Friday, March 15, 2013

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Cecil Castellucci on Medusa
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Five Great Books to Give to a Young Woman from CBC Books. Peek: "...awesome young female Canadian writers who have all written great books recently."

When Pig's Fly: The Improbable Dream of Bookselling in the Digital Age by Elizabeth Bluemle from The Horn Book. Peek: "When The Horn Book invited me to write about the joys and challenges of operating an independent bookstore in the twenty-first century, I was both honored and a bit wary: do people really want to know the realities of bookselling? Or do they want the dream?"

Physical Attribute Entry: Hair by Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse. Peek: "Though hair doesn't do much on its own, people often touch their hair to indicate certain emotions."

National Library Legislative Day: "On May 7 and 8, 2013 ALA invites librarians to attend in Washington, DC. At this event, you will learn how to approach legislators, attend a congressional reception, and visit legislative offices. All in the name of advocating for our services and those who need them. There is also a virtual component to the day, allowing librarians to 'attend' from a distance." Note: ALA asks librarians and other author/book bloggers to post in support of its lobbying efforts.

What Facebook's New Feed Will Mean for Authors by Caitlin Muir from Author Media. Peek: "It’s time to start thinking like Pulitzer and Hearst. Scratch that. Start thinking like National Geographic. Your articles will be ignored if they don’t have photos that draw readers in. This is your time to shine."

Should I Submit My Picture Book Dummy to Editors and Agents Simultaneously? by Sara Sciuto from Peek: "I wouldn’t suggest planning on submitting to agencies and publishing houses simultaneously while you’re trying to find an agent. Here’re a few reasons why..." See also on Submitting to an Agent at the Same Agency That Previously Rejected Your Manuscript.

Industry Q&A with Matt de la Pena from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Growing up biracial, I was always trying to figure out how to define myself racially. Was I a white kid? A Mexican kid? The problem was, I never felt I actually deserved either label. Not full time."

What Do Amazon Sales Rankings Really Mean? by Chris Eboch from Write Like a Pro. Peek: "...the most copies sold according to BookScan, but the worst Amazon sales ranking. That suggests it sells better through non-Amazon channels." See also How Many Copies Does It Take to be an Amazon Bestseller? by Gabe Habash from Publishers Weekly. Peek: "...a title in Amazon’s top five averages 1,094 print copies sold across all channels, including other retailers, on a typical day."

The Trappings of Difference: Writing about Emotional and Developmental Disabilities by Lyn Miller-Lachman from CBC Diversity. Peek: "Because emotional and developmental disabilities are usually invisible, it is tempting to exaggerate behavioral differences so that readers know a character has a disability. Thus, a character with Asperger’s syndrome offers lengthy explanations, and the story grinds to a halt."

The Most Influential Children's Publisher You've Never Heard Of from Publishing Perspectives. Peek: "...most of those books are published in overlooked languages — Lao, Hindi, Tamil, Afrikaans, SeSotho, Kiswahili, Chinayanja and 20 others."

Does It Matter What Books Your Library Has? by Elizabeth Burns from School Library Journal. Peek: "...public libraries adding ebooks to their collection that are self published because they are easier and cheaper and more available than the big 6 titles."

New Series: June 2013
Bruce Hale Shares Three Excellent Tips for School Visits by Lee Wind from The Official SCBWI Blog. Peek: "It's not about you."

25th Annual Lambda Literary Award Finalists Announced by Tony Valenzula from Lambda Literary. Scroll for the LGBT Children's/YA book category.

Promoting a Late Author's Debut Novel: Poison by Bridget Zinn by Alexis Burling from Publishers Weekly. Peek: " can a book be successfully launched without an author? In the case of the YA fantasy novel Poison (Hyperion) by debut author Bridget Zinn, who died of colon cancer in May 2011 at the age of 33, the answer is simple: with a lot of help from friends." Note: please promote, purchase, and/or otherwise support Bridget's Poison. See also "The World's Fastest Librarian: A Film Made By and For Librarians."

Does YA Fiction Need Strong Language? by Karen King from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "I tried to think of alternative words but 'Oh Sugar,' or 'Gosh' didn't quite have the effect I wanted so I decided to delete most of the offending words and let the dialogue stand on its own. And to my surprise it worked."

Author Insight: Story Starts from Wastepaper Prose. Peek: "Tell us the first sentence of your most recent book."

Interview with Illustrator Clint Young by Patti from Illustrator's Market. Peek: "Good lighting can make or break a painting."

See also This Week for Writers -- Pub Tips, Writing Craft, Inspiration, Books and Industry News from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing.

Cynsational Giveaways

This Week at Cynsations

More Personally

Today Cynsations is coming to you from Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I'm teaching the 2013 Novel Writing Retreat for Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors this weekend with author Lauren Myracle and Candlewick editor Andrea Tompa. (So far celebrity sightings have included Leda Schubert, M.T. Anderson, Debbi Michiko Florence, Sarah Aronson and Cindy Faughnan.)

This week my email IN box began to glow with joy when I received this terrific pic from Eve from New York, who's a huge fan of my Tantalize series (and looks great in that color, too)! Thank you so much, Eve, for your support and enthusiasm! Read on! Read on! It's an honor to write for you!

(Permission granted from Eve's mom, via her teacher, to share this adorable photo.)
The week's highlights included a speech by Lindsey Scheibe at the Austin SCBWI monthly meeting at BookPeople. Huge thanks to Lindsey for recommending Cynsations as a resource for children's-YA writers! I'm honored!

Lindsey with fellow Austin authors Nikki Loftin & P.J. Hoover
Me with incoming ASCBWI leadership Shelley Ann Jackson (RA), Samantha Clark (ARA) & Amy Farrier (IC).
Thank you, Shirley Smith Duke, for this shelf shot of Feral Nights (Candlewick) from Alamosa Books in Albuquerque.

Congratulations to Bethany Hegedus for signing with Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary, and congratulations to Alexandra for signing Bethany! Note: Bethany is an Austin-based author and the creative director of the Writing Barn.

Congratulations to my one-time WIFYR assistant, Courtney Alameda, on the sale of her debut novel to Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events 

The Art of Dr. Seuss from April 5 to April 20 at Art on 5th Gallery, 3005 S. Lamar, in Austin. Source: Austin SCBWI.

Authors/Speakers at TLA 2013 April 24 to April 27 in Fort Worth from the Texas Library Association. Look for Cynthia Leitich Smith's signing and Spirit of Texas High School author panel.

YA lit readers! Join Cynthia Leitich Smith at 1 p.m. May 25 at Cedar Park (TX) Public Library.

Join Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith at 11 a.m. June 11 at Lampasas (TX) Public Library.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held from June 17 to June 21 in Sandy, Utah. Note: I have taught at this conference in the past and highly recommend it.

Join authors Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, Nancy Werlin and ICM Partners literary agent Tina Wexler at a Whole Novel Workshop from Aug. 4 to Aug. 10, sponsored by the Highlights Foundation. Peek: "Our aim is to focus on a specific work in progress, moving a novel to the next level in preparation for submission to agents or publishers. Focused attention in an intimate setting makes this mentorship program one that guarantees significant progress." Special guests: Curtis Brown agent Sarah LaPolla, authors Bethany Hegedus and Amy Rose Capetta.

Save the Date! 5th Annual Austin Teen Book Festival by Jen Bigheart from I Read Banned Books. Note: Sept. 28, 2013.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Post: Barbara Brooks Wallace on The Courage to Try

By Barbara Brooks Wallace
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Whenever anyone tells me they “have a story started but didn’t think it worth trying to go on with it,” I have a pocket full of tales to tell them.

Two agents telling me nobody would buy a book like Claudia. File and forget it. Same agents telling me nothing about witches, hadn’t been written. File and forget.

My super cool Pomona College English professor, Dr. Holmes, a "New Yorker" devotee, handing back my essays as if there was no hope for me. The important children’s book award winner telling me to forget writing. I’d never get published.

Well, I sent Claudia out myself . It was bought in ten days by an editor who said there wasn’t an editor in New York who wouldn’t have bought it.

I wrote The Trouble with Miss Switch, and a second book requested by ABC. Both became the highest rated TV shows on their popular Weekend Specials. Dr. Holmes, went on to say that my essays were "New Yorker" worthy, advising me to major in English and creative writing. As for the writer telling me I’d never get published, well, would she believe 28 books, and counting?

Is anyone listening? I mean all those who want to write and don’t have the courage to try?

When I transferred to UCLA, I had the misguided idea that that I should go overseas, have adventures and write about them, forgetting that I’d already had a rather adventurous childhood growing up in China (about which I’ve finally had the courage to write in a memoir, Small Footsteps in the Land of the Dragon: Growing Up in China). So I majored in International Relations, hated it, learned nothing, and didn’t come around to writing until my sister reminded me of what Dr. Holmes had said.

I didn’t write anything at an early age as so many writers have. I was just a skinny little kid afraid of everything. Nobody bothered telling me I was smart in school. They mostly worried about my anemia, feeding me blood squeezed in a meat press by Dosofoo, our cook. Amazing that I never grew vampire teeth!

After several modestly successful books, I drummed up the courage to send one to the person who changed my writing life. That was the “legendary” Jean Karl, who became my editor for her remaining 23 years. The book was Peppermints in the Parlor, in print for over thirty years.

This book was called “Dickensian”, as have several others (nominated for or winning Edgar awards). Boggles my mind, but there you are!

But I have to say one thing about writing. It brings wonderful, generous people into your life. Cyn, for a shining example, who is letting me blather away here. Then at the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C., Uma Krishnaswami, Elisa Carbone, and someone who wrote in my copy of Bridge to Terabithia that I had supported her when nobody else gave her a toss.

Can you imagine anybody not giving Katherine Paterson a toss?

Two lovely men from a company in California, specializing in toy licensing and films, came here to talk about my Miss Switch books.

This led to their publishing Diary of a Little Devil and Miss Switch and the Vile Villains, with plans for more books.

But all this is why I encourage everyone who talks about wanting to write to please go ahead and do it. It opens up so many wonderful doors. I mean it. Really and truly!

Cynsational Notes

From Wikipedia: "Barbara Brooks Wallace is an award-winning American children's writer, including NLAPW Children's Book Award and International Youth Library 'Best of the Best' for Claudia (2001) and William Allen White Children's Book Award for Peppermints in the Parlor (1983).

"Wallace won two Edgar Allan Poe Awards from the Mystery Writers of America for The Twin in the Tavern (1994) and Sparrows in the Scullery (1998). Cousins in The Castle (1997) and Ghosts in the Gallery (2001) were also nominated for an Edgar Award."

Giveaway: Greenhorn & Shlemiel Crooks by Anna Olswanger

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Enter to win an author-signed copy of Greenhorn by Anna Olswanger, illustrated by Miram Nerlove (New South, 2012). From the promotional copy:

In Anna Olswanger's middle-grade novel Greenhorn, a young Holocaust survivor arrives in 1946 at a New York yeshiva where he will study and live. His only possession is a small box that he never lets out of his sight. Daniel, the young survivor, rarely talks, but the narrator, a stutterer who bears the taunts of the other boys, comes to consider Daniel his friend.

The mystery of what's in the box propels this short work, but it's in the complex relationships among the schoolboys that the human story is revealed. In the end, Aaron, the stutterer, finds his voice and a friend in Daniel, and their bond offers hope for a future life of dreams realized, one in which Daniel is able to let go of his box.

Greenhorn is a powerful story, perfect for families to read together, that gives human dimension to the Holocaust. It poignantly underscores our flawed humanity and speaks to the healing value of friendship.

Anna says: 

I discovered through all those successive drafts that I was writing about family.
My grandparents' cousins and their children who never left Eastern Europe died in the Holocaust. I am still childless. I have no children to discuss my cousins with, or even the Holocaust that wiped out not just them, but two thirds of Europe's Jews.

Read more from Anna about Greenhorn.

Eligibility: North America. Author sponsored.

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Enter to win an author-signed hardcover copy of Shlemiel Crooks, by Anna Olswanger, illustrated by Paula Goodman Koz (Junebug, 2005). From the promotional copy:

“In the middle of the night on a Thursday, two crooks—onions should grow in their navels—drove their horse and wagon to the saloon of Reb Elias Olschwanger, at the corner of 14th and Carr streets in St. Louis. This didn’t happen yesterday. It was 1919.” So begins Anna Olswanger’s charming folktale Shlemiel Crooks, the story of Reb Elias and the thieves who try to steal his Passover wine.

Based on a true story, Shlemiel is an imaginative introduction for young children to the history of Passover, as Pharaoh and a town of Jewish immigrants play tug-of-war with wine made from grapes left over from the exodus from Egypt.

A modern-day parable, Shlemiel has a music all its own. No other children’s book has Pharaoh’s ghost coming back to “pull one over on the Jews,” nosy neighbors making a “shtuss” outside, and a talking horse that sounds like it has a “little indigestion.” In its Yiddish-inflected English, punctuated by amusing curses, young readers hear the language of a Jewish community of another time, while delighting to brilliant illustrations on every page.

Anna says:
In researching, I discovered a 1919 Yiddish newspaper article about my great-grandfather. One night, while he was at the synagogue teaching a Talmud class, two crooks tried to steal the Passover wine and liquor from his kosher store. The neighborhood woke up at the sound of the break-in, and one neighbor began shooting his revolver in the air. The crooks got scared and ran away. They not only left without the wine and liquor, but without their horse and wagon, so they left with less than what they came with! The article, combined with my desire to pay tribute to my great-grandparents, was the beginning of Shlemiel Crooks.
Read more from Anna about Shlemiel Crooks. Note: this book has a Passover connection.

Eligibility: North America. Author sponsored.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Career Builder: Tanya Lee Stone

Tanya as a girl; meet her today!
By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Tanya Lee Stone on Tanya Lee Stone:

"I grew up on the beach on Long Island Sound, so tide pools and jetties were my playground. I always read a ton of books, and would take out more than I could carry from the library on the weekends. My dad is a professor and writer and my mom was an elementary school librarian, so books were everywhere in our house. My dad built me a kid-sized reading loft only I could climb up to--I spent hours up there! In high school, I studied music at a performing arts high school.
In college, I was an English major at Oberlin, which gave me the perfect excuse to spend all my time reading and writing. And after college, I was an editor until I moved to Vermont in 1996 and became a writer.

"I love to write about ordinary people who do extraordinary things and shine the light on their little-known stories. Change happens slowly, many times because people quietly push through barriers and move things forward until bam! someone else makes a big splash. But headline-makers often stand on the shoulders of those who first paved the way for them to follow.
"You can read about some of these trailblazers in my new books Courage Has No Color and Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? I have been very fortunate to have some of my books win awards, which helps ensure that more people will read them!"

Check out the Readers' Guide for Courage Has No Color.
Tanya is the author of several acclaimed books for young readers, including Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers (Candlewick, 2013), Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books, 2013), The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie (Viking, 2010), Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream (Candlewick, 2009), Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books, 2008), Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder, illustrated by Boris Kulikov (Viking, 2008), and A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl  (Random House/Wendy Lamb, 2006).

What does the writing community mean to you?

In a word: everything.

I have been writing for 16 years, and was an editor before that.

A majority of my closest friends at this point are fellow writers. We have met at conferences, retreats, and on tour, and friendships have grown and become a central focus of my life. These are the people who innately understand the ups and downs of the business side of our profession, as well as the thrills and challenges of the creative aspect.

I also have a few writer friends who are my first readers. We read for each other when needed, or asked.

And in general, this is one of the most supportive communities I have ever been in--we pick each other up when needed and cheer for each other's successes.

How do you define success?

I think that having the luxury of being able to wake up and do what you love, and actually get paid for it, is a pretty successful thing. Not to mention the perks of working in pajamas if you're tired, and not having to punch a clock, which are both extremely nice. I did not have those opportunities when I worked in an office as an editor!

But really, success comes in many forms, and I suppose has different levels, but for me what is at the core of feeling successful is that I love what I do, and I'm able to do it for a living. That other people actually like to read my books on top of that, is pretty fantastic! If I can continue to write the books I want to write, for as long as I want to do it, I will consider myself successful.

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?

Walter Morris suited up for his 1rst jump
I would most definitely consider my career as a hike up a mountain (although I still have a long way to go to reach the top!). I have the thick folder of old rejection letters to prove it.

When I started writing professionally, I wrote a lot of linear, straightforward library market nonfiction books for kids--12 books on backyard animals, 10 books on biomes--that kind of thing. I really strengthened my skill sets doing that.

Then I tried to sell single title, less straightforward books to the trade (that's when the rejection letters started coming in).

Even though I was a skilled writer from writing the library market books, it took a few more years to learn how to be more creative in my approach and focus on writing only what I was passionate about. Eventually, that is what worked for me.

I remember when I won the Sibert Medal for Almost Astronauts, a writer friend said to me, "You're an overnight success! It only took 10 years." That about sums it up!

Cynsational Snapshots

At the family farm
Tanya's new pup, ready for his role in "Fiddler on the Roof"

Cynsational Screening Room

Courage Has No Color 90 second book trailer from Tanya Lee Stone on Vimeo.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Post: Valerie O. Patterson on To Write In Flow

Val at work with her cat Cooper
By Valerie O. Patterson
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

We know it when we feel it. When the words stream onto the page, and we lose track of time. We are in the moment of the book. We are the voice of the story.

When we come to an end point, we blink. We realize the music is repeating itself; the light has gone down with the sun. A family member asks what time’s dinner? The moment is over, and we print out what we’ve written.

Later we’ll read it over and be surprised by some of what’s on the screen or page. The language is raw and from the heart. And, we don’t know if we can get in that place again.

What’s this all about?

Flow. It’s not surprising we think of creative writing (or painting or any other form of art) as being at its best in flow, as if it were in fact water. Water is fluid, shapeless, giver of life, life itself.

Psychologist Mihaly Csíikszentmihíalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience identifies certain elements critical to flow: intense concentration, loss of self-consciousness (in other words, the critic has gone home); a loss of a sense of time; and, feelings of euphoria.

Some writers say they never experience flow. Others do but then say that, when the book is finished, they can’t tell what part was written in flow, and what part was a result of “staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead,” as Gene Fowler described.

Flow may not guarantee perfect prose, but I believe it does mean we’ve tapped into our best creative selves.

Flip Flops: Getty Images, Beach: Jupiter Images
For me flow is a state when the writing is going so well I’m not thinking of anything else. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s magical when it does. I have a few techniques that seem to help me.

Writing even a little every day. This isn’t a mechanical requirement—X many words a day. Rather, it’s a spiritual one, in the same way we might approach prayer or meditation. We’re seeking those quiet moments, and we’re readying our writerly soul to be fed. When we regularly engage, we are more likely to move quicker into a scene. Jane Yolen said “way will come.”

Engage the hands. Not just for keyboarding. Try another creative outlet, such as knitting or painting. Any other creative endeavor connects us to that inner writer as well.

Take a walk. Outside. Alone. Without headphones. Physical activity combined with mental quiet gives us a chance to clear ourselves of distractions, engage the senses, and tap into that deeper part of ourselves that helps us write.

Wordless music. Try headphones when you’re writing. I recommend “wordless” music because lyrics distract me. I can’t tune out the words being sung, unless they’re in Gaelic, which unfortunately I don’t speak. (I can thank Enya for scenes definitely written in flow.)

What techniques work for you?

Cynsational Notes

Cover art by Richard Tuschman.
Valerie O. Patterson is a writer who lives in Virginia. Operation Oleander, her second novel from Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is now available. From the promotional copy:

When Jess’s dad ships out to Afghanistan, she wants nothing more than to feel close to him. They share an interest in an Afghan orphanage, so Jess and her friends form Operation Oleander, a club that collects school supplies for the orphans.
But Jess’s delight in the operation’s success turns to horror when breaking news reveals that the connection between the soldiers and the orphanage has resulted in a bombing.
With her dad injured and her best friend’s mother killed, Jess is suddenly thrust into a political and media firestorm. Was their work helping the orphanage, or making it a target?
Operation Oleander explores questions about the nature of duty, honor, and our responsibilities toward each other at home and in the larger world.
Check out the Operation Oleander discussion guide.

Visit all the stops of Valerie's Operation Oleander Blog Tour. Highlights include:

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