Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Voice: Katherine Longshore on Gilt

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Katherine Longshore is the first-time author of Gilt (Viking, 2012)(author blog). From the promotional copy:

In the Tudor age, ambition, power and charismatic allure are essential and Catherine Howard has plenty of all three. Not to mention her loyal best friend, Kitty Tylney, to help cover her tracks. Kitty, the abandoned youngest daughter of minor aristocracy, owes everything to Cat—where she is, what she is, even who she is. 

Friend, flirt, and self-proclaimed Queen of Misrule, Cat reigns supreme in a loyal court of girls under the none-too-watchful eye of the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk.

When Cat worms her way into the heart of Henry VIII and becomes Queen of England, Kitty is thrown into the intoxicating Tudor Court. It's a world of glittering jewels and elegant costumes, of gossip and deception. As the Queen's right-hand-woman, Kitty goes from the girl nobody noticed to being caught between two men—the object of her affection and the object of her desire.

But the atmosphere of the court turns from dazzling to deadly, and Kitty is forced to learn the difference between trust and loyalty, love and lust, secrets and treason. And to accept the consequences when some lessons are learned too late.

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

Because I write historical fiction, I have to incorporate situations into my novels that may be considered more “adult” than “young adult”.

Marriage, for example. My narrator, Kitty, is betrothed to a man more than twice her age. And her best friend, Cat, marries a fifty-year-old at the age of seventeen.

But I think those situations can be swept under the rug of historical fiction. In the sixteenth century, it was the norm for teenage girls to marry and have children. In an era when the life expectancy averaged at about thirty, it was even imperative.

There is one situation, however, that occurs early in the novel. The scene itself was astonishingly easy for me to write clearly and passionately. The historical record made it plain that it happened the way I presented it (though I invented my narrator’s ability to witness the event). But I found it emotionally very difficult to write because of the subject.

The first time I took this scene out for critique was at a conference workshop. I had already read my first chapter with the group, and I wanted to see their reaction to this scene. I wanted to know how far I could go with it.

The agent who mediated the group told me, “This is where I would stop reading.” And I knew I had gone too far.

So I revised. And took it to trusted readers. More than once, someone suggested I take it out entirely. And when I queried, in speaking with agents, I realized that this scene was still a cause for concern. But I felt that it was extremely important and indicative of the true nature of the historical character I was trying to represent. So I fought for it. And it’s still there.

I didn't set out to write “edgy” YA, and I don't think I have. But I did want the events in the novel feel like a true experience. Not sugarcoated. Not like a fairytale. Real. And unfortunately for most of us, reality incorporates edginess.

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

I went about finding an agent almost entirely by the book. I finished my novel, revised it, revised it, revised it, sent it to my beta readers, revised again, and wrote a query letter. I asked for suggestions from friends, and researched Query Tracker. And then I sent out 10 queries at a time. As soon as one rejection came in, I sent out another. And I got quite a few rejections.

I was just at the point of considering a query revision, when I got a request for full. And then another. I asked a good friend for more suggestions, and she suggested Catherine Drayton.

So I looked her up, read that she represents Markus Zusak, and said to myself, “Pffft, she's not going to want to represent me.” But I queried her anyway. Query Tracker said that she had a quick turnaround time, so at least I knew I'd be sending out another query quite soon.

But she asked for 50 pages. And then I got an offer from someone else. So she read the whole thing overnight, and made an offer as well.

I was very lucky to receive offers of representation from four amazing, professional, intelligent agents. And the choice was extremely difficult. But I felt that Catherine really “got” what I was trying to do with the book. And that's what tipped the balance in her favor.

For writers for seeking representation, I can only add to the standard advice. Do your research. Find out who represents your favorite authors. Talk to people. Attend conferences, and listen to the agents when they speak. Read blogs carefully. Follow them on twitter.

But at the end of the day, you have to close your eyes and jump. It's like using Internet dating to find your spouse. And it's scary.

But the most important thing to remember is that if an agent reads your work, and loves it as much as you do, he will want the best for it. And he will work hard to make that happen.

So the best thing you can do is to write the book you love. And that book will attract the right person. I wish you all the best.

Sun-worshiping dog, Toddy

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Newbery/Caldecott 2013: Mid-Year Predictions by Betsy Bird from A Fuse #8 Production at School Library Journal. Note: great to see part-time time Austinite Sara Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2012) receiving this level of buzz.

Interview with New York Times Bestselling and Award-winning Author Ellen Hopkins by Brittney Breakey from Author Turf. Peek: "I thought I’d write horror. Then I thought I’d write picture books. Neither, it turned out, was where I belonged as an author. A personal story brought me to YA fiction." See also Ellen Hopkins on Fearless Writing from Adventures in YA and Children's Literature.

An Unexpected Mirror by Namrata Tripathi from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I think initially I was simply happy to see a half-Sikh character in a story where I didn’t expect to, but then I read a few simple, powerful lines in the novel that seemed to make everything fall into place."

Role Call: Want to Work with Kids in a Public Library? Here's the Inside Scoop. By Betsy Bird from School Library Journal. Peek: "Public librarians need to reach out and meet up with local school librarians, public and private. Build relationships with these people, and you’ll get your hooks into students who might otherwise never have stepped foot in a public library without a gentle little push." See also Protecting Our LGBTQ Youth by Alicia Eames, also from SLJ.

Reach a Reader Resources: "Whether you're a book reviewer trying to find a home for extra review copies, a teacher looking to augment your classroom library, or a school librarian trying to get authors to visit your school, we're here to help you find resources both online and offline." Source: Jeanette Larson.

Chugging Through the (Early) Stages of a Writing Career by L.B. Shulman from EMU's Debuts. Note: focus is from beginning to first sale; highlights common psychological pitfalls. Peek: "I was surprised to find that I had to write three or four books before I was competent enough to land an agent. Sadly, this was the point when I began to realize that writing wasn’t as easy as I first thought."

It Turns Out I Have a Gender Bias. Who Knew? by K.A. Holt from K.A. Holt's Online Disaster. Peek: " I wouldn't have done this on purpose, but because there is a gender bias deep within me -- an unconscious softening of the world -- I would have perpetuated my bias towards both my character and my reader. I am shocked by this. And not a little bothered by it."

The Law of Diminishing Returns by Mary Kole from Peek: "When you’re doing revision, go through your manuscript and isolate everything that repeats, whether it’s an encounter between characters, a setting, or a plot point. Then make sure that each is different enough from its predecessors and also that you craft its impact slightly differently from all the other times."

Author Insight: Writerly Flaws from Wastepaper Prose. Features insights from various writers, including Margo Lanagan, Joy Preble, Greg Leitich Smith, and Cyn Balog.

Diversification Or How to Survive as a Writer by Linda Strachan from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...look around at different ways you can ply your craft, different avenues that will provide an income stream but still allow you to keep true to your inner muse."

Featuring René's story, Aug. 2012
The War in El Salvador by René Colato Laínez from Peek: "You can hear the voices of the voiceless. In the news, they only talk about names of war leaders, bombings, dead and desolation. But they usually don’t talk about the people who are suffering in the war."

Three Secrets by Brian Yansky from Crowe's Nest. Peek: "W. Somerset Maugham once wrote, 'There are three secrets to writing a novel. Unfortunately nobody knows what they are.' Right. Thanks for nothing, Somerset."

Book Publicity: Creating an Online Marketing Kit by Dana Lynn Smith from Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing. Peek: "...your media page isn't just for the media – it's a great place to showcase your credentials and biographic information for a variety of author and book publicity purposes." Source: Seeing Creative.

Engineering a Fiction Series by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker.netBlog. Peek: "A series isn't a three hundred thousand word novel that gets broken up into chunks. It's a collection of novels connected by themes and characters."

Bad-ass Viewpoint Characters by Alex Flinn from I Plan to Be a Diva Someday. Peek: " is important to give the reader something to relate to about the main character, a reason to sympathize."

The Reader Must Want to Know What Happens Next by Lisa Cron from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Contrary to what many people think, a story is not just something that happens. If that were true, we could all cancel the cable, lug our Barcaloungers onto the front lawn, and be utterly entertained, 24/7, just watching the world go by."

The 2012 Amelia Eliz­a­beth Walden Award final­ists are: The Berlin Box­ing Club by Robert Sharenow (Harper­Collins); Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel Books); Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Mar­garet K. McElderry Books); Shine by Lau­ren Myr­a­cle (Amulet Books); Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Gar­cia McCall (Lee & Low Books). Note: the award is given by the Assem­bly on Lit­er­a­ture for Ado­les­cents (ALAN) of the National Coun­cil of Teach­ers of Eng­lish (NCTE); win­ner will be announced July 23.

Character Trait: Glamorous by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "...having an aura of allure and fascination; a showy attractiveness."

Are We Stripping Modern Books Bare? from Nathan Bransford. Peek: "I do think it's a modern phenomenon. I also think that stripping the unessential is a reflection of the fact that people are getting better at writing books. But it's complicated."

Celebrating Sendak: a series of articles and more by top voices in children's-YA literature from Hunger Mountain: A VCFA Journal of the Arts.

Interview with Gary Schmidt from Martha Brockenbrough. Peek: "I follow Steinbeck's pattern of 500 words a day per project.  I usually try to work on two or three projects at a time, and for each I give 500 words--unless it's a teaching day, when I usually work on only one project." Source: Lee Wind.

Upcoming YA Trends: More Mermaids, Psychological Thrillers, Human Experimentation and More by Gretchen Kolderup from YALSA Hub. Peek: "...attended publisher previews, watched preview webinars, picked up ARCs, and scoured upcoming releases titles to get a sense for what’s been published recently and what’s coming soon." Source: Bookshelves of Doom. See also Trend Watch from Teen Librarian's Toolbox.

Cynsational Screening Room

Some members of the Children's Authors Network got together to share three words to open gateways to summer reading, starring Joe Cepeda, Mary Ann Fraser, Joan Bransfield Graham, Amy Goldman Koss, Michelle Markel, Alexis O'Neill, April Halprin Wayland, and Janet Wong.

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

I'm having a quietly perfect writing week, filled with day after day of waking up and catching up with administrative to-dos and blogging, working out to 1980s power ballads, and writing.

Varian Johnson
Congratulations to fellow Austin and YA author Varian Johnson on the sale of his middle grade debut novel! Peek: "Cheryl Klein at Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books imprint has bought world rights, in a pre-empt, to author Varian Johnson’s middle-grade debut, 'Jackson Greene Steals the Election.' Pitched as 'Ocean’s Eleven' for middle-schoolers, the book stars an eighth-grade reformed con artist who has to get his old crew back together to stop the school bully from winning the all-powerful SGA Presidential election, while trying to win back his ex-best friend and first crush. Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger brokered the deal."

14 Best Pieces of Advice from Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers by Mette Ivie Harrison. Peek: "When you start cycling, adding in a bit and then taking it back out—it’s time to turn in the manuscript (Cynthia Leitich Smith)."

Personal Links:

From Greg Leitich Smith:

Cynsational Events

Visit Greg Leitich Smith.
Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak:

Greg Leitich Smith will speak:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Giveaway: Goddess Girls Super Special: The Girl Games

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win The Girl Games (Goddess Girls Super Special) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams (Aladdin, 2012). Eligibility: U.S. Author sponsored. From the promotional copy: 

The first-ever standalone superspecial in the Goddess Girls series—let the games begin!

Athena, Medusa, Artemis, and Persephone are sick and tired of being left out of the annual boys-only Olympic Games. Their solution? The Girl Games! 

But as the Goddess Girls work to make their dream into a reality, they come up against plenty of chaos and competition. 

Told in alternating points of view, this superspecial is packed with Olympic spirit! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cynsational Notes

Follow Goddess Girls on Facebook.

“…a clever take on Greek deities…” 
~ Booklist

"Readers familiar with Greek myths should get a kick out of this plucky restaging." 
 ~Publishers Weekly

“…an enchanting mythological world with middle-school woes compounded by life as a deity…” 
~ School Library Journal

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Voice: Leah Bobet on Above

By Lena Coakley
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Leah Bobet is the first-time author of Above (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Matthew’s father had lion’s feet and his mother had gills, and both fled the modern-day city to live in underground Safe, a secret community of freaks, ghost-whisperers, and disabled outcasts hidden beyond the subways and sewers. 

Raised underground, Matthew is responsible for the keeping of both Safe’s histories and the traumatized shapeshifter Ariel, the girl he took in, fell in love with – and can’t stop from constantly running away.

But Safe is no longer safe: the night after a frightening encounter in the sewers, Safe’s founder Atticus is murdered by the one person Safe ever exiled: mad Corner, whose coup is backed by an army of mindless, whispering shadows.

Only Matthew, Ariel, and a handful of unstable, crippled compatriots escape to the city that cast them out; the dangerous place he knows only as Above. 

Despite Ariel’s increasingly erratic behaviour and with the odds against them, Matthew must find a way to rescue Safe from Corner’s occupying army. But as his quest leads him through abandoned asylums and the dregs of urban poverty, Matthew discovers that the histories he’s devoted his life to aren’t true: Corner’s invasion — and Ariel’s terrors – are rooted in a history of Safe much darker and bloodier than Matthew ever imagined.

And even if he manages to save both home and Ariel, he may well lose himself.

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2012, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Was Above’s 2012 debut a surprise, or inevitable? Actually...kind of both!

I’ve been writing with an eye to publication – instead of writing because it was fun and I liked it, which also used to happen – since the summer of 2001.

I was 19, taking a year off between high school and university, and stumbled across an idea for a story – the first I’d written since I was a kid.

In retrospect, the story was pretty terrible (no, you may not see it!), but it was the gateway to two things: joining the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, where I met a group of writers who have been not just critique partners but the best kind of friends, and my first publication, in a tiny online magazine that stopped publishing years ago.

Being 19 and having just sold the first short story you’d written does a thing to you (where “you” equals “me”). It made me horrifically cocky: dead certain that, yes, I could do this, and no matter how long it took me to learn the skills and craft I needed to sell a novel, I was going to be a writer.

No, scratch that: I already was a writer.

Other people looking at me then were probably rolling their eyes. But I needed that arrogance: if I’d known how long the path to selling that novel was going to be – how much work it would mean, how much I still had to learn, and how much I was going to reorganize my life to make it happen – I would have probably looked at that goal, decided it was too far and too much, and gone and done something else instead.

Leah in the New York Public Library/photo by Sarah Jane Elliot
That illusion of soon gave me an approach to writing that was optimistic and confident and actually, really healthy: of course I was going to make it. I just had to work hard, and commit myself to my work, and one day, it would come.

I worked out of that quiet confidence for years.

I signed on to one online magazine, Abyss and Apex, and then another, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, as a slush reader, and learned things about what make stories work or break.

I talked to other writers constantly, comparing techniques and ideas and theories, and more importantly, trying them out. I went to my first conventions and learned things sitting on both sides of panel tables. I gave critiques to my friends, and got critiques from them, and looked at their ideas, and listened.

It took three years to make my first two professional-rates sales – and yes, the first two pro market acceptances showed up in my inbox six hours apart. And then after that, professional sales came steadily, and so did Year’s Best anthology reprints, and the occasional anthology invite, but it still took five more years of learning and drafting novel manuscripts (and finding the holes in them, and revising them or scrapping them to start again, or deciding 30,000 words in that this idea was stupid and never mind that), before I managed to turn out a book that got me an arts grant and an agent both.

After two more revisions, Above went out looking for editors in October 2009.

It got a lot of rejection letters.

Leah's coffee shop workspace
They were really, really nice rejection letters: Editors who liked the manuscript but couldn’t place it, or took it to their editorial meetings and couldn’t get it through to a “yes”.

But they were nonetheless rejection letters, and by the time we got to January, I realized something: I had done my absolute best, said all the things I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say them, and maybe that wasn’t going to be good enough. Maybe this wasn’t going to happen, and I would have to be okay with that, and do something else with my life.

So, I very quietly gave up. I mourned the idea of being a novelist, took my self-worth out of that particular basket, and started getting more involved in other things: urban agriculture; city politics; indie music.

And then the April after, when I’d mostly moved on? The book sold.

So, Above’s publication this year was in some ways, as inevitable as winter: nine years of hard, targeted, sincere work to make that thing happen. But it was also the biggest surprise I’ve ever had – one it took me a whole summer to get over – and parts of it keep surprising me to this day!

It’s also changed how I look at writing and who I am because of, or without, it: I work hard on learning craft, and I work on projects because I love them.

I love making fiction: it’s like being a glass and having someone fill you right up. But I don’t need to publish anymore to be a complete person, and in some ways, that’s made my relationship with writing a better one: since giving up on that idea of myself as A Writer (tm), I write better and more honestly – because I’m doing it for the right reasons again; the reasons that are good for me as a whole human being.

As a fantasy writer, what first attracted you to that literary tradition? Have you been a long-time fantasy reader? Did a particular book or books inspire you?

I’ve been a fantasy reader since I was first able to read, thanks to my parents’ bookshelf: my mother’s an engineer and science fiction writer who had a solid collection of fantasy novels.

In fact, I work part-time in a science fiction and fantasy bookstore, and we have a joke that the first signing I attended there was when I was negative-six months old: My mom saw Frank Herbert, the author of Dune, there when she was pregnant with me!

So I spent my childhood either reading every book in the school library (and that meant mythology, folktales, Agatha Christie novels, but also a serious helping of Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle and Susan Cooper) and then every book I could squeeze out of relatives for my birthday, and then when I ran out of those, the books in my mother’s bookshelves. That’s where I found Peter Beagle, Patricia McKillip, and probably every Latin American magical realist writer ever translated into English, and I ate that stuff up.

Why, though, is a good question. Why those books and not other ones? Because believe me, I was reading other ones too, and still do: literary fiction, detective noir, horror, science fiction, YA...

I think my love for fantasy novels comes from the same place that my love for cities does: The idea that the world is big and bright and wide, and anything can happen.

Fantasy stories, even when they’re dark, are still at their heart about how staggeringly, amazingly possible everything is. They take this amazing glee in being beyond the edges of not just our everyday lives but their protagonists’ everyday lives. They’re the sheer pleasure of going exploring, and finding secret surprises, and seeing what’s there just because it’s there. Which is a wonderful way to look at the world.

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 became 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, her debut novel, was called “a stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews. It is a Junior Library Guild selection and an ABC new voices selection.

See also New Voice: Lena Coakley on Witchlanders.

In the video below, Leah Bobet reads from her novel at the Chiaroscuro Reading Series as part of "Bakka to the Future". By the Chiaroscuro Reading Series and sponsored by ChiZine Publications.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Marc Tyler Nobleman on Further Than a Google Away

By Marc Tyler Nobleman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

The Internet may be endless, but it’s incomplete.

Whenever I tell an audience (whether young or adult) that you can’t find every answer online, the skepticism in the room is usually palpable. Some people seem unable—or simply unwilling—to process this.

It’s as if I told them that we just found out that the planet we live on is actually Mars and it’s time to redo our return labels.

If I as a writer of nonfiction want to give my readers facts or anecdotes that they can’t find elsewhere in print or pixels, I must unhook my digital leash and venture into the real world. After all, if someone already put it on the Internet, it isn’t new information, is it?

Visit Marc Tyler Nobleman
I’ve written two illustrated biographies on the young men who dreamed up our two most iconic superheroes: Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (about writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster), illustrated by Ross MacDonald (Knopf, 2008) and Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (about writer Bill Finger), illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge, 2012).

One reason these topics appealed to me is because, hard as it is to believe, no one had ever done a standalone biography of these pop culture VIPs. One reason that appealed to me is because it increased the chance that I would be doing research no one had done before. And the reason that appealed to me is because it meant I might stumble across something new.

Original research is, of course, labor-intensive, but that makes any gold mined all the more shiny. Here are three ways I found information that even the goliath Google could not have helped with (and all for a picture book!):

Bill Finger

Staking out a New York City apartment building. When I began researching Bill Finger in 2006, my priority was talking with people who knew him personally, especially the ones who were not in comics (AKA the ones no one interviewed before). It would be a challenge to find many living contemporaries because Bill was born in 1914 and died in 1974.

But his first wife Portia died in 1990—recently enough that someone who knew her might still be in the building where Portia lived at the time of her death.

One summer evening, I stood outside that building, waiting for someone to come in or out. When a woman came home from work, I asked if she knew which resident had been in the building the longest. She put me in touch with the super, and next thing I knew I was sitting in the living room of a woman in her seventies—and in her nightgown, even though it was only 6 p.m.

Trying doing that online. (Well, better don’t.) She gifted me a few memories of the Finger family that only a neighbor would know.

The New York City apartment building.

Ping-ponging between the surrogate’s court offices of three of the five NYC boroughs.

That same summer, I was on a quest for the will of Bill’s only child, Fred, who died in 1992. Wills, I was surprised to learn, are public record. But I didn’t know if Fred left one, and if he did, where.

I started in Manhattan, then zipped over to Queens, then Brooklyn, where neither “Frederic Finger” nor “Fred Finger” yielded results.

Yet oddly, when I searched only “Finger,” he turned up. The lone document in his file was a settlement of estate, and the lone name within was one I’d not heard from anyone I interviewed.

The buried story that document revealed: someone was discreetly getting Finger Batman royalties after Fred died…but not a Finger. This discovery would have significant repercussions for both my book and for the family.

Poring over hundreds of (non-digitized) photos in three Cleveland locations.

Most people have not been inside the Cleveland house where Jerry Siegel lived when he created Superman and, therefore, would not be critical of visual inaccuracies in Boys of Steel. However, I still wanted to be able to say “That’s how it really looked.”

So I showed up there one day in 2007 to ask the current residents (no longer Siegels) if I, a total stranger, could come inside to take photographs for illustrator reference. (They said yes. I am not intimidating.)

But finding an image of the small apartment building in which Joe Shuster lived at the time proved considerably harder. It was torn down decades ago; since apparently no one knew its cultural significance, it had not been properly documented beforehand.

At the historical society, it took me all day to go through the boxes of archival photos mounted on cardstock. No luck. The next day, I scoured the photos (stored in manila envelopes) at Cleveland State University. No luck.

Finally, without much optimism, I checked the public library, where the photos were filed in recipe boxes. Yet it was there where I finally found my quarry: a shot of a rundown building taken just before its 1975 demolition—and 42 years after Joe first drew Superman there.

Whether looking for people, documents, or photos, at some point you’ll need to switch a screen for a street, trade up pounding the keyboard for pounding the pavement.

Yet the Internet remains a powerful research tool, in particular for a reason easily overlooked because it is so obvious: it gives each of us some degree of access to everyone else.

In other words, you might not know where to hunt, but chances are you can find someone who does—and reach him instantly. When I wanted to confirm or debunk a persistent rumor about Hitler personally banning Superman comics on the floor of the Reichstag, I checked a bunch of books and found no mention. But I wanted to be sure so I e-mailed a bunch of professors of German or WWII history. This led to a bounty of expert input tailored precisely to my need. (Incidentally, the consensus was that Hitler had done no such thing.)

Now all of the above behind-the-scenes information on the minds behind our masked marvels is online.

Because I put it there.

Cynsational Notes

Author Chris Barton/Batman, age 4, center
Children's-YA Authors/Illustrators Dressed as Superheroes by Marc Tyler Nobleman from Noblemania. Peek: "Welcome to the first known gallery of children’s/YA authors and illustrators in superhero costumes (a few got in on a technicality)."

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win an author-signed copy of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: international.

From the promotional copy:

Every Batman story is marked with the words "Batman created by Bob Kane." But that isn't the whole truth. A struggling writer named Bill Finger was involved from the beginning. Bill helped invent Batman. 

Despite his brilliance, Bill worked in obscurity. It was only after his death that fans went to bat for Bill, calling for DC to acknowledge him as co-creator of Batman.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 09, 2012

New Voice: Sarah Warren on Dolores Huerta: A Hero To Migrant Workers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Sarah Warren is the first-time author of Dolores: A Hero To Migrant Workers, illustrated by Robert Casilla (Marshall Cavendish, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Dolores is a teacher, a mother, and a friend. She wants to know why her students are too hungry to listen, why they don't have shoes to wear to school. Dolores is a warrior, an organizer, and a peacemaker. 

When she finds out that the farm workers in her community are poorly paid and working under dangerous conditions, she stands up for their rights.

This is the story of Dolores Huerta and the extraordinary battle she waged to ensure fair and safe work places for migrant workers. The powerful text, paired with Robert Casilla's vibrant watercolor-and-pastel illustrations, brings Dolores's amazing journey to life. A timeline, additional reading, articles, websites, and resources for teachers are included.

Could you tell us the story of "the call" or "the email" when you found out that your book had sold? How did you react? How did you celebrate?

I had just given up writing for publication forever and ever and I had good reason. Children’s literature was ruining everything. I have proof! See for yourself:

1. My personal life was a mess. How could I spare time or emotional energy for other people when my snotty little muse needed my full attention? Besides, it took billions of hours to edit, go to school and do all the networking and critiquing necessary to make a story publishable. What with all the full-time working, eating and sleeping I had to do too, something had to give.

2. My professional life as a manager was killing me. Before ambition struck, I sparkled at work, now I moped. It just wasn’t fair. I was clearly destined to be a celebrity author. Before, if I just worked harder I was successful. Hadn’t I tried my hardest?

The pile of rejection letters tried to reason with me. “Oh Sarah,” they said, “Wouldn’t you be happier if you just gave in and focused on your day job?” They were right. Trying to burn the candle at both ends was making me bad at everything.

Besides, successful writers always said you have to love writing so much you’d do it for free. Maybe I could focus on the “do it for free” part. I could never give up the sensation of creating a story and sharing it with my students or my writing group. I gloried in the satisfaction of an effective revision. I could keep the thrill of connection with my readers, I would just have a much more intimate audience than I had hoped.

3. A two-year apprenticeship program offered by The Loft Literary Center was over. The opportunities to network and write with a cohort of authors, educators and editors were gone. I had two chances to share my work with publishers and although one had expressed interest I hadn’t heard back. I had gotten my shot and I’d blown it. My ego was the size of a pumpkin seed.

I had come to a decision. I needed to stop driving myself crazy. I would go on a diet. I would simplify my life. I would adjust my expectations. I would be happy.

Then I got the call. It was the week before Thanksgiving. I was moping at my desk (my renewed sparkle hadn’t kicked in yet). The phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number so I refused to answer it. I will never, ever make that mistake again.

My awesome future editor left a very mysterious message. She let me know she’d like to talk about my manuscript. She told me she’d be out of the office for the next week.

Wait, out of the office? For the next week? I needed to know what her call meant now, now, now!

Lisa on writing for kids, full-time
I immediately contacted everyone I’ve ever met to pick apart the conversation, the tone, the length of the call, the time of day it happened.

Finally, my mentor Lisa Bullard, an amazing writer and instructor talked me back into my brain. “Well, she wouldn’t call you to tell you she didn’t like it. What editor wants to have that conversation?”

It was true. She liked my manuscript. She told me so a week later.

As a nonfiction writer, what first inspired you to take on your topic? What about it fascinated you? Why did you want to offer more information about it to young readers?

When I was a child and I saw pictures of women, I would stare at them. I know that sounds creepy, but stay with me. I would hold the catalog, or picture book or newspaper in my little lap and run my eyes over every feminine inch.

I gazed with purpose. I had questions to answer. Would I look like her? What made her beautiful? What made her grown up? Did she look strong, or happy, or like anybody I knew? How would I need to transform in order to be more like this woman?

 I was a mixed-race kid. I didn’t see many ladies who looked like me. I figured I’d have a whole lot of change ahead to measure up to what my scavenged images had taught me about womanhood.

I grew up into a preschool teacher and became intensely interested in the media my students consumed. Most of my kids lived in poverty. Many were children of color. Most of my books did not show people who looked and lived like they did.

Also, there was the mom thing. As a dabbling writer for children I’d heard about this. I’d heard good authors, normally very righteous people, were taught to “kill the mom”. Child protagonists could never get into the trouble necessary for a satisfying story with a nurturing mom around. So, Little Mermaids grow up mom-less, bullied by over-bearing dads, Harry Potters are orphans and Max is ostracized and sent to his room where he roams free and wild.

No good moms made the number of accessible, female images even smaller. This was bad news for my kids. This was bad news for kids everywhere. When they gazed at books and tried to form pictures of what they might be as leaders, as heroes, and as adults, what did the images tell them?

Well, you probably guessed it, I wrote Dolores: A Hero to Migrant Workers for my kids. I know, a writer on a soapbox is no fun at all; I hope you won’t hold it against me.

The truth is, as a teacher, I needed this book as much as I thought they did. I wanted an accessible, child-friendly biography. I wanted to tell the story of a woman who looked like the moms I served and the women my girls would grow up to be.

This hero would not be a sponge, defined by the shape of her circumstances or her peers. The story of her dynamic, complex nature was just as important as her exploits. Rather than try to sort through the timeline of what was, at the time the standard biography (birth, life, death) I wanted to share a slice of her leadership that revealed the expansive hero we know she became.

Verla Kay on Rough, Tough Charley

I love picture book biographies that explore the lives of extraordinary people in unique ways. Some personal favorites are:

Despite the will of my passion and moral indignation, my book wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it weren’t for its illustrations. Robert Casilla, the illustrator of Dolores: A Hero to Migrant Workers, created art that brought my words to life.

When I share this story with my preschoolers, they are entranced by the images of Dolores as she matures and pushes forward. The colors and realism in the pictures root the events and characters in our world so completely. There is a picture of a group of smiling workers and kids. My kids love that one. It is a victory moment they can share in because the faces are so friendly and familiar.

It’s so much easier to have a conversation about the reality of true heroes with my superhero-obsessed group when they can look at these images and see their own potential for greatness.

Sarah's bookshelf.

Cynsational Notes

Visit Anneographies: "children's author Anne Bustard on her favorite picture book biographies and a few collected biographies, too, birthday by birthday."

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Book Trailer: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for The Selection by Kiera Cass (HarperTeen, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in the palace and compete for the heart of the gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself-and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

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