Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Trailer: Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out the book trailer for Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris (Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen, 2012). From the promotional copy: 

Two days before her junior year, Janelle Tenner is hit by a pickup truck and killed--as in blinding light, her life flashing before her, then nothing. 

Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school, leaning over her.

And even though it isn’t possible, Janelle knows—with every fiber of her being—that Ben has somehow brought her back to life.

But her reincarnation, and Ben’s possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI-agent father’s files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? 

Then when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what’s right in front of her: Everything that’s happened—the accident, the murder, the countdown clock, Ben’s sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. 

And as the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she’s going to need to uncover Ben’s secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.

From debut author Elizabeth Norris comes this shattering novel of one girl’s fight to save herself, her world, and the one boy she never saw coming.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

2012 South Asia Book Award Winners Announced from PaperTigersBlog. Learn more about Same, Same but Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw (Henry Holt, 2011) and Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman (Putnam, 2011).

Author Draws on Her Tween Experiences: A Feature on Jo Whittemore by Joe Gross from The Austin American-Statesman. Peek: "'I try to write about things I know about,' the 34-year-old Whittemore said. 'And something I know about is being in middle school and high school theater and not being very good. Unlike me, Sunny is not a bad actress — she's just not the favorite.'"

Books Fail to Accurately Represent Our Increasingly Diverse World by Matthew DeFour from The Wisconsin State Journal. Peek: "The proportion dipped noticeably during the recession, a possible indication that book publishers made the economic decision to pull back on titles and authors that might not sell as well, said John Sellers, an editor for Publishers Weekly."

What to Tell Agents While on Submission by Mary Kole from Peek: " If I query two agents, and one emails me back with suggestions and asks me to resubmit, do I need to tell the other one?"

Award-winning Children's-YA Fantasy Author Franny Billingsley is taking applications for private study in writing for winter 2013. Contact:

Process Talk: Shelley Tanaka on Nobody Knows by Uma Krishnaswami from Writing with a Broken Tusk. Peek: "...the novelization would have to stick as close to the film as possible. Whenever I tried to embellish or write more, it felt false. Everything is in the film. I figured if I could transfer the film to the page, then the reader would bring the rest, the same way the viewer does to the film."

The SCBWI Illustrator Mentorship Program from SCBWI: The Blog. Information and 2012 mentees.

Build a Better Author Bio for Twitter from Jane Friedman. Peek: "I do not recommend adding 'Author' to your actual name. I don’t recommend it for the handle, either. Save 'author' exclamations for the bio."

2012 Crystal Kite Winner Profiles: Texas's Patrice Barton from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "Austin is really a great community of writers and illustrators who help and support each other." Note: Texas/Oklahoma division; post features a note from Austin SCBWI RA Debbie Gonzales.

Six Reasons Why Everything in Publishing Takes So Long by Cheryl Klein from Brooklyn Arden. Peek: "Because what is individual is often deeply personal, and people deserve kindness." Note: required reading.

When to Outline from Beth Revis. Peek: "Sometimes called a 'backwards outline' due to the fact that you write it at the end rather than at the beginning, organizing my novel after the first draft has been enormously helpful." Source: Anna Staniszewski. See more great links from Anna.

Louise Erdrich's Chickadee: a recommendation by Debbie Reese from American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "Resilience...and the strength of family and community is woven throughout...."

Open Strong: First Chapter Exercises by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro! A Free Online Writing Workshop. Peek: "Think about your work in progress. What do you want to promise?"

Knowing When Your Manuscript is Ready to Query by literary agent Lara Pekins from WriteOnCon. Peek: " agent-ready manuscript is not the same as a publication-ready manuscript because an agent is looking for something to sell, not something to publish." Source: QueryTracker.netBlog.

Goodies for Writers from Children's & YA Lit Resources. Includes information on agents, editors and publishers, promotion, book design, illustration and art direction, publishing, writing, craft, the writer's heart and much more. Note: blog author's official site.

Five Things to Consider Before Dismantling a Blog by Carmen Oliver. Peek: "With the blog gone, the traffic to the website ground to a screeching halt."

Cynsational Giveaways

The winner of Rebel McKenzie by Candice Ransom (Hyperion, 2012) is Taffy in Utah.

The winner of Harness Horses, Bucking Broncos & Pit Ponies: A History of Horse Breeds by Jeff Crosby and Shelley Ann Jackson (Tunda, 2011) is Heidi in Utah.

The winner of I Like Old Clothes by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Patrice Barton  (Knopf, 2012) is Cathy in Massachusetts.

Around the Web: win a personalized sketch by Bender Comics via P.J. Hoover at Roots in Myth.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Vermont College of Fine Arts
I'm writing from the scenic campus of Vermont College of Fine Arts, where this week I'm teaching a YA novel writing workshop at the post-grad conference. I've been here since last Sunday and return home this weekend.

I've completed my lecture and reading. There are two more workshop meetings and a party to go. I look forward to hearing Tim Wynne-Jones speak on plot this afternoon.

I miss Greg and the kitties, but I've hugely enjoyed getting to know my students and visiting with other folks here. I'll report with more detail (and photos) soon!

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Margaret with young readers
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio, and is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio.

She worked as a newspaper reporter and community college instructor before her first book was published in 1995.

She has since written more than 30 books for kids and teens, including the Shadow Children series, the Missing series, and the tenth book in the 39 Clues series. Her two newest books are Torn (the fourth book in the Missing series) and The Always War. In fall 2012, she looks forward to the release of Caught (the fifth book in the Missing series) and Game Changer. Margaret's publisher is Simon & Schuster.

Her books have been honored with New York Times bestseller status; the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award; American Library Association Best Book and Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers notations; and more than a dozen state reader’s choice awards.

Margaret and her husband, Doug, live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two teenaged children.

How do you define success?

Margaret as a young reader (with furry friend)
My definition has changed dramatically over the years. In the beginning, my goal was simply to get a book published--at a time when I was receiving nothing but rejection letters, publication alone seemed like the pinnacle of achievement.

Then I sold my first two books just as my husband and I were starting a family, and the equation shifted. With so many other demands on my time, finding time to write seemed like too much of a selfish luxury unless it also paid off financially.

(In retrospect, I realize that I should have looked at the big picture: Writing helped keep me sane—or, semi-sane, anyway--during that challenging early-motherhood phase, and there’s no way to put a price tag on that.)

But the first time my editor offered me a contract for a book that I would be paid to write—not one that was already finished—I felt like I had truly arrived.

Then my goal became to do well enough with my writing that I wouldn’t have to go back to a full-time “real job” when my kids started school. I was writing to buy time to write, but also to buy control over my own time, so I had enough flexibility that I could be a PTO room mother and a Girl Scout leader and a Sunday school teacher and a volunteer in my kids’ classrooms—which conveniently also gave me a lot more material to write about. This arrangement seemed ideal.

Now I’m about to send my youngest off to college. He’ll start just a few days before my thirtieth book comes out (Caught, on Sept. 4), and I have the luxury now of being able to be a lot more philosophical about how I define writing success.

I hear a lot from parents who tell me, “I couldn’t get my kid to read until he read one of your books, and now he’s reading like crazy” or from kids who tell me, “I used to hate reading, but now, because of your books, I love it,” or from kids/teachers/parents who tell me specific examples of how specific aspects of my books have helped specific readers navigate real life.

And all of that seems like the truest definition of writing success.

How have your marketing strategies changed over the years? Could you tell us about one strategy that worked and why you think it was a boon to you?

I have spent many years resisting the notion that I have to have “marketing strategies,” because I would always, always, always rather write another book than do any marketing. But I do realize that the internet makes marketing much easier and more effective, even as internet-related changes makes self-marketing more necessary.

I finally got around to starting my own website only when it began to seem that Harper Lee was probably the only other living author who didn’t have one.

My then-fourteen-year-old daughter was actually the person who set up my Facebook fan page, because she deemed it “embarrassing” that I didn’t already have one. For the first year or so, my husband maintained that page for me because it was a time when I was overwhelmed with other work. Then his own job became overwhelming, and he passed it off to me.

About that time, the Simon & Schuster online marketing department told me they could link my Facebook fan page to another fan site, and suddenly I had the potential to reach more than fifteen thousand readers with a single post. Even a lazy, reticent, marketing-averse writer like me can grasp that that’s a wonderful thing.

By Kerry Madden

I would still not say that I am good at using any type of social media to its fullest advantage, but I am getting better at it. I fully realize that authors nowadays have to take some responsibility for their own marketing (unless they are, you know, Harper Lee), and the internet does make that relatively easy and painless.

I know this is hardly ground-breaking, but I have been trying to do a better job of using the Facebook fan page and website together. For example, I’ll put a full list of my upcoming appearances on my website, and then post a mention of it on the Facebook page, so people will know that I’ve made the update. Or, I’ll post the new cover art for my next book on the Facebook page, and tell people that they can go to the website for a description of the book or for answers to FAQs.

It’s amazing to me how much response I can get to something like that, almost instantly. I am coming to appreciate having the ability to quickly announce something on Facebook, but also have a place where I can direct readers for ongoing information.

Did you ever consider giving up? What happened? What kept you going?

I did. After a few small, early successes with my fiction—and four years of working as a reporter for a metropolitan newspaper—I went through a two-and-a-half-year spell when I was concentrating much more on writing fiction and trying to get it published and having no success whatsoever.

At one point when I was distraught over receiving yet another rejection letter, my husband tried to comfort me by saying, “You know, there are people who spend their entire lives trying to get published and never succeed. If it turns out that you never get published, are you going to be miserable your whole life? Isn’t it enough to have a good life otherwise? Why write if it’s just going to make you miserable?”

Our joke now is that he told me I should give up, and I got published right away just to prove him wrong. In reality, it wasn’t that simple (or quick). But I do remember letting myself imagine what he described: giving up, collecting the rejection letters for everything I had out at that moment and not sending anything else out, not writing anything new, stomping out every new story idea instead of exploring wherever it might lead… and that seemed totally wrong.

The words playing in my head were, But I’m a writer. I write. That’s what I do. That’s who I am.

There may have even been some religious overtones to my conviction: Why would God make me feel so strongly called to be a writer if that isn’t what I’m supposed to do?

So I ignored my husband’s advice and I kept writing and kept submitting and kept collecting rejection letters. And eventually I did succeed.

Recently I read Madeleine L’Engle’s first Crosswicks Journal, A Circle of Quiet, and I came across a passage where she describes her moment of deciding to give up: when she received a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday, after a whole decade of discouragement.

And a second later she was imagining the next thing she wanted to write—which made her realize that no matter how much the publishing world rejected her, regardless of anyone else’s opinion, she couldn’t stop being a writer. And I felt like she was describing exactly the same epiphany I’d reached.

And I am so impressed that she could still feel that way on a dismal fortieth birthday, after ten years of discouragement. And I am stunned that the books she was having rejected were two that had a huge, huge impact on my childhood, and probably played a large role in convincing me that I wanted to be an author: Meet the Austins and A Wrinkle in Time.

What's the secret of your success?

I mostly feel like I’ve done a lot of things wrong over the course of my career. I have not been particularly good at marketing or self-promotion or navigating the publishing world or, at certain points, even staying up to date with what’s going on in the publishing world.

But I guess a large part of the reason that I’ve succeeded, to the extent that I have, is that I always kept writing, and always considered that the most important part of my job.

I wrote my second book before my first book was published; whenever I finish a book, I usually start the next one right away, even if I’ve told myself, “Now you need to take care of all those other things you’re supposed to be doing.”

And it’s not because I’m such a virtuous person (if I were that virtuous, my office would be much neater) but because that’s what I want to do. What mattered to me in the beginning was writing stories that felt true and important to me, and writing them as well as I could, and that’s still what matters the most to me. If I stopped feeling that way, I think I would have to stop writing.

The other big factor that has helped my books and my career is that I think I have gotten very good advice and support from my editors and agents over the years.

Probably the biggest boost my career ever got—the change that bumped me up from one level of success to another, much higher up—was when I continued my book Among the Hidden into a seven-book series, the Shadow Children.

And that wasn’t my idea at all—David Gale, my editor at Simon & Schuster, suggested it, and even when I kept saying, “I guess that’s a good idea but I can’t see how it would work,” my agent, Tracey Adams, kept calling me back and saying, “What about doing it this way? Keep thinking about it—don’t say no yet.”

I had very little faith in my ability to continue Luke’s story past the first book, but David and Tracey did, and they essentially nagged me into developing a vision for the series and having the courage to follow that vision. And I am very grateful that they did.

Cynsational Notes

Discussion guides for the Shadow Children series and The Missing series from Simon & Schuster.

The Career Builders series offers insights from children's-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more. The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win one of five sets of Margaret's classics: Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey and Leaving Fishers (both Simon & Schuster).

From the promotional copy of Don't You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dunphrey:

Things are so bad, I feel like I’m going to explode if I don’t do something...

Everyone has to keep a journal in Mrs. Dunphrey’s English class, but the teacher has promised she won’t read any entry marked “Do not read this.” It’s the kind of assignment Tish Bonner, one of the girls with big hair who sit in the back row, usually wouldn’t take very seriously. But right now, Tish desperately needs someone to talk to, even if it’s only a notebook she doesn’t dare let anyone read.

As Tish’s life spins out of control, the entries in her journal become more and more private...and dangerous. Is she risking everything that matters to her by putting the truth on paper? And is she risking more by keeping silent?

From the promotional copy of Leaving Fishers:

Dorry is unbearably lonely at her new high school until she meets Angela and her circle of friends. 

She soon discovers they all belong to a religious group, the Fishers of Men.

At first, as Dorry becomes involved with the Fishers, she is eager to fit in and flattered by her new friends’ attention. 

But the Fishers make harsh demands of their members, and Dorry must make greater and greater sacrifices.

In demonstrating her devotion, Dorry finds herself compromising her grades, her job, and even her family's love. 

How much is too much? And where will the cult’s demands end?

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

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Enter to win one copy of Margaret Peterson Haddix's Torn (Simon & Schuster, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Still reeling from their experiences in Roanoke in 1600, Jonah and Katherine arrive in 1611 only moments before a mutiny on Henry Hudson’s ship in the icy waters of James Bay. 

But things are messed up: they’ve lost the real John Hudson, and they find what seems to be the fabled Northwest Passage—even though they are pretty sure that that route doesn’t actually exist. 

Will this new version of history replace the real past? Is this the end of time as we know it?

With more at stake than ever before, Jonah and Katherine struggle to unravel the mysteries of 1611 and the Hudson Passage...before everything they know is lost.

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

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Enter to win one copy of Margaret Peterson Haddix's upcoming release Caught (Simon & Schuster, 2012)(see cover above). From the promotional copy:

Jonah and Katherine come face to face with Albert Einstein in the fifth book of the New York Times bestselling The Missing series.

Albert Einstein
Jonah and Katherine are accustomed to traveling through time, but when learn they next have to return Albert Einstein’s daughter to history, they think it’s a joke—they’ve only heard of his sons. 

But it turns out that Albert Einstein really did have a daughter, Lieserl, whose 1902 birth and subsequent disappearance was shrouded in mystery. Lieserl was presumed to have died of scarlet fever as an infant. 

When Jonah and Katherine return to the early 1900s to fix history, one of Lieserl’s parents seems to understand entirely too much about time travel and what Jonah and Katherine are doing. It’s not Lieserl’s father, either—it’s her mother, Mileva. And Mileva has no intention of letting her daughter disappear.

Publisher sponsored. U.S. only.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Angela Ackerman on Writing Body Language: Moving Beyond the Basics

Angela at the Grand Canyon
By Angela Ackerman
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

If there is one universal struggle I hear about from writers, it is repeat gesturing. This is when those shrugs, frowns, feet shuffling and smiles sprinkle themselves across a manuscript because they are obvious choices to show a character’s emotions.

The most common are ones that involve the eyes, face and hands, as well as internal ‘tells’ such as heartbeat and breathing changes.

The big problem with obvious gesturing is that it is often synonymous with tired and overused, or worse, cliché.

Settling for phrasing that’s been done to death can not only make a character’s actions and emotions seem a bit hollow, it can also impact the empathy link between reader and character. For readers to fully immerse themselves in the story and character’s plight, they need to invest themselves emotionally. This means not only creating compelling circumstances that allow for rich, emotional interaction between characters, it means bringing the reader up close and letting them experience what the character is feeling.

Fresh writing is the key to emotional showing, and this means thinking beyond the basics of body language. It also means understanding the body’s instinctive responses (known as visceral reactions) and the thought process that accompanies an emotional experience. Drawing on all three of these as you describe will bright about a rich, layered description that will captivate readers.

Here are three tips to put the fresh back into your expressions.

1) Mine Your Memories

Sit back from the keyboard for a moment and think about what emotion your character is feeling. There may be several, but one will be the root cause of the others.

When you find it, think about a time where you felt the same emotion. Then, recreate that moment and allow your body to take over. What is it doing?

Let’s pretend it’s guilt. Is there a sour taste in your mouth? Does your stomach bunch up? Does your throat feel painful?

Act out the feeling and move around. Do you hold your arms close to the body? Is your posture slumped? Are your eyes closed, or open?

Keep mining until you find a movement that is fresh and unique.

2) Use the Setting

Setting is so much more than a backdrop, so have your character interact with it. Touching is intimate. What objects within the setting trigger feelings of safety or strife? Build these into the scene and show your character react to them.

Body language will also shift depending on how a person can express themselves. Confined to a chair, a character may show emotion differently than he would standing around a campfire, or in an elevator full of people.

Personality and comfort level will also affect body language, because people act differently alone versus in a group.

3) Watch People (but don’t be creepy about it)

I know, this one seems a bit basic, but it’s something all writers should be doing. And don’t shy away from locations that provide high emotion either--people who are visibly upset, excited or frustrated are treasure troves of unique body movements! 

Sasha takes five in Angela's favorite reading spot.

Take advantage of wherever you are--a doctor’s office waiting room, at a pub watching the game, hustling through the grocery store.

Keep an eye out for that uncomfortable patient, exuberant fan, or overwrought mom with three kids bouncing all around her.

Bottom line is that each of us express ourselves in our own way, and we must strive to do this with our characters. Dig deeper and think beyond the ‘easy’ gestures. Then, using a combination of thoughts, visceral responses and body movement, create your character’s unique emotional footprint on the page!

Cynsational Notes

Angela Ackerman is a Canadian who writes on the darker side of middle grade and young adult. A strong believer in writers helping writers, she blogs at the award winning resource, The Bookshelf Muse, and is co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression (also by Becca Puglisi). Angela is represented by Jill Corcoran of The Herman Agency.

Cynsational Giveaway

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is a writer’s best friend, helping to navigate the challenging terrain of showing character emotion. This brainstorming tool explores seventy-five emotions and provides a large selection of body language, internal sensations, actions and thoughts associated with each. Written in an easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.

Enter to win The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Author sponsored; eligibility: U.S./Canada.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Kelly Bennett

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kelly Bennett has a long history of rambling (they used to call it running away/disappearing/lollygagging).

They say the first thing Kelly did, after being born, was to voice her opinion—loudly!

Her love of writing can be traced back to 1960, when she was two-ish, and used her mother’s black mascara and lipstick to write on the neighbor’s car! (And maybe blamed it on her brother...although she says he blamed it on her.)

She has been telling stories and writing ever since.

Her writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and 17 books for children. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College.

Her current obsession—writing picture books for younger humans and their adults to share—most recently resulted in publication of her new picture book with illustrator Terri Murphy, One Day I Went Rambling (Bright Sky Press), which celebrates friends, pets, imagination and all that goes into being a kid!

Would you describe your career as a hike up a mountain, a winding road, a path of hills and valleys or hop-scotching from rock to rock across the rapids? Why?

Wow! Gave me pause and chocolate urges…

They told Kelly she was too tall for ballet.
Mine has definitely been a meander through hills and valleys. Why?

Because I did not have a clear vision of what “being an author” or “successful” was for me until fairly recently—close to 20 years after starting up this path.

Family has always come first with me. But I mistakenly thought I had to choose: writing or family.

And so I played at writing, when it was convenient, when it didn’t interfere with family obligations, when dinner didn’t need cooking, clothes didn’t need washing, kids didn’t need schlepping, moms weren’t bellowing….

Too, for many years I wrote with a partner, Ronnie Davidson, which was great fun and hands-down the reason I stuck with it long enough, especially during some really rough personal years, to achieve publication. It was easy being a team player—sharing the job and the joy— and so I didn’t follow up on individual writing opportunities or consider what I wanted my writing life to be.

All that changed a few years ago when some friends and I formed the GGs, a girl’s creativity group. Through guided studies of books such as The Artist’s Way and The Passion Test, we explored how to live more creative, meaningful lives.

As part of that exploration I did something I’d never done before: I defined for myself what being a successful writer meant. Not vague “I want to be somebody,” wishes, either—I’d done that heaps of time, at the bottom of every valley, at the rise just before the top of every hill.

This time I visualized myself living my ideal life as a writer and from that formulated a step-by-step action plan with clear goals and touchstones.

How have you grown as a writer? What skills have you seen improve over time? What did you do to reach new levels? What are areas that still flummox you at times?

View from Kelly's window in Trinidad.
Hands down, the best thing I have done to hone my writing skill--and continue to do--is take classes. Working through the VCFA Writing for Children and Young Adults program was a game changer.

Mostly it’s about gaining confidence.

I know I can write well. I know I can revise. That knowledge bolsters me when I hit the bad patches. The real hurdle is overcoming ones fear of failure and just going for it, trying… And to keep going when you get to the hard places.

That being said, I hit bad patches all the time, with every story, and so I have to keep telling myself “I am a writer! I can do this! I can tell this story!” over and over and over again. It’s my mantra.

An old-age prevention article I read recently suggested a good way to stay younger, engaged, interested and interesting is by cultivate friends from every generations. This holds true for writers, too. It’s like that adage about making new friends and keeping the old: One is silver and the other gold.

I study, read, take writing classes and workshops from established authors and emerging talents alike, they teach, challenge, and inspire me.

My current obsession is with picture books written by male authors: Peter Brown, Peter Sis, Mac Barnett, Chris Barton, Mo Willems, and the like. Men, like boys, look at the world differently. They don’t worry about being sweet or nice. They get right to it and they don’t mind getting dirty. It’s refreshing. So I’m studying their work with an eye to infusing my stories with some boyish grit.

What flummoxes me? How to make it come on the page the way it sounds in my head.

What advice do you have for the debut authors of 2012?

Marketing and all that goes with it: establishing a web presence; promotions, reviews, etc. is important, but it is not everything. If you haven’t already, define for yourself what kind of career you envision for yourself. Based on that, create a marketing plan that is aligned with your goals.

Don’t be afraid to ask your editor and the marketing team at your publisher for advice on how you can best compliment their marketing efforts. And whatever else you do, allow plenty of writing time. For if you don’t write it, there won’t be a “next” book.

What do you want to say to those one-book wonders or those that feel the market has left them behind? 

The same thing Teen Angel said to Frenchy: “Go back to High School!”

Set your ego aside and go back to your roots—to what made you want to be a writer in the first place and start fresh from there. Take classes, study the market, and study “successful” authors you admire. Learn what it is they do so well—whether it writing, marketing or both—and use all you learn to set a new course for yourself. We’re writers, we get to write and rewrite the future—reinvent yourself.

Where do you want to go from here? What are your short- and long-term goals? Your strategies for achieving them?

Back to work. As always, I have several stories on my desktop in needing attention, two middle grade novels I’ve been “too busy”—translation: “too scared”—to revise, that I am committed to see through to the end. And a new blog/journal idea I’m excited about—oh, and a notebook of “brilliant” ideas….

Long term, I would like to have a new book published every 12 to 18 months. To do that, I have to write more. And challenge myself to write better and to write those stories I’m afraid to tackle. 

Cynsational Notes

More about Debbie
More about Doris
Check out activities designed to maximize fun-time with One Day I Went Rambling, including a teaching guide and reader’s theatre script created by author-educator Debbie Gonzales and puzzles by author-educator Doris Fisher.

The Career Builders series offers insights from children's-YA authors who written and published books for a decade or more.

The focus includes their approach to both the craft of writing and navigating the ever-changing business landscape of trade publishing.

Cynsational Giveaway

In honor of the LGRBT 2012, illustrator Terri Murphy has created this Let’s Go Rambling Kit, which includes:
  • an autographed copy of the book,
  • Huey the Color-Changing Chameleon,
  • “Ahoy Mates” bandana and eye patch,
  • official LGRBT magnifying glass, blings and boings.
Eligibility: U.S./Canada.
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Monday, August 13, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Erin E. Moulton on Framing The Truth About Owen

By Erin E. Moulton
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In writing my second book, Tracing Stars (Philomel, 2012), I managed to write nerdy oddball Owen Stone. For some reason, everyone just loves Owen. People ask “what’s the truth about Owen? Are you Owen. Is your husband Owen?”

Well, here’s the story.

Initially, Owen showed up as a stereotypical nerd. No depth, just a nasally voice and some thick glasses. In frustration, I began to explore his character a bit more, asking a few simple questions.
  • What are Owen’s interests? 
  • What Makes Owen’s voice distinct/what does he think and say? 
  • What Does Owen look like?

In order to answer these, I needed to conduct some solid field research. I needed to observe a few big nerds out in the wild. Where would I find nerds, I wondered as I got up off the couch and walked into the dining room.  


There, right in front of me was a triumvirate of nerdtacular action. One nerd sat at the table with a headset on, talking to two other nerds. Three huge nerds joined together in one place through the miracle of technology and gaming, right when I need to observe nerds… a coincidence?

 I don’t think so.

Visit Erin E. Moulton.
I grabbed a slice of pizza, pulled out my notebook and watched from a distance, jotting down notes as I went.

Nerd #1: Jason H. Robinson, Biomedical Engineer, hobby airplane enthusiast, likes analysis, decidedly left-brained, slightly OCD.

Nerd #2: Christopher Eddison McMurtry, Realist, Observer, avid reader, goat farmer.

Nerd #3: Timothy Raymond Cook, Chemist, professor, introvert, germaphobe with a nasally voice.

(Note: Do not use all of Tim’s traits—verges on nerdy stereotype.)

Despite the nerdiness of some of my real life characters, I knew if I could combine these three, I would have the biggest and most unique nerd the world has ever seen!

With that thought, I looked down at the table that surrounded Nerd # 1 and attempted to find some answers to the first question: What are Owen’s interests and strengths?

Items on table:
  • One autonomous RC airplane
  • One pack of unopened dental floss and one apple
  • Several tools (Lots of needle nose pliers, drill, and 2 types of knives)
  • Unused sun block (goes outside?)
  • One opened and unfiled patent document that says Jason H. Robinson, Inventor 
  • One used tissue folded into an exact square. (This I knew to be a regular habit of Nerd # 1, and a habit that was explained to me as “the proper way to use a Kleenex to maximize the use of its surface area.”)

Right. And here I thought it was O.C.D.

Regardless, I was getting somewhere. I knew that this nerd was an inventor. He liked innovation. Judging by the use of Kleenex and the correct tools, he liked efficiency. Judging by the sunscreen and apple, he liked to be prepared.

I jotted Owen’s Strengths: innovation, preparedness and efficiency.

Check and Check.

On to question #2 : What would Owen sound like? What would he say when with a friend? Would he be using metaphors? Spouting facts?

In order to find out, I knew I would have to get the attention and engage in conversation with one of the nerds. Possibly separating one of them from the rest of the pack. I walked into the living room where I sat down at my own computer. I could see Nerd #2 was on gmail chat, and I jumped in. It took a few minutes for the response to come through, but when it did it went pretty much like this:

ME: Hey

Nerd # 2: Hey

ME: So your middle name is Edison, huh?

Nerd #2: Eddison with two dd’s.

ME: Oh, I thought you were named after Edison, like Thomas Edison. The inventor.

Nerd # 2: Ha, No thanks. You should read this:

I opened the link and smiled. Nerd # 2 had exceeded my expectations within six lines. Not only had he corrected me once, he then gave me an informational link that would tell me that Edison was not even an inventor and that Tesla was the one who should have gotten credit in creating the light bulb.

I scribbled in my book: Unprompted, Owen will inform you of…things that you don’t necessarily need to know. He knows uncommon knowledge. And would like you to know it, too.

Check and Check.

Lastly, I turned to question number three: What would Owen look like? Would he have short hair, long hair? Would he wear a hat? Would his clothes be boringly realistic? Would he have any outwardly odd quirks?

I tapped the pencil eraser against my cheek. I would need to document the nerds. That, or--a few clicks of the keyboard--facebook had done the work for me.

Nerd # 3. I pulled up a picture and bingo. A prime specimen. Face shot. Serious. Freckled nose. Thick Glasses. Straw Like hair peering from underneath what I immediately recognized as a vintage aviator cap. Why? I wondered. Then again, why not?

I jotted some more: Owen has typical bad eye sight, thin-ish hair, a friendly face and wears a vintage aviator cap.

Check and Check.

With my three questions answered I made my way back to the story and I let the knowledge I had gained on my trek out into nerd-central inform Owen in every breath he took.

New Voice: Erin E. Moulton on Flutter
Owen began to pop off the page, saying things like, “Did you know that a stomach growl is indicative of hunger? Your stomach muscles are contracting and forcing your digestive fluids and air around inside, making that gurgling sound.”

Owen keeps a journal. Not a diary. Just ask him. He’ll show you the front which says, Owen’s Book of Logic and Reason: Observation Log IV. Here he makes observations about the world and writes down plans for his innovations, like dual night vision and magnification goggles.

And yes, he does wear glasses, and he does have a slightly nasally voice, but he also will break the stereotype by wearing a vintage aviator cap that he picks up along the way.

In the end, Owen Stone wouldn’t exist without the valuable field research I was able to conduct. Seeing nerds in action gave me the chance to write the logical, sympathetic unique character that everyone just loves.

And that’s the truth about Owen.

Cynsational Notes

See teacher's guide and reader's theater for Erin's debut novel, Flutter (Philomel, 2011).

Erin's pups

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win signed copies of the paperback edition of Flutter (Puffin, 2012) and an ARC of Tracing Stars (Philomel, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America (U.S./Canada).

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