Monday, October 20, 2014

New Voice: David Zeltser on Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age

Curriculum Resources
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David Zeltser is the first-time author of Lug, Dawn Of The Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species (Egmont, 2014). From the promotional copy:

In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding it against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. 

The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. Because Lug is different, his clan’s Big Man is out to get him, he’s got a pair of bullies on his case—oh, and the Ice Age is coming.

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo (a Boar Rider girl!). 

In a world experiencing some serious global cooling, these misfits must protect their feuding clans from the impending freeze and a particularly unpleasant pride of migrating saber-toothed tigers. 

It's no help that the elders are cavemen who can't seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

On Friday, December 7, 2012, I got an international call. It was my agent, Catherine Drayton, in Sydney, Australia. She told me that Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age and a sequel was going to be published. I started sobbing--which felt strange, embarrassing, joyful and cathartic all at once.

My daughter was two at the time, so I remember feeling especially happy that she might read the books one day. After the call--thinking I was all cried out--I called my wife. I immediately started bawling. Then I called my parents . . . you get the idea.

We celebrated by going out for dinner. I have no idea where or what we ate, but I’m sure there was dessert involved and that it tasted especially sweet that night.

One of the best memories I do have--my mother-in-law emailed me to say: "Congratulations! Don't let it go to your head."

She’s from Scotland.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny?

I have a giant stuffed iguana named Pedro next to my computer. I’ve noticed that whenever I write something funny, Pedro winks at me and whispers “Bueno.”

What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

I wouldn’t advise setting out to write in any particular genre or style. I think the key thing is to find a story and characters you love, and then to try various approaches and see what reads best.

Deborah Halverson
Lug started out in third person but--on the advice of the wonderful Deborah Halverson--ended up in first person. It was just more fun to read that way.

More importantly, I would make sure you love the process of creating stories more than anything else. If it’s not your true calling, do the thing you love more.

Be completely honest with yourself--are you doing this more for the love of storytelling, or to ‘become an author’ one day? Are you genuinely enjoying what you’re writing? If the answer is ‘kinda,’ chances are that’s how other people will feel too.

Finally, find writer/reader friends and show them your stories. Listen, learn, and rewrite. Put your story away for a while and look at it again fresh. Then, rinse and repeat. Since you usually only have one shot with a manuscript, only go out to agents after you’ve gone through this process a few times.

Having said all that, I think the funniest books aren’t too focused on the funny. They’re compelling stories with interesting characters who happen to be in comic situations. We’re not going to laugh much if we don’t care about the characters or the story.

Personally, my favorite kind of humor is situational. I like building scenes so that the humor comes from what’s happening to the characters, rather than from the author commenting on what’s happening.

If that’s not enough unwanted advice, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Care and Training of the Writer in Your Life.

Cynsational Notes

David Zeltser emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. He has a forthcoming picture book, Ninja Baby, with Caldecott Honor illustrator Diane Goode (Chronicle Books). David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Follow David on Twitter: @davidzeltser

Friday, October 17, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Scary & diverse
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Thirteen Scary YA Books: Diverse Edition from Lee & Low. Peek: "Halloween is right around the corner. There’s no better way to celebrate than by reading books that will scare you to pieces!"

Green Earth Book Awards from The Pirate Tree: Social Justice and Children's Literature. Peek: "Part of this celebration included a donation of 10,000 environmental books to schools. Each year Green Earth Book Awards are given to books in five categories: picture book, children’s fiction and nonfiction, YA fiction and nonfiction."

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Strategic Thinking by Becca Puglisi from Writers Helping Writers. Peek: "The ability to accurately view and assess present-day reality in order to plan for and create the future that one desires (winning a game, reaching a personal goal, growing one’s business, etc.)."

A Checklist to "See" Race/Culture in Kid/YA Books by Mitali Perkins from Mitali's Fire Escape. Peek: "Pay attention to how beauty is define." See also The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Book Fair by Julie Danielson from Kirkus Reviews.

Two Pages to Tell a Story by Yona Zeldis McDonough from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant." See also Gender Bias in Writing & Publishing: Fact or Fiction by Julie Munroe Martin from Writer Unboxed.

An Author's Journey to Getting Back into Print by Eleanora E. Tate from The Brown Bookshelf. Peek: "...Phoenix Films adapted it into a television film in 1983 and it aired on Nickelodeon and PBS’s Wonderworks all over the country. I don’t remember which year the hardcover went out of print, but it did, and without even going into paperback!"

Metis characters & gender-expectations theme
Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle by Carole Lindstrom: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...I was swept into the story and curious to know more about the Red River Jig."

Historical Accuracy in Illustration: Shifting Standards or Stubborn Uncertainties? by Elizabeth Bird from A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal. Peek: "Can illustration ever really and truly be factual, just shy of simply copying a photograph? Should we hold historical fiction and historical nonfiction to different standards from one another?"

At Age 91, Island Artist Ashley Bryan Still Trying to "Tap That Inner Mystery of Who I Am" by Bill Trotter from The Bangor Daily News. Peek: "Born in the summer of 1923 in Harlem, New York, to a large family that traced its roots to the Caribbean island of Antigua, he could not escape the conflicts of the era."

Boo Hoo from Marion Dane Bauer. Peek: "Was I still grateful that night to be published and well enough regarded to be on the road? Of course. But that didn’t keep the night from being dark." See also The Key to Rejection by Shannon O'Donnell from Project Mayhem.

Celebrate Yourself by Kathryn McCleary from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "...we can get so focused on what recognition and success look like in the world around us that we forget what success looks like to each of us, on our terms."

National Book Award finalist; learn more.
Get to Know the Finalists for the National Book Award from National Public Radio. Peek: "The National Book Awards shortlists — for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature — were announced Wednesday on Morning Edition...." Note: scroll for Young People's Literature. 

Thoughts from an Author-Editor by Kate Brauning from Adventures in YA Publishing. Peek: "I’ve worked in publishing for about four years now (still just learning), and as an editor with first Month9Books and now Entangled Publishing, I’ve worked with a lot of clients on a lot of books. But this year, my debut novel is being published (How We Fall (Merit Press,  November 2014))."

How True and Factual Does Your Memoir Need to Be? Five Principles by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann from Jane Friedman. Peek: "What is the memoirist’s responsibility in telling the truth, the whole truth? What is our responsibility to others who share our story?"

A Writing Retreat Re-Defined by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "...let loose all those old ideas about what is nec­essary for a writing retreat to be 'real,' and open your mind and heart to another way of giving yourself this gift of self-care."

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Imani's Moon by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell (Charlesbridge, 2014).



Via A Fuse 8 Production at School Library Journal:



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win.

The winner of a signed copy of Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron is Elaine in Missouri.

Enter to win a copy of the 2015 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest) from Carmela Martino at Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Great news! The Austin SCBWI chapter has instituted a scholarship for Writers of Diverse Characters. I hope that our example will lead other chapters and writing organizations to take similar action.

My children's books Jingle Dancer (Morrow, 2000), Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) and Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) join Joseph Bruchac's The Heart of a Chief (Dial, 1998) as companion books to Louise Erdrich's The Round House (Harper, 2012) for Saratoga Reads!

I look forward to traveling to Saratoga Springs, New York to celebrate! See more information.


Do you like my Cynthia Leitich Smith author page at Facebook? I'm somewhat stunned to report that I've passed 5,000 followers (and counting) over there, and the comments section is pretty lively.

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out! See also Blessed: A Conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Congratulations to fellow Austinite Christina Soontornvat on the sale of her debut picture book to Nancy Paulsen Books!

New logo!
We Need Diverse Books Announces Walter Dean Myers Awards and Grants by Claire Kirch from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "The Walter Dean Myers Award...nicknamed The Walter, will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing... In addition...grants will be awarded to up-and-coming, unpublished writers and illustrators who are creating diverse works and require financial support...." Note: I'm an advisory board member of WNDB.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post: Simon Nicholson on An Alternative History & Investigator of Mystery

Excerpt, educator's guide & more information!
By Simon Nicholson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I was reading books about Houdini. It seemed to me one of the most exciting things about him was that, as well as being the world's most famous illusionist, he also devoted much of his life to doing battle against "magic".

Enraged at the thought of ordinary people being exploited, he worked ceaselessly to expose fake séances, false mediums, Spiritualist hoaxes.

With his stunts and de-bunking activities, the great Houdini sought to prove that man was master of his own fate, that no "magic" could be more powerful than what ordinary men or women could achieve with their own skills, muscles and wits.

An extraordinary quest—particularly for his times. I started wondering what could have made Houdini so driven in this way. Something in his childhood perhaps?

An idea for a series of books for middle grade readers took shape; in which a young Harry Houdini, boy investigator, would be faced with supposedly magical mysteries, and would use his emerging escapological skills to unmask the truth.

I started work on an alternative history: a series of events that didn't happen, but which, just possibly, might have done. I knew that the real Houdini's boyhood had been a relatively peaceful one in Appleton, Wisconsin; but I asked myself whether that could have been a "cover-up", a carefully devised tale to conceal a far more thrilling reality?

So I placed my Harry on the Manhattan streets in 1886, shining shoes; I introduced him to two young friends, Billie and Arthur. Together, this trio find themselves getting swept up in a series of frightening mysteries; an elderly magician kidnapped by unknowable forces; the mayor of New Orleans falling victim to a daemonic curse. People are terrified, rumours of magic abound; but young Harry uses his skills to expose the truth…

And to outwit the danger that results. Generally, people create rumours of magic for sinister purposes, and the villains in my books would be no different.

More on Simon Nicholson!
The real Houdini made powerful enemies through his determination to expose falsehood; that would be true of my boy investigator too. His enemies would try to silence him by the most deadly means possible, leading him to develop those unbelievable powers of escape.

Over and over again, he would escape to tell the tale; he and his friends would travel the world to defeat mystery. And at the end, I decided, there would be neat scene in which Harry would decide to invent his "cover story", a convincing tale of how he grew up peacefully in Wisconsin, USA…

So: Young Houdini, investigator of mystery.

Cynsational Notes

Simon Nicholson is the author of The Magician's Fire, the first book in his Young Houdini series. Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire is published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in the U.S. and by OUP in the U.K. and rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Kimberley Griffiths Little on The Power of Story & Our Brains

By Kimberley Griffiths Little
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I was young I read a book a day.

I always had a book with me, whether it was inside my desk when I was done with the class assignment, or in the car as the family drove somewhere (and especially long trips), the waiting room of the dentist office, or while sitting in church when I didn’t understand the sermon. A book was literally the best friend I carried in my pocket.

I lived inside those stories. I became the main character. I laughed, I wept, and sometimes I sobbed into my pillow.

The writing bug bit me early and I started scribbling very bad stories when I was 9-10 years old—hoping that someday I might create some of the magic of books myself, just as my favorite authors did.

Now, when I go into schools I like to spend a few minutes talking about that book magic. I tell them;

“When we open up a book there are all these little black marks on a white page. Just a bunch of black marks. And yet, as we decipher those funny black marks they become words and sentences. They turn into a story. And that story comes alive in your head, in your imagination.

"Those black marks let us slip inside the skin of the main character and suddenly we are in their mind, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, going places, having adventures, solving mysteries, or getting into trouble. And often those bunches of black marks make our heart pound, our throat ache, and our emotions run the gamut from one end of the spectrum to the other. I call that magic!"

Now we’re finding out that scientific researchers are studying people’s brain activity while reading. They are discovering that novels go beyond simulating reality to giving readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Exactly!

A favorite of Kimberley at age 14.
In a 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage, researchers in Spain asked participants to read words with strong odor associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

When subjects looked at the Spanish words for “perfume” and “coffee,” their primary olfactory cortex (sense of smell to us common folk) lit up; when they saw the words that mean “chair” and “key,” this region remained dark.

The way the brain handles metaphors has also received extensive study; some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more. But when people read a metaphor involving texture, the sensory cortex, responsible for perceiving texture through touch, became active.

Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex, while phrases matched for meaning, like “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands,” did not.

Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas.

In a study in France, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.

What’s more, this activity was concentrated in one part of the motor cortex when the movement described was arm-related and in another part when the movement concerned the leg.

Visit Kimberley at Spellbinders!
The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

I find that simply fascinating!

The novel is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Reading is an exercise that hones our real-life social skills, another body of research suggests. Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar, in collaboration with several other scientists, reported in two studies, published in 2006 and 2009, that individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.

This relationship persisted even after the researchers accounted for the possibility that more empathetic individuals might prefer reading novels. A 2010 study by Dr. Mar found a similar result in preschool-age children: the more stories they had read to them, the keener their theory of mind.

So now I call reading a “Virtual Reality Experience”.

A story about the amazing Richard Peck:

At one of the very first writer’s conferences I attended (about 20 years ago!) in Santa Fe, New Mexico; we were privileged to hear the Newbery-winning writer Richard Peck.

At the time he had not yet won the Newbery, but had published a body of young adult novels that had been on piles of award-winning book lists. He was mesmerizing and full of wisdom, speaking of his childhood and learning how to read at his mother’s knee.

I will never forget something Richard Peck said that day: He said, “Books are better than real life.”

Obviously my fifth grade teacher did not understand this when he wrote a letter home to my parents and told them that he was concerned about me because “Kimberley reads so constantly she’s not playing during recess, and I fear she might be losing touch with reality.”

Not to worry, Mr. Thiessen (a teacher I actually really liked and who read to us every day after lunch). I knew the difference, but I also knew that books were better than real life!

What is also significant is that my parents never breathed a word about that letter way back then. My mother didn’t mention it until many years later when I was married with children of my own.

As I wrote in the dedication of my book, The Last Snake Runner (Knopf, 2004):

This book is for my parents, who never turned out the light on reading: just took me to the library again.

I’m grateful for books and stories and parents who encouraged reading, which helped their extremely shy and awkward daughter with very few friends to create a meaningful life through books as she grew up and grew less shy and less awkward – although it took most of my life!

Now I get letters from adult and kids alike telling me about the power of my stories in their lives and how the stories helped them through family crises and sadness—or kept them up half the night turning the pages while chills ran down their arms.

I hope my brand new Scholastic novel, The Time of the Fireflies, makes you laugh, makes you cry, and gives you a good case of chills at midnight.

Cynsational Notes

Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul by The New York Times.

How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain by Lee Dye from ABC News.

 

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed hardcover copy of The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little (Scholastic, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Post: Margo Sorenson on Working with a University Press

By Margo Sorenson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

As writers, we can become so firmly grounded in our manuscripts that it's often hard to pull ourselves away from our settings to deal with the real world.

When I was first writing Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue, my middle grade novel published by North Dakota Institute of Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, I found myself continually surprised to find myself in the twenty-first century, instead of in North Dakota in the midst of the Great Depression, when I'd step away from the keyboard.

It was easy to imagine I was rolling lefse in North Dakota with Tori, who was scowling at the thought of her widowed mother's inviting her new suitor, bachelor-farmer Bjorn, for Thanksgiving.

Here is Tori's story:

Eleven-year-old Tori and her family are struggling with the Great Depression in North Dakota, and the death of her beloved Papa has been the severest blow of all.

Lefse on Turner
To aspiring writer Tori, everything is changing for the worse—her friends are acting too grown-up, and her little brother Otto invades her privacy. When a Norwegian bachelor-farmer begins courting Mama, Tori writes in her journal that her life will be ruined.

What will Tori discover about forgiveness and acceptance as she tries to keep her life from changing?
If you find yourself equally pulled into your setting and background, you might consider working with a university press, because your manuscript may have cultural and historic details that would fit perfectly with the mission of the university's imprint.

Naturally, this thought never occurred to me after I was finished revising (and revising and revising!) and ready to submit, so I sent the manuscript off to the usual New York City publishers, only to receive (I know you're surprised!) many rejections, although some were very encouraging.

Because the background and setting are the warp and woof of my husband's Norwegian immigrant family's precious traditions, I believed in Tori's story. I contacted my children's literature librarian friends across the country, asking for any publisher suggestions.

Ta-da! My North Dakota librarian contact emailed me to why not try NDSU? She didn't know if they would publish a children's book, but it might be worth a shot.

Why hadn't I thought of that? The cultural and historic details in the manuscript might mesh perfectly with the mission of a university press.

After doing research, I sent my manuscript off to several university presses, including NDSU.

A good research link to check out is the Association of American University Presses, and investigate each imprint that sounds as if it might be a fit. Remember to think outside of the box, because the worst the press can say is, "No," but paying careful attention to the listing will help you focus in on the right possible market.

For example, the listing for University of South Carolina's Young Palmetto Books imprint  specifically says its mission is to publish educational and South Carolina-related manuscripts.

Naturally, my story would not be a candidate for this press; there are few states whose history and culture could be farther from North Dakota than South Carolina!

A number of months later, I received an email from the director of the NDSU press, stating that they had never published a children's book, but that they were so taken with the details and Tori's story that they would like to publish it.

I was elated! The precious cultural family heritage would be carried on, in print.

Paperback cover
One of the beauties of working with a university press is that the staff is so enthusiastic about your content that you feel as if you are part of a family. My editor helped add details she knew from her own one-room school experiences, the director and another professor helped with more descriptions.

Finally, my story was ready to meet the world!

Why haven't you heard of Tori and the Sleigh of Midnight Blue? Although it received wonderful reviews from regional entities and readers, it never cracked the best-seller list (imagine that!).

University press books rarely make a big splash, but, that's not their mission or reason for existence, so if you're looking to write the next big best-seller, a university press might not be your best choice.

Ah, yes, there's also that "don't judge a book by its cover," right? The print cover, sadly, looks like a middle-aged lady, instead of a cute eleven-year-old Norwegian girl, seriously.

So, this past year, I asked the wonderful people at NDSU if they would consider releasing the novel as an ebook with a brand-new cover, and, because they so firmly believed in the worth of Tori's story, they agreed, and funded the transition.

Now, eleven years later after the print version was first published in 2003, kids can now read Tori on their e-reader devices, with the sparkling new cover.
New e-book cover!

When we write something we are invested in, and it has such a strong sense of background and setting that we are loath to pull ourselves away from our manuscript, maybe we need to consider what publisher would believe so strongly in the setting that they would "adopt" our work and help shape it into the best it can be.

As you write, ask yourself how additional cultural and historical details could actually strengthen the plot and deepen the characterizations.

For example, Tori grudgingly polishes the beste-far-stol, the grandfather's chair, telling herself that Bjorn, her mother's new suitor, has no right to sit in it.

When she rolls the traditional lefse for Thanksgiving, she asks herself why she's working so hard just for Bjorn, since he's not family, nor does she ever wish him to be.

If you find you can do this as well, a university press may just be your perfect publisher!

Checklist:
  • Is your story historical or cultural?
  • Will more specific details benefit the plot pace and character development and add depth?
  • Have you investigated university presses during the writing process to help shape your story into a possible acquisition?
  • Have you contacted librarians for their input on publishers?

Cynsational Notes

Margo Sorenson's twenty-ninth book, Spaghetti Smiles, is newly published this fall by Pelican Publishing. From the promotional copy:

Every day after school, Jake hurries over to Rocco's Italian Restaurant to read his newest book to his Uncle Rocco. Along with sharing stories, Jake and Rocco play games together, such as bowling with mozzarella balls, "picking-up-stix" with spaghetti, and juggling ravioli.

When his uncle's restaurant is in need of a new neighbor, Jake goes on a search through the town to find the perfect match. Everyone fears that living next to such an unpredictable restaurant will ruin their business. Mrs. Page at the bookstore is Jake's last hope. Can he convince her to move in next door to such a crazy, mixed-up restaurant? 

Follow Margo on Twitter at @ipapaverison.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Author & Illustrator Chat & Giveaway: Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen on Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Jon & Mac
By Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Mac: Hi, Jon!

Jon: Oh! Hi Mac!

Mac: And hello, Cynsations readers. We have taken over the blog today.

Jon: Yes.

Mac: We are using our power to just post this gchat we are having into the blog.

Jon: Great responsibility, etc.

Mac: On a lot of days, because writing and illustrating books is lonely, Jon and I have gchat conversations, either in text or with the audio link thing. I don’t really know what to call it, or even how to use it. Jon is the one who always has to call me.

Jon: There’s a country song in there somewhere.

Mac: Anyway, while we were making Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014), we were talking a lot.

Jon: Not so much anymore.

jk jk we still talk a lot.

Mac: Anyway, those conversations had a big impact on the book we were making, especially this spread right here:

See copyright information below.

Jon: Right. So here we have Sam and Dave, and their dog. This part of the book is about them missing these things in the ground that they are digging for, and they’ve just made an unfortunate turn, and are about to make another.

Mac: The joke is funnier in the book.

Jon: A little.

Mac: The Hard Sell.

Mac and John and their new release
Jon: In Stores Now.

Mac: Anyway, when Jon was doing sketches, we would already be on gchat talking about snacks and stuff, and then he would send the art over to me and we would talk about it.

Jon: Yes. This page and the next few pages started out as a visual joke that I liked, but wasn’t in the story that Mac had written.

Mac: Yeah, Jon sent me a picture where Sam and Dave split up and dig a circle around a big gem.

We can’t show you this picture—if you want to see it, you’ll have to stop reading Cynsations right now and head out to your independent bookstore, cash in hand. Hard sell.

Jon: Right. And I wasn’t even completely sold on it. I liked the joke, but I worried that Mac’s guys wouldn’t split up like this. They are good pals on a journey, and it seems like kind of a risky thing for them to choose to do.

Mac's dog, Henry
Mac: And when I saw the image, I laughed. It was beautiful and funny, but I didn’t think Sam and Dave would want to split up.

I think then Jon and I sat and stared at that image for a while. The only sound was the chewing of our snacks.

Jon: and the occasional slurp because i had a drink, also

Mac: And we talked about this question a lot—would Sam and Dave split up? We talked about it for the next couple of days.

Jon: with a few breaks for more snacks

Mac: and talking about snacks

Jon: comparing snacks

Mac: And then finally we realized that, yes, they would split up, but it would be a big deal for them—that our worry about the split was also their worry about the split, and so I wrote some new text to set up that image. And that’s the text you see here.

Dave, who tends to take the lead on this adventure, proposes the idea. Sam expresses trepidation. And Dave tries to reassure him. (But Dave is afraid too.)

Jon: Right. It was neat, because it shows them getting a little more committed to this thing, and willing to do things that make them uncomfortable, so the story kind of moved forward.

Jon's cat, Pigeon
Mac: I think you learn a lot about both boys in this spread. They’re vulnerable, especially Dave.

I love Jon’s art here. He’s so good at facial expressions, of course, but he’s also a master of posing. I love Dave’s hand on Sam's shoulder, that look in his eyes.

The art is telling you a lot about how the text should be read, as it should in a picture book.

Mac: (Cynsations readers might like to know that now Jon is just sitting, not writing anything, because he doesn’t know how to deal with compliments.)

Jon: i just broke out into a rash

Jon: It’s a fortunate end to have, illustrating a story like this, because the text gives all the emotion you could hope to have, and then if you put a guy very simply putting his arm on the other boy’s shoulder, you’re good to go.

I enjoy Mac’s praise, and will never discourage it, but these things are made much easier because the emotions are there and only need a really gentle implication in the picture.

Mac: Ultimately this ended up being one of my favorite spreads in the book—absolutely one of the most important—and it didn’t exist in the original manuscript.

We created the moment to support a drawing Jon just made up, which is on the next page, and which we’re not allowed to show you, so run don’t walk to your favorite bookstore and grab a copy of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole!

How was that for a big finish?

Jon: Thanks everybody! Come see us on tour! Bring snacks!



Cynsational Notes

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick, 2014). Eligibility: North America. Publisher sponsored. From the promotional copy:

Sam and Dave are on a mission. A mission to find something spectacular. So they dig a hole. And they keep digging. And they find . . . nothing. 

Yet the day turns out to be pretty spectacular after all. 

Attentive readers will be rewarded with a rare treasure in this witty story of looking for the extraordinary — and finding it in a manner you’d never expect.

With perfect pacing, the multi-award-winning, New York Times best-selling team of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen dig down for a deadpan tale full of visual humor.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

YA Supernatural Baddies by Cynthia K. Ritter from The Horn Book. Peek: "Looking for a book to send a chill down your spine? These four new novels involving creepy paranormal characters are perfect for the occasion."

Cynsational Insight

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen (Candlewick, 2014), recommended at the above link by The Horn Book, is my new favorite book of all time! Not because the hero's name is Cyn, but, yes, that is a bonus.

From the promotional copy:

When Cynthia Rothschild's best friend, Annie, falls head over heels for the new high school librarian, Cyn can totally understand why — he's really young and ridiculously hot and apparently thinks Annie would make an excellent library monitor.

But almost immediately, Cyn starts to sense that something about Mr. Gabriel isn't quite right. Maybe it's the creepy look in the librarian's (literally) mesmerizing eyes, or the weird feeling Cyn gets whenever she's around him, or the blood and horns and giant bat-like wings that appear when he thinks no one is looking. Before long, Cyn realizes that Mr. Gabriel is, in fact ... a demon.

Now, in addition to saving her beloved school musical (Sweeney Todd!) from technical disaster and avoiding making a complete fool out of herself with her own hopeless crush (who happens to be the only other person who knows the truth about Mr. Gabriel), Cyn has to save her best friend from the attractive-yet-very-very-bad clutches of the evil librarian, who has not only bewitched Annie but seems to be slowly sucking the life force out of the entire student body!

The Horn Book says, "Fans of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize series or Larbalestier and Brennan’s Team Human will enjoy this blend of supernatural action, school story, romance, and dark comedy."



More News & Giveaways

Everything You Should Think About Before You Apply to a MFA Program by Elizabeth McCracken from Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Peek: "Don’t apply to safety schools. Don’t apply to any school you know you don’t want to go to. You shouldn’t settle for something you think is just okay in any aspect of your writing life."

There Is Nothing Wrong with Writing Nonfiction Books for Children by Liz B from A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. Peek: "There is nothing wrong, and actually much right, with writing age-appropriate nonfiction books for children and teens. When and how subject matter is introduced and discussed is, well, the reason fifth graders aren't sent to university classes (unless they're Doogie Howser, of course.)" See also Clearing the Brush by Roger Sutton from The Horn Book.

Thoughts About Bordered and Borderless Girls by Samantha Marby from YA Highway. Peek: "...in my mind, Hispanic kids spoke Spanish. At their homes, there were statues of the Virgin Mary on the mantels. Their mothers made their own salsa and carried it in a porcelain mug when they went out to eat because what the restaurants served wasn’t hot enough. Those kids weren’t like me. But they were like my grandmother."

Is Aging the Problem? Or Ageism? by Lindsey McDivett from A Is for Aging. Peek: "Researcher Sheree Kwong See observes the seeds of ageism being planted in children as young as toddlers, and recommends that advocacy start early."

Interview with Lin Oliver on SCBWI's Emerging Voices Award from Lee and Low. Peek: "We all acknowledge the need to support aspiring authors of color, but their eventual success will be determined by the marketplace. It is crucial that the these books prove to be not only artistic and social successes, but also commercially viable."

Print Books Outsold E-Books in First Half of 2014 by Claire Fallon from The Huffington Post. Peek: "...not only did overall print book sales, at 67 percent of the market, outpace ebook sales, both hardcovers and paperbacks individually outsold ebooks."

Off the Literary Reservation: Young Adult Fiction Is Giving Native Americans Their Own Voice by Catherine Addington from The American Conservative. Peek: "In the American imagination, the Native population is confined not just to physical reservations but to the historical reservation of the past."

Five Ingredients for Writing Horror by Robert Lettrick from Project Mayhem. Peek: "...we are hardwired to protect ourselves and fear is a big part of self-preservation." Note: includes giveaway.

The 2014 GG Short List from Canada Council for the Arts. Peek: "'This year’s list of finalists contains powerful novels and poems, imaginative children’s books, skillful translations, entrancing dramas and enlightening non-fiction,' said Canada Council Director and CEO, Simon Brault. 'They are all meaningful books in which we can, as readers and Canadians, lose ourselves and find ourselves.'"

Pre-writing: Discovering Your Character's Secrets by Robin LaFevers from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of a signed copy of The Camelot Code by Mari Mancusi was Karin in Oklahoma.

This Week at Cynsations


More Personally


Exciting news! I'm honored to be a contributor to the recently announced Violent Ends anthology, edited by Shaun David Hutchinson (Simon Pulse).


Highlights of the week also included watching fellow Austin children's-YA author Chris Barton on "Mysteries at the Museum" on The Travel Channel! Way to go, Chris!

Reminder: my e-edition of Blessed (Candlewick) is on sale this month for only $1.99. A perfect Halloween read--check it out!

Personal Link


Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Giveaway: Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win one of three signed paperback copies of Uncovered (An Autumn Covarrubias Mystery) by S.X. Bradley (Evernight, 2014). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

From the promotional copy:

Last year sixteen-year-old Autumn solved her sister’s murder. This year, she is part of a high school forensic dream team that assists the police when teens are kidnapped. 

When it’s discovered the kidnappings are part of a secret online survivor game, the police and team focus on the game maker-the man behind the game. 

The focus of the investigation shifts when Autumn is singled out and becomes the target of the Game Maker’s sick game. 

 Through encrypted messages hidden in steganographs, Autumn must discover who the last kidnapping victim is if she hopes to save him in time.

S.X. writes: "As a Mexican-American writer, I've very proud to continue Autumn's story. She's a smart, driven Hispanic teen that wants to make her own path in life. My hope is that young Latinas will draw inspiration from Autumn."


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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mary Losure on Aloft on a Broomstick: Making the Leap from Nonfiction to Fiction

By Mary Losure
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Years ago, when I was wheeling my groceries out to the car at sunset, I looked up and imagined witches silhouetted against the pink and gold sky.

The moment grew into my first novel, the story of two young witches on a journey to the human world.

Please don’t ask me how many drafts it took.

I was a journalist when I began, and I knew I could write nonfiction. I wasn’t so sure about fiction. Years and more years went by until at last my witches found a wonderful editor, Julie Amper of Holiday House. With her guidance, Backwards Moon (Holiday House, 2014) took flight.

I’m thrilled! Fiction is fun, like flying your very own broomstick, and I loved imagining a world where the fate of all of Witchkind hung in the balance. And besides, an author’s novels get to live together, in a cozy, easily findable group in the library or bookstore. They aren’t banished to literary gulags like Folklore or Juvenile Biography and arranged by subject the way my nonfiction books (The Fairy Ring (Candlewick, 2012) and Wild Boy (Candlewick, 2013)) are.

Still, I love writing nonfiction. And I wish more children’s book authors would give it a try.

I think it’s a kind of mental food (call it vegetables, if you like. Fruit. Whole wheat bread…) that’s good for the writer’s brain. And it can teach you things about the craft of both kinds of writing.

Just as fiction does, a work of nonfiction can have suspense, rising action, a climax, and an ending inherent in the beginning: a narrative arc just like a novel’s. But you have to recognize that arc in the material you have—you can’t make it up. And I think that teaches you to think more deeply about what a plot is, and about the many possibilities that are open to you as a writer.

Often, a nonfiction plot doesn’t tie itself up nicely. The real boy who is the hero of Wild Boy never learns to talk, never escapes back into the wild to live happily ever after.

In fiction, you could make that happen. But would that necessarily be the best possible plot?

They say the first requirement for being a writer is to read—and the detective work of digging a story from historical records requires you to read very widely, following clues from one book to the next.

Often, you’ll find yourself reading books (not to mention letters, papers, and diaries) you never would otherwise, finding astonishing bits of life that you could never have made up. All this is food for the writer’s brain.

One more thing about nonfiction–it’s in great demand right now. Agents are hungry for innovative, creative-but-still-true narrative nonfiction.

I know my agent was looking for new kinds of nonfiction; that’s how he came to represent my work, and how my entire writing life turned around.

Now I’m thrilled to be published in both genres, and plan to keep writing in both.

I just need to finish reading this stack of books, grab my broomstick, and go.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win one of three ARCs of Backwards Moon by Mary Losure (Holiday House). Peek:

Two young witches, Bracken and Nettle, venture outside their mountain valley and find a world that’s always been hidden from them–our world.
An unabashed fantasy for magic-loving children ages 7-10. 



Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Interview: Betsy Bird & Julie Danielson on Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations on the release of Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature (Candlewick, 2014)! What was the initial inspiration for the book?

Betsy: Well, back in the day (I think it was about 2009 or so) I noticed that there were a great many really top notch children’s literature bloggers out there that had sites that were unique and interesting.

Two of them in particular caught my fancy.

There was Peter Sieruta, who ran a historical children’s lit blog called Collecting Children’s Books, and there was Jules Danielson, who with another person was running the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast illustration blog.

I don’t think anyone would have read those blogs alongside my own and thought we necessarily had similar voices, but that didn’t stop me from reaching out to them and saying, “Hey! Let’s write a book!”

Of course I had no idea what kind of book to propose. So we put our heads together and came up with the notion of writing about the true and often little known stories behind children’s books.

It was just our great good fortune that we ended up with Liz Bicknell at Candlewick as our editor. She took one look at our behemoth of a manuscript (every time I tell this story it gets bigger, but I swear it was around 700 pages) and said that the first thing we needed to do was cut it down and the second was to rally round a theme.

 After some discussion we realized that one point that kept coming up time and again in our manuscript was the fact that people have this view of children’s literature that it’s some cute little fluffy bunny, sunshine and daisies world where all authors and illustrators skip through meadows with a childlike sensibility. The truth is far more interesting, so we took that interesting truth and made a book out of it.

Why mischief?

See notes for copyright information.
Jules: As Betsy said, we wanted to debunk the romanticized notion of children’s literature that is so prevalent today (with, say, the Average Person on the Street).

There’s also some condescension that occurs too (“oh, it’s just kiddie lit,” as if it’s not worth anyone’s time to discuss or study), and we do address that in our book as well.

So, taking a look at acts of mischief can go a long way in showing that these are books written by adults, who don’t necessarily live infantile lives.

One illustrator with whom we spoke said that when she tells people she illustrates children’s literature for a living, she gets the sense that a lot of people expect her to act like a well-behaved child herself. And that’s an unfortunate thing.

As for the word itself, the sub-title of our book comes from a lecture that Patricia Lee Gauch once gave at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in 2011. It was called “Picture Books as an Act of Mischief,” and it’s a wonderful lecture. (It can be read here.) We secured her permission (and the Carle’s permission) to use it for our book.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

Betsy: Jules may have to correct me on this but as I remember it we first came together as authors in 2009. We tapped my agent, the amazing Stephen Barbara, and he hooked us up with Candlewick and Liz. Then for the next three years we worked on it together. 2010 and 2011 weren’t particularly significant. There was a lot of running to libraries, consolidating ideas, and editing one another.

In 2012, however, things took a significant turn. By this point we’d submitted the manuscript to Liz and been told to cut it down. We were in the midst of doing that when I received a phone call from Jules on the evening of May 26th. She said she’d been on Facebook and saw that Peter’s brother John had written via Peter’s account that Peter had died the night before.

Honestly, I had a hard time understanding what Jules meant by that. Neither of us had ever met Peter in person but we were fairly certain it would happen someday. His “voice” online was so clear and distinctive that there was no confusing it with anyone else. The idea that it was now gone . . . well, it was inconceivable.

 By this point Peter had turned in all his writing and we were just culling things down, but now Jules and I found ourselves in the odd position of having to edit the manuscript for the first time without Peter’s guidance, wit, and humor.

We did so, happy at least that the book would carry on his voice in some form. In 2013 we spent the better part of the year making absolutely 100 percent sure that our sources were dead on and that we had permission for everything in this book. It was hard work, the hardest I think it’s safe to say we’ve ever done on a piece of writing, but in the end it was worth it. Voila. Wild Things.

What were the biggest challenges and triumphs in bringing the book to life?

Betsy: Peter’s death was the biggest challenge, no question.

How do you cut a chunk of the book that he loved without getting his permission to do so? It was some comfort that we got to put some of his stories onto our book’s blog, but it still wasn’t quite the same.

See notes for copyright information.
That was a challenge and so was getting the permissions for the book. I guess you could say that the permissions were both the biggest challenges and the biggest triumphs.

 Every time we got a permission to use something, whether it was a photo or a quotation, we felt like breaking out the champagne.

Jules: What Betsy said! Peter’s death really threw us for a loop, and it’s a really bittersweet time now, since the book is finally out and we’re excited – yet he was really pumped for this day to happen, and he’s not here for it. It’s not the same without him.

Our only consolation is that his voice lives on in this book.

And, yes, permissions can be the devil, so each one we tracked down and nailed (from image permissions to text permissions) was, as Betsy said, a little triumph.

Who is your intended audience?

Betsy: That was a question we had right from the start. To what extent do you specialize?

When our book was still in its monolith state, we had a lot of stories that were hugely interesting to us, but might not catch the eye of someone who wasn’t already into children’s literature.

So when we honed things down, we realized that we’d have to narrow our focus a bit. That tale about the true story behind the Newbery Award winning book Onion John (Crowell, 1959) might be awesome, but how many people have ever heard of Onion John (or care to)?

 In the end we hope that this book will appeal not only to people who already work with children’s books in some fashion but also to those adults that have fond memories of the books of their youth and might be curious about some of their back stories.

 Judging from the current trend of children’s book biopics ("Saving Mr. Banks," the upcoming Shel Silverstein picture, the upcoming C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien feature, etc.), there’s a definite interest.

What did you learn about writing nonfiction?

Betsy: Source everything from the start so that you don’t have to go back over your work a million times just to make sure you got things right.

Learn how to make Source Notes. Keep your Bibliography in order. And definitely be flexible.

Third circle of hell, illustrated by Stradanus.
If the estate of a great big author or illustrator decides that the only way you can include a piece of information is to pay them untold gobs of money, have back up material to replace the stuff you’re not allowed to use.

Oh. And photos permissions belong in a circle of Dante’s Inferno that few people should ever have to visit.

Jules: Yes, keeping notes of each and every little thing cannot be emphasized enough. Also, be clear on what you are expected to do and what your publisher will do.

Candlewick was great to work with, but since this was my first nonfiction book (well, it was my first book), I admit to some naïveté over the amount of work involved regarding permissions.

I thought, for instance, that surely some intern at the publisher’s camp would handle, say, image permissions for us! Nope, you as the author handle all of that yourself. This is fine, but be prepared.

I’d also add: Be willing to let go of that really great quote you wanted in the book but can’t quite afford (I have a Madonna story along those lines … oh, Madge), because it’s outrageously expensive, and embrace paraphrasing.

What advice do you have for fellow nonfiction writers?

Jules: I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but my first piece of advice would be, once again, to keep copious, seriously nerdy and detail-oriented notes about each and every source and where you got it, and become one with the notation of page numbers.

Also, I should say: It was a joy to write with Betsy and Peter, so my advice would be much different if I had done it alone. I had them to lean on; I had them to turn to with questions or teeth-gnashing or advice. We probably went a long time without saying word one to our wonderful editor, because we had each other. I feel like they made me a better writer.

Visit Wild Things!
How did your tie-in website come to be?

Jules: There were many stories we wanted to share that were cut from our book. We turned in, as Betsy noted, a manuscript that was much longer than what was required. I think we cut about a third of the book.

We also had to re-organize and re-structure the book, and after that happened, many stories no longer fit. We thought sharing them at a site would be a fun thing.

It’s a lot like, as Betsy puts it, the Director’s Cut version of the book.

Would you like to admit to any mischief of your own?

Betsy
Betsy: Golly. What kind would you prefer?

I can definitely say that I’ve been a bit mischievous in my promotion for this book. You see, there were certain stories out there that we knew and just couldn’t use because the perpetrators (so to speak) were still alive and kicking and probably wouldn’t appreciate us bandying about their names.

Still, I’ve slipped references to these stories into some of our blog posts. For those in the know, when I say “the dead cat story” they know exactly what I’m referring to. Or when we mention “the most infamous Caldecott speech of all time” (the one that more librarians claim to have witnessed than could have actually fit in the banquet hall), you’ll see some surreptitious nods. Or the story that involved someone punching someone else out.

Jules
I can’t use it. I can’t even allude to who might have been involved or where it might have taken place.

But buy me a drink some time and I might easily spill all.

Jules: Most people don’t know about the great Pooh Bear Heist of ’99. … Nah, I’m too guileless, and I’d get caught.

Instead, I’m going to answer for Peter – in a way. Peter pulled off many an April Fool’s joke at his site, Collecting Children’s Books, and they were so much fun.

Here’s one bit of mischief, probably my favorite.

I think he really got some people goin’ for a while there.

Cynsational Notes

Betsy Bird is the youth materials collections specialist for the New York Public Library and the author of Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (HarperCollins, 2013). She has also written a nonfiction text for library students, called Children’s Literature Gems: Choosing and Using Them in Your Library Career (ALA, 2009). In addition to writing for The Horn Book, she is the creator of the blog A Fuse #8 Production. Betsy was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now lives with her family in New York City.

Julie Danielson is a regular contributor to Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and has also written for The Horn Book. At her blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, she has featured and/or interviewed hundreds of picture-book creators. Julie, who lives with her family in Tennessee, also teaches picture books as a Lecturer for the School of Information Sciences’ graduate program at the University of Tennessee, where she got her library degree in 2002.

Wild Things!. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by David Roberts. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
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