Friday, November 21, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Book Award


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



We Need Diverse Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynsational Giveaways

Jingle Dancer Interior Image.

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

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

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

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

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

Even More Personally

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


Cynsational Events

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L2: Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terribly sad, really.

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

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

L2: Do you draw a lot?

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

L2: And Lucy? Her object?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EC: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

Or perhaps this first line:

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

copyright Edward Carey


Cynsational Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guest Post: Melanie Chrismer on Author-Author Promotion

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

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

Yep, I like them too, a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

But, you guessed it, maybe or sometimes not.

The rest is up to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not if we want to continue being published.

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

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

Reciprocity is the beginning of author-author publicity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

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

By Candace Fleming
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the sudden interest in Anastasia?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gave me pause.

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

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

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

Candace's pets -- Oreo, Oliver and Oxford



Monday, November 17, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Deborah Halverson on Five Things YA Writers Should Know about New Adult Fiction

New Adult Covers
By Deborah Halverson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Just as the difference between a middle grade story and a young adult story is more than the characters’ ages and grades in school, the difference between a young adult story and a new adult story is more than the characters’ ages and their graduation from high school.

Young adult writers often ask me to articulate that “more than”—a task I’m happy to take on.

Some of those writers want to work out whether their stories on the upper cusp of teenhood are YA or NA, and others just want understand this new category that brushes up against their own.

Here are five key differences you need to know about YA and NA:

1.) Age: Yes, age matters. YA protagonists are usually 12 to 18 years old, still living the high school life or under some kind of adult oversight or power structure. NA protagonists are 18 to 25, often in college or taking first steps into career.

Notice the overlap at 18? Some young people are free from adult oversight at that age and are embarking on the next phase of life, so you’ll find them in NA. This is where you can get tripped up by focusing on age as the delineator: People point to stories of teen orphans or adventurers out battling the world for survival, far from their parents. Does being on your own mean you’re no longer a teen? No one would claim that about 14- and 15-year-olds, but what about 17- and 18-year-olds? At what age do you draw the line? See, problematic. That’s why numbers 2 and 3 below matter, too.

Research for Writing New Adult Fiction
2) Narrative sensibility and character mind-set: This is about how your characters process the world, which affects their priorities, goals, dreams, and fears, and it's about about how they express themselves.

Teens are typically starting to look outward as they try to find their places in the world and realize that their actions have consequences in the grander scheme of life.

In contrast, new adults are typically picking up the self-exploration that began in adolescence, expanding their worldviews and becoming fully self-responsible after leaving some kind of adult-regulated life. They are now free to determine their own schedules and activities, are generally responsible for no one but themselves, and are increasingly making their own life plans as they gain wisdom through experience.

Overlaps remain between the two life phases, though. Friendships are intensely important to both age groups, although in new adulthood the traditional family structure gives way to a new “family” of friends. That word “new” matters, as new adulthood is a time of immense change and new stuff. Thus, new adulthood throbs with instability and the stress that goes with it.

Peer pressure is also important to both groups, as the part of the brain that helps us inhibit impulses, plan and organize our behavior to reach a goal, and manage our reward system isn’t done developing until age 25. This means teens and new adults are hyper-interested in risk-taking situations and very influenced by peer pressure; only, NAs are now totally free to indulge, so the partying and other risky behaviors can intensify.

This is why many people describe NA as seeming “bigger” or more intense than YA, even though teenhood is pretty dang intense itself.

Deborah's "mobile office"
3) Circumstances: The storylines we create for each age group reflect their phases of life. YA fiction features teens yearning for full independence despite their lack of experience and perspective. These young people think big and take big action, struggle with over- and under-confidence, mature in their decision-making and coping skills through their adventures, and embark on their first forays into romance, with romantic attraction becoming a significant part of life.

NA stories show young people with a little more experience under their belts—often just enough to make them over-confident. We get to watch them deal with the realities of that independence they craved, have high expectations for themselves that don’t always match reality, strive to break from their teen social status and build an identity from scratch, continue to mature in their decision-making, take big risks as they experiment and explore, and delve into more intense romances, laced by self-exploration and influenced by new a freedom to explore their sexuality.

Because there’s lots of planning and replanning during new adulthood, NA fiction includes first forays into careers, allowing the characters to test their career plans before they have to settle into adult life.

4) Sexual Explicitness: Romance is a part of almost every upper YA and NA story, as well it should be—love is a main area of identity exploration starting with puberty. Teens tend to be exploring love for the first time, trying to understand what it feels like, and NAs are starting to gauge who they want to be in these relationships and what they want out of their partners.

The explicitness of the physical love scenes differs for the two categories, big time. YA has its sexual content but writers must be sure that their level of detail is organic and necessary to the story. Generally, that which doesn’t happen off-scene altogether is softened so as not to be overly graphic. Even so, those stories can face “gatekeeper” challenges because they’re clearly positioned as teen fare.

The constraints are gone for NA, which is marketed for over-18s. New adults are free to explore relationships and sexual identity, experimenting as interest, opportunity, and willing partners allow.

Pioneering NA novels often featured explicit love scenes, but now, two years into the category’s evolution, NA writers and readers are debating just how vital steamy sex scenes are for the literature.

5) Audience: The YA audience includes teens and “crossover” adult readers.

NA may get some teen readers because young people do read up, but that said, many teens aren’t interested in that time of life yet.

NA writers who craft stories about 18-year-olds are aware they may have young readers, so often they’ll opt for a “Mature YA” label, giving them the elbow room to go into more detail with the sex but still keeping it tame.

We don’t have industry studies to confirm this, but it’s believed that the biggest NA readership is that same crossover adult readership that made YA a publishing industry juggernaut.

New adults themselves are considered a large secondary readership, happy to see their experiences finally reflected in their own fiction.

I hope these five things illuminate how YA fiction and NA fiction are near neighbors yet still distinct categories.

Personally, I’m happy to see NA fiction in the mix—the category is exciting for readers who long craved stories about this time of life, and it’s exciting for writers who yearned to explore the new adulthood experience and now have the opportunity to do so.

Happy readers, happy writers … sounds darn good to me.

View from Deborah's mobile office
Cynsational Notes 

Deborah Halverson is a veteran editor and the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies.

Visit Deborah
Learn more
Her latest book, Writing New Adult Fiction, teaches techniques and strategies for crafting the new adult mindset and experience into riveting NA fiction.

Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years and is now a freelance editor, the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com, and the author of numerous books for young readers, including two teen novels.

Visit DeborahHalverson.com or DearEditor.com.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaways

The cat on the cover was modeled after Anne's cat!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The 10,000th Try: Rejecting Rejection with Anne Bustard from The Writing Barn. Peek: "That I had a story was the good news. That it was deeply flawed, the bad. And that I must start completely-from-the-very-beginning-over, the scariest." Note: check out Anne's newly redesigned official author website.

Reviews: Positive, Negative, and the Big Picture from April Henry. Peek: "...what I think is even more painful is to be told that your book is going to be reviewed in a newspaper or magazine, one with tens or even hundreds of thousands of readers, and then the 'critic' decides he or she had better live up to the title."

How to Survive Writing Through the Holiday Season by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker. Peek: "...as I edit my manuscript and think about the other project I want drafted by the end of the year, I’m slammed by a daunting thought: how the heck am I going to survive?"

It's Not Just You by Dahlia Adler from The Daily Dahlia. Peek: "It is not just you who feels like you have no idea what’s going on, what you’re supposed to be doing, how best to promote your book, how to write a perfect query, how to form relationships…any of it. It is not even just you who randomly cries about things for no reason."

Battling Excuses by Sarah Callender from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Excuse 2: 'I keep getting rejected.' Fabulous. You are now one of us."

Five Questions for Children's Author Sharon Flake by Kathleen T. Horning from The Horn Book. Peek: "My parents often recalled the fifties with both fondness and frustration. From what people wore, to the jobs African Americans could and couldn’t get, they remembered it all and shared eagerly. My mom has since passed, and the time I spent talking to her, my sister, and my dad about this era means even more to me."

Prequel e-novella to Killer of Enemies
Native American Heritage Month: 10 Books By Native Authors from Lee and Low. Peek: "For many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were set aside, hidden, or drowned out. That’s why it’s especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices."

Reminder! The SCBWI Emerging Voices Award deadline is Nov. 15. Peek: "The grant was created to foster the emergence of diverse voices in children’s books." See also Diversity in Nonfiction by Hannah Ehrlich from Multicultural Children's Book Day.

Creating Authentic Characters by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez from Esther Hershenhorn at Teaching Authors. Peek: "The point is to start thinking about how genuine the attempt at integration is. To figure out what this might mean for you, whether writing inside or outside your experience, try this exercise."

So How's the Book Doing? by Laurie Ann Thompson from EMU's Debuts. Peek: "Is how the book is doing a week or a month after its publication date necessarily all the relevant to how it will be doing a year or two from now?"

Author Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia by Elizabeth Pandolfi from Charleston City Paper. Peek: "We are living the effects of history every single day. By the same token, we all play a part in living history by simply being, acting, witnessing, and telling. Each and every one of us makes up those pixels that create some part of that picture of a historical era or event."

Christine E. Elden Memorial Fellowship for Unpublished Middle Grade Writers. Note: The Eldin Fellowship has two purposes "1. Honor the memory of Chris Eldin. 2. Provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction author whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career." The first year's award will be $1,000 and a trophy. The judge is author Louise Hawes. Deadline: Dec. 31. There is a $10 entry fee.

Cynsational Screening Room

Great news! The We Need Diverse Books Indiegogo campaign has met our $100,000 fundraising goal! At the time of this posting, we have raised $102,744! Hooray!

The campaign is still ongoing--with 27 days left, and the future donations will allow us to do even more to support diversity in children's-YA lit!

Thank you to everyone who donated and/or signal boosted! Please keep supporting the campaign!



Authors on Diverse Books from Undercurrent on Vimeo. See also #WeNeedDiverseBooks Chat at 8 PM CST, 9 PM EST via Debbie Reese at American Indian Literature for Youth. #SupportWNDB.



Cynsational Giveaways
Enter to win!
The winner of the Feral trilogy by Cynthia Leitich Smith was Erin in Michigan.

Enter to win one of five ARCs of Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky (Candlewick, 2015) at Goodreads.

See also Three Weeks of Thanks-Giving, Plus a Children's Writers and Illustrators Market Giveaway from Teaching Authors.

This Week at Cynsations
More Personally

Wednesday was the 10th anniversary of the founding of Cynsations! Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and support! It's been an honor, hosting this blog over the past decade, and I have learned so much in the process.

On a related note, thank you to Project Mayhem for recommending Cynsations in its round-up of blogs! I'm a huge fan of what y'all do, too!

With fellow Austin author Jennifer Ziegler at the Austin Public Library Friends Foundation Illumine Benefit

With fellow Austin author Ruth Pennebaker at the Illumine Benefit

Carmen Oliver, holding coffee, with Austin SCBWI ARA Shelley Ann Jackson at BookPeople
Congratulations to Cynsations reporter Karen Rock (half of the J.K. Rock writing team) on hitting the Amazon Top 100 Teen Romance List with Camp Forget Me Not! Readers are invited to download the book, and Karen and her co-author will give you two Camp novellas for free!

Congratulations to fellow Austinites P.J. Hoover, author of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life (Tor), and Varian Johnson, author of The Great Greene Heist, for being named to the Texas Library Association 2015 Lone Star Reading List!

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. See more information from I Read Banned Books.

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Voice: Tracy Holczer on The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Teacher's Guide & Excerpt
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tracy Holczer is the first-time author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy (Putnam, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. She thinks she's found it with Mrs. Greene and her daughter Lacey, so when her mother says it's time to move on again, Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels. 

She'll always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

Now faced with making a home with a grandmother she's never met, and according to her mother, didn't want her in the first place, Grace is desperate to get back to Mrs. Greene and Lacey. 

A mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on, may must be the key. It all begins with a crane. And Grace is sure it's her mother showing her the way home.  

Was there one writing workshop or conference that led to an "ah-ha!" moment in your craft? What happened, and how did it help you?

Back in 2003, when I’d been writing for about a year, I applied for a scholarship to Chautauqua, a workshop given by the Highlights Foundation.

I tried not to giggle too hysterically as I filled out the paperwork, thinking, “Who the heck do you think you are? You can’t go anywhere for a week! Besides, scholarships are for writers. Not wannabes with three young children to care for.”

“Pfft,” said the Rational Voice, and I sent it in.

When Kent Brown called to let me know I’d have a tuition scholarship, I immediately burst into tears and accepted with no idea how I’d cover room and board. We’d just started a new business and moved into a house and every penny was allocated to something much more important than my writing hobby.

My husband was the first person to suggest that maybe it wasn’t a hobby. When my family stepped in to cover the rest of the cost, expressing the same sentiment, I burst into tears all over again.

So, in the summer of 2004, I left behind a ten, seven and two-year-old to study craft and meet the rock stars of the kid lit world. For heaven’s sake, I sat right next to Jerry Spinelli for dinner one night. And talked to him as though he were a normal person. I’m sure I didn’t drool too terribly.

But what changed everything (aside from Sharon Creech just stopping by because she was in the neighborhood) was having Patti Gauch as my manuscript advisor. I started to get the idea that I’d lucked out when I began noticing people following her around in little clumps.

When you meet her, you really want to do this, too, because all that comes out of her mouth are these snippets of brilliance you immediately want to wear on a T-shirt.

Then, it was just Patti and me for our meeting. She told me to dig deep. To take the images as far as they would go. She told me to make sure there was a surprise on every page. A unique turn a phrase, a special image, a new way of looking at something. She told me to ignore my “homogenized self” and to embrace the part of me that was different.

She made me feel as though all my weirdness, everything I’d ever tried to hide from everyone, was the very thing I needed to cherish and put down on paper.

Then she talked about character being the heart of the story. After failing miserably at any sort of plotting, this was a new and breath-taking perspective. Maybe I could write a story by following the character, rather that expecting the character to follow a story. It changed everything.

It still took me six long years to write The Secret Hum of a Daisy, but Patti Gauch, and the Highlights Foundation, helped put me on the right path.

Lisa blogs at Smack Dab in the Mid^dle: A Middle Grade Authors' Blog.
As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Grace came by magic. During that sleep/waking time when everything is half-real, half-imagined. She stood on the front porch of an old farmhouse wearing Mary Janes.

“They’re the only decent ones I’ve got,” she’d said, and rocked back and forth from heel to toe.

Photo of Tracy by Lisa Williams Photography
I knew her mom had just died. I knew she had to live with a grandmother she’d never met, one she was afraid of. I didn’t know what else was in store for Grace, but I knew it would be a magical experience for me. And it was.

Samantha, however, the twelve-year-old in my new book, is not coming magically. She is a tough nut to crack.

What I’m doing to coax her out is more writing exercises with her running the show. She’s writing Haiku and journal entries (even though she would never do either).

I’m asking her to tell me secrets and what she yearns for. Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of her best friend, Milo, and have him ask her questions that she might actually answer.

What I’m learning, this time around, is that I have to listen even harder to my instincts. And that some characters express themselves in different ways. Just like real people.

Interestingly, in this case, it wasn’t until I did a character biography on her dad that I saw Sam more deeply. She hasn’t been as easy as Grace, but we have come to an understanding. She'll be in bookstores in summer, 2016.

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