Friday, October 12, 2012

Cynsational News & Giveaways

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Congratulations to Dianna Hutts Aston on the release of A Rock is Lively, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2012). From the promotional copy:

From the award-winning creators of An Egg Is Quiet, A Seed Is Sleepy, and A Butterfly Is Patient comes a gorgeous and informative introduction to the fascinating world of rocks. 

From dazzling blue lapis lazuli to volcanic snowflake obsidian, an incredible variety of rocks are showcased in all their splendor. 

Poetic in voice and elegant in design, this book introduces an array of facts, making it equally perfect for classroom sharing and family reading.

Meet the Creators of A Rock is Lively by Laura Starr from Chronicle Books Blog.

More News & Giveaways

Agents and Publishers Aren't Knocking at My Door by Alvina Ling from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "It can be heart-breaking, frustrating, and soul sucking, and not everyone is going to make it--in fact, very few people are going to be successful in this industry. But this business can also be joyful, inspiring, and full of supportive, collaborative people."

Writing the Fear Away by Kristi Holl from Writer's First Aid. Peek: "If award-winning, mega-selling writers feel this way when creating fiction (and how I bless her for her honesty!), then it should come as no surprise if you and I also feel this way."

Throwing My Own Party: Why and Is It Worth It? by Grace Lin from Blue Rose Girls. Peek: "The point of a book party is to celebrate the book with perhaps some promotional benefits--not the other way around."

Physical Attributes: Knees by Angela Ackerman from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Can a unique feature, clothing choice or way they carry themselves help to hint at their personality?"

Book Trailers: Situation vs. Synopsis by Gail Gauthier from Original Content. Peek: "These trailers simply expose the basic situation the book deals with. They seem to move faster, maybe because they aren't trying to do as much."

Starting in the Present Moment by Mary Kole from Peek: "Not only do you want to start strong and grabby, but you also want to get away from the vague, get away from the general, get away from the philosophy, stop writing bumper sticker expressions of your theme, and go toward the specific and the well-defined."

Gender Balance in YA Award Winners Since 2000 by Ana from Lady Business. Peek: "I believe that boys' reluctance to read stories by or about girls and women is not inevitable and should be challenged, but I realise that this is not something that can be achieved overnight." Source: Gwenda Bond. Note: Imagine how the figures would look like if you started with, say, unpublished writers, broken down by gender, who're associate members of SCBWI.

Nominees include Maira Kalman
Nominees for the 2013 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award: 207 candidates from 67 countries are nominated. The nominees were revealed at the international Frankfurt Book Fair on Oct. 11, 2012.

The Emotional Query by Lorin Oberweger from Literary Rambles. Peek: "...the emphasis is less on the setting and more on the machinations of the protagonist’s psychology."

Agent Spotlight: Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency from Literary Rambles. Peek: "I live in London and I work with authors and publishers both in the U.K. and the U.S."

The Gut Shot: Hitting Readers Where It Counts by Kelly Bennett from Janet S. Fox at Through the Wardrobe. Peek: "If it speaks; it eats. Therefore, as plot, character, description, or emotion, there’s room for food in every story."

2012 National Book Award Finalists
(Young People's Literature)
Cynsational Screening Room

The theme song for the Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities by Mike Jung (Arthur A. Levine, 2012) launch party on Oct. 6. Sorry video is wobbly--but funny and well worth a watch/listen!

Cynsational Giveaways
The winner of a signed copy of Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean (Simon Pulse, Oct. 2012) has been contacted. Check your email!

Don't miss the giveaway at Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing. See also Five Tips for Writing Brilliant Characters by Nicole from AIYACP.

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Last weekend, I road-tripped to the Gulf Coast.
And visited these wonderful people.
Greg Leitich Smith checks the tech.
Refreshments are served.
The crowd gathers.
The crowd settles in.
Books are given away!
See also Greg's photo report.

Even More Personally

Fall TV season is upon us! My regular shows are "Big Bang Theory," "Glee," "Supernatural," "Bones," and a new one -- "Arrow" (see trailer below). How about you?

Personal Links

From Greg Leitich Smith

Cynsational Events

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak about author PR on a panel at the monthly meeting of the Writers' League of Texas at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at BookPeople in Austin.

Greg Leitich Smith will be a featured author at Tweens Read Oct. 20 at Bobby Shaw Middle School, 1201 Houston Avenue, Pasadena, Texas and at the Texas Book Festival Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 at the state capitol building in Austin. See also Texas Book Festival 2012 Youth Literature Programming.

The Writing Barn (Austin) Presents 2013 Advanced Writing Workshops, featuring editor Alexandra Penfolds (January), YA author Sara Zarr (April), and Francisco X. Stork (November).  See details.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Voice: Katherine Catmull on Summer and Bird

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Katherine Catmull is the first-time author of Summer and Bird (Dutton, 2012).

When their parents vanish overnight, pragmatic Summer and her stormy, light-boned sister Bird follow a meager clue--well, it might be a clue--into the forest. 

There the sad, electric song of a patchwork bird draws them Down, where they must fight—against a ravenous, bird-swallowing Puppeteer; against each other; and against their own fears, ambitions, and griefs—first to find the truth about their parents, and then to help the birds find their way back to the Green Home, the birds' true home, lost to them since the bird queen vanished years ago.

But at the border of the Green Home, earth and sky crash together like jaws, demanding a sacrifice.

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

My initial revision process was to write the first chapter, complete another chapter or two, then come back a month later to find that the first chapters were hideously bad.

The narrative voice, in particular, was just dreadful in the earliest version of the first pages—it had a weird, cloying quality that probably came from certain turn of the century children’s books I loved as a child. An excellent voice for, say, The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew, but ghastly for me.

But even though every time I’d go back to my first pages, my eyes would pop out and my hair would stand up a' la any given horror-struck cartoon character, what astonishes me in retrospect is that I didn’t give up. Not giving up turns out to be rather crucial to the process.

Narrative voice is critical to me as a reader, so all my early revisions were about coming to a voice I liked. Once I had a full draft, my later revisions were about adding texture, planting seeds, that kind of thing.

Katherine's work room
My agent, David Dunton, helped me a lot in making the manuscript more child-friendly (which I had given surprisingly little thought to—I was writing a children’s book that I would like), as well as tighter and generally spiffier.

Then my editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, taught me what major structural revisions look like — I really had no idea how to do that, or even how to think that way. She’s a brilliant editor, and I feel very lucky to work with her.

Among the many things I’ve learned that I try to bear in mind now, as I write my second book: the bits I love rereading are usually working. The bits I avoid rereading: not so much. Also, it helps to figure out what your characters most desire, and how those desires are in conflict.

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 was a great fantasy reader as a child—the Alice books were huge favorites of mine, At the Back of the North Wind, all the Edward Eager books, and of course A Wrinkle in Time.

I read some of the Narnia books, too, and the Lord of the Rings. But I’ve never been as drawn to high fantasy like Tolkien’s; and something about Aslan made me nervous. I was always sure he’d find me disappointing.

I also read a lot of Ray Bradbury as a child. When he died recently, I reread a few of his pieces for the first time since I was maybe 12 or13, and realized that he had a big influence on me, even just those distinct rhythms of his prose. It’s funny how what you read in childhood can go straight into your DNA.

Katherine's desk
As an adult, I have not read as much straight-up fantasy, but for a while I was obsessed with magic realists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude in my teens, I felt a tremendous shock—you can do that? You can just have whatever you want to happen, happen, and in an adult book? Things can roll along quite normally except for ghosts, and a teenage girl who floats up to heaven, and a thousand yellow butterflies that mark a lover’s death? I felt a similar rush when I first read Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino.

If there are contemporary books that inspire me, it would probably be the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman (Ballantine, 1995-2000), a children's series that brilliantly and fearlessly delves into profound, complex subjects. I love those books.

Also, I was actually inspired to begin Summer and Bird when I read Coraline by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2002). That book scared me down to the bone—though I’ve since read Gaiman saying it seems to be scarier for adults than for children.

As I set Coraline down—I still remember where I was sitting—I thought: This is a children’s book for adults. I did not know that was a thing, but it is a thing I want to do. I’d been casting around for a major writing project, and I decided that would be it.

By the way, I have no idea what I meant by “a children’s book for adults”—I mean, Summer and Bird is definitely a children’s book (as is Coraline, for that matter). But it’s what I had in mind as I wrote. Perhaps I just meant that I was writing for myself, writing the children’s book I wanted to read—which is what all writers do, or ought to, I think.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Lisa Wheeler

Lisa at the release party for Boogie Knights

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Lisa Wheeler is passionate about children’s books. “I love everything about them, including the smell.”

To date, Lisa has thirty titles on library shelves, with more to follow. She’s written picture books in prose and rhyme, an easy reader series, three books of poems, and creative nonfiction for the very young.

Awards include the 2004 Mitten Award for Old Cricket, given by the Michigan Library Association, the 2005-2006 Great Lakes, Great Books Award and 2005 Missouri Building Blocks Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum, the 2006 Bluebonnet Award for Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta, the 2006/07 South Carolina Picture Book Award for Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum and most recently, the 2008 The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for Jazz Baby given by the American Library Association.

Her newest titles include Dino-Football, illustrated by Barry Gott (CarolRhoda), Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Simon & Schuster) and coming in February 2013, Pet Project: Cute and Cuddly Vicious Verses, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora (Simon & Schuster).

Lisa shares her Michigan home with one husband, two dogs, and an assortment of anthropomorphic characters.

What memories of your debut author experience stand out? If you could offer advice to the new voice you once were, what would you say?

I began writing seriously in 1995. I set a goal to sell a magazine story in eight months and a picture book in one year. Well, nearly eight months later I sold my first magazine story, so I felt I was on track.

Alas, it took nearly four years and all of my patience before finally selling my first picture book, One Dark Night.

Like most writers, I had dreamed of what that moment might be like. I envisioned a call from an editor during dinner, when all of the family was home. I would be shocked! Elated! Terrified! Excited!

But when the real first sale happened, it didn’t go according to any script in my head.

By that time, I had acquired an agent. He’d accepted me on the basis of a chapter book I wrote. But five months later, when he wasn’t able to sell it, I was convinced he was going to drop me.

When I submitted One Dark Night to him, he called me immediately. He loved the manuscript and was certain it would be my first sale.

Then, he simultaneously submitted it to six houses. Four of them wanted it!

An auction for the book began and I was left shocked, elated, terrified and excited.

When the dust settled, Harcourt became my first publishing house.

After over two hundred rejections in four years, I had publishers begging me to sell them my story. It was awesome!

This just goes to show that anything can happen on this bumpy road to publication. Don’t give up! The difference between an unpublished author and a published author is one day.

How have you built an audience over time?

Years ago my agent said that he felt I would be one of those authors who slowly built her reputation one book at a time. He was right!

I really think it comes down to craft. I’ve had books get starred reviews, appear on state lists, and win awards. Those things are out of my control. What is in my control is my manuscript while it is still in my hot little hands. It is up to me to make sure I am sending out my best.

If you build it, they will come.

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

Lisa with Flat Stanley.
Yes--many times. Those four years in the trenches were not fun. And I know many writers who have waited much longer for their first book contract.

I recall days when I would come home from work to find three or more of my rejected manuscripts waiting in my mailbox. (Insert funeral dirge here.) I’d whine. I’d cry. I’d get discouraged.

There were even times when I would ask myself if it was all worth it. Could I chase this brass ring forever?

But then, the next day I would get a new idea and the process would begin again.




We writers are a crazy lot.

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

I would tell them to enjoy each moment. You only get one first book.

Looking back, I realize that I never gave myself enough credit for my accomplishments (probably still don’t). When my first book came out, I was so busy working on new books, trying to sell books, and trying to come up with ideas for more books that I never stopped and smelled the roses.

On the flip side, I would also tell them that this is just the first book. You want it to be the first of many. Don’t stop working, don’t stop submitting and don’t stop brainstorming new ideas.

If this is what you love doing, keep doing it. It is that simple.

Madcap Monster Ball
Cynsational Notes

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

Enter to win an author-signed copy of Dino-Football by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Barry Gott (CarolRhoda, 2012). Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S. only.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Tammi Sauer on "And This One a Book Signing..."

By Tammi Sauer
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Doing a book signing can be a little intimidating—especially if you arrive at the store and see something like this:

Suddenly, all you feel like doing is running home and hanging out with your dog.

But you can’t. You must act like a professional. Even if you are dying on the inside.

Then you remember you are a professional. You’ve planned for this. You’ve read “The Tips Tammi Wished She Had Known About Before She Did Her First Book Signing.”

While these suggestions are primarily geared toward picture book writers, many of them can be applied to novelists as well.
  • Arrange for the signing to coincide with the store’s regularly scheduled story time. That way you can share your book with a built in audience.
  • Tell your family and friends about the signing and ask them to spread the word. Moral support is a very good thing.
  • Have something attention-getting at your signing table—it makes a great conversation piece. When I did signings for Bawk & Roll (Sterling, 2012), for example, I had a stuffed chicken that squawked anytime someone picked it up by the neck.
  • Come up with a craft that ties in with your book. Make sure it's fairly easy, not too messy, and fun. If it involves copious amounts of glitter and glue, find a different craft.
  • Have something inexpensive to offer the people who are kind enough to stop by your table. Examples include candy, tattoos, and bookmarks.
  • Smile. Look like you want to be there and not like you are mentally prepping for a root canal.
  • Consider having a sign-up opportunity. In exchange for a name and email address, you can offer to send out behind-the-scenes information, book news, and activities that tie in with the book such as word searches or readers’ theater scripts.
  • Don't anchor yourself to your chair. Stand up. Walk around a little bit. Be visible.
  • If you unexpectedly hear over the intercom system that you are going to be doing a reading at the back of the store, resist the urge to hide under your table. Give the crowd your best. Not only read your book, but perform it a little bit. Consider building some audience participation into your bookstore readings. Be engaging. If possible, be funny. (I somehow pulled this off the day after I recovered from the Swine Flu. I consider this one of my life’s biggest achievements.)
  • Be ready to answer the pressing question: "Where's the bathroom?"
  • When you're signing a book for someone, engage in some conversation. If you have a brain freeze, you can always go with the simple, "Who is this book for? How old is he/she?" Then talk about the awesomeness of that recipient.
  • Be prepared to have your picture taken.
  • Remember to send a thank you card to the person who made it possible for you to do a signing at the store. My dad always told me, “You can never say thank you enough.” He was right.
  • Sometimes you will be signing next to Someone Very Famous. Avoid looking at that person’s line.
  • Realize that sometimes bookstore signings don't result in many—if any—sales. Be okay with that. If nothing else, at least you will come away from the experience with a story to tell. "And this one time, at a book signing..."

Cynsational Giveaway

This fall Tammi has three very good reasons for getting into the book signing groove: Oh, Nuts!, illustrated by Dan Krall (Bloomsbury), Princess in Training, illustrated by Joe Berger (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma, illustrated by Victoria Hutto (Sterling). Enter to win author-signed copies of each of these books. Author sponsored. Eligibility: U.S.

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Cynsational Screening Room

Monday, October 08, 2012

Career Builder & Giveaway: Anna Myers

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Anna Myers says: The sixth child in a family of seven, I was born in west Texas. My oldest brother told me I was found in a tumbleweed. I knew he was teasing, but part of me wanted to believe the story.

"Our family moved back to Oklahoma when I was only six months old, and I grew up in central Oklahoma where I have lived all my life except for two years in New York State when I was a young woman.

"The summer before first grade, I dictated my first novel manuscript, 'The Long Bearded Man,' to one of my older sister. It was a commercial success because I charged each of my older siblings, including the one who wrote it down for me, a quarter each to read it.

"In school my favorites were history and English, and after college, I became a teacher of English. Even though I loved teaching, I could never give up that early desire to be a writer. My husband and I had three children during a span of four years. The prospect of sending them to college one after the other inspired me to get busy with writing. The first book did sell just in time for college.

"Cancer took my first husband in 1999. I am now married to a man with whom I went to high school. We live in an old house, filled with character and warm spirits, in the small town of Chandler, Oklahoma. I have seven grandchildren who bring me a great joy, and I am grateful to have work I love."

How do you define success?

Red-Dirt Jessie with a jar of red dirt.
Success is telling the story that needs to be told and, oh, yes, I almost forgot, money.

I wouldn’t object to having money for lots of travel. I have not achieved the later, but I am still trying. Who knows, maybe this will be the year of the movie or the bestseller list.

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

I thought of giving up many times. During the seven years it took to sell my first novel, I gave up often, but only for about fifteen minutes.

I would start to cry.

My kids would say, “Oh, Mom, don’t give up. Someday you will sell a book.”

Then they would look at each other and roll their eyes as if to say, “Why doesn’t she just get real and clean up this house?”

My despair never lasted long. I wanted to write, and I knew I had to make enough money to educate the three children my late husband and I had very close together in age.

When I first began to write, I had two friends who also wrote novels. They never published anything. I did, simply because I wanted it more.
"In my first book, Red-Dirt Jessie, a character says about the dirt in central Oklahoma, 'it is sure enough red here. Stubborn too. Won't come out of nothing on wash day....I figure it makes us strong, seeps under our skin and makes us too blamed stubborn to give up when things turn rough.'"
Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you should have done differently? What and why?

I wish I had paid more attention to promotion. I found promotion difficult and foreign to my nature, so I ignored it. I wish I hadn’t.

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

A stained glass lamp made by Anna's husband.
Right now I am writing my first adult novel, a project I have wanted to work on for a long time. I will always think writing for kids is more important and in some ways harder than writing for adults.

However, my book for adults is a story that pushes up from inside me and demands to be told. It is about three women teachers who form a garbage company to supplement their income. I need to write about the camaraderie of the teachers with whom I taught and about the death of a husband from a wife’s point of view. I will be finished with the manuscript in November.

In December I will begin the young adult ghost story that is now growing in my mind. Also, my agent is now marketing my first picture book.

My strategy is simple, sit in my chair and write.

Cynsational Notes

Anna Myers is the author of 19 novels, all published by Walker. Her debut was Red-Dirt Jessie (1992), and her latest release is The Grave Robber's Secret (2011).

Her other books are: Time of the Witches (2009); Spy! (2008); Wart (2007); Confessions from the Principal’s Chair (2006); Assassin (2005); Hoggee (2004); Flying Blind (2003); Tulsa Burning (2002); Stolen by the Sea (2001); When the Bough Breaks (2000); Captain’s Command (1999); Ethan Between Us (1998); The Keeping Room (1997); Spotting the Leopard (1996); Fire in the Hills (1996); Graveyard Girl (1995); and Rosie’s Tiger (1994). See teacher resources.

The Career Builders series offers insights from children's-YA authors who written and published books for about 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

Enter to win one of two signed middle grade books by Anna Myers. Three total copies available. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Enter to win one of four signed YA books by Anna Myers. Nine total copies available. Author-sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Author Video: Lois Lowry on Son

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Check out this author video on Son by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Told in three separate story lines, Lois Lowry's Son combines elements from the first three novels in her Giver Quartet—The Giver (1994 Newbery Medal winner), Gathering Blue, and Messenger—into a breathtaking, thought-provoking narrative that wrestles with ideas of human freedom. 

Thrust again into the dark, claustrophobic world of The Giver, readers will meet an intriguing new heroine, fourteen-year-old Claire. Jonas from The Giver is here too, and Kira, the heroine of Gathering Blue. In a final clash between good and evil, a new hero emerges.

Cynsational Notes

Attention Central Texans! Lois will speak about Son and sign at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at BookPeople in Austin. Peek: "Tickets are required for the signing portion of this event and are available only with the purchase of a copy of Son from BookPeople. Books and tickets are now available. You can purchase a book and receive a ticket in-store or online." See more information.
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