Friday, January 28, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Picture Book Marathon from Jean Reagan and Lora Koehler. Sign up by Jan. 30. Peek: "Basically this is a Nanowrimo for picture books. After all, we don't want those novel-writers to have all the fun, right? In a month, we'll each create 26 picture books." See also story starters and the marathon blog. See also The Don Freeman Memorial Grant-In-Aid, established by SCBWI "to enable picture-book artists to further their understanding, training, and work in the picture-book genre" from Kathy Temean at Writing and Illustrating.

What I Really Want to Do Is Direct: a guest post by literary agent Rebecca Sherman from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "I want to see a rarely used locale, time period or historical event shaping the story and the protagonist without dominating the text."

Five Things I Wish I Knew Before I Queried by K.M. Walton from Some Things I Think. Peek: "I wish I didn't compare my query journey to other writers. Yes, I know it's human nature, but it's also extremely unhealthy and seriously gets in the way of success."

Pamela Paul Named Children's Book Editor at the New York Times Book Review by Diane Roback from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Paul is a journalist and book critic, is the author of three nonfiction books, and is a columnist for the NYT’s Style section. She has also been book critic for the Economist, and she began her career at Scholastic, where she was an editor and managed a book club."

Congratulations to Kerry Madden for signing with Ginger Knowlton of Curtis Brown, Ltd., and congratulations to Ginger for signing Kerry!

SCBWI Team Blog Pre-Conference Interview: Editors & Agents on Interacting with Them by Alice Pope from Alice Pope's SCBWI Blog. Insights from editors Krista Marino (Delacorte), Francesco Sedita (Penguin), and Kate Sullivan (Little, Brown); and agents Kerry Sparks (Levine/Greenberg) and Mary Kole (Andrea Brown). From Krista: "Aggressive, abrasive behavior will turn me away from even the most promising manuscript."

Teach with Picture Books: a blog from Keith Schoch. See also How to Teach a Novel.

Querying the Cliche by Jane Lebak from Query Tracker. Peek: "Remember that a cliché is a shortcut. And when you use one to describe your own work, you're giving only a surface rendering of a story with depth. Work harder. Give it that depth."

Wernick & Pratt: new literary agency founded by Marcia Wernick and Linda Pratt, both formerly of the Sheldon Fogelman Agency. Source: SCBWI Brazos Valley via Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...represent established and emerging authors and illustrators, whose work ranges from fiction to non-fiction, from very young picture books and novelty books, through early readers, middle grade and young adult novels."

Taming That To-Do List by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "If you are a published writer, a lot of those To Dos probably pertain to the business side of things. But here’s the kicker: you get to decide precisely which business things those entail."

Every Author's Two Audiences by Janet Kobobel Grant from Books & Such. Peek: "Authors often don’t know when they should communicate with their publisher. They don’t want to be pests, but this reluctance to communicate can cause serious repercussions." Source: Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid.

Harold at Highlights

Harold Underdown will be working with the Highlights Foundation this year in two different workshops. From March 10 to March 13, at the Highlights Founders Workshop site near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, he will introduce proven techniques for self-editing and for revising. The goal is not so much to revise a manuscript (though participants will) but to increase their ability to revise on their own or by working with other writers! Harold will be joined by children's book editor Eileen Robinson, who runs F1rst Pages. Harold and Eileen will be drawing on their experience working in-house as editors and running their Kid's Book Revisions workshop to help writers to think like editors.

The workshop is limited to twelve writers: information and an application form can be found at the Highlights Foundation website. Or you may phone Jo Lloyd at 570.253.1192, or e-mail, to request an application.

Harold will also be teaching this summer at the Highlights Foundation's 2011 Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua, from July 16th to July 23. Scholarship applications are due Feb. 11.

Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives

Congratulations to Megan Fink on the release of Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives (YALSA, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Each year, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) sponsors two national literacy initiatives: Teen Read Week™, which encourages teens to read for fun and become regular library users, and Teen Tech Week™, which encourages teens to take advantage of the free technology available at libraries. Since 2003, YALSA’s award-winning quarterly journal, Young Adult Library Services has offered guidance for librarians planning Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week events.

For the first time, YALSA has compiled the best YALS articles on teen reading and teen information literacy into one volume, Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week: Tips and Resources for YALSA’s Initiatives, launching its new Best of YALS series. Editor Megan Fink, middle school librarian at the Charlotte Country Day School and a former Teen Read Week chair, selected articles to form a manual that will offer guidance to librarians planning their annual events, with advice on best practices, collection development, outreach and marketing, program ideas and more.

In addition, YA authors
Walter Dean Myers and Cynthia Leitich Smith and Best Teen Read Week contest winners Elizabeth Kahn and Jennifer Velásquez contributed original content about the importance of these initiatives and how they support teens’ information needs, along with an introduction by YALSA past president Judy Nelson.
See more information.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for Mr. Duck Means Business by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Jeff Mack (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster):

Hooray for the 2011 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winners! Note: "...honors new books for children and teens that exemplify the highest literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience."

More Personally

Blessed is now available from Candlewick! Thanks to everyone who's read, blogged, tweeted, facebooked or otherwise made noise about the novel! It means a lot to me.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on book four in the Tantalize series, which picks up several plot threads from Eternal and one from Blessed.

It's terrific to be wholly immersed in new novel as the previous one is coming out. I only have so much time to indulge release jitters. As great as it is, being an author, it's being a writer that keeps me grounded and happy.

I also received the exciting news from my editor that the graphic novel Eternal: Zachary's Story is green-lighted to be sent onto illustrator Ming Doyle.

Highlights of the past week include a Writers' League of Texas author event on "Inspiration: The First Glimmer of a Book Idea" at BookPeople in Austin. Here, Bethany Hegedus moderates a panel, featuring Jennifer Ziegler, Brian Yansky and Stephen Harrigan. The program was a kickoff to the 2011 Third Thursday series: Building a Book. See also the League's YA A to Z Conference April 15 and April 16 in Austin.

Guest Post: Cynthia Leitich Smith from Libba Bray. Peek: "I fault Stephen King for my coulrophobia and treasure my tattered copy of V.C. Andrews’ Incest in the Attic series. I was a Whedonesque slayer in a former life."

Book Giveaway and Teaching Author Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith by Carmela Martino from Teaching Authors: Six Children's Authors Who Also Teach Writing. Peek: " What I typically suggest to my students is to physically act out a scene. Literally step into the moment and movement(s). Or to perhaps sketch out a map of the town or bedroom, so that it's easier for them to mentally move their cast around and describe that on the page." Giveaway deadline: Feb. 2.

Quotable -- Cynthia Leitich Smith by Lindsey Lane from The Meandering Lane. Peek: " is about Cyn’s favorite quote, the one that stokes her writer engine."

Character Interviews with Quincie and Brad by Valorie from Truth Be Told.

  • Peek: Peek from Brad (on what he looks forward to in the future): "Flying cars! I've been promised flying cars for decades, and where are they? Beyond that, I look forward to the day when Quincie accepts the inevitable and agrees to join me in our eternal life together."
  • Peek from Quincie: "f some smooth-talking, older guy starts plying you with liquor, flattering you, and trying to impress you when you're most vulnerable because of, say, your parents divorce or a death in the family or a falling out with your best friend, run the hell away from the jerk. Now, fast, go!"
Blessed Character Interview with Zachary & Giveaway from Girls in the Stacks. Peek: "I missed the amazing, self-proclaimed quirky weirdness of Austin."

Blessed Reviews

Greg and I celebrated release day at Amy's Ice Creams in Austin; see photo of our server.

Blessed: A Delicious and Deadly Treat by Norah Piehl from BookPage. Peek: ", sexy...her homage to Stoker’s classic novel is most apparent, as she uses the book’s characters for inspiration, its plot for structure and its themes for a rich background that will lead many readers to (re)discover the original Dracula even as they enjoy this darkly humorous send-up."

Blessed Review by Kristen from Bookworming in the 21rst Century. Peek: "For a book nearing 500 pages long, the story flew by fast, filled with action and emotional turmoil. I absolutely loved this book and hope there will be more."

Blessed Review from BookChic. Peek: "I love this trilogy of books and how, in this one, Smith merged the casts from the previous two books, Tantalize and Eternal. She did a wonderful job doing it and it felt right. I really enjoyed revisiting these characters and I fell into a rhythm even though it's been a long time since reading both (though less time from Eternal but Blessed is mostly from Quincie's perspective from Tantalize)."

Blessed Review by Jillian Van Leer from Young Adult Book Central. Peek: "I really enjoyed all the action, the love, the betrayal, everything! If you have read the first two books in this series (and even if you haven't!) go out and get this book!"

Blessed Giveaways

Enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations. Deadline: Jan. 31.

Blessed Blog Tour & ARC/Prize Package Giveaways by Kari from The Teen {Book} Scene. See individual sites on this online tour for specific prize entry information.

Blessed Online Countdown Event by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Valorie is posting reviews, book trailers, teaser excerpts, giveaways, and author-and-character interviews. Giveaway deadline: 11 p.m. PST Jan. 24. See details.

See also the Teaching Authors Giveaway. Deadline: Feb. 2.

Blessed Launch Party

Joint Launch Party: Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) and Night School by Mari Mancusi (Berkley) book party and signing at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at BookPeople in Austin. Event will include author talks, Q&A, refreshments and signing. Wear red and black if you're on the side of Evil or blue and black if you're on the side of Good. Bonus points (and possible prize) to anyone who dresses up as a vampire, shape shifter, vampire slayer, angel or faerie!

The winner of an autographed copy of Night School was Kaya in Oregon.

More Cynsational Events

Blessed In-Person Author Tour Schedule in Central Texas and the Northeastern U.S.: sponsored by Candlewick Press. Are you in Austin, New York, New Jersey, or the Philly area? Come join me along the way!

12th Annual Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19 in Fort Myers, Florida. Note: speakers include Cynthia Leitich Smith.

SCBWI-Wisconsin Novel Revision Workshop with author Cynthia Leitich Smith from March 25 to March 27. Note: "Registration is limited to 25 persons."


Blessed celebratory ice cream--Darth chocolate with hot chocolate sauce and pecans.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Guest Post: Renée Watson on Writing About Serious Topics in Children’s Books

By Renée Watson

Stand up if you like to play outside with your friends.

Stand up if you’ve ever lost something.

Stand up if you’ve ever been to a funeral.

Stand up if you like to cook with your mom or dad.

Stand up if you have ever moved.

Stand up if you like to listen to music.

Stand up if you are proud of where you are from.

This is the activity I do when I start off my author visits for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Random House, 2010). Before I share the book, I give an opportunity for students to see how they have something in common with the characters, even if they haven’t personally experienced a natural disaster.

People often describe A Place Where Hurricanes Happen as a book about hurricane Katrina. While the book certainly delves into the tragedy of Katrina, and is first and foremost for New Orleans, it is also about celebrating friendship and community and it shows children ways to cope with change and loss.

It is also for children everywhere. Even if children haven’t experienced a natural disaster, many young people have lost a grandparent, or had to move and start a new school. Most children enjoy playing with their friends or cooking with a parent. These stories are universal and children from all walks of life can relate to them.

It is important to me to create books that touch children on many levels and to have a balance of the good and the bad—because, in life, things are usually a combination of both at the very same time.

My advice to writers who desire to tackle social issues in children’s books is to first read everything you can that is similar to what you want to write. What other books tackle social issues? Read the book the first time for pleasure, then a second time to study it and analyze what the writer is doing that makes the story work.

Then, I tell writers to practice writing about the characters, not about the incident. In A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, children are drawn to Keesha who can’t wait to eat the home-cooked meal she made with her mother; they can’t believe how many teddy bears she has in her collection. They laugh at Tommy when he complains about his snoring brother. They understand Michael’s pride when he brags about being the oldest and all the things he gets to do that his younger sister can’t. And they relate to Adrienne who is the leader of group, always looking out for her friends.

Writing about serious topics doesn’t change the basic rule—make the characters interesting and believable. When you, as the writer, have developed a strong character with a storyline, the tendency to be too preachy fades because your character takes center stage and the social issue becomes secondary.

Following this principal will also deepen your story and help children see that even though horrific things happen, there can still be hope and rebuilding. It shows children that one incident doesn’t have to define them forever.

Cynsational Notes

From the promotional copy of What Momma Left Me:

How is it that unsavory raw ingredients come together to form a delicious cake? What is it about life that when you take all the hard stuff and rough stuff and add in a lot of love, you still just might have a wonderful life?

For Serenity, these questions rise up early when her father kills her mother, and leaves her and her brother Danny to live with their kind but strict grandparents. Despite the difficulties of a new school, a new church, and a new neighborhood, Serenity gains strength from the family around her, the new friends she finds, and her own careful optimism.

Debut author Renée Watson's talent shines in this powerful and ultimately uplifting novel.

Author Bio

Renée Watson is the author of the children’s picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), which was featured on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams." [See inspiring video of Renee on TV.]

Her middle grade novel, What Momma Left Me (Bloomsbury, 2010) debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction by The Independent Children's Booksellers Association.

Renée performed her one woman show, "Roses are Red, Women are Blue,” at New York City's Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.

When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and New York City. She also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers and artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma. She has facilitated poetry and theatre workshops with young girls coping with sexual and physical abuse, children who have witnessed violence, children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and children who relocated to New York City after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Renée graduated from The New School, where she earned a degree in Creative Writing and a certificate in Drama Therapy. Renée currently lives in New York City.

Check out the book trailer for A Place Where Hurricanes Happen:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Voice: Denise Jaden on Losing Faith

Denise Jaden is the first time author of Losing Faith (Simon Pulse, 2010). From the promotional copy:

A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie's sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie's world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don't know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don't line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith's final night...a secret that puts her own life in danger.

Read an excerpt (PDF). Check out Denise's blog and LJ.

Are you a plotter or a plunger? Do you outline first, write to explore first, or engage some combination of the two? Then where do you go from there? What about this approach appeals to you? What advice do you have for beginning writers struggling with plot?

I began writing before I really knew anything about the technicalities of writing a book. If someone had told me that I should outline my whole novel back then, I probably would have thought they were crazy. “How can I write an outline?” I would have said. “I don’t know what the characters are going to do until they do it!”

Well, all that’s all changed. If you follow me on Twitter (@denisejaden) or me on Facebook, you may have caught wind of my recent 33k outlines. Yes, that’s 33 thousand words. For an outline.

To be honest, though, I’m still very much a plot-challenged writer. I learn better from experience than I do from textbooks, and so it’s very difficult for me to work under any kind of formula or structure.

Instead, I treat my outlines a little like a first draft. The differences being that I think of it as an outline and not anything I would ever expect anyone to read and enjoy, and it’s written in third person point of view, whereas my novels are usually in first.

This isn’t to say I start with a completely blank page and empty mind. I usually come up with an idea based on a character that I can already see in my head. I try to put that idea into a logline or very short blurb that has some hook to it. This logline doesn’t always end up as something formalized that I write down, but if I feel it’s hooky enough (and I usually send it off to my critique partner as well, to make sure she feels it’s hooky enough), I’ll try to come up with plot ideas that will enhance and show that hook.

Part of my reason for writing such long first-drafty outlines is that it takes me that many words to get to know my characters. Once I know my characters, I can tell if some plot points feel off for them, and I don’t have to wait until later drafts to realize this.

The reason I write my outlines in third person point of view, even if I know I will write the manuscript in first person, is because I always have my critique partner read and critique my outlines. In a full draft of a book, a writer has to take time to be careful with every word and give her reader a real sense of her character for the reader in chapter one, but in my outline I am still learning who my characters are, so I try to spell my revelations out for my critique partner in short form as they come to me, and I always try to think of creative ways to show these traits once the writing of the actual first draft comes along.

Now, I am still plot challenged, so anyone who feels some kinship there, all I can recommend is finding a critique partner who is strong on plot. My main critique partner has really helped me think outside of my own little box of ideas and make my plot arcs complete and more engaging.

I’ve written a novel during NaNoWriMo for the last three years, and I don’t think I would be capable of doing that without a thorough outline. But while I love outlining, I think the reason I love it so much is because it helps me develop my characters, helps me organize my thoughts on paper enough to get some feedback, and kills my fear over trying things to see if they’ll work. I recommend outlining for anyone at any stage of their writing career.

At one time, I saw it as something structured and confining. Now I see nothing but freedom in it.

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

My agent is everything I could ask for or want in an agent, but the process of finding her was anything but easy!

During my very first year of writing, I began to query, without success, of course. But I learned a lot along the way.

In my early querying days, I sent my precious manuscript off to a single agent, often by snail mail because that’s how many of them were receiving queries at the time, and then wait, biting my nails and checking my mailbox incessantly.

Through critique friends I made on Critique Circle and after attending a couple of writing conferences, I started to understand that there is a better way.

One major blessing in my life is that I have one critique partner who loves to write and critique query letters. I know, crazy, right? She has helped me so much in getting multiple queries for multiple manuscripts ready over the years.

At the conferences I attended, I was able to sit down face to face with editors and agents, as well as other more experienced writers. The best part about this was that I could finally see the professionals in this business as human. I realized they were not sitting in their offices back in New York with an evil grin just waiting to stamp my query with their big REJECTED stamp. They wanted to like my work. They just couldn’t quite yet.

So I continued to improve my manuscripts, my queries, and learned to query widely. For me, this meant sending out batches of about five to six queries at a time, and each time a rejection rolled in, replacing it with another attempt. If I received five or more rejections without a request to see at least a partial manuscript, I took another serious look at my query. If I had a few partial rejections in a row, I took a closer look at my manuscript again.

At this point, I began to understand the meaning of the phrase “the right match,” but honestly, I didn’t understand it fully until after the process of submitting to editors much later in the game.

One other thing that made the query process a little less painful was that I started writing and submitting short stories during this season of my writing life. Not only did I find some small success there to bolster me back up from endless rejections, but also, because I was submitting multiple manuscripts widely, plus short stories, I think I became very close to immune to rejection. I had rejections pouring in almost every week, and I got to the point where I just said, “Huh, guess it’s not for them,” to myself, and shimmied that rejection over to my rejection file (and yes, I have kept all of my rejections, which could easily wallpaper a room).

Imagine my surprise (read: elation) when my answering machine spouted a message from a well-known and respected agent who loved my full manuscript and wanted to talk about representation! I later spoke with her on the phone, and as awesome as it all was, I remembered what I’d read from other writers who had gone before me. I quickly shot off an email to other agents who were reading my novel and informed them of my offer.

I was sure, completely positive, that I would sign with that agent who phoned and offered to represent me. I mean, after five or so years of querying and getting rejected, take the offer, right? But my critique partner talked me down, kept me sane, and I waited until other agents came back with their responses.

And some of them were positive! Wow, could life get any better?

After a long week of weighing pros and cons (not that there were many cons to the whole situation) I decided to sign with one of the later agents to offer, Michelle Humphrey.

At the time, she worked out of the Sterling Lord offices as an assistant agent. She had not made any sales of her own, and she was not the most widely known or experienced of my choices, however I did get a very good feeling when talking to her. I loved her eagerness, and while I felt that some other agents I had spoken to were somewhat tired and weary from the publishing business, Michelle was still full of zeal and hope. Besides that, she had looked up the blurbs for my other books on my website and loved those concepts as well.

I think the important thing is that an agent really gets your writing and jives with your outlook on submissions, no matter which agency they work with. (Michelle has just recently settled in at ICM Talent and is open to queries there.)

I know those who are looking for an agent have likely had moments (or years) where they don’t think it will ever happen for them. I certainly have been there.

My advice is to keep plugging away and get as good as you can at the manuscript writing and at the query writing. Keep submitting, and try not to take the rejections personally. It is possible to go from multiple, multiple, rejections to more than one offer overnight.

The Perfect Match will show up when you very least expect it!

Cynsational Notes

Check out this video featuring Denise from Simon & Schuster:

Check out the book trailer for Losing Faith:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blessed by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

I'm thrilled to announce that Blessed is now available from Candlewick Press!

Check out the latest coverage:

Blessed: In Which I Interview Cynthia Leitich Smith by Joy Preble from Joy's Novel Idea. Peek: "I’ve created a vampire society with its own history, political structure, and system of laws as well as, say, architectural predispositions. The undead, for example, are big fans of the Arts and Crafts movement."

In Stores this Week (With Interviews and Giveaways) from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: "I wrote the proposal for my editor in March the Arizona Biltmore. The place opened in 1929. It's swanky, designed in the Craftsman tradition (think: Frank Lloyd Wright). Irving Berlin penned 'White Christmas' by the pool. Marilyn Monroe referred to that same pool as her favorite. ...I grabbed a chair around that pool, then, later, another around the fire pit, and brainstormed."

Read an excerpt of Blessed from

Look for the Blessed ads today in Publishers Weekly online and in the Baker & Taylor's CATS Meow: Library Newsletter for Children's and Teen Services for January 2011!

Latest Buzz

"Quincie is a capable, independent and appealing heroine who has matured considerably since her debut in 'Tantalize.' Smith plans one more book in the series; 'Blessed' raises expectations for a complex (and thrilling) conclusion."
In 'Blessed,' Neophyte Vampire Battles the Forces of the Undead
by Sharyn Vane from The Austin American-Statesman.

"I found this book intriguing and fun. The characters are well developed, and the plot is a definite attention keeper. This book is more for teens and up, and I'd rate it a 9.5 on a 10 scale."
Brianna, age 15, from Genrefluent's Bistro Book Club: Teens Talk About Books

"I give Blessed an overall rating of 5 stars [out of 5]. If you love this series, you will be floored at how good this book turned out."
Valorie from Truth Be Told

Mega Giveaways

Enter to win the Blessed Grand Prize Giveaway from Cynsations. Deadline: Jan. 31.

Blessed Blog Tour & ARC/Prize Package Giveaways by Kari from The Teen {Book} Scene. See individual sites on this online tour for specific prize entry information.

Blessed Online Countdown Event by Valorie from Truth Be Told. Valorie is posting reviews, book trailers, teaser excerpts, giveaways, and author-and-character interviews. Giveaway deadline: 11 p.m. PST Jan. 24. See details.

Blessed Tour

Blessed Central Texas and Northeast U.S. Tour from Candlewick Press. Note: YA authors Mari Mancusi and Daniel Nayeri will be joining Cynthia here and there along the way!

Cynsational Notes

This post features a sampling of the latest buzz surrounding Blessed. I'll highlight more links as part of my weekly round-ups. Thanks to everyone who's reading and discussing the novel!

I greatly appreciate y'all indulging today's celebration. I'll return to highlighting other authors, their books, and news of the publishing world, starting again tomorrow!

Monday, January 24, 2011

New Voice: Margie Gelbwasser on Inconvenient

Margie Gelbwasser is the first-time author of Inconvenient (Flux, 2010). From the promotional copy:

Welcome to Glenfair, New Jersey’s Little Moscow, where fifteen-year-old Alyssa Bondar lives with her Russian-born, Jewish parents. In their culture, drinking is as traditional as blinchiki and piroshki. So when her mom starts having bad days, it seems like Alyssa’s the only one who notices-or cares.

Alyssa would love to focus on regular stuff like her first kiss with Keith, her cute running partner-or simply come home without dread of what she might find.

But someone has to clean up her mom’s mess. Her dad is steeped in work, the evening news, and denial. Her best friend Lana is busy-shamelessly vying for a place with the popular crowd who ridicule their Russian heritage.

It’s up to Alyssa to save her mom-and her family. But who will be there to catch Alyssa when her mom’s next fall off the wagon drags her down, too?

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

I have a hard time picking one because there are two distinct workshops—both in high school—that played into “ah-ha!” moments, and they served their purpose in different ways.

The first one happened when I was a sophomore. New Jersey has this festival called The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival that brings in students from all over the United States for the high school day of this event. There, students take workshops with established writers and are encouraged to share their work as well. This experience was amazing.

At fifteen, I dabbled in short stories but mainly worked on poetry (in true teenage angst style). To sit in a tent with other writers and be treated by the moderator as a real writer, not some kid who has a cute little dream was inspiring.

That day was all about seeing the writing world as we imagine it should be: walking among brooks and nature and stone bridges, writing in Emersonian fashion, just us and the world around us. Seeing so many people who wrote for a living and realizing they were just people, not larger than life icons, made me see my dream was possible too.

A year after the poetry festival, late into my junior year, life started to get crazy. I was getting stressed out with SATs, college applications, AP classes. There was a boy and a misunderstanding, and I lost my closest friends and the boy, who was one of my best friends at the time. I was in the mid stages of an eating disorder that everyone, including me, thought was just really good dieting, willpower, and strength, and I became really sad (years later, I would realize this was my first bout with depression). I went to classes in a haze, tried not to cry, avoided my old lunch spot that was now filled with ex-friends, and waited for summer vacation—when the avoidance game would be much easier.

Then my guidance counselor told me about this writing program for high school students in Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Writing! In a town over three hours away, away from everything Jersey! I sent in my application, got in, and “Summer in Pennsylvania” became my new survival mantra.

We wrote and workshopped daily, listened to professional writers, and spent time with others who were like us. Whether a hobby or more, everyone's experiences inspired me. I wrote about what I went through that year, cloaked in fiction. Not until I was done did I realize some of the stories were about me. I was changed when I returned home, but the days still stretched.

When school started in September, it was easy to get dragged under surf again. I thought of summer, called the new friends I met, and wrote, wrote, wrote.

When all else failed, the writing saved me. And that's the first time, I saw it as something more than career path or hobby. I saw it as a lifeline.

As someone who's the primary caregiver of children, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same? [Photo of Margie by Samuel Peltz.]

I'm currently working on my second YA novel due in November. I plan to finish in the next two weeks and give the first draft to my primary readers for critique so I can revise before handing it in to my editor.

To be honest, I'm a little freaked about the whole process.

“Why?” asked a friend. “Just remember how you revised Inconvenient.”

Good point. Only problem? That whole time period is a huge blur to me.

I finished first revisions at eight months pregnant and got my agent shortly thereafter. By the time I got my agent's revision letter, I had a newborn. Those first months were a haze. I spent my days and nights nursing, walking around with my infant who wouldn't sleep in his crib, nursing while walking around, eating if I remembered, and watching DVR'd episodes of "The O.C." and "Gilmore Girls" that I missed the first time they were on.

I also revised. Can't tell you how. I remember cradling my infant son with one arm and typing on my laptop with the other but can't recall a scene. Obviously, I finished and all worked out.

But to use any technique from back then? Nope, won't happen. And, ironically, as he grew older, I had less time to write.

He's now three and doesn't nap so I don't have blocks of time where I can sit and pound out pages. But, he's okay with staying with a sitter, so I get one once a week and use the time to do writing-related things. He's also in school three mornings a week, which helps immensely.

I also started utilizing my nights better. Yes, what I really want to do after a day of cleaning and chasing and playing with my three-year-old, is to regroup and veg on the couch and watch "Degrassi" and "90210," but I make myself write for at least an hour instead (full disclosure: sometimes I given in to the veg option). I also bribe my hubby for weekend writing time. I make a great baked ziti so I figure we're even.

There's no magic formula for writing with kids, but it is a learning process. It's finding the time when you can. It's prioritizing. It's sneaking in a page while your toddler is watching "Calliou" or carrying a notepad to jot down ideas while he plays in the sandbox.

And it's also just giving yourself a break, letting yourself make up the writing time another day, and allowing yourself to enjoy the time you have with your child because you can't DVR it.

Cynsational Notes

Inconvenient has been named a 2011 Notable Book for Teens by the Sydney Taylor Book Award program. Check out the Inconvenient facebook page and read the first two chapters.
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