Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Cynsational News & Summer Hiatus

Austin's new boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake!
Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations  

Thanks so much for being a Cynsational reader! 

I appreciate your enthusiasm for and interest in the world of books for kids and teens.

Breaking news: Effective immediately, Cynsations is going on summer hiatus until September. 

In the meantime, you can keep up with children's-YA books news on my author facebook page and @CynLeitichSmith on Twitter.

See y'all in the fall!

More News

A Profile of Rita Williams-Garcia (Being Eleven) by K.T. Horning from The Horn Book. Peek: "Rita and I bonded over our mutual love of the Jackson 5. Nothing defined the era during which we were eleven better than the Jackson 5. We both remember the thrill of seeing them on TV for the first time in the fall of 1969." See also Five Questions for K.T. Horning on The Jackson 5.

On Leaving Space for the Reader by Celeste Ng from Glimmer Train. Peek: "There's a difference between leaving space for the reader to interpret and leaving the reader adrift."

Character Talents & Skills: Telling Lies by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "To become an adept liar, a person must learn how to exude confidence, keep a calm demeanor, and speak in a way that appeals to the target’s emotional sensitivities."

Learn more!
Book & Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Ballparks by Jill Eisenberg from Lee & Low. See also Book & Activity Suggestions to Match Your Summer Adventure: Zoos.

Writing Real Characters Amid Terrible Violence: Tips from a True-Crime Writer by Dan Morse from Elizabeth Craig Spann. Peek: "To pull readers along for 300-plus pages, though, I needed detailed scenes that not only advanced the plot, but also built out very real characters."

Using Rejection as a Rung in Your Ladder to Success by Janet Fox from The Writing Barn. Peek: "Each rejection letter I received – and yes, they came back on paper in SASE’s – went into one of those narrow drawers, the middle drawer on the left. I decided that I would only quit trying to become a 'real' author when I amassed enough rejection slips that the drawer would no longer close."

On Writing the Next Thing by Joy McCullough-Carranza from Project Mahem. Peek: "I’ve heard some people say they cannot focus on something new when they are anxiously awaiting responses from agents or editors. But I think that’s one of the two main reasons to work on the next one."

Infused by Donald Maas from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "How do we infuse every moment with unspoken awareness of the need that is pulling a character inexorably through the length of the story?"

Writing a Series: What I Didn't Know by Dianne Salerni from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "It wasn’t until I completed the editorial revisions for Book 1 and looked ahead to the submission deadline for Book 2 that it dawned on me how fast things were happening."

This Week at Cynsations


Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Lupita’s First Dance/El primer baile de Lupita by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo (Arte Publico) was Johanna in Texas.

The winner of Daughters of Two Nations, by Peggy Caravantes, illustrated by Carolyn Dee Flores (Mountain Press) and Canta, Rana, Canta/Sing, Froggie, Sing by Carolyn Dee Flores(Piñata) was Katy in Texas.

The winners of Hung Up by Kristen Tracy (Simon Pulse) were Christina in New York and Robin in North Carolina. The winner of Kristen's Lost It was Alicia in Alabama.

The winner of Paint Me! by Sarah Frances Hardy (Sky Pony, 2014) was Donna in New Jersey.

More Personally

Last week's highlights included the Writers' League of Texas 2014 Agents and Editors Conference on June 28 at the Hyatt Regency Austin in Texas.

Penguin sales rep Jill Bailey, Macmillan sales rep Gillian Redfern & author Greg Leitich Smith

Austin SCBWI RA Samantha Clark, author Shana Burg & newly agented Vanessa Lee

With Brian Yansky & Cyndi Hughes

Author & WLT Programming Director Jennifer Ziegler with Greg

Thanks also to the YA Book Club at Cedar Park (Texas) Public Library! I greatly enjoyed our conversation about Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014)!

The links lingering on my mind is Tim Tingle's keynote at the 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Awards by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature and Capaciousness (re: Kate DiCamillo's ALA speech) by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature.

Personal Links

Find signed copies of my YA novels at Barnes & Noble in Round Rock, Texas!

Cynsational Events

Research for Fiction, Non-fiction and Historical Fiction Writers from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at The Austin Centre (3809 South 2nd St.) from Austin SCBWI. Speakers authors Cynthia Levinson and Greg Leitich Smith, author-librarian Jeanette Larson and Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at "Highlights."

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

New Voice: Jennifer Mathieu on The Truth About Alice

By Emma Kate Tsai 
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Jennifer Mathieu is the first-time author of The Truth About Alice (Roaring Brook, 2014). From the promotional copy: 

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party. When Healy High star quarterback, Brandon Fitzsimmons, dies in a car crash, it was because he was sexting with Alice. Ask anybody.

Rumor has it Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the “slut stall” in the girls’ bathroom: “Alice had sex in exchange for math test answers” and “Alice got an abortion last semester.” 

After Brandon dies, the rumors start to spiral out of control. 

In this remarkable debut novel, four Healy High students tell all they “know” about Alice–and in doing so reveal their own secrets and motivations, painting a raw look at the realities of teen life. 

But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

How did you get into writing?

I was a journalism major initially. Actually, I have no formal writing training in terms of an MFA or even an English degree, but I’ve been a writer my entire life, ever since I can remember—working on my school paper and entering little writing competitions in school.

By RDSmith4
Sometimes I think I probably should have been an English major. But I always thought in my mind: “What does an English major do?” “What kind of job would an English major have?”

It seems silly now, but in the early nineties when newspapers weren’t dying yet, I could write and still make a living, so that’s why I majored in journalism.

I went to Northwestern University and got my B.S., and I did work as a newspaper reporter for several years for the Houston Press. And I actually dabbled in personal essay. I had a few pieces published here and there and I even tried to pitch a book of essays but didn’t really get very far. Then, in 2005, I decided to become a teacher. I got certified by HISD and ended up getting a master’s in education.

How did you decide to write young adult literature?

After I started teaching middle school English, I realized that there was this new world of young adult literature. As a kid I’d read everything I could get my hands on, constantly: Lois Lowry, Judy Blume, and all the eighties teen classics, but I didn’t realize there was this sort of renaissance in young adult literature that was happening.

And of course I taught middle school, so my students wanted to know what was good. I went to the International Reading Association, a big conference for English teachers who focus on reading, and they had this huge room where publishers gave away ARCs and I was like a kid in a candy store.

I shipped home a box of these young adult novels and I started reading them, and I just thought to myself, that young adult literature had become so authentic. It was telling real stories about real kids, and different kinds of kids. Something told me I might be able to do this.

How did you get your first agent?

I ended up writing a manuscript that I took to completion, and after that I went to a teen book conference in Humble where I met a woman named Sonia Sones, who writes YA books in verse: What My Mother Doesn’t Know, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies, which is just one of my all-time favorite titles.

I hired her to critique my first young adult manuscript. I asked her, “Please just tell me if you think that if I have like any chance. I trust you. What do you think?”

She said, “You have a voice, you should do this. It’s a tough market, it’s a difficult market, but I think you have a chance.”

I didn’t know what a query letter was, I didn’t how people got agents, that was all foreign to me, but thank God for the internet, and I did a Google search.

I remember going to Barnes and Noble and getting a book of literary agents and trying to figure out how this all worked, and that’s how I found Nathan Bransford, who eventually became my first agent. On my bedroom wall, I have my bachelor’s degree and my master’s degree and my letter from Nathan Bransford offering me representation. He never sold the first two books I wrote, but they got me an agent.

How did you get the idea for The Truth About Alice?

I ended up changing agents, and even though my new agent loved the two books I’d written, it was Alice that she sold. When I signed on with her, it was just an idea. But I wrote it, she sent me notes, I revised it.

When I was in high school, I read "Seventeen" magazine. It was 1992, and there was this article about this girl who went to school in Minnesota and she’d been the subject of these horrible, disgusting, sexual things written about her on a bathroom stall. She ended up suing the school under Title IX because the school didn’t clean the stall. Her parents came and tried to help her clean on a weekend and I remember thinking about how humiliated she must have felt. To have her parents have to see that.

That stayed with me and ended up being the seed that started the book. God, what a nightmare for that girl. And I’ve always loved stories that are told from multiple points of view like The Spoon River Anthology.

I remember thinking this might be the one that sells. I was right. It eventually went to auction and four houses bid on it at the same time. I ended up choosing Roaring Brook Press because they showed interest first, they had changes to make that made sense me, and they made a little YouTube video that showed how enthusiastic they were.

What was different about The Truth About Alice?

It was so much fun to write. The characters felt so alive to me in my head. I would see students at my high school where I teach and think that’s Kurt, or that’s Kelsey. They just seemed like real people to me.

Also, the story had some scandal in it, some bite to it, which I think always helps sell a book.

It’s about a girl who allegedly sleeps with two boys at a party, and all these rumors develop, and it’s set in a small Texas town. It was pitched as "Friday Night Lights" meets "Easy A."

Why do you think you can write young adult literature?

I remember high school really, really well. I personally did not like high school very much. I don’t know if that’s why I ended up teaching it and writing about it. But I just remember what it was like to be a teenager, and how painful it was in a lot of ways for me.

One of my eleventh graders read an ARC of it and she came up to me and said that it was the most realistic teenager voice she’d ever read. I think I get teenagers. I think that’s why people seem to like the voice, especially of Alice. It’s like the gloves are off.

Do you have any tips for writing for teenagers?

One thing I do and I think I do well is I try not to use slang or dated language. I don’t reference Facebook or any of that. Because, really, in this book they write graffiti about a girl ion a stall. That’s in a sense somewhat 1950s, but it hasn’t turned off the teenagers I know that have read it because there’s something timeless about being a teenager and feeling ostracized. I think focusing on those timeless elements of being young are how you stay authentic, as opposed to trying to sound young in the voice or the dialogue. You don’t want to be that older person that’s trying to sound young.

What teenagers are is brutally honest, not always out loud, just in that intensity in everything that they think and feel. I try to tap into that.

Everything is such a big deal, everything is capitalized when you’re a teenager. This one character in this book, her name is Kelsey, is very concerned about what other people think of her and she eventually drops Alice as a friend out of fear of being ostracized along with her.

There’s this moment where she says,

“You know how like when you’re learning about Nazi Germany and how everyone is always I wouldn’t have been a Nazi. Well, I would have been a Nazi. I would have been a passive sort of a Nazi, but I still would have been a Nazi. Because everyone says they would have saved Anne Frank, but clearly not that many people did.” 

She has that awareness. Teenagers are not dumb and they see hypocrisy very clearly. Even when they themselves are doing it, when they’re the ones being hypocrites.

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?

As I reflect back, I don’t know if I’m surprised to debut in 2014 or just flat out grateful.

More on Jennifer Mathieu
I received the call from my agent that my book had sold – actually, that it was going to auction! – while on a beach vacation with my family. This may sound a bit fantastical, but shortly before the vacation, I’d started “imagining” what it would be like to receive such news while at the beach.

I actually created a vision in my mind of answering the phone from my agent and hearing her say, “Alice sold.”

I’m actually a really rational, logical person (for a writer, anyway!), and I had no logic to base this thinking on – the book went out at the end of the spring and we hadn’t heard anything yet.

Plus, "The Truth About Alice" was my third manuscript to go on submission – my first two had come very, very close but had never sold. But something in me knew on some weird gut level that this one was going to be different.

I even remember thinking, “Third time is a charm.” But nothing my agent or anyone else said or did gave me any actual facts to think it was going to sell at this time. It was just a feeling. And it came true just as I’d pictured it!

Jennifer & Kate Sowa, Blue Willow Bookshop
I’ve been a writer since childhood, but I started writing young adult fiction in 2007 or so, shortly after I became a teacher. It was a two-year process to write my first novel and find an agent.

Then, as I mentioned, my novel didn’t sell – although I got a lot of wonderful positive feedback. I wrote another book. That one didn’t sell either.

Again, more positive feedback that always ended in, “but...”

Then my original agent left agenting, and I was moved to someone else in the same agency who is still my agent today (the wonderful Sarah LaPolla). I started thinking about trying to write a third book – I had this idea for The Truth About Alice swimming around in my mind.

I remember having long talks with my husband about whether or not I should continue, and it always came down to this: I still loved writing.

I remember saying to him, “The day I no longer love writing, I’ll give up trying to sell a book.”

And I still loved it! Of course I did. I’d been doing it since I was young. So I kept doing it.

 I wrote The Truth About Alice over the period of about two years and then it sold.

Lucha tries to stop Jennifer from packing.
I’ve said more than once that I’m very glad this book came out when it did. I’m 37, and I have an established career as a teacher, a profession I really love.

I have a wonderful husband and son and a rich family life and lots of good friends. I feel like I’m in a place to truly appreciate this success and remain humbled by it.

It’s not that I don’t consider myself ambitious or that I don’t want to continue to do my best as a writer. I do.

 But it took seven years to get from the time I started writing young adult fiction to the time I held the copy of my first published book in my hand.

The wait was worth it and I think the wait helps me keep it all in perspective. This is all a dream come true, and I’m grateful for it. This is all icing on a really delicious cake.

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?

Well, I can’t get too precious or navel-gazing about my writing. I can’t wait for the moment to strike.

In addition to teaching full-time, I also have a husband and young preschooler. When I’m on deadline, I write every day. I work, pick up my son, spend time with him and then with my husband when he gets home, and after my son is asleep my husband and I take a few minutes to just talk about our days. This is very helpful and rejuvenating.

Then it’s off to the dining room table to write! Again, because I have one to two hours a day at most to really work on my writing, I just have to do it. Some nights I write junk, but that’s okay. I still wrote something.

senior year
I actually write more now than I did before I was a mother. Limited time helps me prioritize what I really want to do, and I really want to write!

When I’m not on deadline, I might not write each day, but I’m always doing something related to my writing career each day – even if it’s just reading a book on my To Read List or connecting with other authors on social media and keeping up with the news. (Although I try not to get too obsessed with all that. I’m a big believer in not getting wrapped up in industry trends or gossip.)

My advice to others who want to write but who also have full-time jobs is to try and create a routine. Something else that helps me is establishing little writing “goals” like writing 500 words on a particular day (or 1,000 words if I have more time).

However, I’m a big believer in finding what works for you. Some people don’t do well with the pressure of a number of words. Some would rather say, “I’ll write for 30 minutes,” or “I’ll write on Tuesdays and Fridays.” It’s almost like exercise – even if you don’t have a ton of free time due to other work commitments, creating little mini goals like that can really keep you motivated.

Another piece of advice is to find a friend or friends with whom you can share your work – maybe a critique partner or group. I’m very fortunate because I have a dear friend who is also a teacher and a young adult lit fan. She doesn’t write herself, but she loves to talk with me about my writing and projects, and she is a terrific sounding board. She has been reading my work since I started all those years ago.

Finding someone you can talk to about your projects can really motivate you and inspire you to keep going! I often feel very energized when talking to my friend about my projects, and after we talk I’m ready to jump back on the keyboard!

Monday, June 30, 2014

New Voice: M.K. Hutchins on Drift

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

M.K. Hutchins is the first-time author of Drift (Tu Books, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Tenjat lives on the shores of Hell, an ocean filled with ravenous naga monsters. His island, a massive Turtle, is slowed by the people living on its back. Only those poor enough to need children to support themselves in old age condescend to the shame of marriage. 

Tenjat is poor as poor gets, but he has a plan. Can Tenjat discover his sister’s secrets in time? Will the possibility of love derail all his plans for a richer, marriage-free life? 

Long-held secrets will at last be revealed in this breathtaking debut from M. K. Hutchins.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Drift had a long revision process. I started writing it back around 2005, while attending my first semesters of college.

Originally it was a novella, but it stank at that length. Everything felt rushed and undeveloped. I tossed it in a drawer.

In 2008, I extended a different novella into a novel. I thought back to Drift, which, in truth, was more like notes about a story than a story itself. I expanded it, too. But it still smelled funny.

So I kept writing other books, occasionally looking back. Some things that had given me a headache were easy to fix after all that extra experience. Other problems stubbornly remained. I fixed what I could, got more critiques, and revised again.

Come 2011, I knew the book was the best my skills could currently make it. I’d heard Stacy Whitman speak at a conference, thought she might be a good match for the book, and sent it straight to her. She sent me back a revision letter.

Follow @MKHutchins on Twitter
I’ve heard all the horror stories about revision letters, but for me, it was like Christmas. I could finally see those elusive weak spots in the manuscript.

Armed with that knowledge, I enthusiastically brainstormed solutions to the point that I was getting up every hour in the middle of the night to jot down notes (my husband did not sleep well).

During the rounds of revision, Stacy said something that surprised me: she called my book ambitious.

When I blinked at her, she continued, talking about the worldbuilding.

It never occurred to me that it took so long to get this book right, not because I was just slow and determined to succeed via mule-like stubbornness alone, but because I was trying to throw the reader into a different secondary world fantasy while telling a story and making it all feel effortless on the reader’s part.

I had two big take-aways from all of this.

First, that I need lots readers and critiquers. I need people to tell me when my worldbuilding is opaque, when it is clumsy, and when I’d managed the details just right so it flowed off the page.

I am not the kind of writer that can write well in a vacuum, isolated from feedback.

I wish I’d figured that out a lot sooner. For me, a good critique helps me see the flaws in a manuscript better than rereading it a half-dozen times.

Secondly, the people that you work with in this industry matters. There are lots of talented editors, but Stacy also understood what I wanted to do with this book. I didn’t dread my revision letters. All the things she pointed out or suggested made my book cleaner and stronger -- more the story that I’d been trying to tell all along.

As a fantasy writer, how did you go about building your world?

In high school, I noticed that a lot of my childhood favorites didn’t study writing -- they were experts in some other area. Thanks to Tolkien, I was already fascinated by anthropology and linguistics.

Yes, I was the nerdy kind of teen that checked out Anthro 101 textbooks from the local library and devoured Reading the Maya Glyphs by Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone (Thames & Hudson, 2001) for fun. After I graduated high school, I went to college and studied archaeology.

Drift came from day-dreaming-thinking during my classes. Maya cosmology, especially the idea of the world being on the back of a turtle surrounded by a watery hell, struck me. That image mingled with ideas of burial practices and economic pressures. Soon, I had a world that both physically and culturally felt round and real to me.

I often hear people say that fantasy doesn’t require research. I feel the exact opposite. To create a new world, I need to know as much as I can about the world around me.

Recently, I had a friend talk about trying out new, hard things -- not just coasting by on the talents and skills she already had -- to teach her children that new, hard things are worth doing. I chewed on that for days. Since college, I hadn’t really delved into a new discipline. I’d kept reading in my comfort zone. Both as a mom and a writer, I realized I could benefit from branching out.

So I jumped off the deep end and enrolled in a Coursera programming class (Coursera is free, online, and amazing). It’s been rewarding to explore a strange, new world. I don’t know if what I’ve learned will ever turn up in a story (okay, who am I kidding; it almost certainly will), but I figure everything I learn goes towards my education as a wourldbuilder and a writer of fantasy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Get It Write This Summer from Nerdy Chicks Rule Summer School 2014. Peek: "Kidlit Summer School is a four week writer’s workshop that will run from July 21 through August 15. Because we (Kami (Kinard) and Sudipta (Bardhan-Quallen)) both enjoy teaching writing classes, we wanted to find a way to offer craft-based writing advice on a particular topic each summer. Our 2014 course is going to focus on writing great characters."

Saying Something Simple by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "Why do we have to twist ourselves into sentence pretzels and dive into the thesaurus to turn out a description that’s unlike any anyone has ever written?"

Speech! Speech! by Varian Johnson from Quirk & Quill. Peek: "Whether it’s for the Newbery, Printz, Boston Globe-Horn, or whatever, I love hearing authors talk about their process, or why they were drawn to write a book, or how, even with past success, each new book has its own traps and pitfalls."

Swim Stroke Clinic by Marybeth Whalen from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Guess whose names I found on the stroke clinic list? The finalists from the big meet! Column after column, the names matched up." See also Writers, What Are You Afraid Of? by Dan Blank from Writer Unboxed,

Four Characteristics of Author Attitude and Why You Need Them by Nina Amir from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "I have created an acronym to help you remember the four characteristics of Author Attitude. The acronym spells a word that recently has come into common culture: WOOT!"

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen Wins Kate Greenway Medal for Illustration from Candlewick Press. Note: "Published by the Walker Books Group – including Candlewick Press in the U.S. and Walker Books in the U.K. – Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat will go into the history books as the first ever title to win both the U.K.’s highest illustration honor with the Kate Greenaway Medal, and also win the most prestigious award for children’s book illustration in the US, the Randolph Caldecott Medal, which was awarded in 2013."

Bid to Win a Phone Consultation with Literary Agent Anna Olswanger in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation's online auction. Note: "...an international wildlife charity that works throughout the world to stop individual wild animal suffering." According to Publishers Weekly, "After nine years at Liza Dawson Associates, Anna Olswanger has formed her own agency, Olswanger Literary, LLC. She and Liza Dawson Associates will continue to partner on selected projects." Her focus will be picture books (author-illustrators only), middle grade fiction, and adult nonfiction.

The Real Meaning of "Show, Don't Tell" by Martina Boone from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "Show over tell begins at the scene level--not at the sentence or paragraph level."

Q&A with Debbie Reese of American Indians in Children's Literature by Marieke from DiversifYA. Peek: "Biggest challenges I deal with are related to an overall lack of knowledge about who we were, and who we are."

BookPeople's Modern First Library Program by Chris Barton from The Bartography Express. Peek: "So we have put together some modern library starter kits to pair classic picture books that will never go out of style with a selection of other favorites that reflect the vibrant, global society of the 21st century. Perfect for baby showers or special occasions, we think these bundles make wonderful gifts for young readers ready to expand their collections or little ones just getting started. Come check out our display in the children's section." Note: BookPeople is an independent bookstore in Austin, Texas.

How Do You Reveal Character? by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "So revelation of characters, in my humble opinion, should be shown through the action they take in the various situations that the story requires them to move through."

Speech! Speech! by Varian Johnson from Quirk & Quill. Peek: "I’m a junkie for speeches as well, especially author acceptance speeches (especially when I’m struggling with my own writing). Whether it’s for the Newbery, Printz, Boston Globe-Horn, or whatever, I love hearing authors talk about their process, or why they were drawn to write a book, or how, even with past success, each new book has its own traps and pitfalls."

Q&A With Estela Bernal About Can You See Me Now? by Edith Campbell from Latinos in Kidlit. Peek: "Estela Bernal made her debut as an author this past May with Can You See Me Now? (Pinata/Arte Publico)."

Can I Bend Submission Rules for My Novel in Verse? by Deborah Halverson from DearEditor.com. Peek: "No one will think you’re trying to cheat if you single-space poems in a novel-in-verse submission."

Happy Birthday, Helen Keller! by Carli Spina from The Horn Book. Peek: "To this day, Helen remains a popular subject for children’s literature with several new books about her life being released in the last few years."

Five Surprising Ways Regret Can Deepen Your Hero's Arc by Angela Ackerman from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "It’s grieving for what could have been. Even if there was nothing you could have done. But it also encompasses guilt, remorse, and contrition."

Cynsational Giveaways


The winners of Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj (Albert Whitman, 2014) were Nikki in Texas and Deena in New York.

The winners of Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith (Roaring Brook, 2014) were Robin in North Carolina and Jennifer in California.

Enter to win Call of the Klondike by David Meissner (this year's Golden Kite Award winner in nonfiction) from Lee Wind at The Official SCBWI blog. Note: post also includes author interview.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally

Check out my contribution to School Library Journal's expanded discussion on diversity. My focus is on the sort of self-censorship we as an industry--we, including Native writers and authors of color--sometimes engage in, based on assumptions and predispositions about which books will be supported in the marketplace. Peek:

"Because of the reality—or at least the perception of it—that only certain kinds of books will be championed, writers set aside stories, editors reject submissions, marketing dollars are elsewhere allocated, and, ultimately, young readers are presented a largely monochromatic sliver of the literature—that should rightfully be varied and diverse—and are missing out on diverse heroes and stories that could propel them to a lifetime of avid reading."

Last week's highlight was teaching one of the advanced novel writing workshops at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers in Sandy, Utah. (I also gave two speeches and participated in a panel discussion.) This was my second time at WIFYR, and I absolutely loved the experience.

The Salt Lake City area is gorgeous--and, yes, it did snow (and rain)!
My wonderful assistant Michelle Hubbard! (Can you spot the zebra in the photo?)
Soon-to-debut Courtney Alameda, with her agent John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary!
WIFYR Queen & author Carol Lynch Williams at conference sponsor Barbwire and Lace.
Advanced Novel Workshop classroom; photo by Corrinne Lewis.
Miss y'all already, WIFYR advanced novel writing class!
Who's a chicken?
Love you, Carol!

Don't miss  Greg Leitich Smith's photo report on WIFYR!

Speaking of Greg, the buzz continues to build for his new release, Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014).

Greg and I celebrate with little green men!
  • Ms. Yingling Reads: "This has some very good twists and turns, so I don't want to give any of those away. Keep a close eye on Mrs. Fleance, though-- never underestimate a woman in a flowered bathing cap!"
  • The ABC Writers Guild: "The characters are well- rounded, full of paranoia and angst, and funny. That’s what really makes the book a great read: it’s funny and fun."
  • And Sukasa Reads gives the novel 4/5 stars!

Personal Links:


Cynsational Events

Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith will speak at the Writers' League of Texas 2014 Agents and Editors Conference on June 28 at the Hyatt Regency Austin in Texas.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

Research for Fiction, Non-fiction and Historical Fiction Writers from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 13 at The Austin Centre (3809 South 2nd St.) from Austin SCBWI. Speakers authors Cynthia Levinson and Greg Leitich Smith, author-librarian Jeanette Larson and Carolyn Yoder, senior editor at Calkins Creek Books, the U.S. history imprint of Boyds Mills Press, and senior editor at "Highlights."

Get to know Austin SCBWI; header by Marsha Riti

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Guest Post: Janci Patterson on Writing Contests

Follow @jancipatterson
By Janci Patterson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I heard about the Utah Arts Council Original Writing Competition from one of my grad school professors. This was in 2007--I’d been writing novels for seven years. I had five novels drafted and had been sending books out for years and receiving form rejections.

So when I heard about the Young Adult Novel category, I didn’t have high hopes. But my policy was to send things out because books that sit in drawers don’t get published (or win awards), so I shipped off the manuscript, made a note in my submission-tracking spread sheet, and forgot about it.

Several months later my phone rang. I still remember where I was standing--I was outside the door to my apartment, and my fiancé had just arrived to pick me up. I answered my phone while he opened the door to the car, and the nice man on the other end of the line told me that I’d won first place.

I must have sounded dazed. My policy was to send things off and not think about them again until the rejections came in, so I had quite literally forgotten about the submission. And here was the kind person from the Utah Arts Council, telling me that my forgotten unpublished novel had been chosen as the best submission they received that year.

The category is now a first-novel contest, but at the time it wasn’t. That meant that the judges had a pool of novels, some of which had been written by published novelists.

And they picked mine.


This was my first success as a writer.

Think about that.

I wrote books for seven years, without one single success. Nothing got published. No one paid me. I believed in my work; I believed in what I was writing. But standing outside my front door that day, watching my fiancé open up the car, I received my first external validation that what I was doing wasn’t just a waste. That my writing, which meant something to me, could be plucked out of the slush by someone with power and chosen as best.

There was a cash prize, which represented the very first money I was ever paid for my work. More important than that was the editorial letter I received from one of the judges, offering suggestions for how I might improve the book for publication.

But most of all, what this represented to me was hope--hope that if it happened once, it could happen again.

And it did.

Winning that writing contest was like a step through the doorway into the publishing world. A few months later, I received an email from an agent who had offered representation to the previous winner of that same contest and promptly combed the list of winners, looking for potential clients.

I signed with that agent a month later.

The journey for that book has been long. It’s only now, another seven years later, that Everything's Fine (with a shiny new title) is at last available to readers.

Publishing is a process--a slow one. So the best thing you can do for yourself and your work is to take advantage of every opportunity that comes along.

You never know which one will mark your first success.

Cynsational Notes

See also Janci's October 2012 New Voices interview in celebration of her debut novel, Chasing the Skip (Henry Holt). Peek: "I had a deadline last Thanksgiving, so I wrote in my in-laws' basement. I've written in the car on road trips, and at parks, and at the library. I've found that where there's a will to fit in some writing, a space can be discovered in which to do it."


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In Memory: Nancy Garden

Nancy Garden
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The youth literature community is deeply saddened by the sudden death of Nancy Garden, age 76, on June 23.

Nancy was a groundbreaking author, perhaps best known for her YA love story, Annie On My Mind (FSG, 1982).

I'm honored to say that she graced this online platform with her wisdom and, more personally, this author with her enthusiasm, warmth and support. My sympathies to her friends, family, colleagues and readers. 

Let's celebrate her memory and revisit her thoughts:

Tell us a bit about your writing background. How did you get started writing for children? What were your earliest influences?

I come from a family of book lovers, especially on my mother's side. I was read to as a child, and my favorite Christmas and birthday presents were always books — well, maybe except for the Christmas I got my first puppy!

When I was around eight years old, I started writing for my own pleasure outside of school, and I never stopped, no matter what else I did or what else I was interested in.

When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian, and when I was older I wanted to be in theater (and was for awhile), but I continued to write.

I think I'm one of those people who has to write.

Why did you elect to write for children and teens?

Because I like children and teens so much and feel they're important, special people. There's something very exciting about a person who's in the process of becoming, of forming his or her identity.

I think another reason is simply my love of children's books — and YA books, although there were no YAs as such when I was growing up. Some of the best, most exciting, and most innovative writing, I think, has always been in the children's/YA field.

What encouragement helped you along the way?

My parents were always very supportive of whatever I did, and of course that helped enormously.

English teachers kept telling me I was a good writer; I had an English teacher in junior high who said she thought I might become a writer, and a high school English teacher who tried to convince me to become a writer instead of an actress and all around theater person, which I was then in the process of becoming.

When she saw me in a community theater play, she begrudgingly said she guessed it would be okay if I went into theater — but she turned out to be right after all about my becoming a writer!

Did you face any early challenges to finding success on this path?

The usual ones: rejection slips, periods of wondering if anyone would ever buy my work — or, later, in a couple of bleak periods, if anyone would buy my work again.

What draws you to write stories connected to gay and lesbian themes? Why do you feel such stories are important to young readers?

When I was growing up as a young lesbian in the '50s, I looked in vain for books about my people.

There were none for kids, and the few I knew about for adults were always out of the library, which I later realized was probably a subtle (maybe "backhanded" would be a better word!) form of censorship.

I did find some paperbacks with lurid covers in the local bus station, but they ended with the gay character's committing suicide, dying in a car crash, being sent to a mental hospital, or "turning" heterosexual.

Eventually I did find Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, written in England in the 1920s, and tried for obscenity there and in the U.S.; as a result it was banned in England for years, but not here.

It's melodramatic and somewhat overwritten and it ends sadly — but it does have a healthy, honorable lesbian (or perhaps transgendered) main character, and it shows that gay people are more sinned against than sinning. It does end sadly, but with an impassioned cry for justice and understanding.

I read that book many times as a teenager, and I vowed that someday I'd write a book for my people that would end happily.

Why do I feel such stories are important to young readers?

I think kids in every minority need to see people like themselves in books; that's an acknowledgment of their existence on this planet and in this society.

Minority kids often feel invisible in the world, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) kids perhaps most of all, even though that, thank goodness, is changing.

And straight kids need to see that GLBT people aren't monsters and that we share many feelings and experiences with them despite our difference.

Annie On My Mind has been challenged in schools and libraries. You've talked about the importance of engaging people who would ban books in proactive conversation. Would you care to expand on this thought?

Sure. Although attempts at censorship may be power plays when initiated by political leaders, many of the ordinary people who try to ban books do so out of sincere religious or moral conviction — for example, most of the attempts to ban the Harry Potter books are the result of a sincere belief that sorcery is truly evil and that reading about wizards is genuinely harmful to children.

In the same way, many attempts at banning books that are about homosexual characters and issues are also motivated by sincere beliefs that such books are harmful — that they will encourage young people to "become" homosexual, and that homosexuality itself is evil, dangerous, sick, etc.

Nothing is served, I think, by demeaning those who truly believe that books should be banned, or by arguing against them in a hotheaded way.

Conversely, everything is served by reasonable dialogue when that's possible, and by making the point that although parents have every right to control what their own children read, they have no right to control what other people's children read.

Everything is also served, I think, by pointing out the importance of the First Amendment and the danger of eroding it. In a society without the protection the First Amendment gives us, sure, you'd be able to ban books that I like but you don't — but there'd be nothing to stop me from turning around and banning the ones you like. It's important to remember that, and also that one of the first steps toward Nazi control of Germany was book burning.

In the case of people who would ban books with homosexual content, I think it's also important whenever possible to try to inform those people of what homosexuality really is and isn't, and of the fact that one doesn't "become" homosexual because of reading a book.

After all, gay kids read books about straight people all the time and they don't "become" straight as a result!

Benefits The Trevor Project
Cynsational Notes

See also Interview with Children's-YA Book Author Nancy Garden, The Story Behind The Story: Nancy Garden on Molly's Family, and Author Update: Nancy Garden.

In Remembrance: Nancy Garden by Victoria Brownworth from Lambda Literary. Peek: "Nancy Garden, author, editor, LGBT activist, former theater maven and teacher, died suddenly on the morning of June 23 of a massive heart attack. She was 76.... She did picture books, middle-grade books and books for teens and the work ranged from humorous picture books, serious literary fiction, horror, mystery, historical fiction to non-fiction."

Nancy Garden's Annie On My Mind: A Second Look by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book. Peek: "...all of this — a happy ending, a non-problem novel, a book that was about 'us,' not 'them' — was new and a cause for celebration, but it never would have gotten off the ground had Annie on My Mind not been such a blissful soak of a read."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...