Friday, February 08, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Available April 2
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Trailer and Playlist for Robin LaFevers' follow-up to Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph from Entertainment Weekly. Peek: "'I knew I wanted to write this bigger, sort of darker, sort of epic, kind of rip-your-heart-out type of book,' she told EW over the phone. 'And I couldn’t do that for 11-year-olds.'"

Full Listing of ALA Book Award News Releases by Teri Lesesne from The Goddess of YA Literature. See also 2013 Sydney Taylor Book Awards from The Whole Megilah and Celebrate the Small Steps, Too from Donna Bowman Bratton.

Writer's First Aid: a Medicine Chest of Hope by Kristi Holl has moved! See Kristi on How to Recover Your Writing Energy -- All Day Long.

Six Things Readers Want from Your Author Website by Thomas Umstattd from Author Media. Memo to self: figure out a more effective calendar and put together some exclusive information--stat!

A Twitter View of #NY13SCBWI compiled by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Cyn's favorite: Kim Harrington ‏@Kim_Harrington I love this. RT @mbrockenbrough "Fail big if you have to, but go down trying." - Margaret Peterson Haddix #NY13SCBWI

Liz Waniewski: How I Got Into Publishing from CBC Diversity. Peek: "I was able to interview at Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Group, the imprint that published Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, a book I loved and was featured on my all-time-favorite show, 'Reading Rainbow.'"

Drawing the Reader in through Character Emotion by Carolyn Kaufman from Peek: "We were tired of our characters always shifting their feet to show nervousness and narrowing their eyes when angry. And when we started talking with other writers, it became clear that many of them also struggled in this area."

Final Sendak Book a Tribute to His Brother by Hillel Italie from Yahoo News. Peek: "Sendak died last May at age 83 after years of health problems, but had managed to finish My Brother's Book (HarperCollins), published this week. Admirers of Where the Wild Things Are and other Sendak stories will recognize its themes of danger, flight and fantasy, captured in a dreamy-scary swirl that demonstrates Sendak's debt to William Blake."

Five Ways to Add Humor by Darcy Pattison from Fiction Notes. Note: reference The Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus (Silman-James Press, 1994), which is highly recommended.

Thoughts on Newberry: Buzz, Buzz, Buzz by Monica Edinger from educating alice. Peek: "It won the award because the Committee took a very hard look at it alongside many other books and decided it was the best this year. That there was a huge social media fandom behind it had nothing to do with it." See also ALA Midwinter 2013 and the Amelia Bloomer Project by from Kidlit Network and the Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour by Heidi Estrin from People of the Books.

Q&A with Greg Neri by Sue LaNeve from Quirk & Quill.  Peek: "[On his toughest decision] To buy back a novel that had already sold to a major publisher because the sale went against my own gut reaction. It was a mistake and the toughest thing I had to do was to break free from that untenable situation (though it took a long time to realize it). There’s no one to blame, it just happens sometimes that things weren’t meant to be even if you really wanted it to work."

Reading List: Stories for the Chinese New Year; see also: Love Among the Ruins: Romance in YA Fiction by Shara Hardeson from The Horn Book.

Celebrate Black History Month

The Brown Bookshelf: 28 Days Later:
NAACP Image Awards: Winners Announced by Aaron Couch from The Hollywood Reporter. Note: scroll for "Literary Work - Children" and "Literary Work - Teens." Special cheers to VCFA alum Kekla Magoon. Source: Children's Book Council.

Andrea Davis Pinkney on Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America from The Horn Book.

Cynsational Giveaways

Enter to win book & a signed doodle by the author-illustrator

The winners of a signed copy of Execution by Alexander Gordon Smith are Karielle and Kelly in Florida.

To enter to win a copy of Feral Nights; see

Reminder! To enter to win a paperback copy of Diabolical; see Cynthia Leitich Smith Author Interview, Review & Diabolical Giveaway from

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Last week's highlight was the Montgomery County Book Festival in The Woodlands, Texas.

Mari Mancusi, Cory Putnam Oakes (who graciously donated this photo to Cynsations), E. Kristin Anderson, Bethany Hegedus, Greg Leitich Smith & me; see full photo report & just for fun, Larry's Pretty Good LiveJournal.

See also Greg's, Joy's and Cory's reports on the Montgomery County Festival.

Enter to win
The Horn Book says of Feral Nights: "Smith’s blend of supernatural suspense, campy humor, and romantic tension is addictive; allusions to both pop culture ('Thriller,' Monty Python) and literature (The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Most Dangerous Game) add to the fun. Most satisfying of all, Aimee and especially unassuming, injured Clyde leave their sidekick roles behind to come into their own."

Book Review: Feral Nights from Miss Literati. Peek: " and engaging read. We found ourselves constantly chuckling at Clyde and Yoshi’s sarcastic and witty commentary, while simultaneously sitting on the edge of our seats in anticipation. The mysteries surrounding Daemon Island, Ruby’s disappearance and Travis’s death were all so exciting and suspenseful that we didn’t know what to do with ourselves."

Looking for an early-release signed copy of Feral Nights (Candlewick, 2013)? Try Murder by the Book in Houston!

Reminder! Giveaway still ongoing! Cynthia Leitich Smith Author Interview, Review & Diabolical Giveaway from In-depth, at times quite personal, conversation, celebrating the upcoming paperback release of Diabolical.

You can also enter to win Feral Nights at

Tantalize series -- Eternal: Zachary's Story and the paperback edition of Diabolical release Feb. 12!

Thanks to Tara in Mumbai for letting me know that the Tantalize series is #2 at her local bookstore, Kitab Khana, right behind the Harry Potter series! (Not bad company!)

Quote of the Week: Cynthia Leitch Smith from Ingrid's Notes.

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Heads up, Chicago (Feb. 25-27) & Madison (Feb. 28)! I'll be winging your way the week of Feb. 24. Watch Cynsations for details!

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith, Jennifer Ziegler and more at Library Palooza 2013: That Author Thing! will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at Brandeis High School in San Antonio.

2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers will be March 15 to March 17 at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. Peek: "This year's retreat will feature faculty Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lauren Myracle, and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa." 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Guest Post: Maha Addasi & Yvonne Wakim Dennis on The Rest of America: The Importance of Multicultural & Inclusive Children’s Nonfiction

By Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi are the co-authors of A Kid's Guide to Arab American History: More Than 50 Activities (Chicago Review Press, 2013). From the promotional copy:

Many Americans, educators included, mistakenly believe all Arabs share the same culture, language, and religion, and have only recently begun immigrating to the United States.

A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History dispels these and other stereotypes and provides a contemporary as well as historical look at the people and experiences that have shaped Arab American culture. Each chapter focuses on a different group of Arab Americans including those of Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Iraqi, and Yemeni descent and features more than 50 fun activities that highlight their distinct arts, games, clothing, and food. 

Kids will love dancing the dabke, constructing a derbekke drum, playing a game of senet, making hummus, creating an arabesque design, and crafting an Egyptian-style cuff bracelet. Along the way they will learn to count in Kurdish, pick up a few Syrian words for family members, learn a Yemeni saying, and speak a little Iraqi.

Short biographies of notable Arab Americans, including actor and philanthropist Danny Thomas, singer Paula Abdul, artist Helen Zughaib, and activist Ralph Nader, demonstrate a wide variety of careers and contributions.

Yvonne and her favorite reader, Luca
From Yvonne: Although there have been improvements since when I was a child, the image portrayed in history books and curriculum is basically the Myth of America: this hemisphere didn’t exist until 1492; these lands had no purpose until 1776; this country was built by and with the values of WASP men with a few other Christians thrown in. And women? Apart from fashioning the flag and fending off hordes of evil Indians, they don’t merit much space.

I’ve felt that my duty is to correct that myth and most of my books have either been about American Indians or multicultural.

I respect kids and their ability to understand so I’ve tried to create nonfiction that maintains the integrity of the oral tradition, engages with storyteller magnetism and hopefully effects long lasting and positive change in a way that’s not didactic or preachy.

Truthfully, I am just tired of the ‘hater grown-ups.’ It was time to tell the truth about Arab Americans as I had with Native peoples. I wanted a co-author, a Muslim born in Arabia. I asked the amazing writer Elsa Marston if she had any ideas. Her suggestions led me to the wonderful Maha Addasi! I learned so much from Maha and appreciate her scholarship, optimism and joyfulness.

Photo of Maha Addasi by Jama Kim Rattigan
From Maha: I spent my undergraduate years at Butler University in Indianapolis, where fellow students were interested in knowing more about life in the Middle East where I grew up. The beauty of being on a college campus is that students have this clean slate and open mind of learning about other cultures without being hung up on the baggage that comes from the political atmosphere and how it can be misconstrued. That genuine interest in the true charm of the Arab-American culture is what I hoped to capture in this book.

Working with Yvonne was a fabulous experience. Yvonne had a list of the stereotypes she wanted to combat that matched mine in length! Our discussions over extended telephone conversations were filled with laughter and were so therapeutic to the soul. This is something collaborative authors seek and rarely find. I’m so glad our paths crossed when they did.

From Maha and Yvonne: Both of us are passionate about our writing and liked each other’s style – important in a collaborative work. Maha is a naturalized citizen and speaks fluent Arabic while Yvonne is a second generation Arab American who only knows Arabic curses. Maha is Muslim; Yvonne follows her father’s traditional Native religion. Our varied experiences were never a problem, but a plus. What was a problem, however, was cramming an entire group of people with diverse cultures, histories and religions into one small book!

Luca Lanoix-Deserie making Belgha slippers
We assigned ourselves specific chapters, but had a free hand in editing and enhancing each other’s work. We read everything we could find on Arab Americans. Sadly, we had to buy most of our books as our local libraries had very little. Not only does Amazon love us, but this was yet another validation for the necessity of this book!

We interviewed dozens of people we knew about or sleuthed down while trolling the internet. Magically, art projects and fabulous people appeared, like New York City’s only remaining sidewalk artist, Hani Shihada, who has decorated the pavement in Yvonne’s very neighborhood!

We took bits and snippets and put it together with activities that would reinforce the text and make Arab American kids proud of their heritage while debunking Arab American stereotypes for all youngsters. We designed projects that are not only fun and cultural, but useful.

We did not trivialize religion by including sacred objects. The esteemed Dr. Jack Shaheen was our professional reader and gave us valuable guidance every step of the way. He is the ‘go to’ expert on Arab Americans and we were thrilled that he offered to help us.

Maha's Inspiration -- children in Petra
We highlighted notable Arab Americans we could connect to a specific activity or if they had an angle of interest or benefit to kids.

We were truthful and confronted stereotypes, racism and hard times.

It was very tough when we had to cut bios of some of our heroes. In many ways, nonfiction is easier to write as we are retelling and sometimes re-framing the truth. However, history can be challenging as we do not want to misinterpret incidents or actions as those people are not around to defend themselves.

The support from everyone, both Arab and non-Arab has been truly amazing. Our efforts and determination have filled a gap and we would like to think that the results of our labors will help publishers and booksellers want to continue to create diverse books that represent all who live in our very diverse nation. Our dedication in the book is how we truly hope this book will be perceived.

Cynsational Notes

A Kid's Guide to Arab American History from the Arab American Institute. Peek: "A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History makes us look forward to a greater Arab American presence in American literature for all ages."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Book Trailer & Giveaway: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made and a signed doodle by Stephan Pastis (Candlewick, 2013)(sample chapter)(activity kit). Publisher sponsored. Eligibility: North America.

 From the promotional copy:

Meet "detective" Timmy Failure, star of the kids' comedy of the year. Created by New York Times best-selling cartoonist Stephan Pastis.

Take eleven-year-old Timmy Failure -- the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of the best detective agency in town, perhaps even the nation. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Throw in the Failuremobile -- Timmy's mom's Segway -- and what you have is Total Failure, Inc., a global enterprise destined to make Timmy so rich his mother won't have to stress out about the bills anymore.

Of course, Timmy's plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered. And it doesn't include Rollo Tookus, who is so obsessed with getting into "Stanfurd" that he can't carry out a no-brainer spy mission.

From the offbeat creator of Pearls Before Swine comes an endearingly bumbling hero in a caper whose peerless hilarity is accompanied by a whodunit twist. With perfectly paced visual humor, Stephan Pastis gets you snorting with laughter, then slyly carries the joke a beat further -- or sweetens it with an unexpected poignant moment -- making this a comics-inspired story (the first in a new series) that truly stands apart from the pack.

Cynsational Notes

Attention Central Texans! Stephan Pastis will launch Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at BookPeople in Austin. Note: there will be cake.

Check out the book trailer for Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis (Candlewick, 2013)(sample chapter)(activity kit).

Cynsational Giveaway

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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

New Voice: Miriam Forster on City of a Thousand Dolls

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Miriam Forster is the first-time author of City of a Thousand Dolls (HarperTeen, 2013)(Pinterest inspiration board). From the promotional copy:

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. 

Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. 

Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Nisha came about after I had the original idea for City of a Thousand Dolls. I had imagined this place where girls would be trained in all kinds of different things, where everyone had a place and a purpose. Then I asked myself what would happen if you had someone in this place who didn't have much of a purpose or place at all. What kind of person would they become?

Originally Nisha was much too passive. She reacted a lot instead of taking initiative. I had to make her more proactive without losing the emotional vulnerability and honest human frailty that I felt was so key to her character. It was a hard balance for me to find, but it was important to me that she not be "strong" in the traditional female fantasy heroine way. I wanted her to make mistakes and stumble around and need help sometimes because we all do.

There is immense strength in not giving up, there is strength in fixing your mistakes and accepting your past. And that strength isn't related to whether or not you can kick ass.

With Kona AKA "Sneaky Weasel Cat"
Also, sometimes character development can sneak up on you. The original ending was riddled with problems and I had to rewrite it quite a bit, but one thing that it had was a scene where Nisha does the classic, detective-analyzes-the-clues bit, and figures out the killer. But in the rewritten ending, she ends up more stumbling into the solution than anything else. I didn’t do that on purpose, in fact I didn’t even realize I’d done it until people started commenting on it. But I think it fits with who Nisha is in the book. She doesn’t fix things by being smarter or better than anyone else. She fixes them by refusing to give up until she does.

And then there are the cats. My favorite comment about the book so far is that it can turn anyone into a cat person. I’ve heard that quite a bit, and it makes me happy.

Cats are in my blood. I grew up with them, there were always at least two or three around when I was a kid. As much as I like dogs, there’s something about cats that just appeals to me. I like their independence, and how they ask for what they want. How they can go from cuddly and affectionate to ferocious hunters in the blink of an eye. They seemed like the perfect companions for Nisha, who is also independent and determined, and far fiercer than she realizes.

(As for the antagonist, I can't tell you anything. It's a secret.)

As a fantasy writer, going in, did you have a sense of how events/themes in your novel might parallel or speak to events/issues in our real world? Or did this evolve over the course of many drafts?

A bit of both. Originally I’d envisioned the book as being about expectations and how they shape people, but in the course of writing the first draft, I realized it was much more about different kinds of love and how they react when faced with human frailty. That part never really changed during rewrites.

Miriam's work station
But the secondary themes and the real world things, those sneaked up on me.

(Other authors have muses that come and whisper to them. My muse likes to hide behind doors and jump out at me and yell "boo!".)

The most obvious one was the idea that girls in this society were considered less valuable than boys. And that happened because I had to answer the question “Why is there a city dedicated to training orphaned and abandoned girls?”

I wish I could say that answer was hard to find, or that I had to think a lot about how to make it believable. But I didn’t.

I’d already figured out that the Bhinian Empire had been isolated by a magic catastrophe, so it made sense that there would be a restriction on the number of children people could have. And sadly, there is ample evidence in the world today that when you have to choose between having boys and having girls, girls lose out. The effects of China’s one-child policy is the most obvious example, but there are others, and I found them in my path wherever I turned.

The Bhinian Empire is a South Asian-inspired world. Specifically, I took a lot of cultural cues from the ancient Indus River valley civilization and from pre-colonization India. And unfortunately, the value of girls in India is falling. In 2006, my husband went to India and visited several orphanages. He was surprised by the overwhelming number of girls there, and was told that many of them were not orphans, but simply abandoned by parents who could not afford their dowries.

In 2011, USA today ran an article about over two hundred girls who changed their names. These girls had all been named some variation of “unwanted” by family members who’d been hoping for a boy. The New York Times ran an article in October about gender politics in India, and said that even though literacy and education for girls is getting better, the ratio of girls to boys continues to fall.

Miriam's favorite food: soup!
So it was all too believable that in a world with a two-child limit, there would be a city dedicated to orphaned and abandoned girls. There are some problematic things about the City of a Thousand Dolls that are revealed in the book, but one constant is that most of the people who work there really believe that they’re doing what they have to in order to protect the girls in their care. Because no one else will.

Honestly, my favorite secondary characters are the girls in the City. I love how they’re all different and that's okay. They have all kinds of skills and talents. Some of them love to learn and some of them love to dance. Some of them are shy and some of them are confident. Some of them match the standards of physically beauty in the society and some of them don't, but that's okay.

All of them are different, and all of them are beautiful.

I didn’t start out to write a book about a bunch of female characters who are full of secrets and brokenness and mistakes but still manage to be strong in different ways. But that was kind of what I ended up with. And I’m okay with that.

"Enough books! Pet me!"

Monday, February 04, 2013

Event Report: Montgomery County (TX) Book Festival

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Last week's highlight was the Montgomery County Book Festival in The Woodlands, Texas.

Thank you to Natasha, Tabatha, their fellow planners, volunteers, the author faculty and reader-participants for making the event such a success!

Please note that a handful of signed copies of Feral Nights are now available (on a sneak preview basis) at Murder By the Book in Houston.

Thanks also to fellow Austinite Cory Putnam Oakes for driving me to the fest!

Authors gather before the reception: Mari Mancusi, Bettina Restrepo, E. Kristin Anderson, Cory Putnam Oakes.
Bettina, Bethany Hegedus & E. Kristin
E. Kristin & Anna Myers at the Friday night reception
Mari & Suzanne Crowley
Krissi Dallas & Cory
Mary Lindsey & Diana Lopez
Lisa McMann & David Macinnis Gill
Tracy Deebs
Me with Kimberley Griffiths Little & Carolee Dean
Dom Testa & Kimberley
Jill S. Alexander & Bethany
Best shoes: Cari Soto
Victoria Scott & Cory
Jo Whittemore in the author green room
David & Kathi Appelt
Sophie Jordan & Mari
Janni Lee Simner & origami triceratops
Krissi in the teen room
Montgomery County goddesses Natasha & Tabatha at Louie's Bar, after the festival
Jo & Nikki Loftin
Me with fellow Walker Books Australia author Brian Falkner
Victoria Scott & Cory
Suzanne, Janet S. Fox & Greg Leitich Smith

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