Saturday, October 15, 2011

Guest Post: Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong on P*TAG: an eBook for Teen Read Week

By Sylvia Vardell and Janet S. Wong
Photos by Sylvia Vardell

Who did we make P*TAG for?

P*TAG is for a girl who, like Marilyn Singer, sees a pier and hears "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay";

Or for a boy like Betsy Franco’s Ovid, who might drive on the beach some night thinking about a girl with piercings;

for Allan Wolf, who burps up kittens;

for Naomi Shihab Nye, who says:

            What if, instead of war,
            we shared our buckets
            of wind and worry?

P*TAG is for you if you are tired of aunts and uncles forever asking what you want to be when you grow up (David L. Harrison);

and for you if you can look at a crowd and see “spirits...being extracted from their bodies” (Lorie Ann Grover).

What are your wishes? Heidi Mordhorst asks: “What if there were a Come-True Tree somewhere?”

Do you have secrets?
            Random Buddhist manifestos.
            Tattoo designs.
            Erotic poetry.
                        (Tracie Vaughn Zimmer has mystery in her blood.)

P*TAG wants you to fall in love with a guitar player. (Kathi Appelt)

            If some night you walk down a street
            so deep inside a chorus of sad voices
            that you cannot--simply can’t--look up,
            and it all seems impossible,

            . . .

            Take another step,
                 a slow step, another,
                                    and another.

                                           (Helen Frost)

Play along with p*tag:

Read more about it:

Buy it here:
Nook version:
Kindle version:
(also in the iTunes store)

Reminder: Tantalize $2.99 Ebook Sale for Kindle Readers, Last Call! Series Book & T-shirt Giveaway

Have you been waiting for a chance to read Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2009)?

It's a highlighted October sale title for Kindle readers! You can purchase the e-book for $2.99 (67% off)! See a complete list (with links) of children's-YA ebooks on sale for Kindle/ readers from author Cheryl Rainfield.

Limited time only!

Last Call! Tantalize Series Books & T-shirt Giveaways

Attention U.S./Canada/U.K./Aus./N.Z. Readers! Enter to win:

1rst prize: Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren's Story, and your choice of Tantalize series T-shirts, designed by Gene Brenek

2nd and 3rd prize: winner's choice of Blessed or Tantalize: Kieren's Story

See this post to view various T-shirt designs. Winner will be invited to specify style, size, color.

Drop in for a Late Night Bite
To enter, comment on this post (click immediately preceding link and scroll) 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 "Blessed/TKS Giveaway" in the subject line.

Author-publisher sponsored. 

Deadline: Oct. 17.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Writing Lessons from The Hunger Games from Jennifer R. Hubbard at writerjenn. Peek: "The main character was, thank goodness, smart. When the reader could tell that a certain situation was a trap, Katniss did not go blundering stupidly into obvious trouble."

The Value of School and Library Presentations by Clete Barrett Smith from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "Today, I have interviewed three administrators about school/library visits." See also Successful School Visits and Sharing Your Writing with Kids.

Congratulations to Ammi-Joan Paquette on her promotion to associate agent at Erin Murphy Literary Agency! See also Erin Murphy's new blog, EMLA Blog.

6 1/2 Ways to Unravel That Story Problem by Becca Puglisi from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: "Skip it. Don’t obsess over that opening, scene, or sub plot. Just keep writing. Finish the draft, work on what you do know, and by that point, you’ll most likely have a better idea of what to do." See also Donna on Promoting Like a Pro Without Driving Yourself (Or Anyone Else) Crazy from The Bookshelf Muse.

The Dilemma of the Too-nice Author (With Reference to Writing Characters) by Jane Lebak from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "There's a saying that iron sharpens iron, and it's true. Put iron outside your characters and you'll soon find the iron within."

Dialogue and Exposition by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: includes examples and a caveat on "talking heads."

Interview with Ann M. Martin and Raina Telgemeier by Zack Smith from Newsarama. Note: on adapting The Baby-Sitters Club, which sold 17 million copies, for Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. Peek from Raina: "Ann would see every draft – from the thumbnails to the pencils to the final lettered pages – and every version, there would be some tweaking, which is normal for editors." See also Part Two.

Writing Family Secrets by Zu Vincent from Through the Tollbooth. Peek: "With every poke of the pen the closet door opens and light shines in, illuminating the secrets of those closest to us. They’ll know, you think. They’ll recognize themselves. They’ll be horrified."

Show Your Confidence by Jessica from Bookends, LLC. Peek: "...when I'm contacted by an author I want to know that I'm actually requesting and reading the work because I'm one of the agents they are interested in hearing from, and not that they are simply contacting everyone because they were told they should."

Interview with National Book Award Finalist Debby Dahl Edwardson on Names, History and Novel Structure by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "...names have a significance specific to specific groups of people. So when you’re speaking of a people who have been forced, throughout their schooling, to leave their cultures and their names at the schoolhouse door, and when the people in question, believe that a name has a spirit or soul attached to it, then the act reclaiming one’s name becomes both spiritual and revolutionary."

Finalists for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award: 184 Candidates from 66 Countries. Note: "...the world's largest prize for children's and young adult literature. The award, which amounts to SEK 5 million, is awarded annually to a single recipient or to several. Authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and those active in reading promotion may be rewarded. The award is designed to promote interest in children's and young adult literature, and in children's rights, globally."

What Not to Say in a Query from Rachelle Gardner. Peek: "...who cares if you’ve been writing since you were a child? Either you have a salable book or you don’t, whether you started writing at six or sixty."

What's New in Novels in Verse? by Sylvia Vardell from Poetry for Children. Peek: "It’s been a boom year for publishing excellent novels in verse. I count nearly 20 of them..." Points to a directly of verse novels published by authors around the globe.

Three Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask from Jane Friedman. Peek: "If you’re producing work for an audience, it means..."

A Quick (and Inevitably Incomplete) Guide to the YA Twitterverse by Wendy at Boxcards, Books & A Blog from Albert Whitman & Company. Peek: "Twitter provides a great happy medium between the kind of industry news stories you get from Publishers Weekly and the here’s-a-video-of-my-cat minutiae of Facebook—often focusing more on real discussions, opinions, and networking."

See also Best Articles for Writers this Week from Adventures in Children's Publishing, which, in turn, links to more roundups.

Cynsational Screening Room

Welcome to the Class of 2k12! Check out the blog, facebook, twitter, and newsletter. Peek: "In honor of our friends debuting this year, we’re giving away a huge prize pack of all seventeen Class of 2k11 titles for a deserving class, school, or public library. If you’d like to nominate your favorite library, stop by our Facebook page and tell us about it. The winner will be announced Nov. 12."

This Week's Cynsations Posts
Children's Book Giveaway

Enter to win an Aphrodite the Diva Swag Giveaway, courtesy of authors Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams.

To enter, comment on this post (click immediately preceding link and scroll) 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 "Aphrodite the Diva" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only.

Deadline: Oct. 23.

YA Book Giveaways 

Enter to win a copy of Straw House, Wood House, Brick House, Blow by Daniel Nayeri (Candlewick, 2011). The book features a quartet of YA novellas, written entirely on an iPhone.

Check out these book commercials for each of the novellas. Peek from Daniel: "I'd love to see more book commercials, instead of trailers. From a writer's perspective, they didn't mess around with a story that I spent years laboring over. They made their own thing."

To enter, comment on this post (click the preceding link and scroll) 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 "Straw House" in the subject line. Publisher sponsored.

Eligibility: U.S./Canada entries only.

Deadline: Oct. 24.

Last call! Enter to win a copy of Other (2010) and/or Bloodborn (2011) by Karen Kincy, both from Flux. 

To enter, comment on this post (click immediately preceding link and scroll) 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 "Other," "Bloodborn" or "Other/Bloodborn" in the subject line. Publisher-sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada) Deadline: midnight CST, Oct. 14. Read a Cynsations interview with Karen.

The winner of a signed copy of Lost in Time by Melissa de la Cruz (Hyperion, 2011) is Roxy in California.

Tantalize Series Books & T-shirt Giveaways -- Last Call!

Attention U.S./Canada/U.K./Aus./N.Z. Readers!

Enter to win:

1rst prize: Blessed, Tantalize: Kieren's Story, and your choice of Tantalize series T-shirts, designed by Gene Brenek

2nd and 3rd prize: winner's choice of Blessed or Tantalize: Kieren's Story

See this post to view various T-shirt designs. Winner will be invited to specify style, size, color.

One of many T-shirt design options
To enter, comment on this post (click immediately preceding link and scroll) 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 "Blessed/TKS Giveaway" in the subject line.

Author-publisher sponsored. 

Deadline: Oct. 17.

The winners of one of three sets of ten signed Tantalize: Kieren's Story graphic novel postcards, each with a $10 iTunes gift card are Erin in New Hampshire, Karin in Texas, and Amanda in Texas.

Editor Critique Giveaway

In celebration of Tankborn by Karen Sandler (2011), Tu editor Stacy Whitman is offering a critique of the first 10 pages of a middle grade (ages 8-12) or young adult (ages 12 and up) manuscript. The manuscript should be fiction (no nonfiction or picture books). Though she specializes in fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, other genres such as realism are welcome.

Stacy and Karen
Her response will include a fifteen-minute phone call with the author and short, written notes about the submitted work. The winner will have three weeks to submit an excerpt for critique, and the critique and phone call will occur within two weeks after that. The phone call may also touch on any questions the author has about the audience or market for the book, the publishing and submitting process, etc.

To enter, comment on this post (click preceding link and scroll) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) to foil spanners or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly. An extra entry will go to those who, in a comment, ask Stacy or Karen a question or make a related observation. Additional extra entries will go to those who tweet, blog, or otherwise promote this link/giveaway. Please indicate your efforts/URLs in your comment. Limit five entries.

Eligibility for this critique giveaway is international! However, if the winner is from outside the United States, Stacy will confer via Skype instead of by phone. Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 24.

See also Author Karen Sandler & Editor Stacy Whitman from Cynsations.

More Personally

Highlights of the week included a joint presentation (with Greg Leitich Smith) Wednesday evening at the Children's Literature class at St. Edward's University in Austin. Special thanks to faculty host Dr. Judy A. Leavell for her good cheer and hospitality!

Check out the cover art for Diabolical (Candlewick, winter 2012)! From the promotional copy:

When "slipped" angel Zachary and his werewolf pal, Kieren, are summoned under suspicious circumstances to a mysterious New England boarding school, they quickly find themselves in a hellish lockdown with an intriguing assortment of secretive, hand-picked "students." 

Plagued by demon dogs, hallucinatory wall decor, a sadistic instructor, and a legendary fire-breathing monster, will they somehow manage to escape? Or will the devil have his due?

Best-selling author Cynthia Leitich Smith unites heroes fro the previous three novels in the Tantalize series--including Zacharys girl, Miranda, and Kieren's love, Quincie--along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Dying for a peek? Read the first 10 pages of Diabolical (Candlewick, 2012). Note: the book is told from the alternating points of view of Zachary, Kieren, and Miranda. Quincie is not a point of view character, but she is a main character in the story.

Blessed: a review from Jessica at I Read to Relax! Peek: "I had actually forgotten how much I enjoyed Quincie as a character. She's tough, tough enough that you almost forget how young she is...until she does something that only a teenager would do." Note: enter to win a copy of Blessed.

In other news, Greg and I donated six boxes of children's-YA review copies to Taylor Middle School ("Once a Duck, Always a Duck") in Taylor, Texas. Special thanks to Tim Crow for transport and coordination! I'm told ESL, special ed, and regular ed classes all benefited from the giveaway.

To fellow bloggers, I recommend passing on the books you receive--especially in cases of multiple copies of the same title--to folks who can get them in the hands of kids. Note: ARCs shouldn't be shelved in libraries, but they make terrific giveaways.

Taylor teachers choose titles to supplement their classroom libraries.

Found a great one!
Coming up, I've signed onto the critique faculty of the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference, scheduled from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, 2012 at St. Edward's University. Look for more 2012 event announcements to come! Note: I'm booked solid through September 2012 for long-distance events. If you are interested in October-November dates or 2013 dates, please contact me directly. The rate is the same for me to speak with Greg Leitich Smith, and we'll gladly share a hotel room/car.

Even More Personally

That glowing angelic figure, center stage, is superstar Dolly Parton.

Last week's highlight was seeing Dolly perform live at Cedar Park Center. Dolly's concert featured several of her classic hits (like "9 to 5") and new music off the "Better Day" album. The show was heartfelt, celebratory, and inspiring. "The Sacrifice" was my favorite of the new songs.

Dolly also mentioned that she'll be starring with Queen Latifah in a new film, "Joyful Noise," due out Jan. 13, 2002.

I love music, but I'm not a regular concert-goer. Living in Austin, I'm spoiled by the live music scene here. Terrific bands frequent local clubs, and I often listen to nearby outdoor performances from my own front porch.

But I couldn't pass up the chance to see Dolly. I've adored her since I first saw her in person on a second-grade field trip to the American Royal Rodeo in Kansas City.

I was utterly charmed by the glittering, gorgeous woman and her sweet voice. I was convinced she was some kind of magical fairy. Seeing her again through grown-up eyes, I know I'd been right.

In other news, I'm still processing the rewrite of Wonder Woman's parental history. See DC Comics big gamble pays off as sales of relaunched Superman, Batman, other titles boom by Michael Sangiacomo from The Plain Dealer.

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:
Cynsational Events

Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies Launch Party & Art Show at The Writing Barn (10202 Wommack Road) in Austin. Peek: "Please join Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson to celebrate the release of their newest children's picture book, Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds (Tundra, 2011)! Minis and Friends, a charitable organization that benefits disabled children, will be at the event with live miniature horses to pet.

"Original art from the book will be on display, prints will be for sale, and copies of Harness Horses will be available for purchase and to get autographed. The event will include snacks, horsey games and more."

See also An Interview with Jeff Crosby & Shelley Ann Jackson on Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies from Donna Bowman Bratton.

Jessica Lee Anderson (Calli) and P.J. Hoover (Solstice) will be signing from noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Book Spot in Round Rock, Texas.

More Than One Way to Read with Barry Lyga and Cynthia Leitich Smith from 11:30 to 12:30 in Capitol Extension Room E2.010 Oct. 22 at the Texas Book Festival. Signings to follow. See also 2011 Texas Book Festival Children's-YA Programming from Greg Leitich Smith at GregLSBlog.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing at Austin Comic Con, scheduled for Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Austin Convention Center.

New York Public Library Children’s Literary Salon on the topic of Fiction and the Military Family with authors Rosanne Parry, Suzanne Morgan Williams and Sara Lewis Holmes on Nov. 12. See also Rosanne on Children's-YA Fiction and the Military Family.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Author Interview & Editor Critique Giveaway: Editor Stacy Whitman & Author Karen Sandler

Today at Cynsations, I'm honored to feature a conversation between Tu Books (Lee & Low) editor Stacy Whitman and author Karen Sandler.

Stacy Whitman is the editorial director of Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books. She specializes in fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for children and young adults.

In 2009, she founded a small press named Tu Publishing, dedicated to publishing multicultural fantasy and science fiction for children and young adults, which was acquired by Lee & Low Books and became Tu Books. 

Stacy spent more than three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. She holds a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College

Before that, she edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.

From Lee & Low:

Karen Sandler is the author of seventeen novels for adults, as well as several short stories and screenplays. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software engineer, including work on the Space Shuttle program and communications satellites. 

Sandler first got the idea for Tankborn in the mid-1980s when she wrote it as a screenplay, and over the years while she was writing other books, the idea grew to include the planet Loka and Kayla’s life. 

Sandler lives in northern California with her husband, Gary, and their three cats, and can often be found riding her Andalusian/Morgan mare, Belle.

Tankborn is Karen's first novel for young adults.

SW: Most of your other books are romances set in the real world. What made you want to write a novel set in a completely new world like Tankborn?

KS: I often tell people who ask this that the real question is why did I write romances.

Science has always enthralled me, and I read science fiction from a very early age. My B.A. is in math with a physics minor and my M.S. is in computer science. I wrote science fiction throughout my teens and 20s and dreamed of seeing a short story published in "Analog Science Fiction and Fact" or "Asimov's Science Fiction" magazine.

I started writing romance novels after reading several and discovering I really enjoyed the genre. But whenever possible I would sneak science into my romances.

My book Night Whispers (Berkley Jove, 1999) was essentially a science fiction novel (which earned me membership in Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) with a strong romance plot line.

I was thrilled to be able to create my own world in Tankborn. I felt as if I was at last coming home as a writer.

SW: You originally wrote Tankborn as a screenplay named "Icer" in the 1980s. How did '80s culture influence your worldbuilding process?

KS: My inspiration centered around my fascination with genetic engineering, which was in its infancy in the early 1980s (Genentech, the first genetic engineering company, was founded in 1976). Engineers were tinkering with bacteria, viruses and mice; certainly not anything as large as a human.

Genetically engineered humans in fiction seemed to always be conceived as being superior to ordinary, naturally conceived humans. I decided to turn that idea on its head in "Icer"'s world, have the “bionorms” be the elite overlords and the genetically engineered “gene tricks” be the slaves. The script’s story took place on Earth, with a subplot that involved cryogenically frozen bionorms (icers) stored in orbit around the planet.

SW: As times changed and your vision of the book changed, how did the current culture’s vision of the future affect your worldbuilding in the final version of the book?

KS: I’d say the biggest change was the ubiquitous use of tech. We all have iPods, smart phones, tablets, netbooks, and other gadgets. It’s an easy leap to imagine those devices in the hands of my future population. However, as we’ve seen with the Green Revolution and the Arab Spring, insurrection can be quashed when those forms of communication are controlled by the elite.

Thousands were called to Tahrir Square using cell phones and Twitter, which helped to created an unstoppable force in Egypt. In some cases though, the government managed to shut down the internet and therefore shut down the protest (at least temporarily).

In Tankborn’s world, one way the trueborns control the GENs is by denying them any form of communication besides word of mouth.

Also, the economic ascendancy of India on the world stage legitimized my desire to use Indian culture and the caste system as an underpinning of Tankborn’s society. I could justify extrapolating India as the main source of engineering and financing of the diaspora to Loka.

SW: Why did you choose tattoos as the identifier of genetically engineered nonhumans (GENs)?

Stacy and Karen.
KS: The use of tattoos to identify the GENs goes back to the "Icer" script. In the early drafts of the screenplay, the gene-tricks/jicks (which is what they were called in the screenplay) weren’t tattooed. Instead they had white eyes. Here’s how they’re described in one of those early drafts:

Some of their genetic manipulations are obvious—additional limbs, facial growths, patches of fur, scales or ridges on their skin. All share a tell-tale jick trait—colorless eyes, the iris solid white.

When the script was optioned, this was one of the first things to go. The problem is, an actor uses her/his eyes to act. Having a blank, white eye would make being expressive that much more difficult. So the colorless eyes went by the wayside.

But the tattoos didn’t immediately take their place. At first only one character had tattoos, the original Devak character (named Davik in the script). In the script, Davik was a jick rather than a bio-norm and an electronics expert. From the script:

Black and silver tattoos, patterned like electronic circuitry, decorate his arms.

Eventually, it became clear that the jicks needed some kind of facial mark making it clear they’re not “bio-norms.” That was when I came up with the idea of a facial tattoo. Here’s how I described it in a later version of the script where we see a baby gestating in a tank:

The fetus spins slowly, shows first the left side of its face, then the right where imprinted on the baby’s cheek is the double helix of DNA. The lines of the tattoo shimmer, iridescent.

So originally the tattoo was a strand of DNA. It wasn’t active the way the tattoos are in Tankborn. In "Icer," gene-tricks were uploaded using a jack in the crook of their arms. The idea of using the facial tattoo as an electronic interface was a no-brainer in Tankborn once I put it on the characters’ faces.

But the henna-type design for the GEN facial tattoo came very late in the development of the book. Stacy wanted to know what the tattoo looked like (we would eventually need it for the cover). It wasn’t really concrete in my mind, but then the idea for a henna design hit me. It would tie in culturally, but would add sort of a creepiness factor in that henna tattoos are meant to be celebratory and temporary. They are anything but that for the GENs.

SW: What was the most surprising or challenging aspect of worldbuilding Tankborn?

KS: The governmental structure. I still don’t feel as if I have it fully fleshed out. For some reason, I’ve had a hard time getting a grip on that piece of the puzzle of Tankborn’s world. I’ll be glad for the opportunity to more fully develop Loka’s government in subsequent books.

SW: What was the seed that germinated the idea of Tankborn? (Yes, I know that’s a mixed metaphor, but go with it!) How did it grow along the way? What cultures influence this book?

KS: Just as I began writing romance novels after reading and enjoying several in that genre, Tankborn started with a rediscovery of young adult literature.

As a member of Romance Writers of America, I often judged books for the RITA, the organization's  annual contest for published romance fiction. Amongst my packet of books a couple years running were YA books. I loved them. They were my favorites of the eight or nine I’d receive each year.

I started thinking about writing my own YA book, and serendipitously that compulsion linked up with my long-time desire to write a novel version of "Icer." I considered how "Icer" might work with teen characters. I shed much of the original screenplay’s story along the way (although some of that will return in subsequent books) and eventually gestated what became Tankborn.

Indian culture of course influenced Tankborn, but also Roma, Irish, Celtic, and probably others that subconsciously made their way into the story.

SW: What kind of research did you do as you wrote this manuscript? What sources did you come to depend on?

KS: I confess, what didn’t come out of my own imagination and history came from the internet. I used Indian baby name sites, Wikipedia, and various other sites related to Indian culture. The site I visited the most was a searchable English/Hindu dictionary. You, Stacy, also had a consultant read the manuscript and give us feedback on my depiction of Indian culture.

Karen's office.

SW: Why did you choose to explore the caste system? At what point in the writing process did that intersect with the ideas of slavery and genetic engineering?

KS: I first learned about the Indian caste system back in the mid-1970s when I worked on the Space Shuttle project with Dr. Azad Madni, who was originally from India. Azad told me stories of his life in India, about how the caste system worked, how his family was of the Brahmin class, and he showed me gorgeous photos of his wedding to his (non-Indian) wife. We remained friends for years, and I’ve recently made contact with him again through the internet.

The connection of slavery and genetic engineering originally appeared in "Icer." The idea of using the Indian caste system to structure Tankborn’s society came about fairly early on, in the first draft of the manuscript.

I did consider that China could have been a major force in the diaspora from earth to Loka, considering that country’s growing influence. But I felt more of an affinity for India, thanks to Azad, and that was the direction I went. There is one Chinese character mentioned in Tankborn—Junjie. You’ll see more of him in the second and third books of the series.

SW: Why did you create the religion of the GENs? What importance in worldbuilding does religion play in Tankborn?

KS: I wanted to add as many layers and as much complexity as I could to Tankborn. My son, who had been my beta reader, was the first to suggest achieving that complexity by weaving religion into the story. My son and daughter-in-law (and my long-suffering husband) had a long conversation one night at dinner about how the religious beliefs of Tankborn’s castes might have developed.

It made sense to me that the GENs would have an entirely different set of beliefs than the dominant trueborns.

I’ll be touching even more on Lokan religions in the second Tankborn book.

SW: How do culture and religion intersect in Tankborn?

Tu is an imprint of Lee & Low.
KS: The trueborns’ religion—belief in the Lord Creator—matches their position in Tankborn’s society. They are both the lords of all those beneath them—lowborns and GENs—and creators themselves (of the GENs). Many lowborns follow that same religion, as a way of aspiring to the rank of trueborn. There are other lowborn sects that will be fleshed out in the next books.

GENs worship the Infinite, who can only be looked upon as a reflection in a mirror. The GENs themselves could be thought of as reflections of what the trueborns want them to be.

SW: Let’s talk about the science of Tankborn. Do you think this is a possible future for humankind? What was your extrapolation process to build this world? Is genetic engineering good or bad? What happens when a society relies so much on “advanced” medicine that they forget things that we’d consider common sense?

KS: I think the technology will get there for GENs to exist, but I would hope controls on society stop that endeavor from coming to fruition. I don’t think genetic engineering is innately bad, although I can imagine it being used for bad purposes by certain elements.

In the case of Tankborn, I relied on extremes for the book’s view of the future. These particular colonists are more concerned with controlling their population than assuring all a fair place at the table. They see this control as essential for their survival, and use that as their justification for the suppression of GENs and lowborns.

None of this would happen overnight. It’s incremental. Perspectives change gradually, from one generation to the next. But since this group was born from chaos (the situation on Earth that led them to leave the planet), order is extremely important. That desire for order above all else just becomes more calcified with subsequent generations.

SW: Related, what about the social science of your world--culture, government, socio-economic status, racial politics, and so forth. How did such a world come to be?

KS: Those in the highest socio-economic strata have the most power and autonomy. That has always been true. In the case of Tankborn, socio-economic levels decide whether a given person can participate in government at all. Originally in the U.S., only landowners could vote. Likewise in Tankborn, with the additional control over who can even own land.

Which comes back to the answer to the previous question—the desire for an orderly society. Full democracies are messy and disorderly. An oligarchy, where the ruling class keeps an iron hand on the ruled, is much tidier.

What I was trying to do with racial politics was to reflect the single-minded focus we have on skin color in the U.S. I’m white, the color that bestows the most privilege here in the U.S. Many Americans are uncomfortable confronting that reality because we’d like to think we’re past that.

In Tankborn, the color of privilege is a particular shade of brown. Both ends of the spectrum away from that ideal, both lighter and darker, would be considered of a lesser class.

It’s even more complex in Tankborn because the strata of lowborn and GEN cut across the color rubric. You might not find a lowborn or GEN with that exact, special shade of brown, but it could be close.

Every member of Tankborn’s society is trained from childhood on to recognize and discriminate by class, even when it’s too subtle for the untutored eye to see.

SW: Talk to us a little about your use of language in Tankborn. There are many terms based upon Sanskrit, such as “adhikar,” and other words, like “sket,” which are blended words. What influence does such language have upon the worldbuilding of a book and how a reader experiences science fiction?

KS: When I’m reading science fiction, I like to see at least some terminology or language that takes me out of the ordinary world. It helps to pull me into the atmosphere of the story, helps me feel part of what the characters are experiencing. As a writer, those alterations and additions to current day language help me stay within the future I’m creating as I’m writing.

By the same token, that language should be easy for the reader’s eye to scan. For example, if I used sz;eoru to signify some crucial element of the story, most readers would be stumbling over that word every time they encountered it in the book. Each time, they’d be yanked from the story as they tried to pronounce it in their mind. It’s also a problem when futuristic language is overdone, so peppered throughout the book it’s a struggle to get through. I tried to use a light hand with Tankborn.

Cynsational Notes

Read an excerpt of Tankborn.

Editor Interview: Stacy Whitman of Tu Books (Lee & Low) from Cynsations. Peek: "Speculative fiction is a great way to get a child interested in reading who might not otherwise have gotten interested. If diversifying speculative fiction for young readers helps some reluctant readers get more interested in reading, we're opening up not only a genre to them, but a world of learning. But beyond reluctant readers, there are avid readers out there looking to see themselves reflected in the books they love."

Interview with Stacy Whitman by Malinda Lo from Diversity in YA Lit. Peek: "...we’re moving more toward stories that are about something besides the 'experience' of being a minority. Hopefully, more and more books will be more about the adventures of a person who happens to be from a particular race/ethnic background, rather than about their trials as a person of a certain ethnicity (i.e., it’s so tough being X)."

Cynsational Giveaway

Tu editor Stacy Whitman is offering a critique of the first 10 pages of a middle grade (8-12) or young adult (12 and up) manuscript.

The manuscript should be fiction (no nonfiction or picture books). Though she specializes in fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, other genres such as realism are welcome.

Her response will include a fifteen-minute phone call with the author and short, written notes about the submitted work.

The winner will have three weeks to submit an excerpt for critique, and the critique and phone call will occur within two weeks after that.

Submissions should be writing targeted to young readers, ages 8 and up.

The phone call may also touch on any questions the author has about the audience or market for the book, the publishing and submitting process, etc.

To enter, comment on this entry and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) to foil spanners or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly.

An extra entry will go to those who, in a comment, ask Stacy or Karen a question or make a related observation. Additional extra entries will go to those who tweet, blog, or otherwise promote this link/giveaway. Please indicate your efforts/URLs in your comment. Limit five entries.

Eligibility for this critique giveaway is international! However, if the winner is from outside the United States, Stacy will confer via Skype instead of by phone.

Deadline: midnight CST Oct. 24.

Finalists for the National Book Award - Young People's Literature

Congratulations to the 2011 finalists for the National Book Award (Young People's Literature):

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (Marshall Cavendish);

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai (HarperCollins);

Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin (Knopf);

Shine by Lauren Myracle (Amulet)(UPDATE: withdrawn by author at NBF request);

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt (Clarion);

Chime by Franny Billingsley (Dial).

Cynsational Notes

Vermont College of Fine Arts Applauds Alumna Lauren Myracle from PR Newswire. Peek: "'We are so proud of our faculty and alumnae,' said VCFA President Thomas Christopher Greene. 'All three books are deserving of attention, but we are especially proud of Lauren – for her grace, for her professionalism, and for her unswerving dedication to her many readers. We stand firmly behind her and the difficult decision she has made.'"

For more information, see also National Book Awards Announced by Carolyn Kellogg from The L.A. Times.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Voice: Trent Reedy on Words in the Dust

Trent Reedy is the first-time author of Words in the Dust (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011). From the promotional copy:

A beautiful debut about a daughter of Afghanistan discovering new friends and opportunities after the defeat of the Taliban.

Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her--"Inshallah," God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to the village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha--but can she dare to hope they'll come true. 

How did you come to write for young readers?

I have always been fascinated by stories. When I was very young, I used to try to entertain my classmates at lunch by telling tales about elaborate escapes from school. Except for reading assignments, I never finished my schoolwork in first grade because I would be busy making up stories in my head. On rare occasions, our teachers let us write stories for schoolwork. By the fourth grade, I was convinced I wanted to be a writer.

I held on to that writing dream all through my degree in English at the University of Iowa. Since I had joined the Iowa Army National Guard to help pay for college, I eventually found myself in the war in Afghanistan, serving in support of the reconstruction mission.

Even then, I couldn’t stop writing. Very early in my tour I was stationed at a small outpost in the northwestern Afghan city of Herat. I managed to find a quiet room with a table and thought I would write. The only problem was that the room had a big window, and I could see the tops of the buildings across the street from our walled-in compound.

I feared snipers, but I also really wanted to write, so I pulled the curtains closed and kept my M-16 on the table next to my notebook while I wrote.

At some point during my time in the war, I began to realize that all the stories that interested me the most were stories about young people. Maybe seeing all those Afghan children who seemed to have had so much stolen from them by decades of war reminded me of my own comparatively wonderful childhood. I think also that growing up is the greatest human adventure, the ultimate time of wonder and discovery.

Forget spy thrillers, courtroom dramas, or the introspective existential. Give me kidlit! I think young people, with their full faith and trust in fun and friendship, may be closer than many (who would claim to be older and wiser) to understanding what life is really all about.

I was also led to writing children’s literature because of a promise I made during my time in the war.

My squad encountered an Afghan girl named Zulaikha, who had suffered from birth from a defect called cleft lip, wherein the two halves of her upper lip had never joined. This problem happens in the United States, too, but it is almost always surgically corrected very early in the child’s life.

Trent and Zulaikha after her surgery.
Because the Taliban would have not allowed a girl to see a doctor, and because medical care would have been expensive for her family, this girl was ten or eleven and still suffered from this problem. My fellow soldiers and I pooled our money together to pay for her transportation to one of our bases in Afghanistan where an army doctor performed the needed surgery.

I was astounded by how much better she looked after the surgery, and as she had become to me a symbol of the struggle all Afghans face in making better lives for themselves, I knew this story was important.

The last time I saw the girl, she was riding off of our base in the back of a truck. She could not hear me or understand my words, but I promised I would tell her story. No matter what happened after that, I knew I had to keep that promise.

My promise to that girl was what led me to write Words in the Dust

Who has been your most influential writing/art teacher or mentor and why?

This is a difficult question to answer because people in the children’s literature community are really quite generous and so I have benefited from the help of many great people. Not the least of these are my Vermont College of Fine Arts advisors Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Kurtz, David Gifaldi, and Margaret Bechard. And although I never had the honor of working directly with you at Vermont, Cynthia, I remain grateful for the advice you have offered me in response to my questions.

However, my most significant influence remains Katherine Paterson. My time in the war in Afghanistan was very difficult for me. My first few months there were some of the most difficult of my life.

Because our permanent base was still under construction, my fellow soldiers and I lived in a rented Afghan house that had been designed for a family, not for fifty men and their weapons and equipment. We were hungry, filthy, exhausted, and receiving almost daily death threats from the Taliban. Life was reduced to nothing more than weapons and body armor, and duty. I had serious doubts about ever making it home again.

Then one day the mail finally arrived, and with it, a paperback copy of Katherine Paterson’s novel Bridge to Terabithia (HarperCollins, 1987). It was one of those rare days when I found enough time between missions and guard duty to read the whole book. Bridge to Terabithia saved my life. Or at least my sanity.

I absolutely needed that reminder of friendship and beauty. I needed to know that somewhere in the world, things were still okay. Katherine Paterson’s novel reminded me that there is still hope, even in midst of the most difficult circumstances.

I didn’t know anything about Katherine Paterson at the time, but I thought she should know how important her writing had been to me. I wanted to remind her that her books mattered in very real and important ways.

I sent her a thank you letter through her publisher with the hope that such a letter might cheer her up if she ever had a bad day.

Trent and Katherine.
I never expected a response. However, that letter began a correspondence that developed into a friendship that I cherish very much.

It was a long time before I admitted to Katherine that I wanted to be a writer. It was still longer until I told her about my wartime promise and my desire to write a book about an Afghan girl.

Realizing the controversy that sometimes surrounds the issue of white people writing outside their culture, I asked Katherine if she thought I could possibly write such a book.

She said that she thought I should try. That was all the permission I ever needed.

Katherine Paterson has told me that she could never be a writing teacher, but nobody could offer a better example of how to be a writer. I remain forever in her debt.

How did you approach the research process for your story? What resources did you turn to? What roadblocks did you run into? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest coup, and how did it inform your manuscript?

Despite spending a year in Afghanistan, living for a time in an Afghan house, and frequent opportunities to interact with Afghan people, I knew I would need to learn more about their daily lives.

One of the books Trent read.
I spent a lot of time in libraries reading novels and nonfiction books about Afghanistan. I interviewed Afghans and Afghan-Americans. I discovered that a lot of my assumptions about things like housework were proven true. Having washed my uniforms by hand in our rented Afghan house, I knew something of what it would be like for my novel’s protagonist Zulaikha to do the laundry.

In my research, I was delighted to discover an incredibly rich literary tradition in Afghanistan. There are volumes of wonderfully fascinating ancient poems. There are enormous shrines in Afghanistan and Iran dedicated to their ancient poets.

I thought that this was an aspect of Afghanistan that Americans didn’t get to see enough, and so I knew I had to include this in the novel somehow.

My greatest research challenge came much later when I was working on revisions with my editor Cheryl Klein. One of my Afghan friends told me that I had written the Afghan wedding scene all wrong. He attempted to explain how an Afghan wedding in his region would likely happen, but I still had trouble understanding.

Cheryl and I began interviewing others and searching for books and articles on the subject. We learned that Afghan weddings are wonderfully complex, involving many different celebrations that can take place over a course of days or weeks. We found many great sources of information, but not one of them completely agreed with another! Perhaps this shouldn’t have been so surprising, as after all, American weddings can vary greatly.

It was exhausting work, but finally Cheryl and I settled on an Afghan wedding that is entirely possible in rural western Afghanistan. Cheryl and I now joke that whatever difficulties we face in revision, they cannot be as challenging as figuring out that Afghan wedding.

What inspired you to choose the particular point of view featured in your novel? What considerations came into play? Did you try the story from a different point of view at some point? If so, what made you change your mind?

Words in the Dust is told in the first person from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old Afghan girl. People sometimes assume that my novel would be told from the perspective of a white American soldier, but I knew I wanted Words in the Dust to be completely Zulaikha’s story.

“Zooming out” into third person might have given me more freedom to tell the story in different ways, but I think that then the focus might have been drawn too far away from Zulaikha’s struggle. For example, in third person, I might have included the experiences and reactions of the American soldiers to Zulaikha’s surgery while she was still unconscious, but that inclusion would shift the focus and sympathy toward the soldiers. We would know that Captain Mindy loves Zulaikha. We would know that Corporal Andrews will spend the rest of his life wondering if Zulaikha is going to be okay and weeping for the memory of bad things he saw. It would make Words in the Dust more of a story about American soldiers, and I wanted the novel to reflect my belief that the Afghan people are at the heart of the struggle for peace, hope, and freedom in Afghanistan.

By writing Words in the Dust in first person, I could limit information and understanding, building distrust between the Afghans and Americans. I imagine that my fellow soldiers and I might have scared that Afghan girl when we came to her little village with all our weapons, looking for her. How could she have possibly imagined that we were on a mission to help her?

I wanted to include that sense of confusion and fear in Words in the Dust, and that might have been diminished with a broader perspective.

As a teacher-author, how do your two identities inform one another? What about being a teacher has been a blessing to your writing?

I taught high school English and composition at English Valleys High School in North English, Iowa for four years, signing the contract for Words in the Dust in the middle of my fourth year.

I also worked closely with students as I directed the school plays and coached the contest speech and cross-country teams. The job demanded much of my time and thought but I wanted to work to help provide these young people with the best experience I could. I really do believe that growing up is the greatest adventure, and I felt a tremendous responsibility in trying to help the kids have the best adventure they could, all while they learned the reading and writing skills they’d need later in life.

While I worked hard for them, I also gained the benefit of a unique insight that benefits my stories about young people better than any research could. Working with them every day allowed me to get to know them as multifaceted people, not “merely” as children, not as the “other.”

I think adults sometimes have the unfortunate tendency to downplay the concerns of young people, to dismiss their problems as a “phase they go through at that age.” Such attitudes are easy for those of us who made it through those times.

How did you go about identifying your editor?

When my agent began sending the Words in the Dust manuscript around to different editors, I knew nothing about these editors who were sending back rejections. I had spent the previous several years working to learn how to write, not learning about editors.

Cheryl and Trent.
When I received an offer from Cheryl Klein at Arthur A. Levine Books of Scholastic, there were a few other editors still looking over the manuscript. My agent arranged a phone call with Cheryl, and we discussed the project.

Of course at the time I was a little overwhelmed, as I had never really talked to an editor before, certainly not one who was interested in publishing my book. I knew there were probably intelligent questions I should have been asking, but I couldn’t think of any.

Then Cheryl said something that sealed the deal. At the time, President Obama was considering his stance on Afghanistan. She said that after reading Words in the Dust, she couldn’t read the news about the president’s war policy without thinking about what such a policy would mean for girls like Zulaikha. That was it!

Little girls like Zulaikha are what this mission in Afghanistan is supposed to be about, and Cheryl proved she is someone who understands that.

I knew then that she was the perfect editor for this Afghan story.

I have since been amazed by how impossibly hard she works and by the unique and insightful way she looks at each scene, at each line, throughout my manuscripts. It has been great working with her.

Finalists for the Canadian 2011 Governor General’s Literary Awards

By Lena Coakley

The Canada Council for the Arts announced the 68 finalists for the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Awards yesterday. The GGs, Canada’s national book awards, celebrate the excellence of Canadian writers, illustrators and translators.

Children’s Literature — Text

A Hare in the Elephant’s Trunk by Jan L. Coates (Red Deer)

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood/House of Anansi)

From Then to Now: A Short History of the World by Christopher Moore (Tundra)

This Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins Canada)

Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (Candlewick)

Children’s Literature — Illustration

Migrant, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, text by Maxine Trottier (Groundwood/House of Anansi)

Fishing with Gubby, illustrated by Kim La Fave, text by Gary Kent (Harbour)

Red Wagon, written and illustrated by Renata Liwska (Philomel)

Along a Long Road, written and illustrated by Frank Viva (HarperCollins)

Ten Birds, written and illustrated by Cybèle Young (Kids Can)

See more information and a complete list of the winners.

Cynsational Notes

Lena Coakley was born in Milford, Connecticut and grew up on Long Island. In high school, creative writing was the only class she ever failed (nothing was ever good enough to hand in!), but, undeterred, she went on to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She got interested in young adult literature when she moved to Toronto, Canada, and began working for CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, where she eventually became the Administrative Director.

She is now a full-time writer living in Toronto. Witchlanders is her debut novel. Lena contributes news and interviews from the children's-YA creative, literature and publishing community in Canada.
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