Friday, July 08, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways


Giveaway: First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci (Scholastic Canada, November 2011) from Steven R. McEvoy from Book Reviews and More. Deadline: Aug. 1. Note: North America/U.K. readers are eligible; see link for more details.

Barbara Lalicki on Breaking Into Children's Books from The Gatekeepers Post. Barbara is a senior vice president and editorial director at HarperCollins Children's Books.

Finding Your Wild and Precious Voice by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "...some writers do need to go in search of their true voice; others may only need to excavate or re-discover theirs. I suspect this may be especially true when writing stories for kids—we have to be able to reconnect with our child’s voice."

Roundup of Children's Literacy and Reading News by Carol H. Rasco from Rasco from RIF. Includes reading-related events, research, early childhood education and suggestions for growing book worms.

Writing Craft: Tension on the Page or Mico-Tension by Sarah Blake Johnson from Through the Tollbooth. Six techniques to keep readers turning pages.

Interview with Agent Barry Goldblatt from Alice Pope's SCBWI Children's Market Blog. Peek: "...children's publishing over the last ten years has gotten bigger and for the most part better, and it's meant there are more terrific writers to discover, and more great books to sell and champion!"

What's in a Name? (When Should You Use a Pseudonym?) by literary agent Miriam Kriss from Chuck Sambuchino from Guide to Literary Agents. Peek: "...what aspiring authors don’t tend to give a lot of thought to is whether they want it to be their real name on that cover and if not who it should be instead."

 Karen Sander's Tankborn (Tu Books, 2011)
Thoughts on Post-Apocalyptic World Building from Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. Peek: "If you include newspaper clippings/stories as metatext to support the main narrative, make sure that it actually sounds like a news clipping." Note: Stacy is the editor at Tu Books/Lee & Low.

Inkpop: Creative Writing Community for Teens from HarperCollins. Note: read, write, connect!

The Power of "I Can" by Danyelle Leafty from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "...the thing to remember is that you have those rejections because you're doing something to attain your dream. People who don't get rejected, haven't really tried."

VCFA Guest Post: Props for Emotion: The Objective Correlative Unveiled by C.M. McCarthy from Mary Kole at Kidlit.com. Peek: "As it turns out, the objective correlative is neither a Disney antagonist’s prop nor a phrase created to make fledgling writers feel like fools."

An Illustration from Rough Sketch to Final Painting by Tom Shefelman from Inside Shefelman Books. Peek: "Here you can see that I changed the perspective angle and brought the farm wagon more into the picture."

Subplot Basics by Sarah Aronson from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "It comes from one of two places. It is made of either your main character’s secondary wants—a plot layer or a secondary character’s primary wants." See also Sarah on Everything Else I Know About Subplots.

Mad Scientist's Son: Rule-breaking by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "You aren’t supposed to do that. I can remember an instructor I worked with at Vermont College telling me that it was a bad idea when I did it in a manuscript I wrote over ten years ago. She was right then."

Giveaway: Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. by Medeia Sharif (Flux, 2011), Plus Three Packages of Godiva chocolate and signed bookmarks from Sharifwrites. Deadline: July 15. Note: U.S. readers are eligible; see link for details.

Kristen Lamb on Scene Antagonists and Big Boss Troublemakers from Adventures in Children's Publishing. Peek: "When helping writers plot, I often suggest that they write their ending first. Many look at me like I just asked them to reverse the earth’s orbit around the sun. Why?" Note: includes a discussion of types of antagonists.

Perspiration: Professional Critiques from Children's & YA Lit Resources. Note: a listing of private teachers and writing coaches.

The Writing Life: Letting Go, Moving On by Deborah J. Ross from Book View Cafe. Peek: "Part of a writer’s maturation process is accepting that sometimes you hit the mark and sometimes you don’t. You do the best you can with each story, reaching to make each one better." See also "Come On, Baby, Let's Start New" -- On Getting Back Together with a Manuscript from The Intern. Source: Elizabeth Scott.

Giveaway Reminder

Enter to win one of two signed copies of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson (Wiley Publishing, 2011).

To enter, comment on this post (click link and scroll to comment), mention "giveaway entry" and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email me directly with "Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies" in the subject line. Author-sponsored.

Deadline: July 15. This giveaway is for U.S.-Canada readers.

See also Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys.

Cynsational Screening Room

Men Running on Tanks and the Truth About Book Editors: YA author John Green on working with editor Julie Strauss-Gabel of Dutton/Penguin. Source: Adventures in Children's Publishing, which offers several more awesome links regarding craft, critiquing, inspiration, self-editing, the market, social media and more.



Christopher Paolini Delivers the Inheritance Manuscript from Random Books.



Check out the book trailer for Race the Wild Wind: A Story of the Sable Island Horses by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Layne Johnson (Bloomsbury/Walker, 2011).



Check out the book trailer for Traffic Pups by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Dan Andreasen (Simon & Schuster, 2011).



Check out the book trailer for Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson (Dial, 2011). See also an interview with Sarah about the book from Uma Krishnaswami at Writing with a Broken Tusk. Don't miss part two.



Check out the book trailer for Into the Trap by Craig Moodie (Roaring Brook, 2011). See recommendation by Greg Leitich Smith from GregLSBlog.



Jeff Crosby's Wiener Wolf Launch Party

 " will be here handing out information on how you can adopt a darling dachshund yourself - and will be bringing one of those wiener dogs for us to meet!

Jeff Crosby launched Weiner Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) July 2 at BookPeople in Austin.
The event featured hot dogs from Frank.
Granny cupcakes.
Wolf cupcakes.
Granny (AKA Shelley Ann Jackson) with Lindsey Lane and wiener dog.

More Personally

Mary Kole

Happy belated Independence Day to those of you who celebrate it!

I must admit to working on the holiday, however, I did take time the previous weekend to attend Jeff Crosby's terrific launch party for Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) at BookPeople (see above) and to enjoy barbecue at County Line on the Lake.

In addition, Mary Kole of Kidlit.com and Andrea Brown Literary stopped by for a chat. (Love the hat.)

On the author front, I zipped off my notes on the initial sketches of the Eternal graphic novel, illustrated by Ming Doyle, and poured through the copy-edited manuscript of Diabolical, which is the fourth book in the Tantalize series and will be out in January.

I also had the honor of judging the 2011 Prize for Young Writers at Hunger Mountain. Congratulations to the winners, honorees, and finalists! Keep writing!

Personal Links:

Tweet of the Week: @varianjohnson Introducing Savannah Parker Johnson. Born 7/6/2011

Latest read: Water Balloon by Audrey Vernick (Clarion, September 2011).


Cynsational Events

Jenny Moss will be signing at 2 p.m. July 16 at the Barnes & Noble Arboretum in Austin. Her latest book is Taking Off (Walker, 2011).

Keep Austen Weird Prom! Jennifer Ziegler is hosting a launch party for Sass & Serendipity (Delacorte, 2011) at 2 p.m. July 23 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "This modern YA retelling of Sense & Sensibility is a perfect jumping off point for a teenager's first taste of Jane Austen, but adults well-versed in the world of Austen will love it too! We'll be doing this book release party prom-style; wear your fanciest duds and get ready to make all your dreams come true. Jennifer will be interviewed by her real-life sister (fingers crossed for some embarrassing stories), plus there will be contests & prizes and yummy refreshments."

The 2nd Annual Halloween in July will be at 8 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. EST July 27 with Cynthia Leitich Smith, Kim Baccellia and Dawn Metcalf from #yalitchat on Twitter. Follow: @cynleitichsmith @ixtumea @DawnMetcalf. Chat with us for spooky fun, giveaways and more!

See y'all there!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

New Voice: Dawn Metcalf on Luminous

Dawn Metcalf is the first-time author of Luminous (Dutton, 2011). From the promotional copy:

When sixteen-year old Consuela Chavez discovers that she can remove her skin, revealing a lustrous mother-of-pearl skeleton, she slips into a parallel world known as the Flow; a place inhabited by archetypal teens with extraordinary abilities.  

Crafting skins out of anything – air, water, feathers, fire – she is compelled to save ordinary people from dying before their time.

Yet now someone is murdering her new friends, one by one, and Consuela finds herself the focus of an intricate plot to end the Flow forever when all she really wants is to get back home, alive.


In writing your story, did you ever find yourself concerned with how to best approach "edgy" behavior on the part of your characters? If so, what were your thoughts, and what did you conclude? Why do you think your decision was the right one?

My friends and family joke that I’ve never been desensitized to violence like a normal person, and this is true. However, I was raised on an odd diet of innocence and bloody, psychological carnage (i.e. classic cartoon violence and very graphic graphic novels).

I love the dark, the beautiful, the tragic and the hopeful, and the books I liked best were those that reflected that weird recipe: Grimms’ fairy tales, old origin myths, and stories like The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde (David Nutt, 1888) were those that—if you cocked your head and squinted—could almost be real if you used your imagination.

The book on my parent’s coffee table, The Secret Book of Gnomes by Wil Huygen, illustrated by Rien Poortvliet (Harry N. Abrams, 1984), was the first to make me question what was real and what was make believe. (Perhaps this wasn’t the best book for a five year old to read.) That book in particular made me a huge fan of intricate world-building from J.R.R. Tolkien to J.K. Rowling.

by J.K. Rowling
I am a genre reader and writer, a lover of the “What If…?” especially how it could impact our world and vice versa (this was before the advent of YA literature and long before the term “Urban Fantasy”).

The best examples from my YA years were the Gandalara Series by Randall Garrett and Vicki Ann Heydron (Spectra, 1986), The Seventh Sword by Dave Duncan (Del Rey, 1988), The Architect of Sleep by Steven R. Boyett (Ace Books, 1986), the modern faery Bordertown books by Terri Windling, cult-classic cyberpunk novels by William Gibson, the nanotech/Turing Machine universe of Neal Stephenson, to most recently, the epic world of Harry Potter (Bloomsbury, 1997). The last of which is perhaps the best example of innocence and goodness in the face of bloody, psychological evil. I like that. However, it’s a lot harder to write!

I was raised by high school sweethearts who believed in World Peace, Love, and Togetherness, and I wanted to write dark, twisted fantasy books.

A friend of mine (who was incidentally the art director of my 3-D animated book trailer), is one of the happiest, most centered people I know and yet he creates the most delightfully disturbing art that is somehow also very real. He once told me that his art is where he “puts it all,” and that speaks to me.

Writing is where I can make sense out of all the things that make no sense, it’s where I process what could have been instead of accepting what (supposedly) “is”. It’s where I can tap into the “edgy” and “gritty” details that disturb even my more desensitized readers.

There were two scenes in particular that I remember struggling with so badly that I found myself doing anything else rather than sit down to write them; I did the dishes, folded the laundry, swept dead leaves off of the porch…when I realized that I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor, I knew that I was desperately avoiding something or had finally succumbed to domestic insanity.

These scenes bothered me deeply, and yet I knew I had to write them, so I finally sat down, took a deep breath, and dived in. One scene remained in the book, and the other was edited out—I’m not sure if I was hurt or relieved at either decision.

But I learned a lot about myself and about writing taking those tough scenes head-on, and it taught me to respect that there is a giant separation between myself and my characters; I am not my characters, though I may love them and/or hate them, and they should not be limited by my own, personal ethics.

If I claim to believe that everyone is created equal, that means everyone—regardless of race, religion, gender, creed, politics or sexual orientation—has equal chance of being good, bad, innocent, guilty, a bully, victim, protagonist or antagonist, and what is most important isn’t the easy label, but the character of the character. That was something very hard and very worthwhile to discover: my own reluctance and inner P.C. that had to sit down and shut up.

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

Check out Officially Twisted, Dawn's LJ.
Like Lego blocks. Seriously.

My paranormal world, the Flow, is a jigsaw puzzle of all these different important places mish-mashed together, but I couldn’t make them all fit into a cohesive whole…so I didn’t. I simply plunked one piece next to another and said that was how it worked.

The Flow became sort of a virtual space, a lot like an interactive online game, where everything is co-created and each part is meaningful to the person who designed and inhabited it.

This shared world is continually adding, growing, changing, and being directly affected by whoever and whatever’s come next.

I like that evolutionary feeling, that co-dependence on one another in order to survive. Imagine asking a room full of people, “Where is your favorite place on Earth?” and everyone takes a different mental snapshot in their brain. Make a collage of all those snapshots, pin it in an amorphous cloud, and you have something resembling the Flow.

In addition to the Flow, there is the main character’s “dreamtime” where Consuela exists in a sort of world-between-worlds. This is based on the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead where the veil between worlds is at its thinnest (as are holidays like Samhain, Halloween, etc.).

This is where all my fun research came into play so I could have a vibrant and fantastical place to explore separate from the reality-influenced world that takes up most of the book. The outer edge of the raw Flow and the warped, candlelit fiesta are my favorite places in the book.

It has head-bendy qualities as some of my favorite movies like "Inception" or "Labyrinth," where places aren’t quite what they seem and mirror echoes of previous details, hinting at something deeper, darker, and potentially lost. I think that helps give a sense of clinging tightly to the person next to you despite the strangeness and differences that would otherwise keep you apart.

There is unsettling quality to the Flow, the dreams, and its people that make it possible for a skinless, pearlescent skeleton to seem not-so-strange and almost beautiful in comparison. The world had to start and end with Consuela and I hope I managed that.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Guest Post: Cat Urbigkit on Nonfiction: “Every Picture Tells a Story”

By Cat Urbigkit

Here’s a story:


Here’s another story:

I sincerely believe that every picture does tell a story, and as a nonfiction author who uses photography to illustrate my books for young readers, it’s my job to provide narration that can accompany and enhance each picture, but never replace it.

For each of my books, images are carefully selected as stand-alone pieces that children can go back to examine independently – to “read” the story in each image. I work so that even children who are not yet old enough to read and understand the words can get a “read” from the images.

As a child, my favorite books were always illustrated, and I spent many hours letting an illustration (painting, drawing, or photograph) transport me into another world.

Those large-sized animal farm books full of photos, Robert Lawson’s drawings in Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand (1936), and N.C. Wyeth’s paintings illustrating Majorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling have been life-long favorites.

As an adult, I produce books aimed at that childhood reader I once was. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I think it’s a logical sequence for voracious readers to become writers.

I have a deep love of literature, and am devoted to the specificity of the English language, which makes nonfiction writing a natural genre for me.

My interest in photography began in my teenage years, but it wasn’t until my husband, Jim, presented me with a quality camera as a gift that I was really able to begin to work to develop my craft. The years of trial-and-error, and small fortunes spent in film and film-processing costs, made for slow going, but I started writing news and feature articles for local newspapers, with a few photos published every now and then.

Few of my photos were outstanding, but I was able to experiment with subject matter, and discovered that my best shots were of those subjects that I care for most – all centered on life on western rangelands.

I live on a working domestic sheep ranch in western Wyoming, where we also raise livestock guardian dogs to protect our sheep herd from predators.

Charmed by witnessing the encounters of the animals as they interacted, I began trying to capture those moments with my camera. Jim looked at my images and suggested I should try to put together a book since most people are totally unaware of the unique bond that forms between the animals.

Firmly in agreement with Theodor Seuss Geisel’s view that “Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them,” I decided to target my effort toward children.

Selecting from my very best images, I picked the photos that would help to tell the story, and wrote captions for those images, organizing the photos into a logical flow. I sent the photocopied manuscript dummy to ten publishers and got interest back from three publishing houses. As it turns out, there were no competing titles in print – this was almost entirely new subject matter for young readers.

It was an easy decision for me when Kent Brown of Boyds Mills Press (AKA Farmer Brown) called me to try to negotiate a contract, but we ended up deep in a discussion of the merits of various sheep breeds.

It’s a decision I’ve never regretted, and Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep was published in 2005, soon winning a variety of awards, including one from the International Reading Association. It was just released in a new Spanish/English bilingual edition.


Kids like role-playing, imagining themselves in the roles they read in books, and they also enjoy looking at photos of other kids. I photographed my son Cass for A Young Shepherd, which describes how a young boy begins his own sheep herd by caring for orphan lambs.

It’s an activity undertaken by kids all over the world every year, so the book serves as a good introduction to animal husbandry for those who might develop that interest.


What kid hasn’t imaged being a cowboy on the western range? While the general public might think it’s is a thing of the past, I decided to show kids that cowboys still exist, but probably not as they had considered. To create Cattle Kids: A Year on the Western Range, I followed about a dozen children I knew that live on family cattle ranches. It took me a full year to gather all the photos, showing that it’s not just cowboys that work on the range, but cattle kids.


This is the only book for which I had to develop a detailed outline so that I could be sure to capture the needed images to tell the story. It had to include both boys and girls of varied ages, in all seasons, doing an assortment of important cattle work, with some riding horses and others riding motorcycles. I wanted kids to be able to imagine being cattle kids too, so they needed to be provided with a variety of role models.

Puppies Puppies Everywhere! provided a good break in my publishing pattern, allowing me to expand into rhyme. I selected some fun images of puppies (believing you can’t go wrong if the subject matter is puppies) and worked to develop a rhyming two-word text for each image, with the word “puppy” being one of the two words.


In this manner, those not-yet-readers can hear the book read aloud to them a few times, and are able to demonstrate their abilities by “reading” the book back to the adults. Even though some of the words are somewhat sophisticated for the young reader, the photos provide the reader with context for understanding those words, and the combination serves as a learning tool.

The Shepherd’s Trail expands on the theme of working on the western range, but it focuses on a rarely seen component – sheepherding, which is the substantially the same now as it was 100 years ago. Instead of using children to illustrate this book, I followed shepherds from a variety of cultures (including Basques and Nepalese) again to provide a variety from which imaginations can be set free to roam.


Path of the Pronghorn is my first wildlife title, and the first for which I didn’t provide the photography. Instead, talented friend Mark Gocke makes his first venture into the children’s book world with his striking images. This is what I hope will be the first of several titles we’ll team up to create. We want to share our love of western wildlife, and our interest in their daily lives, with others.


My next book, due out in Spring 2012, appeals to a child’s compassion for the underdog. The Guardian Team is a true story of six orphan lambs, a scraggly young wild burro taken from the wild, and the runt pup of a litter of livestock guardian dogs. All of these animals got off to a difficult start in life, but I put them all together and photographed them for the next few years as they interacted and grew into beautiful adults, living together as a single herd. It’s a twist on the “ugly duckling” I think kids will enjoy, and it’s a true story.


My books have been a natural progression for me, sharing my love of agriculture and the western range, laying out the facts for kids. I like nonfiction because you have to be honest with your readers – no glossing over the less-than-pleasant aspects. Kids are great truth detectives, so it’s a good match for me.

I think I’m an exception to the general assumption that you’re either a writer or an illustrator. Because of the life I lead, I must be both. While many western ranchers see beautiful, unusual or striking images every day, they carry those pictures in their minds. I carry a camera all the time and work very hard to capture the image so that I can show others what it is that I see. And I constantly work to find the words to compliment those images.

For me, the story simply wouldn’t come without the pictures.

Five tips for better photos:

  1. Backgrounds matter: be sure to pay attention to the background of your shot. Is the landscape something you want to include, or do you need to change the shot to eliminate a distraction?
  2. As you look through the camera viewfinder, think like an artist or movie director – frame the shot for the best visual impact. Are there elements of the foreground or background you can use to enhance the shot?
  3. Use different angles: try the shot both horizontally and vertically, zooming in for different perspectives.
  4. Go low: If you’re shooting photos you hope captures the attention of a child, take your photos from that level. Squat down, get on your knees, or even lay down on the ground for a fresh perspective.
  5. Keep shooting: With digital photography, the cost of processing photos has been eliminated. Shoot plenty of images with different lenses, camera settings, perspectives, and angels. You can delete the ones you don’t like, and through the process of trial-and-error, you’ll discover what works for you.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

New Voice: Tommy Greenwald on Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading

Tommy Greenwald is the first-time author of Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide To Not Reading (Roaring Brook, 2011).

Charlie Joe Jackson is proud to say that he's never read an entire book from cover to cover. Sure, he's glanced at the first chapter and last chapters and maybe even read the flap copy, but when it comes to actually reading what's in the middle, Charlie counts on his friend Timmy McGibney to do the reading for him in exchange for an ice cream sandwich.

But when Timmy decides that his price has gone up to three ice cream sandwiches, Charlie Joe Jackson is faced with two very unappealing options: let himself be blackmailed or read an entire book. What's an enterprising non-reader to do?

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

This one’s easy. My protagonist, Charlie Joe Jackson, is a literal combination of my three kids: Charlie, Joe and Jack. They’re all in high school now, but in elementary and middle school they all hated to read. Hated it!

I’d always loved reading, even as a child, so it was extremely frustrating for me to drag them into a bookstore or library and watch them kick and scream and moan the whole time.

So when I sat down to write a book for kids, I knew it had to be one that even the most hardcore reluctant readers might respond to. And then I thought, what better way to attract non-readers than a book for kids who hate books? And when I decided it should be “written” by the narrator, the name Charlie Joe Jackson immediately popped into my head.

All the other characters in the book are based on friends of my kids’. The parents are based on myself (sloppy) and my wife (perfect). And the dogs, Moose and Coco, are modeled after and named after my own dogs, Moose and Coco (who are thanked in the acknowledgments).

How have you approached the task of promoting your debut book? What online or real-space efforts are you making? Where did you get your ideas? To whom did you turn for support? Are you enjoying the process, or does it feel like a chore? What advice do you have on this front for your fellow debut authors and for those in the years to come?

This is been an interesting process. I do not naturally have the self-promotion gene, and I’m not a huge social network guy, so I’ve really had to re-train my personality to gear up for this whole author thing.

I’ve done all the right things, I think – I facebook, I tweet, I blog (occasionally), I have a website – but it’s a real effort.

And I still basically feel like there’s a great big world of children’s book authors out there, and they’re all best friends, blogging and commenting and hanging out, and I’m kind of on the outside looking in.

Not to mention I see your online presence and become completely intimidated at how you’ve mastered this whole gig! Amazing.

But, the awesome thing is that as I dip my toe in to social network, I realize how great everyone is out there. How supportive, and friendly, and communicative.

The Elevensies website is a great example of a found community from all corners of the country who just all of a sudden have bonded over this intense experience. And it’s great.

So, it’s both a chore and a pleasure.

My advice to other writers about to launch is simply this: dive in. the water’s cold at first, but you’ll get used to it. And after a little while, it will feel great.

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