Friday, December 09, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Interview with Cassandra Clare by Malinda Lo from Diversity In YA Fiction. Peek: "There is little sexier than watching someone excel at something they do extraordinarily well — the difference between a bad boy is that they know they do it really well and that it’s turning you on; the good boys don’t." Note: post also includes Cassandra's thoughts on framing her diverse cast.

IndieBound Mobile Reading App Launches by Rosemary Hawkins from ABA Bookselling This Week. Peek: "IndieBound Reader, which was introduced to ABA IndieCommerce stores last month, is currently available for devices using the Android operating system, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Droid smartphones by Motorola, and will soon be available for iOS devices." Source: Fiction Notes.

The Make It Safe Project: Making Schools Safer for LGBT Teens. Peek: "The Make It Safe Project delivers books to K-12 schools and LGBT-inclusive youth homeless shelters nationwide." Note: support and/or request book. See the list of titles. Source: Lee Wind and readergirlz.

Use a Professional-looking Email Address by Jane Leback from QueryTrackerBlog.net. Peek: "Get a separate email address for writing-related business. It's easy to get another one, so there's no excuse. Do it now."

Congratulations to the 2012 Undiscovered Voices Anthology Winners! Peek: "Thirteen promising, unpublished UK writers and, for the first time, six unpublished illustrators, were selected from hundreds of submissions to be included in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI British Isles) anthology, titled Undiscovered Voices 2012. The anthology features 4,000-word extracts of novels written for children and black and white illustrations on the theme of ‘undiscovered voices’." Learn more from Tall Tales & Short Stories.

Red Threads Calendar, a product of the Central Ohio's Families with Children from China chapter, features art by author-illustrator Grace Lin.

Hunger Mountain's latest youth literature offerings include a Q&A with Sara Zarr by Bethany Hegedus, What My Last Book Taught Me by Ron Koertge, Out on the Bendy Branches by Lindsey Lane, and #yamatters by Andrew Karre.

Pushing the Nonfiction Envelope by Rosalyn Schanzer from INK: Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. Peek: "That’s exactly what I’ve tried to do with Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem (National Geographic, 2011). If I could pull it off, it seemed to me that this terrifying episode in America’s history had just the right ingredients for cooking up a thriller, a mystery, and a literary mind-bender all rolled into one."

And the Winner Is... by Shannon Maughan from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "Indeed, at a time when book awards for adult literature are being questioned—for example, the recent controversy over the Man Booker Prize in the U.K.—the Newbery and Caldecott awards are widely known for selling books, thousands, sometimes millions of them. And some 90 years after its founding, they may just be the most coveted book awards in publishing."

How to Confront the Fear of Public Speaking by Deborah Niemann from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Once you learn to control your fear, you can make it work in your favor. Some of the most exciting speakers are channeling their fear into what looks like enthusiasm in their speech." See also A Shy Person's Guide to Public Speaking from Megan Crewe.

IBBY Canada's 2012 Honour List: "...a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books that are representative of the best in children’s literature. Each IBBY National Section selects the best books in particular categories (depending on how many official languages are recognized by that country). The Honour List provides insight into the diverse cultural, political, and social settings in which children live around the world and is used to develop educational and literacy programmes to develop exemplary international collections."

Editorial Director Amber Caraveo of Orion Children's Books (U.K.) from Candy Gourlay at Notes from the Slushpile. Peek: "Can I have a fantastic new adventure for 9-12s please?"

Video Interview with Matthew Holm from Good Comics for Kids at School Library Journal. Peek: "I caught Matthew during his shift at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth, where he was signing posters and doing sketches in support of the work the CBLDF does."

Amazon Publishing to Acquire Marshall Cavendish US Children’s Books Titles from BusinessWire. Peek: "Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Marshall Cavendish, one of the world’s leading educational and consumer book publishers and classroom digital solutions providers, today announced that Amazon has signed a deal to acquire over 450 titles of its US Children’s trade books business, Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books (MCCB)." Note: speculation as to what this means is all over the Web, but the prevailing word is that the editors and existing contracts are staying in place.

Agent Spotlight: John Rudolph from Literary Rambles. Peek: "...he is keenly interested in middle-grade and young adult fiction and would love to find the next great picture book author/illustrator."

Stepping Out in Faith from Shelli Johnson. Peek: "Look, I’m not a fan of risk either. I never have been. Part of it is my personality. Part of it is my upbringing." Source: Phil Giunta.

See also the roundup at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

Last call! Enter to win a critique by Peggy of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or the first three chapters of a longer nonfiction manuscript and a signed copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas (Writers Institute Publications, 2011).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll to comment) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or you can email Cynthia directly with "Anatomy of Nonfiction" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Deadline: Dec. 12. Eligibility: international. Anyone can enter! However, the manuscript must be written in English. See also more from Peggy on The Anatomy of Nonfiction.

Last call! Enter for a chance to win a signed copy of Home for the Holidays: Mother-Daughter Book Club #5 by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon & Schuster, 2011)(excerpt), plus a copy of the newly released Betsy-Tacy Treasury by Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrated by Lois Lenski (HarperCollins, 2011) and the first two Betsy-Tacy high school books, in a special Betsy-Tacy canvas bag! Two additional winners will also receive a signed copies of Home for the Holidays! Note: in this story, the club is reading the Betsy-Tacy books!

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll to comment) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "Mother-Daughter Book Club" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S./Canada. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 14.

Last call! Enter to win an author-signed copy of The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2012).

To enter, comment on this post (click previous link and scroll to comment) and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Princess of Borscht" in the subject line. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 12.

Elsewhere on the Web, YA author Janet Fox is giving away your choice of Faithful or Forgiven at Through the Wardrobe.

You can also enter to win an ARC of Diabolical and Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed, 2011) from P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth! Deadline: Dec. 17.

The Cynsational winner of Lala Salama by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Candlewick, 2011) is Mary in Washington.

Cynsational Screening Room

Check out the book trailer for The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe (Hyperion, 2011).



A video interview with Mitali Perkins by Ed Spicer from Spicy Reads.



The book teaser to Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Jan. 2012) is now live.



More Personally


Highlights of this week included the release of the Diabolical teaser and the Austin SCBWI Holiday Party at Opal Divine's Marina restaurant--photos coming soon!

The Horn Book raves of Diabolical (Candlewick, 2012): "It’s a considerable challenge for a series not to lose steam by the fourth book, but this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven."

The review goes on to praise how "expertly" the characters' stories are interwoven, praises the novel as a "model for incorporating just enough details from previous books," notes that it's "demonically inspired by Stoker’s Dracula and divinely imagined into the present day."

Don't miss P.J. Hoover's giveaway of an ARC of Diabolical and Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson (Milkweed, 2011) at Roots in Myth! Deadline: Dec. 17.

Alison Defenbach: Collection of Digital Materials says of Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007, 2008): "The format of her novel is delectable and creative, with its sections that come from a menu, starting with your appetizer all the way to your dessert and wine. This was very clever of Smith; it fits right in with the main setting of the book, a vampire themed restaurant.  The ambiance she sets is one that makes you feel like you are participating in an elaborate and elegant play."

Personal Links:
From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Christmas Spectacular with the Texas Sweethearts and Scoundrels from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at The Book Spot (1205 Round Rock Ave #119) in Round Rock, Texas.

Holiday Tree Lighting and Author Signing at LBJ State Park! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith for the tree lighting ceremony at LBJ State Park from 4:30 p.m. Dec. 18. Cynthia will be signing Holler Loudly, illustrated by Barry Gott (Dutton, 2010). Lucy Johnson will be speaking briefly at the event, and Santa may make an appearance, too. See more information.

See also Cynthia's upcoming events in Austin, Albuquerque, Tucson, Sandy (Utah), Southampton (New York), and Montpelier (Vermont).

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Official Book Teaser: Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith



DIABOLICAL by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, 2012):

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 from the previous three novels in the TANTALIZE series — including Zachary's 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.

On sale Jan. 2012 | 978-0-7636-5118-3 | Candlewick Press | Hardcover | YA Novel/Fiction | Interior Design Elements | 368 Pages | Ages 14-up

New Reviews

The Horn Book raves: "It’s a considerable challenge for a series not to lose steam by the fourth book, but this one runs full force on the fires of hell and the sword power of heaven." The review goes on to praise how "expertly" the characters' stories are interwoven, praises the novel as a "model for incorporating just enough details from previous books," and finally, notes that it's "demonically inspired by Stoker’s Dracula and divinely imagined into the present day."

Kirkus Reviews cheers: "A smart, playful series... A blend of romance, action and horror, this distinguishes itself from the crowd of paranormal teen fare with the employ of plenty of camp and a healthy dose of dry humor... fans of the first three will thrill to this latest."

Cynsational Notes

Look for this title in hardcover and e-format. E-book: 978-0-7636-5963-9.

Look for mega Tantalize series giveaways, starting next week and counting down to the January release.

Order now from from Indiebound or an e-retailer.

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

About the Trailer Creator

The Diabolical trailer was created by Shayne Leighton, whose recent projects also include Of Light and Darkness (Book 1: The Vampire's Daughter)(Decadent, 2011) and a related film series.

The film will feature such talents as Michael Welch ("The Twilight Saga," "Born Bad"), Cassie Scerbo and Johnny Pacar (both from ABC Family's "Make It Or Break It"), and Frantisek Mach ("The Incubus") and Shayne herself (also "The Incubus").

See the official website for more information.

About the Original Art

"Scholomance Prep" is illustrated by Jeff Crosby. His latest books include Wiener Wolf (Hyperion, 2011) and Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos and Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds, co-created by Shelley Ann Jackson (Tundra, 2011).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

New Voice: Kiki Hamilton on The Faerie Ring

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kiki Hamilton is the first-time author of The Faerie Ring (Tor, 2011). From the promotional copy:

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. 

One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. 

For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood—Tiki’s blood.

Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched—and protected—by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen’s son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist. 


Prince, pauper, and thief—all must work together to secure the treaty…


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?

My research was multi-pronged for The Faerie Ring as I had to research Victorian London along with the history of faeries. Luckily, I found both to be fascinating topics!

I wrote the first draft of The Faerie Ring in a fairly short amount of time, then in revision, spent time enriching the historical details and checking for accuracy.

For London, I’d never been there when I started writing, and actually didn’t know anything about the city. It was really quite fortuitous that I set my main character living in Charing Cross railway station, which is the true heart of London and the point from which all distances are measured to this day.

My story is considered historical fantasy, so I’ve worked hard to keep all historical facts accurate. The Faerie Ring is set in 1871 because that’s the year one of my characters, Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, was 18.

My research was conducted through a variety of sources – several books were a wonderful resource: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century England by Daniel Pool (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and Victorian London, The Tale of a City 1840-1870 by Liza Picard (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005). Additionally, I used online resources, including Google Earth.

After I’d sold the book, but before I’d worked on any editorial revisions, I had the opportunity to visit London for the first time. It was a wonderful experience and probably my greatest coup in writing this book.

As everyone knows, London is an ancient city with so much history oozing out of the buildings and sidewalks, it can’t help but to inspire a writer! I got to walk in Tiki’s footsteps (my main character) from Charing Cross to St. James Park to Buckingham Palace and more. The trip was surreal and fantastic and very beneficial in filling in some of the more oblique, but still very important, details.

For faeries, I did a ton of research into the wide and varied history within the British Isles through a combination of online research and books. Additionally, part of the world is completely imagined - one that I’ve envisioned and created – based on folklore and the lives of my characters.

Of course, some of the roadblocks I faced are the fact that I’m writing about an era that I can never actually visit and a race (faeries) that are imagined, so much of what I’m writing about is created out of whole cloth, but needs to retain the flavor of actual history in a palatable way for contemporary readers. But for a fantasy writer – that’s the fun part!

Kiki on the blue bridge in St. James Park with Buckingham Palace in the distance.
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?

Through the generosity of other authors, there is quite a bit of information out on the web that gives ideas of how to best promote a debut book. Based on this, I knew that I would need a website before I started querying agents.

The hard part when you start a website is finding content (at least it was for me) so it’s important to allow yourself enough time to create your online presence. I started more than a year before I sold my book.

I am also thrilled to be part of the Class of 2k11, which is a group of seventeen authors whose books debut in 2011. Our class follows a model that was started in 2007 by Greg R. Fishbone and has had subsequent classes each year.

We work together to market and spread the word about our books. Not only is it more fun to spread the good news about our books as a group, but it is a wonderful support network to share the ups and downs of our path to publication.

The Class of 2k11 has had the opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of the Class of 2k10 as we will be assisting the Class of 2k12.

Additionally, I’ve been part of The Elevensies, which is a much larger group of debut authors (90+ members) who also have a “share the journey” mentality and act as a great resource to post to an online forum about what we’ve learned as we progress to our release dates, as well as having a safe place to ask questions or share good and bad news.


Some of the things I have found most effective to promote The Faerie Ring have been my website and blog. I try to post three times a week on a variety of writing-related topics.

At first, it’s kind of hard work as you find your voice, but over time it becomes easier and it’s been fun to slowly watch my readership grow. Along with my official author website, I've created a website specific to The Faerie Ring series, and I’ve created a website for contests.

The great part of this is that I use Blogger, which allows one to easily change and update content, plus, lets you create websites for free.

Bookmarks and postcards have been very popular, and I’ve distributed those around the world, which is kind of fun to think about. I also have buttons, which seem to be in demand, so I have an easy contest for those once a month.

Some of the most influential support I’ve received has been from the blog community. I had no idea that such a fantastic and vast network of readers existed, and I have been surprised many times by their kindness and support. Bloggers offer the opportunity to spread the word about your book through weekly memes such as Waiting on Wednesday, which highlight the book that blogger is most anticipating, as well as interviews, features and blog tours.

Additionally, there is the power of Twitter and Facebook. Social networking tools like these connect you to an amazing number of people that you would otherwise never encounter. Most people tend to prefer one medium over the other (I prefer Twitter – once you get the hang of talking in small bites of conversation), but you can set your account so one feeds to the other automatically, thereby giving you a presence in both places. The hardest part becomes time management

I guess the biggest bit of advice I’d give is to take the slow and steady approach. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an online presence. Take your time, meet new friends, build your presence at a pace that is comfortable for you and most of all – one that you can maintain consistently over time. Friends and readers will follow.

Also, I’ve made contact with my local booksellers and teen librarians to let them know of The Faerie Ring and that I’m available for discussion panels, etc.

Finally, I have been very fortunate to have the fantastic support of my team at Tor Teen: my editor, Susan Chang, the publisher, Kathleen Doherty and my publicist, Alexis Nixon, who have provided me with the opportunity to do pre-release signings of advanced reader copies (a pre-publication paperback proof of The Faerie Ring) at Book Expo America and the annual American Library Association conference, which was an unbelievably rewarding and exciting experience.

Having fans line up for a book that hasn’t even released yet is probably every author’s wildest dream!

Cynsational Notes

Follow Kiki at Twitter and friend her at facebook.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Guest Post: Illustrator Ellen Beier on The Christmas Coat

By Ellen Beier
for Cynsations

When I first read Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve’s picture book manuscript, The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood (Holiday House, 2011), I was taken back in time to the South Dakotan snow-covered prairie of the 1940s.

I could hear the wind in the hills, see smoke rising from scattered houses on the reservation.

And in my imagination I saw Virginia struggling against the cold, her bare wrists exposed in her tight, too-small coat.

I felt her aching for a coat that fit, her brother’s longing for boots, the children’s unchecked delight at the arrival of “Theast” boxes–filled with gifts of donated clothing–as they simultaneously counted down the days to Christmas.

But as I read and re-read the story, in preparation for making sketches, my mind kept playing tricks on me. From the '40s I periodically traveled forward to my own childhood several decades later, to the suburban New York City neighborhood where I was raised, where most of our parents were German immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors living life in a new world–not rich, but having enough of what was needed, clothes that fit and ample room for hope.

This was America, was it not –the promised land of opportunity? So what of this Native American community, the first peoples, struggling so steadfastly against the tide of poverty?

I immersed myself then in learning about the history of the Lakota Sioux, from the voices of those who were there. I read books such as My People the Sioux by Luther Standing Bear (Bison Books, 2006) and Keeping Heart on Pine Ridge by Vic Glover (Native Voices, 2004).

I read everything written by Virginia, her picture books, The Chichi Hoohoo Bogeyman (University of Nebraska Press, 2008), her history of the Sioux Episcopal priests, and the beautiful account of her family's history through the stories of her grandmothers, mother, and herself, Completing the Circle (University of Nebraska Press, 1998). From that book I came to understand the complicated mixture of Native American custom and Christian religion, of devastating loss as well as embracing family ties, that nurtured Virginia's childhood in South Dakota in the 20th century.

I traveled through South Dakota using Google maps and images. . . and found a blog written by summer-students volunteering in the author's home town, with posted photos of Virginia's school–the very one she attended as a child. I studied the effects of dusk-light upon snow, the patterns of the star quilt, the faces of Sioux heroes.

Using my notes, history books, online sources and photos provided by Virginia, I painted the illustrations for The Christmas Coat with as much detail as possible, to bring her story fully to life.

Having gathered more material than could fit in the 32-page book, I set up a blog/website celebrating The Christmas Coat with recipes, coloring pages, meet the author and illustrator, and the making of the book (with more activities to come).

Ellen's desktop.

I hope you will love The Christmas Coat, a story of longing, patience, spirituality and family, by a master storyteller, and come visit us on the blog.

Cynsational Notes

Spotlight on Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve from Holiday House. Peek: "The most difficult part was keeping the text to picture book length."

Ellen's studio.

Monday, December 05, 2011

New Voice: A. LaFaye on Walking Home to Rosie Lee

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

A. LaFaye is previously published in the novel, but Walking Home to Rosie Lee, illustrated by Keith D. Shepherd (Cinco Puntos, 2011) is her debut picture book. From the promotional copy:

Young Gabe’s is a story of heartache and jubilation. He’s a child slave freed after the Civil War, and he sets off to reunite himself with his mother who was sold before the war's end. 

“Come morning, the folks take to the road again, singing songs, telling stories and dream-talking of the lives they’re gonna live in freedom. And I follow, keeping my eyes open for my mama. 

"Days pass into weeks, and one gray evening as Mr. Dark laid down his coat, I see a woman with a yellow scarf ‘round her neck as bright as a star. I run up to grab her hand, saying, Mama?” 

Gabe's odyssey in search for his mother has an epic American quality, and Keith Shepherd’s illustrations—influenced deeply by the narrative work of Thomas Hart Benton—fervently portray the struggle in Gabe’s heroic quest.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

It seems almost fitting that Walking Home to Rosie Lee had a long journey to publication when you consider that it’s about a type of journey that was much longer and more difficult and silent within the pages of children’s literature.

As a historical fiction writer, I’m always looking for untold stories. Or better yet, stories that have been told, but not widely shared within the children’s literature community.

The story of family reunification among African Americans who had been enslaved has been told within that community from family to family, generation to generation, and the pages of history books by influential African American historians like John Hope Franklin.

Still, the story has not been retold often in children’s book, and it’s such a story of triumph and hope and perseverance that I wanted it to be shared and celebrated. And since it’s been a question I’ve had reverberating in my throat since I was a child, it’s no surprise that I wanted to know–why?

The picture book is dedicated by LaFaye's daughter Adia.
What kept this story out of children’s books for so long? Sadly, I found out that one of the reasons was that many editors did not see this as a unique chapter in the history in the story of African American history.

Most of the editors who rejected the manuscript said that they already had too many stories on the subject.

They lumped my manuscript into the category of “slavery” rather than seeing it as celebration of a unique aspect of the Reconstruction period.

In my research, I found that the period during the Civil War and shortly there after contained a wealth of stories of African American trials and triumph that should be celebrated in literature. For instance, why aren’t there more books about the struggle to establish African American schools, Freedman’s Bureaus that truly served the needs of the African American community (many were run corruptly by European Americans), Exodusters, and bi-cultural communities that strived to make American’s ideal of equality for all a reality?

There are excellent examples of books about this era, including picture books (I Have Heard of a Land by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper (Trophy, 2000) and Band of Angels by Deborah Hopkins, illustrated by Raul Colon (Atheneum, 1999)), novels (Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule by Harriette Fillem Robinet (Aladdin, 2000)) and nonfiction (Into the Land of Freedom by Meg Green (Lerner, 2004)).

At the same time, there are nowhere near the number of books that the complex tapestry of this era deserves.

I couldn’t find a single book about the reunification of African American families during reconstruction, so I wanted to write one to “get the ball rolling," as it were.

I hope and pray that my book will inspire others to write about this trying and triumphant era of African American history.

I’ll leave the story of how Rosie Lee finally found its way into print for a later question in honor of the editor and publisher who finally saw the importance of bringing this story out into the world, Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press.

As far as keeping the faith goes, I’m no expert at it, but I am quite experienced. I’ve always taken the road less traveled, mostly because I know I’ll learn new things going that way.

Taking that route often meant that I had great trouble finding sources when I did research, found it hard to convince an editor to see the value in my story, and had great difficulty in finding readers to follow me down that path. The readers that could find my work generally loved it, but I’ve struggle for over a decade to find a wide readership.

I often explain to folks that I’m more of a “writer’s writer” like the character actors we recognize when we see them and admire for their work, but we really don’t follow their career.

I’m hoping that this book will find a wider reading audience and hopefully bring more readers to my other books.

Speaking of which, one of those books Stella Stands Alone (Aladdin, 2010) is the whole reason Rosie Lee came to be. Well, that book and Susan Campell Bartoletti, author of They Called Themselves The KKK (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). More on that in my answer to the next question.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Susan Campell Bartoletti, a dear friend and excellent teacher, once said that if you’re going to do all of the research for a historically themed book, you should write more than one book based on that research. That makes sense. You’ve done all the research. Why not look at the material from more than one perspective?

After all, history is all about perspective. Looking at the same event from multiple perspectives allows us to see how different the same historical event/period could have been for the many different people who experienced it. I’d done a lot of research for each of my historical novels, but I’d never been able to follow Susan’s advice until I wrote Stella Stands Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2008).

Set in Mississippi just after the Civil War, the novel tells the story of Stella Reid, who inherits the family plantation when her father is murdered for trying to divide the place up amongst the people his father (Stella’s grandfather) had enslaved.

Stella fights crooked bankers, malicious plantation owners, and the KKK to make good on her father’s promise.

I wrote the novel because I wanted to explore what would have happened if individual planters had made good on Sherman’s promise of “40 acres and a Mule” before President Andrew Johnson repealed it.

In the process of writing the novel, I uncovered two areas of history that I felt needed to be shared—one to be condemned, the other to be celebrated—forced apprenticeships and family reunification.

At the end of the Civil War, plantation owners pulled out all the stops to force the African Americans they had enslaved to remain indebted to them—each institution worse than the last, destroying marriage records kept by Union officers, refusing to issue marriage licenses, demolishing schools, share cropping, fear tactics like the KKK, and the list continues.

One thing they did that I had never even heard about before was forced apprenticeships where they had a child (who could have two living parents) declared a ward of the state because the parents couldn’t produce a birth certificate or a marriage license, then forced the child to work for free until his/her 21st birthday. Some parents were coerced into agreeing to these apprenticeships. Most fought for years to regain custody of their own children.

I incorporated this horrible practice into the story by having Stella’s best friend forced into an apprenticeship while her mother, Rosie, was away trying to find the three sons she was torn away from when her owner lost her in a poker game and sent her upriver to work on another plantation.

The story of Rosie and her three boys lead to the story of Rosie Lee and her son Gabriel in Walking Home to Rosie Lee. I wanted the story of family reunification to reach more readers, so I wrote it in picture book form from a new perspective, that of a young boy searching for his mother.

To write Gabriel’s story, I drew from the research I had done for Stella Stands Alone through historical records, museums, history books, and articles. So much of the story of these families didn’t make it into print, so most of the details I had to piece together from a myriad of stories within partial tales left behind in want ads (looking for lost family relatives in African American newspapers), vague descriptions of Freedman’s Bureau, petitions for marriage licenses, and personal stories like that of William Stillwell, an abolitionist who fought for decades to reunite his own family.

It’s my sincere hope that my story can hold a candle to the courage, hope, and determination of all the people who struggled through so much to reunite their families.

How did you go about identifying your editor? Did you meet him/her at a conference? Did you read an interview with him/her? Were you impressed by books he/she has edited?

The editor for Walking Home to Rosie Lee was Lee Byrd of Cinco Puntos Press. I first came to know of Ms. Byrd and her publishing company through a writer friend of mine, Eve Tal, author of Cursing Columbus (Cinco Puntos Press, 2009).

Eve had asked me for advice on her debut novel Double Crossing (Cinco Puntos Press, 2007), and when the book came out, Lee Byrd asked me to write a blurb for the back cover. I admired the Byrds' commitment to telling unique stories, untold chapters of history, and keeping the independent spirit of publishing alive.

When I first sent the manuscript to Lee, she wrote back to say how much the story had touched her, but that she was going to pass on the story because Cinco Puntos hadn’t published any books focusing on African American history and wasn’t sure they’d have the grounding to promote the book.

Several months later, I saw Lee at a conference. We talked, and she told me that she hadn’t returned the manuscript to me because she found that she often went back to reread the story because it had touched her. I encouraged her to listen to the voice that told her it was a manuscript that was not only worth reading, but also re-reading—the hallmark of a great picture book, in my mind.

Not to mention being a distinction that I found humbling. It’s always an honor when something you’ve written resonates enough with readers to make them want to return to the story you’ve shared with them.

Lee reminded me that Cinco Puntos hadn’t published a book in this area before, and I suggested that there’s always a first time and that they’d proven with other books like Crossing Bok Chitto (written by Tim Tingle, illustrated by Jean Rorex Bridges -- Cinco Puntos 2006) that they could branch out into new subject areas and do very well.

She agreed that I might have something there and promised to show the book to her husband and son (Cinco Puntos is a family run company out of El Paso, Texas) and see where that might lead.

It led to them signing on the book and finding an illustrator like Keith Shepard who was ready to illustrate his first book.

So this book is a debut on three counts—my first picture book, Keith’s first book ever, and Cinco Puntos first title focusing on African American history.

It’s my hope that it’s the first in a long line of good books for all of us!

Cynsational Notes

A. LaFaye recommends The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Peek: "...the National Museum of African American History and Culture should be a place of meaning, of memory, of reflection, of laughter, and of hope. It should be a beacon that reminds us of what we were; what challenges we still face; and point us towards what we can become."

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Giveaway: The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen

Enter to win an author-signed copy of The Princess of Borscht by Leda Schubert, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, 2011).

From the promotional copy:

Ruthie's grandma is in the hospital, not surprisingly complaining about the food. All she wants is a nice bowl of borscht. 

Ruthie comes to the rescue, even though she hasn't the faintest idea of how to make it. 

With the help of a few well-meaning neighbors (including the Tsarina of Borscht and the Empress of Borscht and some ingenuity of her own), a soul-reviving brew is concocted...

To enter, comment on this post and include an email address (formatted like: cynthia at cynthialeitichsmith dot com) or a link to an email address. Or email Cynthia directly with "The Princess of Borscht" in the subject line.

Author-sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. Deadline: midnight CST Dec. 12.

Cynsational Notes

The New York Times Book Review raved, "Schubert ('Ballet of the Elephants') turns the story of a sick relative, not a particularly cheery topic, into a sweet and salty tale, warmed by Christensen’s lively sketches, about bickering Jewish neighbors and intergenerational caregiving."
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