or teach writing, I highly recommend it.

And if you didn’t already have it, you’ll gain a supportive writing community and build confidence in yourself as a writer.

In terms of financial means, I found the low-residency format beneficial because I could continue working while I studied. Some programs offer financial assistance and scholarships, so potential applicants should reach out to admissions to learn their options.

How about Agent You? What inspired you to take on this additional career?

I did an internship at Writers House years ago and that was the beginning, really. Before that, I had only been interested in editorial (like many people trying to break into the industry).

I didn’t know much about agenting, but boy did I learn! I took any job I could to get my foot in the door and learned so much about the different publishing departments, but ultimately, I always knew I would settle into an editorial/agenting role. Agenting feels like a better fit for me because I’m not tied to an imprint like editors are. I can acquire anything that catches my eye.


Could you tell us about the history of the Prospect Agency? How has the agency changed over time?

Emily Sylvan Kim is the owner who, after working six wonderful years at Writers House literary agency, decided to hang up her own shingle. Her mission was to provide top-notch representation and a warm community for authors and illustrators, and she has certainly done that these past ten years.

Prospect Agency has grown tremendously and I anticipate that upward trajectory continuing.

What types of clients do you represent—in terms of body of work, art vs. text, age levels, genres and more? Are you looking for a certain kind of book that says “Prospect” or for a widely diversified body of work from your client base?

Prospect is very open-minded in terms of representation, so I’m looking for a high quality, diversified body of work. My tastes range from picture books to young adult, from clean and lighthearted contemporary to edgy and dark fantasy. And I’d love to see diverse stories of all types (ethnicity, disability, sexuality, etc.).

My focus is on genre fiction (romance, horror, fantasy, realistic, light sci-fi, and graphic novels), namely in the middle grade and YA age ranges. I’ll also be taking on literary fiction with commercial appeal (à la Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Hyperion 2012), I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (Dial, 2014), or When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb, 2009)), along with very select picture book projects (both writers and illustrators).

I’m not looking for early readers/chapter books or standalone short stories.

To get a better idea of what I like, on my Prospect Agency page, I’ve included a list of titles that are dream representations.

What makes Prospect different from other literary agencies?

Prospect is a boutique agency of six women who really do embody Emily’s mission statement of creating a warm community. The agents not only advocate strongly for their clients, but they do so in a positive way.

When the editors at Penguin Random House learned I was going to be an agent at Prospect, I only heard wonderful things said about the agents there. And that says a lot—not only are they successful, but they’re actually a pleasure to work with.

Why should an unpublished but competitive writer consider querying Prospect (and you specifically)?

Linda's Bookshelf
Prospect Agency is staffed with publishing professionals who are very experienced and open to a broad range of genres. They all have either big five publishing experience or Writers House experience (owner Emily Sylvan Kim used to be agent there).

I’m a new agent, but I’ve been in the business a decade and am being mentored every step of the way.

I’ve seen publishing from just about every angle—publicity, marketing, production, editorial, writing—and it will help me advise my clients about the process.

Want to know what goes on in an acquisitions or launch meeting? Want to know what a standard marketing plan is? Want to know about NetGalley, metadata, or the annoyingly complicated process of cover reveals? If so, I’m your girl! I can give them the inside look at what occurs even beyond the editorial and marketing screens.

How about established authors who, for whatever reasons, finds themselves without representation?

I’d repeat everything I said above. It really depends on what an established author is seeking out of their next partnership, but I’m flexible and can devote the time in helping take his/her career to the next level.

From my years in publishing, I have many editor friends to whom I can already reach out personally, so I’m not coming into this without support.

There was a time when children’s-YA authors and illustrators debated the need for an agent at all. Do you think that time has passed? Why or why not? What considerations should be weighed?

Lucy
It’s understandable that children’s-YA authors and illustrators used to question the need, especially since they might wonder if agents are worth the 15% domestic commission. I would advise getting an agent, especially if an author would prefer to be traditionally published.

At the big publishing houses, editors don’t generally accept manuscripts that aren’t submitted by an agent (there are exceptions, but even if it results in an offer, you’d need to go back and get an agent to proceed with publication).

An author can certainly score a publishing contract at an indie press without an agent, but is he sure that he’s getting the best deal possible when signing on the dotted line?

Publishing houses aren’t actively trying to take advantage of authors, but they are part of big business and do want to get the best deal possible on their end, sometimes to the detriment of the author.

Now, an agentless author can hire a publishing attorney to look over the contract for each deal. If the author wants to do it that way, there isn’t anything wrong with it. It’s just that (and clearly I’m biased) a good agent is a counselor/manager that can help guide the author throughout the course of his career.

A good agent can also be the bad cop who crosses the I’s and dots the T’s while the author gets to be the good cop who smiles and focuses on the creative aspects.

Still, there are those authors who are more hands on and want to handle every single aspect of their career and publishing process. If that’s the case, I encourage smart self-publishing and indie press publishing. It might work better for some than others (I would say that it works best depending on genre—romance writers do better with this, at least on the self-publishing end.)

Personally, if I ever decide to publish, I’m getting an agent of my own. But that’s because I know my own needs. Authors and illustrators need to know themselves as they figure out the best course to take. Word of caution, though: No agent is better than a bad agent. so do your research!

To what degree do you do career framing and consultation with your clients?

Sweet treats from Linda's pantry!
I anticipate working closely with my clients, so beyond editorial feedback and submission check-ins, I’m absolutely available for career consultation. I’m ideally taking on a client for the course of his career, not on a project-by-project basis. I’m available for project brainstorming sessions, marketing tips, and encouragement as they traverse the wilds of publishing.

Do you promote your client list? If so, how? Or do you think that the agency should be more behind the scenes? Why or why not?

I’m on Facebook and Twitter, so I would be promoting my clients on those platforms. Other than that, I’m not in this business to be a star. My clients are the stars and I’m there to support and foster them in the background.

We've corresponded about your strong interest in the current discussion around diversity in youth literature. What are your thoughts about where we are now, where we're going, and how we can best get there? How do you see yourself fitting in the conversation?

I’m so excited about the ongoing discussion! I’m aware that it isn’t a new one, but it’s really cresting and I’m proud to be part of the wave of diverse people in the publishing realm. Things are improving, slowly but surely (and certainly not without a few missteps), and I remain optimistic about the future.

It’s a complicated issue with no clear cut method of engagement, considering that the disparity affects industry folks and consumers at every level—the writers, agents, editors, marketers, publicists, production staff, sales reps, booksellers, readers, and everyone else in between. Still, so long as there is increasing awareness about the lack of diversity, steps can be taken and matters can only improve.

There really needs to be recruitment outside of the typical channels (nepotism or people in the know) and outreach to people in diverse communities. I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx and I never had any exposure to writers or publishing people. And I was a big reader who frequented the library constantly!

Still, I was completely unaware of publishing as a career. Even in college, I didn’t quite connect my love of reading into a job beyond writing, and even that didn’t seem feasible. If a human resources person (a person of color and fellow Cornellian) hadn’t taken an interest and steered me towards publishing, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Matt
To be clear, I understand that diversity goes beyond ethnicity. It spans religion, sexuality, gender, and physicality, extending to anyone who finds himself underrepresented in the stories being told.

As a matter of fact, my masters thesis was related to my desire as a plus-sized woman to see characters of size portrayed without the stereotypical weight loss journey, titled “The Anti-Ugly Duckling Tale: Fat Protagonists Who…Stay Fat?”

I’m looking to get even more diverse writers published, so I’m keeping a weather eye out for those narratives. And they don’t need to be issue books. As Matt de la Peña wondered in his 2014 CNN.com article “Where's the African-American Harry Potter or the Mexican Katniss,” that’s what I’d like to know!

How do Writer You and Agent You inform each other?

Before my MFA program, my marketing brain dominated.

Now, though? I have more sympathy for the difficult writing process and better comprehend the need to tell the story you’re burning to tell. As I read submissions, I’m not only asking myself: Will this sell? That’s an important question I do take into account, but it it’s no longer the question since I’ve already turned down some marketable projects.

An even bigger question for me is: Do I love it?

Trends change with the wind, but the projects I love? Those grab hold of me for good.

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