Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winter Hiatus, Podcast Interview & Feral Pride Review

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Happy (Almost) New Year, and many blessings to y'all in 2015!

Cynsations will be on hiatus until sometime after the ALA Midwinter Conference in Chicago--hope to see many of you there.

Thank you for your support and enthusiasm over the course of the year. Most appreciated!

Check out Sarah Enni's podcast interview with me at First Draft. We had a terrific conversation, and it's an honor to invite y'all to listen in.

Before I sign off, I want to share the review of Feral Pride (Candlewick, Feb. 2015) from Booklist. It reads in part:
"Smith’s ability to mix the paranormal and the divine with sexy, wisecracking humor, youthful optimism, and fast-paced action has been a hallmark of this entertaining series. Fans will not be disappointed.

"HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Smith's fantasies have earned her an army of fans, and this trilogy-ender—that connects two series, no less—will have high visibility."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Diverse Read Recommendation
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2014 Diversity in YA Gift Guide from CBC Diversity. See also African-American Interest Young Reader Titles by Diane Patrick from Publishers Weekly.

First Five Pages Workshop Featuring Literary Agent Tracey Adams from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "...will open for entries at noon EST on Saturday, January 3, 2015. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements."

Your Holiday Writing Schedule by Bill Ferris from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Santa knows you’ve been complaining for months that you’d finally finish writing your book if you ever got some free time. Well here it is, buddy, a great big box of time, gift wrapped in the December and January pages of your calendar." See also by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed, Beware the Shady Side of New Publishing Options.

On the Writing of Essays (and Lectures) by Julie Larios from Books Around the Table. Peek: "I’ve been reviewing final versions of several lectures I delivered to students at the Vermont College of Fine Arts during the seven years I taught there. Seven years means fourteen semesters, with a few semesters 'off duty' when I was excused from delivering a full-blown lecture."

Who's Moving Where: News and Staff Changes at Children's-YA Publishers by Harold Underdown from The Purple Crayon. Peek: "Andrew Karre is joining Dutton in January as executive editor; he leaves Lerner, where he had been editorial director." See also Literary Agent Stephen Barbara Joins Inkwell Management from Betsy Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.

Beware the Bitter Women by Laura Ruby from This Thing In Particular. Peek: "When reviewers use gendered terms and expectations to review female writers, they reinforce stereotypes. That women—and their girl characters—should be quiet. That women writers should be non-confrontational. That women writers should be subtle or gentle or funny or absurd or ironic or even ridiculously vague in order not to alienate…well, who exactly?"

Making Friends With Your Black Dog by Jen White from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Now that I was a 'real writer' everything would be easy because I had a book contract, and an agent, and an editor, and hopefully, an audience. Writing should be as simple as eating a sleeve of Oreos while watching an episode of 'Downton Abbey,' right? Nope."

Representing Diversity on 2014 Book Covers by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA. Peek: "There is a wide range of representations of characters, from full-face head shots to images of a character’s back or silhouette. Not all images may read as non-white to every reader/viewer, but the question is: Does an image need to read exactly the same way to every reader/viewer?" See also Malinda on 2014 LBGT YA by the Numbers.

Best Multicultural Books of 2014 from ALSC Blog. Peek: "Each year, a select diverse committee of experts from the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL) identifies the best in multicultural books. The mission of the CSMCL is to provide children, teachers, parents, educators, students, and librarians access to multicultural children’s books with high literary and artistic standards."

Rationalizing Rejection by Cory Putnam Oakes from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Let’s embrace rejection as an unlikely ally. Let’s celebrate it as a right of passage. Let’s laugh in its face and feed it cookies."

The Elements of Writerly Talent and Improvement by Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "Let's say you have talent and you're practicing regularly in order to get better. The following things can then help you improve and/or increase your odds of writerly success as well..."

Cynsational Screening Room



This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winners of Devin Rhodes is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam are Maria and Jenn in the U.S. and Bev in Canada.

The winner of Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath is Elaine in the U.S.. Note: just notified so that's all I know of their locations.

The winners of the first two books in the School for S.P.I.E.S. series by Bruce Hale are Heidi in Utah and Cathy in Wisconsin.

The winner of Blue on Blue by Dianne White was Rachel in Arizona.


More Personally

With Greg Leitich Smith, Frances Hill Yansky & Brian Yansky...

at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in Austin!


Sarah Enni of First Draft says: "Boisterous, eloquent, and just the tiniest bit zany, Cynthia Leitich Smith, New York Times best-selling author of Tantalize and Rain Is Not My Indian Name, took me out for tacos and taught me a thing or twelve. I loved hearing her wise words on diversity in YA, paying it forward with newer writers, and writing 200 drafts of a single picture book." Listen to the podcast from First Draft.

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award!

Gulf shrimp & Gouda cheese -- Christmas dinner appetizers!


Personal Links

Ranking of gifts in the series!

Cynsational Events

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

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.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

Friday, December 26, 2014

Guest Post: E. Kristin Anderson on Teens Need Verse

By E. Kristin Anderson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Young people love poetry.

At least they love writing it. When I ask teens whether they read much poetry, though, the answer is usually no.

I think I know why. Outside of my bona fide freaky obsession with Emily Dickinson from the age of six, this was pretty much my exposure to poetry outside of Shel Silverstein:

  1. That time I found a super old and moldy copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and read it cover to cover in 24 hours. (I’m totes still scared of the Jabberwocky.)
  2. Memorizing a Robert Frost poem in fourth grade, which I suspect is about average for anyone who grew up in New England in the 80s or 90s.
  3. Shakespeare in high school.
  4. More Shakespeare.
  5. Transcendentalism.
  6. Intravenous Shakespeare injections.

Are you seeing a pattern here? It’s something along the lines of “dead white guys” and “extra dead white guys.”

But I had a teacher by the name of Mrs. Graves.

Teenage Sonnet
Cynthia Graves taught us sonnets and Shakespeare, sure. But she had us write our own sonnets, instead of just memorizing Bill. And then she gave us Louise Glück.

Louise Glück changed everything for me. I realized that I could write a poem that didn’t rhyme. Or that spoke to me, with honesty. That poems didn’t have to be about love or tragedy (though they could be). That sometimes you could just enjoy a poem, and not have to think what it “means.” And maybe it wasn’t just Louise Glück that changed everything.

(Pause for a shout-out to my girl Louise, for winning a National Book Award in November!)

It was Cynthia Graves.

But not everyone gets to be in Mrs. Graves’ class. And, survey says, poetry in the classroom hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was in school. I’m guessing there’s a little less Robert Frost here in Texas and hopefully a lot more Naomi Shihab Nye. And while there aren’t many poetry collections published for the YA market, that doesn’t mean we can’t share grown-up poetry with teens. Frost was hardly writing YA!

Sure, I’m still obsessed with Emily Dickinson as an adult. I appreciate Shakespeare. But I also love reading literary magazines and discovering new voices. I love writing found poetry using YA novels and fashion magazines. I love writing poems about UFOs and jackalopes.

I love when a fellow writer gives me a prompt and I have to create something under whacky constraints. It’s wild! It’s joyful! It’s making stuff! It’s telling stories!

I want kids to know this love, to find that poetry is more than iambic pentameter and some crusty dude with a quill. I want kids to see that they can read Gwendolyn Brooks! Tracy K. Smith! Austin Kleon! Francesca Lia Block! Tomaž Šalamun! Joseph Bruchac! Christine Heppermann! Ada Límon!

There are so many contemporary poets writing brilliant work – do we really all have to read the same guys, over and over, for generations?

I want to see grown-ups making magazines like Cicada and The New Yorker and Bat City Review (this is U.T. Austin’s lit mag – insert your local college’s lit mag here) available in their classroom libraries. In their bathrooms. On their teens’ nightstands. On their own nightstands.

Teens will read poetry, I swear. Just give them a little more A little more variety to choose from. Let them enjoy the work, without always having to find the exact meaning. (Sometimes, I don’t even know everything about my poems’ meanings until a reader asks me a specific question!) Give them poets who look like them, who live like them, who speak to them. Who write poems that are weird, honest, awkward, fantastical.

You wouldn’t believe how many kids are purportedly “stealing” my poetry books from their parents because they’re full of ghosts and lake monsters. Or how teens love hearing about making new poetry out of old texts.

Young people are attracted to writing poetry for a reason. I’d love to see a generation that loves reading it, too.

Cynsational Notes

E. Kristin Anderson is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College.

She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome.

Once upon a time she worked for the lovely folks at The New Yorker magazine, but she soon packed her bags and moved to Texas.

Currently living in Austin, Texas, Kristin is an online editor at Hunger Mountain and a contributing editor at Found Poetry Review. Kristin is the co-editor of the Dear Teen Me anthology (Zest Books, 2012), based on the website of the same name.
As a poet she has been published in many magazines including Post Road, the Cimarron Review, [PANK], Asimov’s Science Fiction, and Cicada and she has work forthcoming in Contemporary Verse 2 and NonBinary Review.

Kristin is the author of two chapbooks of poetry: "A Guide for the Practical Abductee" (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and "A Jab of Deep Urgency" (Finishing Line Press, 2014).

She hand-wrote her first trunk book at sixteen. It was about the band Hanson and may or may not still be in a notebook in her parents’ garage.

She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and is currently working on a full-length collection of erasure poems from women’s and teen magazines.

Kristin's recent reading at The Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Guest Post: Darlene Beck Jacobson on Wheels of Change

Original White House Invitation Emily Received in Wheels of Change.
By Darlene Beck Jacobson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The idea for Wheels of Change (Creston, 2014) came about through the discovery of two things while researching my family tree.

One was the fact that my paternal great-grandfather was a carriage maker in Washington D.C. in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.

The second was an invitation my grandmother received to a reception hosted by then President Theodore Roosevelt. Further research at the National Archives confirmed that she attended the reception and met Roosevelt.

Putting the two together became my premise: What if the livelihood of a carriage maker is threatened by progress of the modern world? To what lengths would a determined daughter, who adores her Papa’s way of life, go to save the business? Would she indeed go all the way to the president?

I wrote the first draft of Wheels of Change as a picture book.

When an editor commented that the voice, ideas and concepts were better suited to middle grade, I panicked. How could I possibly find a novel length story from twelve hundred words?

After I calmed down and cleared my head, ideas began to form and scenes rose from the fog. As I fleshed out the story, I did more research to make sure things were accurate to time and place. And, I discovered that adding some of the social and historical events of the era added depth to the plot in ways I hadn’t originally conceived.

Emily Soper
It was absolutely essential to get the details accurate. Just because it was fiction didn’t mean I could do what you liked in terms of historical references. It had to be grounded in the reality of the time period. I wanted readers to trust the storytelling. They couldn’t do that if I was too lazy to find out if a 1908 nickel had a buffalo or picture of Washington on it.

I visited a buggy museum to get a feel for life in a carriage barn. I took a virtual tour of the White House and viewed film clips of Theodore Roosevelt and his family. I read numerous books about the turn of the Twentieth Century and life in Washington D.C. I perused cookbooks, newspapers, the Sears Catalog, and old maps to get a sense of daily life.

I found a wonderful on-line site called Streets of Washington that details businesses and buildings that existed way back when. I contacted Sagamore Hill, The Smithsonian, The Henry Ford Museum, and The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. for answers to specific questions.

Through it all, I was constantly amazed by how helpful people were. Whenever I had a question, historical experts were eager to share their knowledge.

My grandmother was a musician who played piano and organ in the silent movie houses of the time before she married and raised her sons. She kept scrapbooks of their accomplishments as well as mementos of special events in her own life. If she hadn’t saved that wonderful invitation, Wheels of Change might not have come about. For her efforts, I am truly grateful.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy:

Racial intolerance, social change, sweeping progress.

It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old Emily Soper, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at home hearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females.

Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt.

Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort.

Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

Monday, December 22, 2014

New Voice: Nicole Maggi on Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy)

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Nicole Maggi is the first-time author of Winter Falls (Twin Willows Trilogy) (Medallion Press, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Sixteen-year-old Alessia Jacobs is dying to get out of her small town of Twin Willows, Maine. 

Things start looking up when a new family comes to town—but when she falls for Jonah, their mysterious son, her life turns upside down.

Weird visions of transforming into an otherworldly falcon are just the beginning. Soon she learns she's part of the Benandanti, an ancient cult of warriors with the unique power to separate their souls from their bodies and take on the forms of magnificent animals.

Alessia never would've suspected it, but her boring town is the site of an epic struggle between the Benandanti and the Malandanti to control powerful magic in the surrounding forest.

As Alessia is drawn into the Benandanti's mission, her relationship with Jonah intensifies. When her two worlds collide, Alessia’s forced to weigh choices a sixteen-year-old should never have to make.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2014, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Way back in the fall of 1999, I got an image in my head of a woman walking through snow. I followed her around for quite some time, and after a few months I realized I had a book, and that I wanted to finish it and try to get it published.

That book took me six years to finish. It was an epic historical novel, a female Huck Finn, five hundred pages long and full of my blood, sweat and tears.

 In 2005, I submitted it to an agent that I'd met through a conference. She called me three days later to offer me representation. She was my dream agent, so of course I jumped on the offer.

Wow, I thought. If getting an agent is this easy (she was the only one I queried), selling the book will be a breeze. Right? Wrong.

That book crossed the desk of probably every publisher in New York and was rejected by all of them. After several months on submission, my agent gently suggested we should pull it and I should write something else.

I was devastated. I had pinned all my hopes on this book.

Reeling from the rejection, I picked up a copy of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (2002) and embarked on Julia Cameron's 12-week recovery program for ailing creatives.

At the end of it, I was stronger and ready to write something new. That something was another historical, this time set in 1830s Nantucket.

Then in 2007, my agent and I were at the Historical Novel Society Conference and every editor we pitched it to said the same thing, that American historical fiction is a tough sell. My agent and I had a heart-to-heart, during which she said, "You're so ready to be published. Why give yourself another hurtle? Write about Europe."

So I went back to the drawing board and starting trawling Wikipedia for ideas. One day I was on the sight for European witch hunts and saw a little footnote about something called the Benandanti. I clicked on it and as I read the page, my heart started to pound. This was it. My next idea.

So I started writing a YA set in 16th century Italy, about a girl who is a Benandante, a warrior who can separate her soul from her body and transform into a magnificent falcon. Then, several months into writing it, I got stuck. I had the whole thing plotted out, I knew exactly where I needed to go, and yet every time I sat down to write I just stared and stared at the blank page.

One night, after many weeks of this torture, I was having a conversation with my husband about it and I blurted out, "Maybe it doesn't need to be set in the 16th century!"

Well.

A favorite writing spot -- Romancing the Bean in Burbank, CA.
For someone who identified themselves as a historical novelist, who was a member of The Historical Novel Society and had attended their conferences, who loved history and all things old and ancient, this was a radical idea. But I decided I had nothing to lose.

 So I started writing the book set in the here and now. Four months later, I had a complete draft. I wrote the whole thing without a road map, and had a lot of revision to do on the back end.

After about a year, I sent the manuscript to my agent. It took her a long time to get back to me. So long, in fact, that I was already counting on her telling me she hated it and making up lists of new agents to query. But she finally responded, had some minor notes which I implemented, and in the spring of 2010 we sent it out to five publishers.

Two days later, we had a bite. A big bite.

A Big Five publisher was interested. I was actually at a funeral and when I got back to the house there were phone calls and emails waiting for me. I got on the phone with my agent. The publisher wanted a huge amount of edits, major changes, and they wanted me to do a new synopsis and first three chapters on spec. I did it. Six weeks later, I had a three-book deal.

And then things got really crazy.

Writers are readers!
For the next year, I was kept in an endless loop of revisions. I turned in three drafts. Then my editor left. I was assigned to a new editor. For six months she told me everything was fine, that she would get me notes "soon" (notes I never got), that all was well.

Until November 11, 2011, when she called my agent and cancelled my three-book contract.

I got that call at eight o'clock in the morning. I was feeding my one-year-old daughter. She got fussy and I had to hang up with my agent to deal with her. I called my husband, who was on his way to work, to turn around and come home.

When he walked through the door, I collapsed into his arms and cried for several minutes. Then I straightened, told him to take our daughter to daycare, and did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I went to yoga.

In class that morning, I thought, if I can hold this crazy ridiculous pose, I can survive this.

My agent put the book back out on submission. Meanwhile, I curled into myself, grieving the dream that had been shattered. Rejection after rejection rolled in, all saying the same thing: they loved the book, but the market for shapeshifting paranormal YA had changed and they weren't doing it anymore. In the 18 months that the Big Five had kept me under contract, the genre had fallen out of style (which was the real reason, I believe, for the cancellation).

Then one night, I pulled the old copy of The Artist's Way off my shelf. Once again, I embarked on that 12-week journey to heal. I had lost complete faith in myself and the Universe, and I needed to restore so I could write again. Several weeks in, I had a new idea for a book. I signed up for Laura Baker's Fearless Writer course and started to plot the book out. As I began to get really excited about this new idea, I got the Call from Irene. We'd resold the book to Medallion Press.

The offer from Medallion was much smaller, but I didn't care. It wasn't lost on me that the book sold only after I started to get excited about another idea. I had to put that positive energy out into the world in order to receive any back. And Medallion, though a small press, has treated me a million times better than the Big Five did along every step of the way.

While my agent hammered out the details of the deal, she sent me an email. It was now June 2012, and the earliest available slot for publication on Medallion's schedule was December 2014.

I'll never forget where I was when I got that email. I was in a movie theatre with a dear friend, waiting for the lights to go down, and I checked my phone. I read the email to my friend and we burst out laughing. We laughed and laughed and laughed. I'd been waiting to be published since 1999; what was two more years? It was so ridiculous that there was nothing to do but laugh.

After that, I realized what a gift those two years were. I had a contracted book, but I didn't have to do anything with it for a long time. That allowed me the time to go back to that other book I'd started writing and focus on it without distractions. That book was a joy to write. Through The Artist's Way, my faith in myself as a writer had been restored, and I wrote that book just for the pure love of writing. I finished it relatively quickly and we sold it two months later in a two-book deal to SourceBooks Fire. That book, The Forgetting, will be released on February 3rd, 2015.

On the same day that SourceBooks sent my agent the deal memo, Medallion sent over contracts for the second and third books in my trilogy (we'd only sold them the first book in the initial deal). In less than two years, I went from having a cancelled contract to having five contracted books.

I know that this is not the end of a long road; rather, it is the beginning of another long and twisting road. I'm sure there will be many bumps and hurtles and, hopefully, celebrations along the way. The thing I've learned is that no matter what happens, I can survive it. At the end of the day, it's the writing that matters, and no one can take that away from me.

As a paranormal writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time paranormal reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

Favorite Read
I've been reading paranormal and fantasy ever since I can remember. When I was in middle school, I pulled The Song of the Lioness books by Tamora Pierce (Random House) off the library shelf and reread them over and over. In fact, I don't think any other kid at my school ever got to read them because I had them checked out so often.

 Finally, my stepmother took pity on me and actually called the publisher (they were out of print at the time) and got me a full set of first-edition hardcovers. Those books sit on a shelf in my office reserved for Very Special Books.

I also loved all the magicky Lois Duncan books like Down A Dark Hall and A Gift of Magic (both from Little, Brown), and the Jane Yolen Pit Dragon Chronicles (Harcourt). In later years, I loved historical fiction (still do!) and so when I started writing, I naturally gravitated toward historical fiction. But when I realized that Winter Falls needed to be contemporary, and I started writing in a paranormal YA voice, it was like coming home. "Of course," I thought. "This is your voice!"

I remember attending a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a few years ago where one of the authors said that he had started writing his book and realized some ways in that what he wanted in the book were monsters. He was writing literary fiction, so he tried to make the monsters metaphorical and imaginary. Then he realized, "No. I want real monsters."

Favorite Read
Favorite Read
That's kind of how I am. I like my books with a side of weird. I love that quote, "Why by normal when you can be paranormal?"

I love magic and ghosts and the mystical. I think maybe it's because I believe this world is full of magic and mystery that no matter how much logic we apply, we just can't explain.

Winter Falls is based on the real 16th century cult of the Benandanti. They were investigated for over 100 years by the Roman Inquisition and all the transcripts from those trials still exist. It is so cool, reading the testimony of these people who claim - who believe with all their heart - that they could separate their souls from their bodies and that their souls took on the forms of animals.

And you know what? I believe they could, too. Every myth has its root in truth.

I'm working on a book right now that is a straight thriller, no paranormal. It's actually kind of hard for me. But don't worry - I'm sure I'll manage to sneak something weird into it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Jan. 27 Designated Multicultural Children's Book Day by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The mission of MCCBD, co-founders Wenjen and Budayr explained to PW, is to “not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries."

Diversity in Single Serving Slices by Day Al-Mohamed from Disability in Kidlit. Peek: "People are perceived as being gay or autistic or black and usually one of those identities is the 'defining' one. If we are already seeing the 'real world' in this sort of compartmentalization, seeing it in fiction becomes a natural outgrowth of these assumptions."

Creating Unforgettable Characters by Kathleen McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The story lies in how those inborn personality traits lead characters to make choices that shape the events of their lives and, in turn, how events work with temperament to shape character."

Reasons My Son Is Crying: Writing Edition by Cory McCarthy from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Dearest lovely writer friends, my wish for this holiday season is that we can all be proud of what we’ve written no matter how fancy everyone else’s writing might seem."

The Fiction Puzzle by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always get better if you keep fighting to find new ways to improve your skills."

Four Logic Problems That Will Ruin Your Day (and Your Manuscript) by Harrison Demchick from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "Logic problems remove readers from the world you’ve created. They take from you your narrative authority. They undercut conflict and tension. And if not identified and fixed, they will ruin your manuscript."

Cynsational Screening Room

 

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

More Personally


My sympathies to the family and friends, colleagues and fans of Choctaw children's author Greg Rodgers. I occasionally feature obituaries at Cynsations; however, in this case, I refer you to Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature, in conjunction with Greg's dear friend, fellow Choctaw children's author Tim Tingle: A Remembrance of Choctaw Writer Greg Rodgers. Note: Greg and Tim also have created books for grown-ups. Tim writes in part:

"We already miss you more than you will ever know, Brother Greg. Too soon, you left us staggering far too soon. But we forgive you, on the sole condition that you work your magic through the fingers of young Choctaw writers, doing their best to continue your work."

With Frosty and the gang outside GSD&M in Austin.
Feral Curse is on Toby Paws' sleigh on The Writing Barn card by Jeff Crosby.
School Library Journal says of Feral Curse: "Smith once again weaves an action-packed plotline with campy alternating narration by Clyde, Aimee, Kayla, and Yoshi, all while dealing with the complex themes of acceptance, tolerance, freedom, and self-esteem. All this is done in a nonpreachy style to which readers can easily relate. A successful conclusion to a thought-provoking series."

Reminder! Did you enjoy Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)? If so, please consider casting a vote for it (and other favorites) on the long list for the Teen Choice Book of the Year Award!

Link of the Week: Newbery/Caldecott 2015: The Final Prediction Edition by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. See also Cry to the Captain by Kara Stewart at From Here to Writernity.

Personal Links


Cynsational Events

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

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.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SLXJ2G3

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jennifer Wolf Kam on Words from the Past

Meeting young writers at The Voracious Reader.
By Jennifer Wolf Kam
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In the spring of 1981, Space Shuttle Columbia completed a successful orbital mission around the Earth, my hometown New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup and eight-year-old me wrote my first fan letter. It was not a letter to Shaun Cassidy or Scott Baio, or any other Tiger Beat sensation.

I’d just read The Little Leftover Witch, and my letter was to its author, Florence Laughlin.

Writers were (still are) my rock stars.

After reading this wonderful book I knew I wanted to be a writer. I thought perhaps, I might be a witch, too, but writing seemed more practical—especially since, try as I might, I could not get my room to clean itself just by snapping my fingers and wishing it so.

I can imagine what my letter to Florence Laughlin was like, written in my best penmanship. I likely told her about the construction paper and crayon creations I read to my third grade class. I probably described how I dressed up and performed stories for whomever would listen. I may have declared that, since reading her book, I would be a witch for Halloween. I know I told her I loved to read. I know this because her generous reply began with:

“You are my favorite kind of people! You tell me that you just love to read.”

I swooned.

She described how the idea for the book had come to her twenty years earlier, and that the little witch herself nudged and pestered her to write her story.

The thought of the mischievous little witch pestering Florence Laughlin (like I often pestered my mother) delighted me. But I also heard something else—the story needed to come out. It needed to be written.

I knew that feeling. I carried stories inside of me, too—all asking for a chance to be told. I got to work at once. In the ensuing years, I wrote whenever I could, and even when I couldn’t.

I studied the craft, attended conferences, joined critique groups, and earned my MFA at the fabulous Vermont College of Fine Arts.

I spent countless hours at my laptop, writing and revising, creating and honing, immersed in worlds of my own creation.

None of my efforts led to a book contract. There were dark moments, soothed by chocolate and loved ones, when the “what ifs” and “never wills” mingled with the stories inside my head. My dream drifted further away, like a little witch, gliding off into the Halloween night on her broomstick.

What I wouldn’t have given for a touch of her magic!

Learn more!
But I kept at it. Just like the little witch’s, my stories wanted to be told and I needed to write them. Slowly, that started to become enough.

Then, an amazing thing happened. My novel, Devin Rhodes Is Dead (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014) won the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award, and I received a publishing contract from marvelous Charlesbridge. I do believe the best things happen when we least expect them.

Much time has passed since I was the girl who opened that letter and dreamed of writing books. I want to tell her—that impatient little one in a hurry to dance with words and share her stories—that it won’t be easy. But then, we all have our journey, and this is hers. This is mine.

In the end, we write our own stories. Mine was filled with hard work, determination, stick-to-it-iveness and bucket loads of gratitude.

And I think, a bit of magic, after all.

Kitty and muse, KitKat
Cynsational Screening Room

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three signed copies of Devon Rhodes Is Dead by Jennifer Wolf Kam (Mackinac Island/Charlesbridge, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America and the U.K.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Dana Walrath on Writing from the Marrow

By Dana Walrath
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

My first novel, Like Water on Stone, just came out (Delacorte, Nov. 2014). Of course, I’m smiling. The cover and interior of the book are beautifully produced. I’ve poured my soul into it.

“What’s it about?” people ask me.

When I tell them, “It’s the story of three siblings who survive the Armenian genocide of 1915 with the help of the guardian spirit of an eagle,” I’ve learned that I better get my smile under control.

Genocide and smiles do not go together.

And yet I know that “smile-worthy” hope and the power of the imagination fill this story, even as it minces no words about the violence. The three young siblings not only survive, but they survive intact, because their imaginations protect them. Ardziv, the eagle, embodies imagination. Just as he protects the young ones as they journey, he protects the readers.

Ardziv also protected me as I wrote this story.

Like Water on Stone, grew out of one the very few things my mother told me about her own mother’s life: “After her parents were killed, she and her younger brother and sister hid during the day and ran at night from their home in Palu to the orphanage in Aleppo.”


I was in elementary school when I learned this, and it took me decades to fill in the flesh around those bare bones. I knew this story had to be told, especially in the face of global politics that allow for continued denial of this first genocide of the 20th century. But I knew it had to be told in a way that would pull readers along, instead of punishing them.

The story flowed out in lyrical free verse instead of prose, the abundant white space providing safety for the reader, just as Ardziv does. The crumbling Ottoman Empire, whose leaders orchestrated the genocide, is distant in time, space, and experience for readers. Free verse evokes the feeling of foods, music, dances, and ritual from another land. Because it works through metaphor and magic, free verse also shows all that was physically lost, and how it persists in the imaginations of survivors.

Palu roof
Keeping my Armenian identity hidden, I had traveled to my grandparents’ homeland the summer of 1984. With the hospitality characteristic of the region, I was welcomed into people’s homes and fed foods I had known my whole life. In Palu, I asked locals if they knew of any mills—my great grandfather had been a miller. I was sent across the eastern branch of the Euphrates River on a modern bridge next to a crumbling one built of stone, and into the woods when I found a mill, set along the banks of a stream. On the rooftop the woman of the house served me tea, a half dozen children watching us, mounds of apricots drying in the sun.

Palu Mill Wheel
When I asked about the mill’s history she told me that it had been in her family for sixty years, but before that it had belonged to Armenians. Joy and pain converged as I thought this could perhaps have been my family’s home.

Psychologist Paul Ekman—who has spent a lifetime analyzing the connection between emotion and facial expression— shows us that when we remember the death of a loved one, our faces reflect a blend of strong sadness, moderate anger and moderate joy.

When a book touches me, it passes the “tear test”-- bringing tears to my eyes not because of sadness but because of connection.

We write to connect. We read to connect. Connecting is complicated. Our faces reflect that.

This human capacity for hope, magical thinking, and imagination in the face of the deepest pain, builds a bridge from the dark places to joy. We know this complexity and connection in the marrow of our bones, that place where our bodies make our blood and keep us flowing.

Human connection deserves our widest smiles.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath (Delacorte, 2014). Author sponsored. U.S. only. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In Memory: Norman Bridwell

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Norman Birdwell, Creator of "Clifford The Big Red Dog" Dead at 86 from The Martha's Vineyard Times. Peek: "In 1962 Mr. Bridwell found himself having to support a wife and infant daughter on extra money he picked up doing freelance artwork. He considered supplementing his income by illustrating picture books."

"Clifford The Big Red Dog" Creator Norman Bridwell Has Died by Carolyn Kellogg from The L.A. Times. Peek: "The first Clifford book was published in 1963. All told, there are more than 129 million copies of the many Clifford books in print in 13 languages. The character was also been the basis of an Emmy-award winning animated television show on PBS."

Obituary: Norman Bridwell by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Bridwell’s famous pup, introduced in 1963, was originally going to be called Tiny. But the author’s wife, Norma, suggested that the dog be named after her own childhood imaginary friend, Clifford."

See also Norman Bridwell Papers from de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi.

New Voices Interview: Trisha Leaver & Lindsay Currie on Creed

By Karen Rock
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

From the promotional copy of Creed by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie (Flux, 2014):

Three of us went in. 
Three of us came out. 
None even a shadow of who they once were.

When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. 

But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. 

The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world. 

When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, Dee, Luke, and Mike find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. 

Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .

In less than thirty words, tell us about Creed.

Lindsay: Creed is a psychological horror about three teens in upstate New York who find themselves at the mercy of a deadly cult, and their struggle to survive.

The setting of Creed is unusual. Would you tell us about it and what’s behind its inspiration? Are there any real life places that you might compare it to?

Trisha: Creed…or at least the start of it was a nightmare for me. I was on route to a concert with my sister and two of my childhood friends. We hit a deer and totaled our car, forcing us off the road.

Needing help, we wondered into a nearby town only to find it empty, emergency sirens blaring in the background. People had been there…recently. The car doors were open, there was food cooking on the stove, there was even a fire smoldering in the fireplace. It was like the townsfolk had just upped and vanished. What I could see were shadows, the outlines of people dancing behind the buildings. But I couldn’t get them to interact with me, couldn’t get them to even acknowledge my presence.

That’s when I woke up, heart pounding and irritated that my subconscious had left me suspended in a dream with no clue who or what was after me.

So in essence…Creed was my way of finishing that nightmare.

Lindsay: The inspiration came from a very vivid nightmare that Trisha had. Of course she immediately called me and freaked me out which led us both to think the same thing: We have to write this story.

I grew up in the Midwest, so Purity Springs looks like about three dozen small farming communities I grew up around. You know the look – flat land, roads that stretch for miles surrounded by fields of corn or soy. Yeah, that’s Purity Springs to me.

Describe your research for this book.

Lindsay (black jacket over white print) & Trisha (in red) at their book launch.
Trisha: Ah…the Internet is both an informative and invasive space, one that provided us with the foundation we needed to create the characters in Creed.

Creed is essentially a cult book, so we had to do a fair amount of research into not only the hierarchical structure of different cults but the mentalities of their leaders and followers.

We poured over interviews with individuals who had left cults, public documents surrounding investigations into their abusive practices, and their child-rearing believes. The research was both fascinating and heart-breaking.

Lindsay: We did a great deal of research into cult mentalities for Creed. For one, to create a convincing group of people we had to figure out the leader, Elijah and how he would operate. In addition, one of our characters – Joseph – grew up inside the cult, which makes his headspace a little trickier to get into without a lot of digging around.

Which character in Creed intrigued you the most and why?

Trisha: Dee. Hands down, Dee. I am not a plotter, but I do create rather detailed character maps. Before I even put pen to paper, I map out the emotional stage of my main character— their past, their present, even their future dreams come into play.

When I choose my main character, I am purposefully picking the character who will struggle the most…who has the most to lose in that setting.

Dee is a foster kid with a history of abuse both in and out of the system. She has trust issues, has an entire history she refuses to speak of never mind relive.

Forcing her into this cult, connecting her abusive past to the current practices of the town, forcing her to place her trust in a stranger...all that goes against every instinct…every lesson life has taught her. That’s what makes her character so fascinating to me; the constant internal struggle that has her questioning her every decision.

Lindsay: For me, Joseph hands-down. Joseph is one of those characters who exists in the gray spaces between good and bad. Like the Doctor in Frankenstein (1818). He might do some unsavory things, but it’s tricky to label him one way or the other because his motives complicate things. He’s a product of his circumstances, and that isn’t a simple thing to toss into one category or another.

Creed is receiving rave reviews with a just a few polarized opinions about the religious aspects in the books. What role does religion play in the novel?

Trisha: I think by default, Creed is going to rub some people the wrong way. I mean it is nearly impossible to write a book about a cult without delving into the religious foundation of their existence. That said, I don’t think religion is at the heart of the story.

When I set out to co-author Creed, I was more interested in exploring the darkness that surrounds us every day, the evil that lurks within a chosen few and their dark past and tortured existences. The cult setting was truly just the avenue I used to explore the darker side of humanity.

Lindsay: Religion in the novel is always an interesting question because Creed truly isn’t intended to be a commentary on any particular religion or even organized religion in general. It plays a role because these cults do exist and have existed in different parts of the world for years and that’s what makes it so scary. If you take the religion out, it’s really just about what happens when a person in a position of power begins to believe they are omnipotent and abuses it.

Do you think a world like Purity Springs exists or could exist? Why? Are there aspects of our society that lend itself to the events in this book?

Trisha: Absolutely….if not the town, than the people. There is a line in the book that I think answers this question perfectly:

“My father told me not to be fooled, that the devil had two faces —one charming and meant to draw you in, the other full of sinful pride.” 

The seemingly innocuous people who we pass every day and never give them a second glance, the sweet neighbor next door who is living a double life…it is those people I tied to capture in Creed.

Lindsay: Ah, I might have accidentally answered this a little in the question above. But I’ll take this answer a slightly different route.

Yes, I see aspects of our society that lend themselves to the events in Creed. Every time you hear something terrible in the news about an authority figure - someone people trust and follow – it changes my perception of them and their private life whether I want it to or not.

This makes me think of Creed. Elijah Hawkins positions himself as taking care of others and protecting them, but once you begin peeling back his layers the truth is revealed and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like this in real life.

Describe a place, person or event that terrified you as a child.

Trisha: “Carol Anne, go into the light.”

Yeah…so I still might have a slight aversion to closets.

Who am I kidding? I still can’t sleep with the closet door open.

Lindsay: Gladly. I was always terrified by my grandmother’s basement. It was one of those places that just reeked of scary things – it smelled like dirt, was dark twenty-four hours a day and had one of those giant coal-burning furnaces stuffed in the back of it. I always had the unsettling sensation that something bad happened in there…even as a small child.

What draws you to YA horror fiction?

Trisha: I was deathly afraid of the dark when I was a kid. I used to check under the bed every night and refused to sleep without the hall light. My older brother used to tease me, say it wasn’t the monsters under the bed that I should be worried about, rather the ones lurking in the closet.

We were stupid, bickering kids back then, but years later, with a lifetime of experiences behind me, I finally got what he meant. There are no paranormal creatures in my manuscripts. No fangs, no claws, no mist as I like to say. It’s not because I don’t love a good fanged monster, but because I believe the darkness that surrounds us every day is scarier.

Lindsay: Well, the easy answer is that I love to be scared!

Well, let me add a caveat to that…I love what I call “safe fear”. So, the fear you feel in the movie theater, or curled up on your couch, or in bed reading a scary book. That fear is fun and exhilarating and nothing like real fear if you actually perceive yourself to be in danger. That’s why I like YA horror fiction.

When writing YA horror fiction, are there any lines you won’t cross with this genre?

Trisha: Hmm…I don’t think there is a thread or plot point I would avoid exploring so long as it is true to the character and his/her struggle. I don’t add things for shock factor, but I am not one to pull my punches either

Lindsay: Any lines we won’t cross. Hmmm.

Well, Trisha and I would probably be hard-pressed to kill any animals in our books. We’re both big animal lovers. But everyone and everything else is fair game.

Tell us about your journey in writing this book. How is writing as a team different than writing solo?

Trisha: Writing is a lonely process. You spend days, months, sometimes years in your own head, dreaming up characters that nobody but you can hear.

Co-authoring takes some of the isolation away. There is another person who is as intimately connected to the characters as you, who hears their voices and knows their plight.

I wouldn’t say my “solo” writing process is different – I’m still drawing out character maps, still fleshing out back-stories and constantly trying to find ways to inflict more pain on my characters -- but it is definitely a more secluded process. Equally fulfilling, just quieter.

Lindsay: And as for writing as a team – it’s very different, but works amazingly well for us. Trisha and I have very similar writing styles and tastes and therefore it’s an adventure to team up on a book. Is it challenging sometimes? Sure. But overall, it’s a phenomenal experience and hey – two sets of eyes is better than one!

What essential things have you learned about writing in the last year? What have you learned from each other?

Trisha: I have learned that plotting is a necessary evil. When I wrote Creed and The Secrets We Keep (FSG, 2015), I was a total panster. I had solid start and a general idea of where I wanted the book to end, but everything in the middle…the wide open space.

Now that I am writing proposals for option books, I learned to make friends with dreaded outline. I don’t like it – outlining scenes and chapters doesn’t jibe with my writing process – but I understand its necessity and plow my way through it.

As for what Lindsay has taught me…she taught me to let go. I’m the kind of person who will revise a book to death, obsessing over it. Without her, I’m not sure I’d ever let a manuscript leave my computer. I’d still be sitting her staring at a dozen finished projects, tweaking perfectly fine sentences. In a way, she gives me the confidence to hit the “send” button.

Lindsay: I’ve learned better dialogue from Trisha for sure. She’s really a master at authentic and effortless dialogue and that’s something I’ve always had to work on.

And essential things I’ve learned about writing…I’d have to say I’ve learned to write the book I want to write. Creed wasn’t the easy book to write because it’s a challenging sell. It pushes the limits of YA fiction with some of it’s themes and for that reason, I think if Trisha and I had backed down and written something a little “safer” our path might have been simpler. But I think writing the book we wanted to write and writing it our way is ultimately what made it a good book.

Can you tell us about any upcoming novels, together or separately?

Trisha: On the solo front – My YA contemporary, The Secrets We Keep, drops April 28 with FSG.

On the co-authored front, Sweet Madness, a YA Historical Horror about the Lizzie Borden murders, drops August of 2015 with Merit Press. Hardwired, a stand-alone YA thriller that navigates that blurry line between nature and nurture, drops fall of 2015 with Flux.

Cynsational Notes

Trisha Leaver graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in social work. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband, three kids and one rather irreverent black lab. She is a member of  SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association, and the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Lindsay Currie graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois; with an English Literature degree. She is a member of SCBWI, the Horror Writers Association and a contributor to the YA Scream Queens. Find her at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

More on Karen Rock
Karen Rock is an award-winning YA and adult contemporary author. She holds a master’s degree in English and worked as an ELA instructor before becoming a full-time author. With her co-author, Joanne Rock, she’s penned the Camp Boyfriend series with Spencer Hill Press under the pseudonym J.K. Rock. She also writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Enterprises.

When she's not writing, Karen loves scouring estate sales for vintage books, cooking her grandmother's family recipes and hiking. She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, daughter, and two Cavalier King cocker spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of "fetch" though they know a lot about love.

Check out her website, her co-author website, her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter @karenrock5. Then check out Camp Boyfriend.
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